Serious Studies

The Uncatered Lunch Meeting Is Not Worth Having

Soup & Sandwich

Just a little note to get the summer started off right. I have noticed a disturbing, post-recessionary trend developing that should, I believe, be killed in its cradle.

It's the uncatered meeting that takes place during what in civilized societies would be considered lunchtime.

When I was a lad, I worked for a guy I'll call Walt. Walt was a wonderful guy, except he had one (well, actually more than one, but that's another story) peccadillo that used to bemuse and annoy me.  With alarming regularity, he would call me at about noon and bark at me, "Come in here for a minute." Then we would chew the fat about sundry redundant things while he ate a big cup of soup and a bunch of bread sticks. I would watch him eat, stomach growling, until he was done. Sometimes this took ten minutes. Sometimes it took an hour, which smashed my own lunch plans to pieces. I think Walt just hated to eat alone. It just never occurred to him to order TWO bowls of soup or, for that matter, to give me advance notice. I guess he figured he just owned my ass 24/7/365, so lunchtime was as good a time as any to exercise his option.

Nowadays it's a little different. Walt is gone, long gone, and I believe right now may be looking forward to a solitary lunch at his palatial home in Connecticut. But his heirs live on, apparently. Like today, Finance is having a staff meeting at 12:30. There will be no food. This means, for those who are attending, that they can have the early bird special and grab a sandwich at noon, which is pretty horrible, in my opinion. Who's hungry at noon? Or they can wait until the end of the meeting and grab something at 2 p.m., when real working people are returning to do business after their respectable business lunches.

I believe there are three miscreant entities that are advancing this barbaric agenda. They are:

  • Finance: Because they can do what they want as controllers of the budget process;
  • Corporate Executives: Because they can do what they want, sitting atop the reporting structure;
  • The CEO: Because he/she can do what he/she wants, period.

There have been other fads that developed during my time on Planet B, including (but not limited to): Excellence, Quality, Managing By Walking Around, corporate seizure of airline miles accumulated during the course of business, 360-reviews, and so forth. All have bitten the dust. This one should too.

Meetings that take place between 12:01 and 1:59 should have food at them. Doesn't matter what. Who cares? Let us eat cake!

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What about the poor shareholders? They are saving the last penny so that they can support these great, large institutions (and lunches within those). Who will serve a bowl of soup for them, when corporate dough is all spent. Someone just has to be on a lookout for that little guy (today is my turn.)

The shareholders can afford to buy us a sandwich, Dr.

As a Project Manager (a real, genuine Project Manager, with real genuine big-dollar projects!) I learned the value of the pizza-lunch meeting.

See, I had a bunch of lower-downs and higher-ups to corral into a conference room, all at the same time, to discuss important, time-sensitive stuff that needed their involvement. But my lines of authority were all penciled in just for the duration of the project. Lots of them -- especially the higher-ups -- thought they had better stuff to do.

So I started scheduling my meetings at lunchtime, and ordering in pizza and soda. Suddenly I had great attendance for my meetings! The few folks who didn't show up on time scampered in as soon as they could. Heck, I even got a few odd drop-ins that I was occasionally able to coerce into doing some work for me!

The bean-counters wouldn't understand this, but the bucks I spent on food and (soft!) drink paid handsome dividends in milestones met and objectives achieved.

It also helped my popularity. That paid dividends too. I could wheedle a little more cooperation out of folks inclined to feel chummy towards me.

Add this to your collection of EAB-isms:
"Feed them and they will come!"

I worked for a CEO who did what Walt did. Worse, he was a vegetarian, and would break off in the middle of our lunchtime business discussions to lecture me on the benefits of being a vegetarian, while he ate his lunch in front of me. I endured him for five years.

That man cried when I quit.

Our former CEO and his executive posse put an extra-special twist on this. Arriving half an hour late for a meeting the other 20 of us had proceeded with on time, they'd have us start over.

When the meeting therefore ran through lunch, they'd punch a lunch order into their Blackberry. Soon, personal assistants would show up with their meal, which would be eaten in front of us starving, punctual losers.

Thankfully, all are now failing Humanity 101 somewhere else.

Civility is lost not all at once, but in a series of small, often imperceptible steps. First it's lunch in a conference room from a sterno-warmed tray, then it's lunch at your desk and finally it ends with inside offices that have no windows and conference tables instead of couches.

I don't envy much about the European way of life, but they do know how to make time for a decent meal, regardless of what is going on around them.

"This means, for those who are attending, that they can have the early bird special and grab a sandwich at noon, which is pretty horrible, in my opinion. Who's hungry at noon?"

Who's hungry at noon? Those of us that start work before 7:00 am. By noon, my light breakfast at 6:20 is long gone. And don't tell me to eat a heavier breakfast - sleep is hard enough to get. I will keep eating a quick breakfast and catching lunch at 11:30.

I totally agree the corporate world runs better on a full stomach. Unfortunately there is always that one department that schedules a daily meeting at noon so they can get a catered lunch on the company dime. The bean counters figured that one out and put the skids on lunch for the innocent.

Equally horrendous is the trend for the honchos, brass and big wigs to suddenly call a meeting about 5 minutes before the end of day, thus causing us peons to miss happy hour. As thirst is overcoming the peons, they pay no attention to the rants of the honchos. Of course the honchos could provide booze at the meeting but then HR would have a fit, well HR is always havinbg a fit, so who cares?

How about just doing without lunchtime meetings?? Or meetings, period? They're usually a waste of time when I could be doing actual work. Why do I need to attend a meeting to tell someone my status, when I can just email it to them? When I walk by a meeting room between 11:30 and 1:30, I see a bunch of unhappy people who just want it to be over. No one's focusing on the discussion. Have meetings, if you must, between 9-11 am or 2-5pm. No meetings after 5! That's just cruel.

Well said Bing and I agree with EAB: if you want the attention and the highest possible turnover, food is a great motivator!!!!! And, oh yes, the shareholders can afford to buy us sandwiches and diet colas

Brown bagging it takes the bewilderment out of second guessing what the corporate brigade may have in store for you at lunch time.

For the heavy duty boss who chooses to eat his lunch without sharing, at least, the courtesy of an ample time fix, whip out your brown bag of crackers, sardines, and some slices of raw onion, caring and sharing with a mini luau topped off with watermelon and pineapple makes for great boardroom skull searching.

You hit the red spot on the target.
Pass the Tums, please!

Our VP got into a nasty habit of regularly scheduling meetings during lunch time and not pony-up the food. Then an unhappy young invitee had thoroughly drenched the carpet in the conf-room with milk (clandestinely performed over the weekend), which, in short time, had caused that room to become unusable due to foul stench. Thus, a conference-call meetings were enacted instead, allowing everyone to happily munch on a lettuce leaf in their own personal cage.

I am with EAB and have shelled out over $200 on pizza recently on project meetings where lunchtime was the only time available and I'm such a co. Person it seemed like a good investment.There is a really scary trend going on where reimbursement for education,professional certification,home internet service(so one can work 24x7),cell phones are slashed from budgets,and now even suggesting use of personal computers vs. Company pcs as a benefit! Someone is getting a free ride and misrepresenting the true cost of doing real business. Who said "let them eat cake!"?...Meanwhile millions are spent based on a faulty ROI in a pretty powerpoint with little concern.All we want is a cup of soup sandwich to boost morale in a lunchtime meeting.Bing-may Walt suffer dryrot,rats and cockroaches in Conn.

The most egregious example of bean-counter mentality I've ever encountered was in the aftermath of a worker death. A command post was set up to to determine how to safely extract the deceased without adding to the death was ordered in, which later resulted in a full scale accounting inquisition regarding the necessity of providing emergency personnel this on-site 'gratuity'.

This is the sort of endemic thought pattern peculiar to business in general, and accountants in particular, that led to the BP disaster, and countless other debacles....putting a 'widget' price on everything, and valuing nothing.

Valley Forge, Vicksburg, Lenningrad.

Esau's birthright;
and to paraphrase Richard III:

" A pastrami on rye,
a pastrami on rye!
My kingdom for
a pastrami on rye!"

" Withdraw my lord,
I, the Earl of Sandwich,
will help thee."

" My good Earl,
Mustard on the side,
and not that yellow stuff.
The spicy brown deli stuff."

" And a pickle my lord?
45 minutes."

I agree that any meeting where any part of it occurs between 11:30 and 12:30 should include food for everybody; but Jake makes a real good point -- there are those who abuse the privilege and spoil it for the rest of us. It's been my experience that this is purely a private sector problem. I can't remember ever having a catered lunch during the days when I worked for state or federal government. A few times pizzas were brought in for a working lunch when deadlines loomed; but mere meetings were never held over lunch. Coming into private practice, I have been shocked at the amount of perks, and shocked at how so many of my co-workers know how to game the system to get a free meal almost every day. It's one thing to schedule a meeting at noon because there simply isn't any other time to do it, and quite another to schedule a meeting at noon precisely because the company will pick up the tab.

The corporate disregard which vanquished employee pension surety into obscurity now offers pizza and coke, no joke, for token lunches based on dismal hunches as managers weasel no-charge time from staff to prime their own fine lunches within their elite bunches.

They call me tater salad.

Ron White

In my circles, pizza and coke for lunch no longer cut it as a meeting lure, as it's been done to death. Either give people sufficient notification that they need to bring their own lunches, or lay out the dough for something of a non-pizza nature. Anything pasta served in an oversized aluminum tray is also suspect unless you throw in a lot of green salad and above par desserts.

And I'm his son, 'Tater-Tot'.

I think you're out to lunch on this one, Bing. Where's mine? :)

"I believe there are three miscreant entities that are advancing this barbaric agenda". "They are: finance, Corporate Excutives, and The CEO".

Let's not forget the cascading free lunch that continues past the burger i.e. Yachts, private jets, limousines, Chateaus, and the glitz and glitter of Casinos and the beaches in the Bahamas etc.

Thank you CNN for naming three jolly miscreants: Gephardt, Dole, and Weber. Congress seems to be no more than on-the-job training for future lobbyists.

Keep frying Buffet; maybe more goodies will be shed.

Although serving as the boss's lunch "audience" is certainly among the more unpleasant antiperks of being a corporate subordinate, it sure beats the hell out of being asked to continue a hallway discussion when the boss needs to, er, dispatch his lunch.