Never serve pizza at an event: Why community organizers are moving away from cheap food
Why is this so controversial?!
Hello friends, and welcome to The Alpha Snail! If you want to join 1,853 other readers learning how to grow your network, and navigate career success, subscribe below!
Oh god, not another event serving delivery pizza.
Since moving to San Francisco last year, I’ve attended dozens of events. Mixers, panel discussions, sales pitches, concerts, block parties, you name it.
Some were certainly better than others.
I started studying what makes a killer event, with engaged and high energy attendees, and what causes people to zone out and leave early.
I quickly discovered the difference. It all came down to one thing:
What kind of food are they serving?
This may seem trivial, but I assure you there is a near perfect correlation between the food quality and the quality of content, connection, and energy of the overall event.
Why is this?
The Alchemy of Food
Food is one of our most ancient, and universally understood signaling devices.
In the times of hunter gatherers—after a big kill—a portion of the meat would be shared with neighboring clans. This was done for two reasons:
Meat would spoil quickly, so it needed to be consumed.
Bringing down a large animal was a rare event. Something you couldn’t count on happening regularly.
So the best way to ensure the future prosperity of your tribe, was to share. This reciprocity meant that when you were hungry, your neighbors would provide a little bit of their kill for you.
Food became a way to exchange goodwill. It was an investment in the longevity of your community, and your social sphere.
In doing so, you were practicing a special form of alchemy. Transforming food into social cohesion, and ultimately into trust.
Over time, our relationship with food evolved.
We transitioned to an agrarian society. We learned how to preserve our food, and spent most of our time farming.
This is when we began to see feasts emerge. And what is a feast? It’s a signal.
It’s a signal of prosperity and abundance. It’s sharing excess with those closest to you. Similarly, when you invite an enemy to a feast, you’re signaling a peace offering.
When Louis XIV invited his fellow noblemen to an extravagant feast, he was signaling a few things to them. First, that he was incredibly wealthy. Second, that France was being ruled well. And third, was that if they were loyal to him they could expect more opulence in the future.
Again alchemy at work.
Food transforms into status, confidence, and loyalty.
Maybe the most direct example of food as a signal is in the form of ritualized sacrifice. Taking a portion of your food—generally something highly prized or labor intensive to cultivate—and sacrificing it to the gods.
Food transforms into good favor with the ruler of the universe.
Most importantly—and this cannot be stressed enough—the signal only works if it is costly.
Reciprocity does not work when food items are abundant.
Feasts need to be shockingly indulgent to have their desired effect.
And you cannot curry favor with the gods by sacrificing carrots.
Food as a modern signal
Food has long since left the territory of simply providing our nutritional needs, and passed into the realm of symbolism.
Food today is an unspoken way for us to show that we care about others. It’s a pathway to intimacy.
Don’t believe me?
Think about the most intimate date you can go on.
Either you can take your date out to an extravagant dinner, or you can bring them to your kitchen and prepare something yourself.
Although the food you cook may be objectively worse than a Michelin starred restaurant, you’re not serving the food, you’re serving the signal.
Without words, you’re telling your partner that they’re worth your time, effort, and attention. By preparing a meal yourself, you’ve become vulnerable. You’ve exposed a piece of yourself, in the hopes of signaling just how special that other person is to you.
This is because cooking a meal for someone is hard. It’s objectively harder than ordering food from DoorDash. It takes time, and skill.
And just like the most powerful symbols, preparing a meal requires sacrifice. Something needs to be given up, to perform the alchemy.
You’re transforming food into intimacy.
Events are in-person guerrilla marketing
Now you probably understand why cheap delivery pizza shouldn’t be served at your next gathering.
Events are in-person guerrilla marketing, pure and simple. Just about every event you’ve ever been to, is trying to sell you something.
A real estate company pays to directly pitch you on the virtues of purchasing a timeshare.
A skin care company pays to have their products put in front of you, or sampled.
Crypto die-hards unconsciously try to sell you on the virtues of their commonly held belief and worldview.
Networking attendees covertly schmooze with the hopes of converting you, and your friends into customers.
You try to sell yourself, your personality, and appearance at a speed dating event.
Unemployed folks at a cocktail mixer try to sell their skills and work history to potential employers.
A free local concert, sponsored by your town, is trying to sell the idea that your town is cool, and a place worth living.
So given that it’s all marketing, you have to ask yourself…
What are you signaling to your guests?
What does the dress code—or lack thereof—signal?
What does Top 40 music signal? What about classical?
What does a hotel conference room signal? What about a dive-bar?
What does 12 boxes of large Dominos Pizza, on paper plates, signal?
Each element of a gathering contributes to the overall ethos. The vibe, if you will. This vibe, gives unconscious directions to your attendees— telling them how to feel, how to act, and how to engage as members of a community.
And just like our ancestors before us, it is a signal for how they should feel about us, the hosts!
Get crystal clear about what you’re trying to signal before your next gathering.
So before you host your next house party, meeting, get together, panel discussion, or networking mixer I implore you to consider:
Do you want people to feel the need to reciprocate—like our ancient hunter gatherer ancestors?
Do you want to inspire a feeling of status, confidence, or loyalty in your guests—just like Louis XIV?
Do you want to inspire a feeling of intimacy and friendship—like a home cooked meal?
Have a great week!