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March 2, 2005 Volume 5, Issue 9
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Working Lunches


To save time, or to find a time everyone has free, we sometimes meet during lunch. It seems like a good idea, but there are some hidden costs.

The next slide appeared, and it was even busier-looking than the last one. Bugs picked up his sandwich. It looked great — thick slice of tomato, piled high…mmm-mmm. Compressing it, he took a big bite. Suddenly a thin slurry of mustard and tomato juices ran down his chin. He leaned over his paper plate, and reached for his paper napkin.

A sandwich piled high

A sandwich. Courtesy California 5-a-Day Campaign.

It was one of those nano-napkins you get in restaurant dispensers, and it was overmatched. So he rose and walked to the back of the room for more napkins.

Walking back to his seat, he noticed that the same slide was on the screen, but a heavy debate was underway. He sat down and listened for a moment. Then he broke in. "Excuse me, Ash, what did I miss?"

Ash summarized, and now Bugs was back in step with the discussion — at a cost. He had delayed the meeting, he had broken the flow, and no doubt he had missed something.

Lunch meetings don't work as well as we'd like. Here are some of the hidden costs:

Food distracts
Rustling wrappers, chocolate chip cookies, crisp potato chips, sumptuous sushi, your favorite sandwich — they're all wonderful. And they can distract us from the business of the meeting. Most of us just can't do our best work with all these distractions.
We lose a chance to relax
A working lunch
is neither work
nor lunch
When we meet over food, we lose an opportunity for a period of relaxation, and a break away from the cares and stress of the workday. The more stressful and important the meeting, the more likely we are to meet over lunch. The more stressful and important the meeting, the more we need the break instead.
The buffet is away
If the meal is served as a buffet, people do step over to pick up something more — another bite, some mustard, or like Bugs, a napkin. When people are at the buffet, they're away. Absences corrupt decisions.

We probably can't stop all lunch meetings. In some companies, lunch meetings are actual policy. But we can do a better job of managing lunch meetings.

Give people more space
If you're serving food, everyone needs a seat at the table, and everyone needs more table space. Get a bigger room.
Split the meeting
Set aside time to eat. At least 20 minutes. During eating time, don't conduct business. Let people socialize.
Serve food that's easy to eat
If some people won't have table space, serve non-drip food that everyone can eat one-handed. Finger food or sandwiches work best.

We interfere with our own breaks in other ways too — not just meetings. For instance, some of you are reading this while you eat lunch. I hope you found it relaxing, but next time, what can you do differently? Go to top Top  Next issue: Planning Your Getaway  Next Issue
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Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

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