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Dining together means fewer solitary meals!

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Barbara Salm

Published

14.12.2020

Five hikers against a panoramic mountain background

By eating meals together we see people regularly and maintain social contact - an important ingredient of human well-being.

Meals do not always have to be taken at home with the family - many friendships are forged at self-organised Tavolata dining communities. In an interview, the initiator of the scheme, Robert Sempach, explains what Tavolata is all about, how easy it is to set up a dining community, as well as his own personal experiences with a 'men only' Tavolata.

Portrait of Robert Sempach, Social Project Leader at Migros Culture Percentage

Robert Sempach, Tavolata Initiator, Migros Culture Percentage

What is the reasoning behind Tavolata and its purpose?
From a health promotion point of view people feel better when they are uplifted and are in regular contact with like-minded people, as well as with people who have different outlooks. People regularly meet with their immediate or extended family to share a meal together, thus naturally maintaining social contact and relationships. Tavolata creates a network outside the family in which people can meet regularly to cook and eat together. Our concept has a lot of leeway. That is the first of the seven rules of play: «We organise ourselves».  So it could be that a Tavolata will meet more often in a restaurant because none of the members is particularly fond of cooking. That's ok, too.

Over the past ten years, throughout Switzerland over 500 self-organised dining communities have been created, meeting regularly. What is Tavolata's secret of success?
The crucial element of long-term success, apart from being self-organised, is - according to rule five - giving and receiving in equal measure. Meanwhile, friendships are forged among the members of many Tavolatas, which pleases me very much. And one member of a Tavolata even remembered his dining companions in his will. That is a symbol of how the value of Tavolata reaches out even after death.

What should I do if I want to start my own Tavolata?
The first thing I recommend is to make a list of people you'd like to meet up with regularly. Then contact them by phone, or send them an email, and agree on a first meeting as soon as circumstances allow. The fine-tuning takes place at the kick-off meeting - how often to meet and where. And you are off.

What if I don't have any contacts, but I don’t want to set up my own Tavolata?
Then perhaps it's time to step out of the shadows and apply to join a local Tavolata for a «taster meal». The tavolata.ch marketplace lists a wide range of different offers. If none of them suits, you can also post a request there yourself.

You have your own men-only Tavolata. How did that come about?
I have belonged to a rambling club for over 20 years, and once a year we head off on a three-day walking tour. Four years ago I suggested that we should set up a Tavolata. To be honest, I wanted to experience the dynamic that comes from a Tavolata for myself. There are seven of us and we meet every two months, always at a different person's house, on Lake Constance, on Lake Hallwil, on the Knonaueramt, or in Zurich. There is a reason why our wives don’t join us and it's purely an organisational one. Apart from the fact that 14 people would be a tight fit round our dining table, we freely admit that our partners will always cook rather better than we men do.

Ten years of Tavolata - a success story in facts and figures

It started in 2010 with an article published in the Migros Magazine, calling for people to cook and eat together.

Thirty people attended each of the two kick-off information events held at Migros headquarters on Limmatplatz. Together, they drew up the ground rules. Today, ten years on, over 500 Tavolatas have been set up in 22 cantons, and new ones are being added all the time.

Do you fancy setting up your own Tavolata??