Participatory Lunch

Participatory Lunch is an institutional event which Dr Martha Farrell introduced in PRIA more than 15 years ago. The Martha Farrell Foundation brings the principles and method of organising Participatory Lunches to help you host similar events in your organisation. Send us photographs of the Participatory Lunch you have held, write about your experience and share interesting recipes in the Your Martha Story section of this website.

Participatory Lunch is a contributory, fun-filled, participatory process in which all staff members of an organisation collectively cook a meal to champion equitable relationships at home and work. It signifies that no work is below dignity, and women's work at home is the most dignified. Men participating in the most traditional of gendered tasks " cooking, menu planning and searching for the perfect recipe, which are usually regarded as a woman's "domain"- means they are willing to break gender stereotypes and participate as equals in work at home.

It is also an organisational team-building exercise, usually held every 3-4 months, giving staff an opportunity to interact with each other. Participating in a "non-formal" activity that is far removed from official work breaks barriers between senior managers (who are usually men) and junior staff (who are often women). Cooking varied dishes (from different regions of the country, and from around the world) opens our minds to diversity. The themed entertainment and dress code helps create an informal atmosphere through which staff, especially new recruits, begin to feel more comfortable within the organisation.

Participatory Lunch is based on four simple principles:

● Cooking is not the responsibility of women alone. Gendered roles and stereotypes are broken when both men and women take on the responsibility

●Participation in a "non-formal" activity helps to build linkages between different levels of staff in an organisation

●The challenge of diversity (in teams and work) should be embraced

●Team-building is an ongoing process

How To Organise a Participatory Lunch

There are 10 easy steps you can follow to organise a Participatory Lunch. These steps are intended to act as guidelines.  If you would like to know more about how to organise a Participatory Lunch, please write to us at

Step 1: The Organising Committee

The Organising Committee generally comprises of an HR representative, 1-2 senior colleagues and 1-2 new staff members. This committee decides on the date, theme, menu and teams. The first email informing all staff members about the proposed Participatory Lunch is sent by the Organising Committee.

Step 2: Choose a theme and menu for the lunch

At PRIA, Participatory Lunches are often held around festivals (Eid, Holi, Christmas, Diwali). The chosen theme gives the benchmark to choose relevant dishes for the menu. The theme could also be related to a particular region, or a seasonal vegetable or fruit. For example, one year PRIA chose a mango-related theme for a Participatory Lunch organised during the summer season.

Step 3: Prepare a menu

The organising committee also decides the menu/specific dishes to be prepared based on the theme.

Step 4: Divide staff members into cooking teams and choose a team leader for each team

The number of teams depends on the number of dishes on the menu. The number of members in each team depends on the total staff strength of the organisation and the dish to be prepared. As the cost of preparing a dish is shared by all members in a team, a team would be larger if the cost of the dish to be cooked is going to be high. That way the amount to be contributed by each team member is lower. Remember to include all Organising Committee and Entertainment Team (see Step 5) members in the cooking teams. Decide a team leader, who is responsible for managing and organising the team. Choosing a team leader who is not a manager or from senior management helps build organising skills in lower level staff.

Step 5: The Entertainment Team

The Entertainment Team is headed by a member of the Organising Committee. Its other members are chosen from the staff (who may or may not be part of the Organising Committee). The Entertainment Team is responsible for decorating the venue based on the chosen theme and for organising indoor games that are played after lunch. Lively discussions usually ensue when taking decisions, and all decisions are participatory and consensual. The Entertainment Team can select a dress code (for example, everyone has to wear a particular colour, or headgear) based on the theme. Employees usually come in theme-coloured dresses as communicated by the Entertainment Team.

Step 6: Cooking teams collectively choose the recipe and members volunteer to undertake tasks

Each team chooses the recipe of the dish to be prepared. All dishes are cooked from first principles. The recipe and how to prepare the dish are discussed in team meetings. All decisions are participatory and consensual. Team members take on different responsibilities - some offer to do the shopping for the ingredients, some offer to prepare the ingredients (for example, cut the vegetables or make the dough), while others may do the actual cooking. There tends to be a "director" (not always the designated team leader), who coordinates the various activities that are being undertaken in order to ensure the dish is cooked to perfection!

Step 7: Cooking the dishes

Some teams begin preliminary preparations the day before. Other teams begin making the dish as soon as they come in to work on the day. Negotiation skills are learnt and built when finding stoves, knives, chopping boards and cooking utensils. As PRIA has a large kitchen and hostel facilities, there are utensils, gas stoves and kitchen appliances. The organisation contributes these resources for the teams to use. Smaller organisations may need to bring utensils from home, or find a venue that has a large kitchen to host the Participatory Lunch.

Step 8: Decorating the venue

The Entertainment Team gets busy decorating the venue according to the chosen theme.

Step 9: It's lunch time!

All staff gather at the venue. The Entertainment Team welcomes everyone and invites each team leader to briefly introduce their teams, the dish that they have prepared and how it was prepared. Interesting insights into how the team worked together and how near-disasters were averted are often shared. The proof of the pudding, of course, is in the eating. Communal eating and serving is an integral element of Participatory Lunch. Lunch is eaten in batches. Half the staff sit down to the meal and are served by the others, reinforcing the idea that there is dignity in all tasks. When the first batch has finished eating, they then take on the task of serving their colleagues.Dessert is usually served after everyone has eaten the main lunch.

Step 10: Post-lunch entertainment

The Entertainment Team guides all participants through a few indoor team games (such as quizzes, tambola/bingo, treasure hunt). The competitive spirit rears its head, but everyone participates with bonhomie and cheer. At PRIA, the occasion of a Participatory Lunch is also an occasion to celebrate staff birthdays, weddings and babies. The organisation gives special gifts to those staff who have grown a year older, got married and/or become parents in the intervening months. Acknowledging such personal milestones helps bring our loved ones into the circle that is the PRIA family.
And thus ends the Participatory Lunch, till everyone gets together again a few months later!