If there is one universal shared experience that I can, with some confidence, claim all researchers share then it is the love of free food.
Be it biscuits, fruit, small strangely shaped corn things or sweets, every researcher feels the flutter of excitement at the addition of the word free before it. Since the very first days of my research career the prospect of free sandwiches or on very rare occasions, free vol-au-vents filled with grey stuff, was enough to improve any day of lectures.
I once had to attend a whole day of training on how to use our internal HR holiday booking system and I am reasonably confident that the only reason I didn’t strangle myself with my own tie was because they had a tray of Jaffa cakes.
Likewise, I remember sitting in my open plan office and feeling the excitement as across the hall a meeting finished and trays of biscuits and snacks were officially declared “for anyone”. There is nothing quite like seeing a room of 80 highly trained scientists pop up like meerkats from their cubicles.
Now the free food doesn’t need to be expensive. There is a law of diminishing returns with the amount of money spent on free food. Upgrading from a free bowl of Cadbury’s cream eggs to truffles hand rolled in Switzerland and transported to the conference on individual cushions might get a few more “oh wow”s but days later will still be reduced to “oh yeah we had free chocolates”.
As positive as all this is there is a very rare chance that giving out free food can go wrong. For example, anyone promising a “free lunch” that then offers a plate of biscuits and a basket of apples should be thrown in the nearest hazardous waste bin. I don’t remember what that training session was about but I’ll never forget that conference organiser trying to explain to 20 hungry researchers that digestives were actually nutritious and 4 of them had the same calorie content as a sandwich. It was a miracle no one died that day.
One conference I know advertised that they would be offering ‘breakfast’ to any attendees that arrived early. Those who did then attend early were greeted with a fresh bacon roll (with non-pork vegan options) and free coffee. Speaking to those that attended they considered it one of the best conferences they’d ever been to (and now 8 years later still speak about it in almost mystical tones).
If you want to start simple and avoid potential over-promising problems you can always do something like take a packet of Fox’s Party Rings to your next meeting. Fox’s Party Rings are super cheap, tasty, vegan and nut-allergy-friendly. They are about as close to a universal biscuit as it is possible to get. This post is not sponsored by Fox’s Party Rings but I am hoping that if I mentioned them enough that Fox’s Party Rings would consider reaching out and giving me some free Fox’s Party Rings…. *ahem*
Alternatively, if you run an office why not set out a bowl of fruit each week? In one business park, I know there was a company that had “gone all Google” and offered free fruit and even had a water cooler. It was widely understood around the park that that company was literally the coolest place to work ever… because of a bowl of fruit.
Even if you don’t run events or an office you can start small at your own desk or office. Keep a secret stash of chocolates or individually wrapped biscuits to offer people who come to see you. Nothing takes the sting out of telling someone all their data is garbage more than following up with “hobnob?”