Office Lunches: A necessary evil or a big waste of time and money?

It's Restaurant Week in DC, which I had heard about but wasn't planning on enjoying much. Going out for dinner is a treat when you're on a tight budget and frankly, going out to lunch is a big waste of cash in my mind when I know I can make a perfectly yummy meal at home for pennies basically. But a co-worker suggested a "fun" office lunch at Ten Penh, a fusion Asian restaurant close to our office. She was psyched because it was *only* $20 for three course meal. First of all, only $20? That sounds like a shitload to someone watching her spending. Second of all, who eats three courses at lunch, especially when serious work is expected of you afterward?

Unfortunately, there was little room for protestation from this brown bag diva. By the time I joined in the ridiculous string of internal e-mail conversations in which everyone seemingly jumped at the chance for a delicious meal, I begrudgingly agreed, not wanting to be the odd one out. I am still the newest member of the crew and want to show that I'm a team player, even if it means dropping cash on lunch. (After conversation with another co-worker, I realized I wasn't the only one feeling it was a bit pricey for a meal.)

Here's what I will say. The restaurant was superb. My meal, although way too much, was absolutely delicious: ginger limeade, fancy spring rolls, crabcakes with tempura beans and cold peanut noodle salad, and finished it up with a chocolate mousse cake. Yum.

If only I had been able to enjoy the whole experience more. Here's why. Office lunches are awkward, at least with my co-workers. There are enough socially awkward people who work here that it is absolutely impossible to have normal, fun, or even just polite conversation. The big boss lady arrived late--and I will say that up until that point things had been lighthearted and even close to comfortable. But as soon as she arrived, you could hear crickets. She then proceeded to fill the awkward silence with shop talk for the rest of the time, excluding half of us, and boring me to tears. Is there a professional development course on small talk and making your employees feel comfortable? I will sign her up.

To make matters more awkward, another coworker who could have a doctorate in TMI decided that dessert is the proper time to tell everyone about the time she went to a nice restaurant and enjoyed a nice piece of tuna.... and then proceeded to have very bad gas and diarrhea for the next day. I am not even close to kidding. Seriously, I'm begging for these people to take Social Skills 101...or even Table Talk Do's and Don'ts. Or even Manners for Five Year-Olds. Even that would cover not using potty talk at the freakin' table!

When the bill came, our supposed $20 meal ended up being $31 per person. Frankly, I'm pissed that I paid $31 dollars for an hour and a half of awkwardness. Needless to say, my personal spending budget for the month has been maxed, so it's going to be a frugal weekend for me. As long as it's free of talk concerning bowels or work, that will be just fine with me.

So, lovely readers, what have your experiences with work lunches been? Friend or foe? Worthwhile or worth skipping?


  1. Oh geez. What a crappy experience.

    I have long been a big protester of office lunches, ESPECIALLY when it's this excessive.

    In my office, it's mostly just birthdays and special occasions. Every time there's a birthday, someone plans a big lunch for the whole office. In the beginning, I always went just because I didn't want to be a jerk about it. After a couple months with a birthday or other occasion every week, I finally said enough. I now politely decline.

    Honestly, most of my co-workers go out every day or at least a few times a week anyway. I bring my lunch every day because I don't to spend money on eating out. If they can't understand that everyone can't afford to eat out, then they're the ones being rude in my opinion.

    I know it's tough when you're new, though. Soon you'll be able to politely bow out of lunches, though, and you'll be a lot better off.

  2. Every other friday we have a "group lunch" where one co-worker suggests a lunch place near our building and then the staff takes a walk to grab food and eat together in the conference room. It's not mandatory and I bring my lunch, as I do everyday. I'm not the only one, and it's more focused on the conversation than the food.

    Now, on the occasion that management treats (last week we had Asia Nine during our staff retreat, and it was awesome) it's on!