Thursday, 23 September 2010

Team lunches

Team outings to London’s chain eateries provide plenty of dead air and space for behavioural observation. Sometimes they are for sad occasions (team members leaving) and sometimes are enforced birthday ‘treats’, yet these banquets are rarely regal, inpromtu, or kind on the wallet.

First off is the choice of venue. When Soho boasts over 100 varied, good quality and reasonably priced independent restaurants I struggle to see why office parties end up in:

Pizza Express
Etc (this isn't a cool new restaurant, I am incuating that chain restaurants are similar and blend into each other).

These places aren’t actually too bad, we all have to use them, just why pick them every time? Executives are not known for their cultured palates or love of cordon blue cuisine, but it does pain me when everyone professes to loving such mediocre fair.

‘I love Wagas, the katsu curry is my favourite thing to eat ever’
‘Pizza express is the absolute best, their doughballs are soooooo nice’

n.b. The fact that Pizza Express can get away with selling half cooked balls of flour for £3.95 a pop is perhaps the most devilishly brilliant crime in history. Someone should call 999, because the British public just got robbed.

When entering the restaurant (whether it has been booked or not), there is always a scrabble for seats.

‘I want to sit next to the cool kids’
'You and me buddy!'

Nobody wants to get stuck with the senior managers and have to talk about work, so embarrassing gaps between place setting start to appear.

These restaurants are set up for larger office parties, but this executive can’t help but feel that when a bunch of 15 giggling suits walk into a place cooing over the menu, it kind of ruins the ambiance for tourist couples and hungry families.

Conversation around the table is usually as bland an inoffensive as the décor in the restaurant. It usually goes something like this:

Office drone A: “what did you order?”
Office drone B: “Generic food A. I like Generic Food A. What about you?”
Office drone A: “I ordered genetic food A too! We must be twins or something!”
Office drone B “No. I only chose Generic food A as it is usually passable in this sterile canteen environment”
. . . . . . .
Office drone A: “How is your food? Mine’s great”
Office drone B: “My food is of acceptable standard, although I wish the price of it were slightly lower."

To be fair much of the conversation can be made much more interesting with the addition of alcoholic beverages. Unfortunately, said liquid refreshment will double your bill and make it even harder to avoid falling into a deep sleep at your desk come 4 p.m.

The winner of 'most excruciating part of the team lunch meal' goes to paying the bill. First of all, no one has cash. I’m guilty of this myself, but it can be frustrating when ten people who need to get back to the office are left entering their PIN details one at a time.

Added to this, there’s always a voucher. A quick internet search reveals how badly chain eateries have been hit by the recession as there are a host of BOGOFs and 50% offs. Colleagues always end up in an embarrassing scrabble for crumpled bits of paper, before the final bill comes back more complicated than ever, and with a smaller than hoped for discount attached.

I think I’ll leave Martin Lewis of Money Saving Expert to enjoy low quality curries at 50% off. Imagine what a riot it would be working in his office! You would probably have to collect firewood to boil the kettle and bring in your own toilet paper.

Shine on Martin.