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Charlie Hatton
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Making Meals and Missing Meetings

Every Friday, my group at work has a twelve o’clock meeting. We have two subsets of people — factions, if you will — in the group, and the meeting agenda alternates between the two. The two factions don’t overlap much, so while everyone is encouraged to sit in on both groups’ powwows, most of us at the peon level are only required to attend every other meeting.

Lunch, however, is served at all the meetings.

It has thus become our favorite office pastime to devise strategies for sneaking into the conference room to spirit away free food, without staying for the other group’s meeting. Or, if we can possibly manage it, our own.

So far, the schemes have fallen into three categories, in increasing order of desperation:

The Early Bird Strategy

The meetings start at noon. The legitimate hungry attendees will often start showing up at ten or fifteen minutes till, to claim their seats and find a sandwich that hasn’t yet been pawed by everyone else in the office. So many illegitimate lunch tray crashers have started showing up at twenty till. Or eleven thirty. If we could convince the catering people to get the food there by eleven, there’s a good possibility the whole spread would be gone by meeting time.

(I call that the Screw Everybody Else, I’m Hungry NOW Strategy. We’re still working on that one.)

“Yes, you’ll have to leave the pasta salad. And say goodbye to those potato chips. Sacrifices must be made. War is hell, son.”

The Early Bird Strategy has the obvious advantage of stealth. If you can get in and out without anyone — especially the boss — seeing you, you’re scot free. The particularly slick among us will then hide the plate of food in our cubicle until five after twelve, when the ‘All clear!‘ is called, and we can safely gobble down our ill-gotten goodies.

One time, the boss came out at a quarter after noon to ask a question, and nearly caught four of us eating roast beef sandwiches that didn’t really belong to us. We hid the contraband, in the nick of time — but if you’ve ever washed mayonnaise out of your underwear before, then you’ll question whether it was really worth the effort. Just as I did.

But what if you’re working too hard — or busy reading porn in the mens’ room stall — and miss that magical eleven thirty window? Then you have to fall back on:

The Phantom Notebook Strategy

So there you are, in the conference room. You’ve loaded up a plate full of goodies — you even snatched an extra pickle, and there are three cookies in your pocket. But you can’t just waltz out — there are witnesses now. You’ve got to find an excuse to make your escape.

Enter the notebook.

All good meeting-goers arrive with a handy notebook in which to take notes, jot down action items, or doodle caricatures of the brownnosing jackass from down the hall. You know, the one who asks a thousand questions in staff meetings to appear ‘engaged’ while the boss is around, then plays Freecell and takes naps in his car the other four days a week. That guy. Make sure you get plenty of stink lines around that drawing.

If you’re poaching food, then the key is of course to not show up with a notebook. And once you’ve crammed your plate full of tasties, suddenly ‘remember’ that you left your pad at your desk, and toddle off like a good worker bee to get it.

And just never come back.

This plan has two disadvantages — but as I said, it’s clearly a second choice option. First, to be convincing that you’re really returning, you might have to abandon your plate in the conference room. Obviously, you don’t need a plate full of food to retrieve a notebook — and if you’re called on it, you’ll probably have to leave the plate behind.

That’s okay. Don’t sweat it. Just casually cram those pickles in a pocket — not the one with the cookies, mind you — and carry your sandwich out as a ‘snack for the road’. It’s not all the food, but you just might scrape enough out of it to call ‘lunch’.

Yes, you’ll have to leave the pasta salad. And say goodbye to those potato chips. Sacrifices must be made. War is hell, son.

Now let’s assume the worst-case scenario. You get there late. The boss is there. As you’re piling brownies on top of your plate pile, the meeting actually starts. There’s no leaving now. It’s time for:

The Faux Phone Call Strategy

This one is as simple as it sounds. When the meeting starts, you take a seat, as close to the door as possible. And you chow. You eat as fast and as much as is humanly possible. Make Kobayashi look like an anorexic parakeet on a diet.

The goal is to get through your food as quickly as possible. Then sit quietly — pretending to listen and nodding at all the right moments, of course — and digest until you can’t stand it any longer.

At that point, simply reach into your pocket and pull out your phone. Stare at the screen and make your best ‘thinking face’. Then frown as you stand up, pointing at the phone and mouthing those four sweet emancipating words:

I’d better take this.

Step out of the conference room, ease the door shut behind you, put your obviously non-vibrating phone away, and keep on walking. Later, you can make up a story about a family emergency or a once-in-a-lifetime stockbroker tip, or the babysitter calling to say that she’s sick or dead or pregnant with your child or something.

You’ve got the whole rest of the meeting to concoct a story; don’t do all the hard work right away. Besides, you just horked down twelve pounds of food and a macaroon in three minutes. You should probably lie down for a while, before you try anything taxing.

There you have it. We’ve got three ways to cash in on free food, without the pain of sitting through an entire hour of meeting time. Some methods are more painful than others, but that’s the way it goes. Planning ahead really does pay off.

And if this seems like an awful lot of work to skip out on a lunchtime conference? Pffft. Clearly, you’ve never attended one of our meetings. It’s not even close.

Permalink  |  1 Comment

One Response to “Making Meals and Missing Meetings”

  1. kerry says:

    we never had lunchtime meetings where i used to work. they were always at 2pm, where there’d pretty much be no excuse to have any sort of treat at all. no wonder i hated it there…

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