Transforming lunch in less than 30 days

Jamie Nicholson
Associate Strategy Director

For many workers, juggling lunch during a long day involves waiting in a crowded line or directing a delivery guy, by phone, to the office. Add more people in the mix and accommodating food preferences, allergies and individual expectations only adds to the laundry list of problems. These problems plague lunches everyday as people spend more time dealing with stressful logistics than actually eating.

At Smart we don’t follow a single process or doctrine; we know there are many valid paths from problem definition to delivering impact. Our team tailored their approach to this real-world situation by considering a mix of methodologies that seemed purpose-fit for the task. Capitalizing on this thinking, we tested a new method that blended design thinking, lean startup and agile development methodologies to achieve success.

Unpacking the Opportunity

Inspired by the potential business opportunity in this space, members of Smart’s team pledged to stand up a new food startup in just four weeks. This set the stage to rapidly test ideas in the context of a new, active business and solve for challenges with real paying customers in a way that research alone wouldn’t be able to anticipate. Through an initial set of live experiments, we uncovered two key pain points: logistics and indecision that surround typical team lunches. Many companies order group meals to save time and money, but conflicts arise as a team aligns on what to order, which in turn adds more time and frustration to the process. Overwhelmed with choice, drilling down to a decision commonly drives anxiety and tension. Seeking solutions to this challenge led our team to create Gather.

Gather is designed for teams of six to ten people and offers lunch at $10.00 a head. In contrast to catering options, Gather targets small groups and provides room for choice — without the crippling indecision. Gather sends each individual team member a small survey for them to vote on their “food mood” (e.g. healthy, spicy, comforting etc). Based on all the team’s responses Gather curates a menu designed to meet all the team’s requests. Through partnerships with local restaurants, Gather prepares and delivers the food in a specific time window for the team. The food arrives “family style,” to encourage teams to sit down together and create a communal moment during a hectic day. Focusing on sustainability, Gather provides reusable plates and packaging. At the end of lunch, the team places their used dishes in a box which are picked up by Gather to take back to the restaurant.

Building The Experience

Comprised of a strategist, interaction designer, communications designer and product designer, the Gather team created a live prototype and uncovered a broad range of issues to address such as:

How do we handle payments securely and seamlessly?

How do we build demand and awareness through marketing techniques?

We invested time integrating a payment system on Gather’s website as well as building a back end database that could handle ordering logistics. Creating targeted ad campaigns through social media generated buzz and identified an audience interested and willing to pay.

To deliver food to our customers, we identified key restaurants on Seamless in the local area that could meet our “food mood” requirements and ordered individual portions from them. We then repackaged the orders as family style before delivery.

And just to cover all our bases, we assigned a team member to be the customer service rep in case something went wrong.


Creating great and meaningful experiences is equally about crafting an exciting vision as it is the process of making that vision real. By mixing different skillsets we have a new understanding about how to design, prototype, validate and implement services with a substantial focus on making it real. Building and launching a live business allowed us to test some of our methodologies and develop principles to pilot and prototype in new scenarios.

Wondering how we apply these principles to our client challenges? Read on to hear about our recent collaboration with Gatorade on their hydration customization platform.