What Is a Brown Bag Lunch? (With Types, Benefits, and Tips)

Updated May 22, 2023

Many organizations offer informal training sessions for employees during lunchtime to improve professional skills and foster a positive work culture. The training can provide more industry-specific knowledge and help you understand a company better. Learning about informal lunch training sessions and their benefits can help you determine if you should attend or hold one at your company. In this article, we explain what a brown bag lunch is, outline its types, discuss the benefits, and present tips for facilitating an effective meeting.

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What is a brown bag lunch?

A brown bag lunch or brown bag meeting is an informal training or meeting outside of work, typically during lunch hours. It's a combined learning and eating session for employees, usually in a casual environment that can encourage learning. People also refer to it as a lunch and learn. The name originated from the start of these meetings when employees used to bring lunch from home to participate in the training sessions at lunchtime. In recent times, it's common for companies to provide lunch or refreshments as an incentive to attend these meetings.

Brown bag lunch meetings are often optional for employees, and they focus on broad topics that can aid employees' professional development. Here are a few example topics for lunch and learn sessions:

  • Training on new company technology

  • Strategies and tips for successfully investing

  • Strategies and guidance for retirement planning

  • Tips to have a balanced work-life routine

  • Updates on company safety guidelines

  • A detailed description of employees' benefits package and tips to use them effectively

  • Practical networking tips for employees

Related: Understanding the Importance of Training Employees

Types of brown bag lunch meetings

Brown bag meetings are usually informal and can take any form, but each type has a specific structure. Here are the four major types of brown bag meetings:

Social meeting

A social meeting is mainly for employees to connect and get to know each other over lunch. There may be an agenda for the session, or attendees can take the opportunity to network and have an excellent casual time. Social meetings can help improve the relationship among colleagues and promote a friendlier work environment. It can also enhance team-building and improve employees' collaboration abilities.

Seminar meeting

Seminar meetings are the most common type of brown bag meetings. It typically involves a guest speaker or facilitator for the event. The speaker leads the meeting by presenting a topic they're proficient in and starts a conversation to share their knowledge and insights with the attendees. It also typically includes a brief question and answer session toward the end of the seminar.

Small group meeting

In a small group meeting, participants can ask and answer a series of questions. Every participant is welcome to answer a specific question, and the whole group can discuss the idea or suggestion. Small group meetings aim to explore several perspectives on an idea, rather than learning from a specific professional. These meetings also enable employees to brainstorm to solve problems as a group. Professionals sometimes refer to small group meetings as workshops.

Combination meeting

A combination brown bag meeting starts as a seminar with one specific speaker and ends as a small group meeting. The speaker gives a presentation on a topic, and the attendees can split into smaller groups after the seminar to share their thoughts and opinions. The question and answer session can also be interactive, with employees discussing their viewpoints and reactions rather than getting a definite answer from the speaker.

Benefits of brown bag lunch meetings

Brown bag meetings can be highly beneficial to the attending employees and the company hosting them. Here's a list of benefits brown bag meetings offer an organization:

Facilitates effective communication

Brown bag meetings can facilitate effective communication in the company by allowing company management to share important news and updates with employees at once. It can also let employees ask questions regarding company changes or updates they may be curious about at the same meeting. Employers can use the medium to offer tips and advice on the industry's best practices and share professional skills to develop. This can allow employees to stay informed about the essential company and industry procedures and avoid costly mistakes that may occur due to a lack of effective communication in the organization.

Related: How to Become a Communication Skills Trainer

Provides opportunities for growth

Informal meetings with employees can help company management recognize areas they can improve to motivate employees further. The training received can also help employees improve their professional work skills. This can lead to an increase in employees' productivity and better work performance. Employees from different departments can lead or facilitate lunch and learn sessions, which can help develop natural leadership skills.

Builds a positive work culture

Brown bag meetings can foster positive relationships between colleagues at work. It can also promote a sense of inclusivity for all employees. The company can provide training that is beneficial to employees to show appreciation and value, improving the company's morale and work culture. These meetings enable attendees to understand the company better and increase mutual trust between employers and employees.

Related: How to Show Recognition for Employees (With Examples)

Promotes teamwork

Lunch and learn sessions can address attending employees as part of a team, which helps to increase the unity among colleagues. Gathering employees to participate in a training or discuss a relevant topic can improve collaboration skills. It can also offer valuable insights and ideas to solve company problems effectively. The informal nature of the session can allow employees to connect and learn more about each other to work effectively in a team.

Provides support for employees

Hosting regular brown bag meetings can enable a company to support employees when needed. Employees experiencing challenges at work can request help or advice at the session and possibly receive the required assistance. Facilitators or speakers at the session can provide helpful guidance and tips for a struggling employee to apply and get productive results.

Related: 8 Job Training Methods to Improve Employee Productivity

Strengthens an organization's missions and values

Companies typically have mission statements and values that signify them. Brown bag meetings can reinforce the importance of the company's mission and values to employees. This enables employees to understand a company's mission and goals and recognize the efforts and contributions to achieving set goals. The constant reminder of the company's mission can promote organizational alignment and ensure all company employees, managers, and executives work toward a common goal.

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Tips for facilitating an effective brown bag lunch session

Here are a few tips you can apply to facilitate an effective lunch and learn session in your company:

Choose a relevant topic

Consider choosing a topic that's not too intensive and can benefit employees from all company sectors. A light topic covering the essentials of the company or employees' objectives can be a good session topic. Consider making the session as informative and interactive as possible to foster more future attendance.

Encourage employees to submit ideas

An effective way to motivate employees to attend a lunch and learn session is by allowing them to select topics of their interests. You can send a form to all departments to get their feedback. This can provide a range of relevant topics to discuss at the next session. Employees can enjoy and learn from these sessions when related directly to issues they want to know about and gain more knowledge in that area.

Pick the right presenter

A good presenter is essential to the success of a lunch and learn session. A presenter who understands the audience's needs and goals can provide valuable training that captures the attention of attendees. While the presenter can be a company employee or an outsider, consider selecting an employee as they're familiar with the company's operations and can relate to other employees' challenges. This can enable them to provide the best strategies and tips for employees to improve productivity and contribute to achieving company goals.

Keep the meeting informal

A brown bag meeting is an opportunity for employees to partake in training sessions, but it's also essential to keep it simple and informal. This can enable employees to feel comfortable asking questions and sharing ideas over lunch. Consider setting a familiar atmosphere by starting with an ice-breaker session to reduce formality. Seating arrangements can also be less formal and allow more interactions between attendees.

Offer lunch

While some employees can bring their food or refreshments, offering lunch during the training is a good idea. It can work as an incentive and motivate employees to attend training sessions. Lunch, snacks, or beverages are options to offer depending on the company's budget for the meeting. Offering lunch can entice employees to attend the first time, but once they receive value from the training, it can improve their dedication to the job and encourage them to participate in future lunch and learn sessions.

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