What do the French think about the UK's working lunch culture?
By Rachel Murray
B usiness guru and karaoke queen, Martha Lane Fox (MLF) recently wrote in her Sunday Times column about cross channel differences when it comes to food and socialising in companies. As Fourth Day has offices in France and the UK, we thought we’d add our insight.
From MLF’s experience on the boards of French and British organisations, she concludes that the Anglo Saxon working lunch is arranged for productivity, while “le dejeuner” is about cultivating personal relationships.
This generalisation is supported by our client Delphine Gatignol at media content repository and anti-disinformation company, Newsback. “As a team we often have lunch together and tend to talk about subjects other than work – our families, holidays, cultural interests…” she says.
I’m certainly guilty of nipping onto the Strand to grab a sandwich and eating it at my desk. And I’ve had many more “working lunches” with journalists, client or colleagues, where the purpose was to discuss a pitch, project or idea – than team meals where the purpose is purely to bond.
Our colleague in Quatrieme Jour (Fourth Day in France), Antoine Billion, also concurs: “In France, lunch is an important time,” he says. “We tend to have a proper break – a full hour, where colleagues might go to a local restaurant together. But we are less likely to go for a beer after work with colleagues, as I have experienced in the UK.”
However, the cultural traits that seemed so firmly set five years ago seem now to be dissipating. The workplace has changed so much thanks to Covid, widespread remote working and a more inclusive approach which, in the UK, means that alcohol is not the overriding focus of any work social event.
Antoine wistfully recalls how his team would regularly take lunch together, frequenting the bistro at the end of the road, or bringing food back to eat in the meeting room – never at their desks! The team now operates a hybrid working model, with most colleagues working from home part of the week and one permanently based in Casablanca, heading up our Morocco office.
In Fourth Day London and Manchester, remote working and having offices in different locations has also changed the way we socialise with each other. Lunch is still not a big deal, but we make sure to come together, daily online for a morning coffee break, and in person when we can.
MLF stresses the importance of socialising with colleagues: the need to inject fun into the workplace, nurture friendships, have some downtime. We will keep that front of mind when our UK and French teams come together for our annual offsite, where we tend to revert to our cultural stereotypes: French team make important decisions about meals and wine; UK brings the duty-free gin and kicks off the karaoke. Non-alcoholic options will be available.
Rachel is an account director in the London office