Seated Lunch is Back!


As far as marching orders go, the directive that Associate Head for Student Affairs Andrea Heinze emailed to all students and employees last weekend about seated lunch was simple: "Have fun and enjoy meeting someone new!"

That's the point, after all, of Brooks School's seated lunch program, which kicked off yesterday with more than 230 members of the Brooks community dining together, family style — in groups of six or seven, with one adult per table — over the course of two lunch periods in Wilder Dining Hall.

"The goal of seated lunch," said Heinze, "is to build community and to meet and engage with students whom we might not normally know, and for students to meet one another."

The daytime initiative replaced the school's longstanding tradition of formal dinners and began in the fall of 2021. "Time spent together in community, including being together for meals, is an important aspect of the Brooks experience," Heinze wrote in a note to students at the time.

By that spring, then sixth-former Lily Pflaum, for one, had become a self-described "strong advocate" for the cell phone- and headphones-free seated lunch. She noted during her "Senior Speech" in May that the meals have "brought her closer to the community."

Asked afterward why she enjoyed the lunches so much, Pflaum spoke about how it is "a fun way to get to meet new people."

"I think it's important to get to know everyone here at Brooks so that you're not just with the same people all the time and you get to know people across different grades that you might not ever cross paths with," she said.

This mashup of students and adults is accomplished by Henize, who randomly mixes up the table assignments for everyone participating so that every seated lunch is different.

Each Sunday and Wednesday, lunchgoers get an email letting them know which of the 36 tables in the dining hall they'll be eating at the following day during their lunch period (11:50 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. or 12:35 to 1 p.m.) — and with whom.

Full-time faculty are assigned to a lunch based on their teaching schedule. All other adults were invited to participate at the time slot that works best for them.

Pre-COVID, Brooks offered seated dinner two nights a week and primarily only included boarding students, though day students were invited.

"After we came out of the pandemic and were looking for ways to build community we decided to go with a seated lunch because it would include everyone: non-boarders and more adults, not just teaching faculty but staff and employees who are not always on campus in the evenings," said Heinze.

Lunch worked well because it offered more space for seating, so that more participants could be accommodated, since the school day is already structured with two lunch periods.

Changing these community meals to the daytime "was an opportunity to continue a tradition that had been a longstanding one at Brooks . . . but in a way that is more inclusive," Heinze added. "Basically, it's a great way for adults and kids to mix it up and really have an opportunity to sit with people they might not naturally sit with — because they're outside of their friend group or their dormitory or team — and really push them to be in situations where they're meeting more members of the community."

For those who may be need help getting comfortable with that push to socialize, Pflaum offered some "do and don't" advice. "'Do' be open-minded and accepting of whoever is at your table," said the graduate, who recommended talking about your day or things going on at Brooks as easy conversation starters. "And 'don't' miss out on this opportunity!"

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