While meal replacements like Soylent are ideally suited for those who prefer to get sustenance through a straw and on their own time, don’t discount the immeasurable benefits of sitting down for a real meal with other people. It’s important to break bread. It’s even better to break it with others. Research from the University of Oxford found that the more we eat with other people, the happier we are and the more satisfied we are with our lives.

Social eating may not always be convenient but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth making time for. Dining with others provides vital nourishment for our relationships. It enhances trust and feelings of closeness. Interestingly, it’s not just about the food. The presence of laughter, storytelling, and alcohol at a meal further amplify social bonding and engagement. Given these findings, it’s no wonder a study found that sharing a meal with an ex will trigger more jealousy in your current partner than having a drink or coffee. Eating together has significance beyond the consumption of food. 

Of note, how you eat together matters too. Research from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business study found that sharing plates of food facilitates cooperation. In the study, participants were paired with a partner and then given a topic to negotiate. Half of the pairs received one bowl of chips and salsa to share, while the others were each given their own bowl. The teams who shared bowls behaved more cooperatively and less competitively toward each other and came to an agreement more efficiently than those who ate from separate bowls. 

Simply put, if you’re trying to get a potential business partner to come to the table, sitting around a dining table may be more effective than sitting around a conference table. When choosing a restaurant, opt for a Chinese or Indian meal with shared dishes that require coordination and passing of plates instead of a French restaurant where diners are served individually. Not only will you have more fun, but you’re also more likely to get the deal done.  

There is value in getting together for a meal with friends and in business. If you’re tempted to skip the holiday gathering and have a cozy dinner for one, consider this: sitting around the dinner table, telling stories, and passing the potatoes is an opportunity to create and enhance social bonds. As one researcher commented:

Basically, every meal that you’re eating alone is a missed opportunity to connect to someone.

I wish you all the best,

Dr. Samantha Boardman