Corporate Culture at Table XI
While the rest of us understand all the hoopla about the US needing more jobs, skilled programmers can essentially take their pick. Tech companies work hard to recruit people with coding abilities (which just makes me wish I had majored in science of the computer variety rather than of the political kind).
The easiest, and least creative, way to attract employees is to throw money at the situation. However, more money does not always equal more satisfaction. I know I’ve had jobs that paid well but made me feel absolutely miserable.
A better, and infinitely more complicated, solution is to create a corporate culture that makes people happy. While nothing can make everyone happy all the time, something that’s sure to please all but the most persnickety is food.
Probably the most well known – both within and without the tech world – is Google.
Googglers (Yes, that’s really what Google employees are called.) needn’t leave the Googleplex (Does it never end?!) in Mountain View, California, ever, and certainly not for food. There are several different places to eat every meal of the day as well as any snacks in between on the campus. In addition, famous chefs make appearances, and the resident chefs conduct classes for any Gogglers who want to make a meal of their own on occasion.
Google represents one extreme of gastronomic amenities; there’s a lot a company can offer between Google and not even having a kitchenette. A Chicago tech company that has found its culinary niche is Table XI, a Web development firm.
While most companies looking for new offices are concerned with cost per square foot and – especially for a tech company – networking capabilities, the folks at Table XI (pronounced “eks ai,” not “ eleven;” those are letters, not Roman numerals) wanted a proper kitchen first and foremost. Founder/CEO Josh Golden wants employees, clients, fellow techies, and friends to eat only well-prepared healthy meals at Table XI.
Once a professional kitchen (along with an office) was secured, Table XI needed someone to cook in it. Enter Le Cordon Bleu-trained Chef Aram Reed. Four days a week he cooks lunch for the crowd at the Table XI offices.
Most of the time the crowd consists of the company’s 25 full-time employees, but on any given day there may also be part-time workers, clients, friends, or fellow programmers stopping by. With some flexibility built in, Chef Aram plans the week’s menu on Monday, and shops for ingredients on Tuesday and Thursday. He utilizes local purveyors of seafood, meat, and produce, and sometimes makes a trip to one of Chicago’s many culturally diverse neighborhoods to procure specialty items.
Along with regular day-to-day meals, which are always prepared with with health and sustainability in mind, Chef Aram also cooks for the monthly “Table Talks,” a series of lunchtime tech talks, hosted by Table XI. These meals require a bit more planning, so the menu is secured two weeks ahead.
Chef Aram has no problem accommodating food preferences and choices. For example, on the day I lunched at Table XI the protein was pork loin, something the firm’s accountant, who was in for the day, does not eat. Not a problem. There was some tofu on hand in one of the kitchen’s two french doored refrigerators. Chef Aram cubed it and tossed it with the same spice mix – Gateway to the North Maple Garlic Seasoning from Table XI Client the Spice House – he had used as a rub on the pork loin and quickly sautéed it.
Along with the pork loin/tofu, we had roasted cauliflower and brussels sprouts, creamy polenta, and a vanilla maple gastrique. A gastrique is a sauce made from a reduction of vinegar, wine, sugar, and sometimes fruit that has been caramelized over high heat. (Now you know.) Everything was delicious, and the sweet-tangy gastrique really tied it all together.
The food was far better tasting and more healthful than the choices one usually encounters in the office lunch rush. The employees, by choosing to eat free lunch in the office are not only saving money, but also their waistlines and arteries. Add to that the nearly endless variety of food Chef Aram can make with input from his coworkers, some of whom are talented cooks in their own right, and the food is not only healthy but interesting.
Providing lunch not only allows for Table XI employees to eat well on the cheap, it also allows them to socialize over shared meals and to be more productive. If they don’t have to leave the office for lunch they have more time to work. When the food is so good it doesn’t feel like a harsh sentence of grueling work in the least.
However, if Table XI employees find themselves working too much, there are plenty of toys around the office. Lego blocks, remote controlled vehicles, and Nerf weapons make sure no one in the office is taken too seriously.
The folks at Table XI seem to have figured out how to make a job a fun place to go. So much so that Josh Golden will be on the “Culture by Design” panel at the upcoming Technori Starter Series: “Beyond the Ping Pong Table: Learn how to create and cultivate an incredible company culture” on December 6.
I’m sure he’ll mention the food.