Updated: September 27, 2022

How to do a Virtual Lunch on Zoom in 2023

You found our guide on how to do a virtual lunch.

Virtual lunch is an online team building event where team members come together to share a meal remotely over video conferencing software. Example meal types include lunch and learns, theme lunches, and virtual tea parties. The main purpose of these events is to foster camaraderie in online offices. These activities are also known as remote lunches and Zoom lunches.

This activity is a type of online social event and a virtual employee engagement activity, as well as a virtual team building exercise. The event is similar to a virtual team dinner.

This article includes:

  • what are virtual lunches
  • benefits of virtual lunches
  • how to host a virtual lunch
  • tips for virtual lunches
  • virtual lunch meeting ideas

Here we go!

What is virtual lunch?

Virtual lunches are an opportunity for team members to gather on a video call and share a meal together. The purpose of these events is to give team members face to face time and encourage team bonding. Typically, leaders organize these events and the employer covers the cost of the meal, for instance, offering to reimburse up to $25 in takeout or delivery. During these calls, team members can do activities and answer icebreaker questions, or can simply chat and play get to know you games.

Benefits of virtual lunches

There are many benefits and reasons for planning virtual lunches. These events boost camaraderie within remote offices and help virtual team members grow more familiar with colleagues. Zoom lunches provide an opportunity for non-work banter that can deepen relationships, build trust, and help teammates de-stress. Plus, these meetups can offer face to face time with peers and fight off the loneliness and sense of isolation that can develop in virtual offices.

These events can be a way for employers to show appreciation for workers and signal that they care about remote employees’ experience. Virtual lunches can boost employee morale and engagement and help to create a more positive and cohesive company culture and build a sense of community in virtual workplaces. Many virtual workplaces struggle to develop and maintain a strong and fun company culture, and lunches are an easy and effective way to help achieve this goal. Plus, complimentary lunches are a nice work perk that can help to attract talent.

How to do a virtual lunch

Here are the steps to hosting a remote lunch meeting.

1. Set a time and date

If you have a geographically diverse team, then be aware of different time zones. For example, if you have employees on the east and west coasts of the US, then perhaps plan for the lunch to start at 1 or 2PM EST to be a later lunch for east coast employees and an early lunch for the west coast team. Virtual lunches can be a recurring event. You can designate a regular day, for instance, the first Wednesday of every month, for these events.

2. Make a meeting link

Once you have the time and date set, then create the meeting link. Be sure that the host will be able to attend the lunch and open the room for participants. Otherwise assign an alternative host when creating the meeting.

3. Send the invite to participants

The easiest way to invite participants to a virtual lunch is to make a calendar invite. You can include the Zoom link within the event posting so that attendees can easily access it and will not need to dig through their inbox to find the URL. Also, if you plan to hold virtual lunches regularly then you can set up a recurring invite. Here is a tutorial from Zoom that shows how.

4. Reimburse employees for meals

Before sending out the invite, decide on a budget for the meal stipend. $25 per person per lunch meeting tends to be standard. Let team members know how much they can spend on their food and include instructions for getting reimbursed after the meeting.

5. Meet and eat

When lunchtime arrives, start the Zoom meeting, and spend time with your team. Be sure that participants can unmute themselves so that they can chat with coworkers. You can plan activities and themes, or leave the meeting more casual and unstructured. One fun icebreaker for virtual lunches is to have each participant show and tell their order. Here is a random question generator to come up with talking topics in case of awkward silences.

Tips for virtual lunches

Here is a list of advice and best practices for hosting online team lunches.

1. Meet regularly and predictably

Virtual lunches are easy to plan. Setup can be as simple as scheduling a Zoom meeting and telling teammates to bring food. Because these activities are so low-maintenance, there is little excuse not to hold the events regularly. Team building works best as an ongoing effort, and meeting regularly will enable remote teammates to develop camaraderie.

Picking a regular date for the lunches, or example, the last Tuesday of every month, will make the events easier to plan. Plus, the predictability will improve the odds of employees saving room in their schedules for it.

2. Keep lunches optional

While you can encourage team members to attend, it tends to be better to keep lunches optional. Making these events mandatory can detract from the casual atmosphere and give the impression of “forcing fun.” Folks tend to be excited about food, so chances are the lunch will have a good turnout regardless of being optional.

3. Pay attention to time zones

If your remote team is geographically dispersed, then you should keep timezones in mind when planning your lunch. Planning a lunch at noon EST is breakfast time in PST. Mind you, this arrangement could still work, if some team members want to chow down on sandwiches while others dig into pancakes. Typically though, you will want to aim for the middle in terms of timing, or possibly change up the times every month to cater to teammates in different areas.

4. Hold big group and small group lunches

Virtual lunches give colleagues the opportunity to meet up online with different coworkers. Zoom can accommodate hundreds of attendees, meaning that you can host company wide lunches as well as smaller team lunches. It is nice to do a mix of these two gatherings, for instance, by planning a yearly or bi-yearly company virtual lunch as well as a monthly departmental lunch. You can also take a hybrid approach and pair up departments for virtual lunches so that teammates have a chance to meet and interact with coworkers they might not meet otherwise.

5. Cover the costs of the meal

Typical virtual lunch etiquette is for the employer to pick up the bill. Offering up to $25 per attendee is standard. Most organizers ask participants to submit receipts for reimbursement, however you can also send employees gift cards for delivery services to offset costs. Employees do not have to order food or even bring food at all, however offering the treat is a thoughtful gesture, and a way to ensure a better turnout.

Virtual lunch meeting ideas

Here are examples of interesting remote lunch meeting themes and activities.

1. Lunch and learn

Lunch and learns are educational events where employees chow down while hearing interesting information or learning a new skill. The focus of these events tends to be job skills such as time management or life skills such as budgeting, however you can host a lunch and learn on whatever topic you would like. You can send out a survey to find out what topics most interests team members. Then, find an expert in that area willing to join the group on Zoom. Be sure to have a co-host watch the chat to relay any questions.

Here is a guide to virtual lunch and learns.

2. Eat-and-Tell

Eat-and-Tell is a storytelling exercise. In this activity, each team member brings a dish tied to a special memory and explains the significance of the dish. You could assign a theme to the event, such as “your favorite food as a child,” “family recipes,” or “college comfort food,” or simply tell teammates to order a meaningful meal. This exercise gives teammates a glimpse into each other’s personal lives and can speed up the relationship-building process.

3. Cooking Class

Cooking classes are a hands-on approach to remote lunches. During this activity, teammates not only get to enjoy a delicious meal, they also get to learn how to prepare a dish. You can either book an online class with a virtual chef, or DIY the activity by watching cooking videos or asking a culinary-savvy coworker to lead the group. Either way, be sure to send participants a grocery list and instructions for any pre-meeting prep ahead of time. Also, you may want to consider reimbursing the costs of supplies, or ordering a pre-packaged meal kit.

Here is a list of online group cooking classes.

4. Cook Off

Virtual cook offs are more competitive spins on cooking class lunches. In this activity, participants face off to whip up delicious dishes on camera. You can keep the recipe a secret until the meeting starts and only send the needed ingredients, or you can challenge teammates to create impromptu gourmet meals out of the ingredients available on hand. While judges cannot taste the creations, contestants can be judged on appearance, creativity, and perceived deliciousness of the dish. We recommend spending half an hour cooking, and half an hour eating and socializing.

5. Birthday Lunch

Birthday lunches are ways to celebrate remote teammates’ birthdays. The group can gather to enjoy a meal together, sing happy birthday to the lucky colleague, and play games. The host can send cake-in-a-jar or birthday snack cakes for team members to enjoy at the end of the meal.

Here are more virtual birthday party ideas.

6. Theme Lunches

During theme lunches, attendees order and enjoy the same kind of cuisine. For example Chinese, burgers, tacos, sushi, or Ethiopian. Participants can show off their different dishes and share impromptu reviews. The host can also prepare a thematic playlist and virtual trivia questions for the occasion.

7. Adventurous Lunches

Adventurous lunches are similar to theme lunches. During these events, team members order a cuisine they have never tried or an item they would not normally order. Teammates sample the items together on a Zoom call and share their thoughts and reactions. Because every attendee is trying something new, the event is a safe space for experimentation.

For extra fun, participants can also do “fear-factor” style tests where they try out questionable foods on camera.

8. Healthy Eating

Healthy eating events can encourage team members to be more conscious of food choices and practice good nutrition. For this occasion, tell employees that the meal must be healthy. You can also invite an expert to give nutrition advice or meal prep instructions.

9. Family Lunch

Family lunches invite family members to join the fun. During these events, team members can invite their partners, children, roommates, and pets to pull up a chair and make a Zoom cameo. Anybody an employee might consider to be family is welcome. Remote teammates tend not to have the chance to meet their coworkers’ families. This activity can give teammates a glimpse into each others’ home lives and deepen the connection between coworkers.

Pro tip: Readjust the meal stipend so that guests can enjoy a treat as well. We recommend offering to cover $25 for the employee and $25 for a guest.

For similar events, check out this guide to virtual take your child to work day.

10. Virtual tea party

Virtual tea parties are gatherings where teammates meet up via Zoom to enjoy a cup of tea along with light refreshments. Participants can dress up, display whimsical Zoom backgrounds, eat on-theme foods like macarons and finger sandwiches, and use fancy china to set the atmosphere.

Participants can also take a less fancy approach to the occasion and merely meet up to enjoy a hot cup of tea and relax together on a video call.

Here is a guide to virtual tea parties, and a list of virtual tea tasting classes.

11. Book club

Book clubs feed teammates’ minds as well as their bellies. A month before the meeting, have the group pick a book. Then, each club member reads the book in their personal time, and meets via Zoom to discuss the work while enjoying lunch.

Fore reading recommendations, here is a collection of book lists.

12. Working lunches

Working lunches are sessions where team members get together over Zoom to brainstorm ideas or work together. These occasions function similarly to standard virtual lunches, with the expectation that a host delivers updates and presents on a topic or team members complete tasks together. Before the meeting, send out an agenda so that participants know what to expect and what to prepare.

13. Surprise Lunch

Surprise lunches are one of the more eccentric virtual lunch ideas. This activity is like a foodie version of Secret Santa. Participants provide their address along with a list of food preferences and allergies, and a teammate orders lunch for them from a nearby restaurant or delivery service. The recipient will not know what the meal is until it arrives. Then, team members meet up on a video call and enjoy the meals together.

Final Thoughts

Remote lunches are one of the easiest online team building activities to plan and execute. Set up can be as simple as scheduling a Zoom meeting and offering to reimburse attendees’ meals. Organizers who want to go above and beyond can plan fun activities such as virtual tea parties and theme lunches to make the occasion extra memorable.

Remote workers have fewer opportunities to banter and bond with coworkers, and virtual lunches provide the perfect opportunity to hangout with the team. These face-to-face meetups can strengthen virtual company culture and fight off loneliness in online offices.

Next, check out this list of community building activities and this guide to virtual retreats.

We also have a list of conference food ideas.

FAQ: Virtual lunches

Here are answers to common questions about virtual lunches.

What are virtual lunches?

Virtual lunches are online gatherings where teammates meet up to enjoy a meal together on video conference software like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Google Meet. Typically, employers provide meal stipends or offer to reimburse employees for the cost of the meal. These events offer an opportunity for team bonding and can build a stronger company culture in virtual workplaces.

How do you host a virtual lunch?

To host a virtual lunch, set a time and date, schedule the meeting on Zoom, send an invitation with the meeting URL, and then meet up with the team to eat and chat together. Most companies cover food costs for these events. As an organizer, you can plan icebreaker activities, or simply let attendees chat casually.

What are some good virtual lunch meeting ideas?

Some good virtual lunch meeting ideas include cooking classes, theme lunches, family lunches, and eat-and-tell.

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Marketing Coordinator at teambuilding.com.
Team building content expert. Angela has a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and worked as a community manager with Yelp to plan events for businesses.

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