Dear Mr. Vadukut
First let me congratulate on your excellent weekly column on office culture. In fact when I see my colleagues here in Omaha dealing with cubicle issues I always tell them: “Why don’t you send Mr. Vadukut an email? I am sure he hathaway to deal with your problems.”
I write to you concerning a recent article I read in the Financial Times. In the course of an interview, economist Kenneth Rogoff said that if he has to attend meals where he may be expected to talk or discuss issues, he eats beforehand. He said: “I did that before going to the White House. I didn’t want to meet Obama and just be thinking about the salad.”
Do you think it is correct etiquette to eat before a business lunch? Also, if time permits, can you explain how to eat cooked cherry tomatoes gracefully?
Mr. W. Buffett
Business lunches have always been one of the elements of corporate life that I despise the most. I find the idea of eating and drinking in full view of other people terribly distasteful.
Surely you’ve travelled on a long-haul flight where a small child seated nearby constantly looks at you during meal times. While you are precariously trying to convey from tray to mouth some ‘delicate mediterranean aubergine repeatedly dropped from a great height, served with traditional chicken tikka masala mini-croissant’, this mini-fiend watches you intently and smiles evilly. Boom. Now I have no option but to pack the entire tray in my cabin baggage for later consumption.
However, business lunches are inevitable in our cubicle lifestyle. For instance, imagine a commonplace scenario: Two CEOs wish to meet in secrecy and craft a media leak that gives the impression that their companies may be thinking of a merger. All in order to momentarily boost stock prices. Business lunch at a discreet, high-profile restaurant in some five-star hotel is the only option.
Now I can see the merit in Mr. Kenneth Rogoff’s approach. You don’t want to be invited to lunch with President Obama and then spend all the time thinking about, for instance, a souffle that looks imperious, substantial and wholesome on the outside, but is light, airy and without substance on the inside.
So, eating a light salad before the business meal is a clever idea. Or is it?
The idea of a business meal is not just to indulge in conversation. Far from it. The business meal is, in fact, a supreme battlefield on which to unleash corporate psychological warfare. Let me explain.
Imagine that you’ve been forced to take a colleague out to lunch. You detest this colleague and would gleefully pass the person through the paper shredder if you could. However, his/her approval is indispensable for an upcoming project.
The first trick is to feign friendliness. Offer to choose the restaurant and book the table. Immediately your colleague is thinking: “Ha! This Sidin fellow! What a pushover!”
Next, choose an obscure, upmarket restaurant that you visit often and where you know the staff well. This will make your colleague feel unsettled and inferior. (Everybody knows that the waiter of a posh restaurant recognizing you by name comes somewhere between the Bharat Ratna and the Moturi Satyanarayan Award in terms of social stature.)
Next, insist on ordering. Remember that most people feel terribly conscious about the attention their food gets in restaurants. So, depending on cuisine, order for your colleague the Super Duper European Sizzler, the Ultra Special 14-foot Paper Roast Dosa, or the Flaming Chowmein Spectacular. (Recipes on request.)
The gasps in the restaurant as the smoking, man-sized, towering inferno of food is brought to your colleague will make him/her feel conscious and extremely awkward.
Order a side salad for your self and finish it in five minutes. Then every three minutes, till the person is done eating, say “No no, you carry on baba. We can talk while you eat.” The guilt of overeating, making you wait, and looking like a fool while literally trekking up and down inside a ridiculous dosa will crush your colleague’s self-esteem.
At this juncture, they are ripe for the death blow: dessert. Convince your colleague that the excellent desserts are worth the calories. Order a cheese and biscuit platter for yourself while getting something like Palada Pradhaman Payasam or Triple Chocolate Mudpie for your friend. This payasam has the unique ability of settling in the stomach and then congealing into a mass with the size, subtlety and flexibility of the Arc De Triomphe. By now your beaten, broken colleague is ready to agree to anything.
Seal the deal with a coffee of some kind, and drive the final nail into the coffin: Insist that you walk back to office for some fresh air.
I hope all readers will be inspired by this sample lunch menu to infuse strategy into their meals.
Parting tip: There is no graceful way to eat those cherry tomatoes that look warm outside but are full of molten magma inside. Best to pack them in a paper napkin, wait for them to cool down, and eat later in office as a posh evening snack.
Cubiclenama takes a weekly look at the pleasures and perils of corporate life. Your comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
Also Read | Sidin Vadukut’s previous columns