One of the hidden dangers in American life has one of the easiest fixes: 62% of American workers eat lunch at their work station. This video from The Atlantic, compellingly titled, “Sad Desk Lunch: Is This How You Want to Die?” outlines some of the physical health risks of eating your meals in the same place that you do your work and highlights the socio-emotional benefits of spending that time with other people. But, as so many American workers point out, they don’t feel that they are able to leave the office for meal breaks, either because of time constraints or because they feel that their bosses and colleagues will frown upon it. With this reality, what’s the workaround? Well, the benefits of an after-work happy hour with friends and colleagues are far-reaching and measurable, both in terms of personal wellbeing and career advancement.
Aperitivo in Italy
In Italy, if you see an advertisement for “happy hour,” run. It’s a sure sign that the restaurant is catering to tourists looking for discounted drinks. What you want instead is aperitivo. As explained by Ms. Adventures in Italy, “Aperitivo in Italy is plain and simply aperitivo: A pre-dinner drink, meant to ‘open’ the palate, giving you a chance to socialize, relax, and nibble as dinner approaches or is overlooked altogether.” You can find aperitivo in restaurants before either lunch or dinner, and it doesn’t need include an alcoholic drink (though it often does). Unlike Italy, here in Atlanta, “happy hour” may actually be just the phrase you’re looking for. Check the menu for classic Italian aperitivo cocktails (which are usually rather low in alcoholic content and tend towards a balance of bitter and sweet), wines, and non-alcoholic drinks; and look for small, tasty bites like olives, nuts, or small sandwiches. Though the phrasing may be different, you can capture the essence of an Italian aperitivo in your city when you know what to look for.
The Benefits of Aperitivo
- There’s no rush-hour traffic inside an osteria. If you work in the Atlanta metro area and get off work around 5:30 p.m., you already know how challenging it is to spend early evenings on I-285. Aperitivo is a great way to add richness to your day while waiting for traffic to subside.
- It’s a chance to try new flavors. Sometimes it can be intimidating to try a new food at dinner. At nicer restaurants, many people stick with what they know, rather than risking spending their money on something they might not like (and that will leave them hungry after dinner). But with small bites before a main meal, there are opportunities to try just a taste of something. Who knows? Maybe that bite of grilled octopus will open you up to a whole new world of culinary adventures!
- It makes “networking” bearable. Because aperitivo (or traditional American happy hour, for that matter) is informal and leisurely, there’s a natural and relaxed social element. It’s an opportunity to spend an hour with a colleague whose work you’re interested in learning more about, or time for a low-stakes team outing. Networking is just about making friends who happen to be in your industry, and aperitivo is a lovely way to get to know someone better.
- It’s good for you. Research shows that when people go out with friends, their health improves. Though you can use aperitivo to improve your business relationships, there’s at least as much value in meeting up with a buddy, a partner, or a family member.
- It increases your productivity. As counterintuitive as it sounds, knowledgeable workers need time away from their workspaces in order to do their best work. A midweek happy hour, especially during high-intensity projects, gives the brain space to create and find solutions. When people allow themselves to step away from the office, productivity actually goes up.
A Shift in Perspective
Unlike in Italy, where it’s understood that you will be a more complete person and employee if you’re able to recharge, American office culture tends to admire the appearance of tirelessness. In the U.S. there is a tendency to value “busyness” for its perceived link to productivity and efficiency. Because there is a slight tendency to overvalue output in the U.S. and to undervalue social relations, it’s understandable that American workers are hesitant to take advantage of break times, or to leave the office on time.
Often, a shift in company culture is surprisingly easy to enact. An advocate on the management staff can encourage a happy-hour-friendly culture by leading by example, and stepping out the door with colleagues at a reasonable time. It’s difficult for our brains to truly switch gears when we’re surrounded by our workspace. The mental cues of the environment keep up an awareness of our to-do list. In order to recharge, we need dedicated time spent thinking about other things (or not thinking at all). This is when our creativity is at its peak. Without the downtime, we can never realize our “aha!” moments. By taking a true break with friends, colleagues, or family, you’re investing in the part of yourself that can optimize your productivity.
For better health and creativity, many Americans are adopting the long-standing Italian tradition of heading to a restaurant and sitting down before dinner with friends or colleagues. Most indoor restaurants are quiet enough a friendly conversation with a workmate — an activity that can often be a challenge in a big office environment. Head to a place that’s close to your office, so that you can spend more time enjoying your meal and less time getting to it.
Beyond the increased productivity, health benefits, and long-term social well-being, Italians know to enjoy aperitivo together for the pure delight of it. Food is delicious, and family and friends are important. What other reason do we need to bring them all together?
Il Giallo welcomes you for classic Italian aperitivo cocktails and small bites every day of the week.