Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Anatomy of a power lunch...

For many of us working stiffs, the lunch break is one of our only sources of peaceful refuge, where we might escape the rigorous toil of our day-to-day jobs. Or, in my case, the irresponsible net surfing of our day-to-day jobs. How you spend that break is critical to your spiritual well-being, for a lousy lunch can put baby in a poo-poo mood all day if he’s not careful. I often opt for the power lunch, myself.

Now, since I’m not really “in business”, I don’t follow the rules of the typical “Power Lunch”, where a bunch of high rollers gather to discuss big market deals. I go for more of a lower-case “power lunch”, where two friends get together to talk about why everyone else in the world is stupid and how they are vastly underpaid to deal with them.

Here are some critical items to consider for your next power lunch:

Location - Choosing a location for your power lunch is the most critical element of the entire exercise. I don’t care if you cover the check, wear a three-piece suit, and discuss the insightful subtext of Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22” in the company of the girl of your dreams, if you do it at Beto’s you’ve blown your hour. Similarly, you could show up naked at Red Iguana at noon and talk about bullion cubes with your ex-wife and still have a spectacular experience. At least until the cops come.

Recommendations: Fortunately, picking a good location in Salt Lake is easy. There are many to choose from. You could go for the Chile Verde at the aforementioned Red Iguana, the calzones at Gepetto’s, or the best gyro’s in the state at one of three valley Greek Souvlaki locations. The best option of all might be the lunch special at the Thai Siam at 14th and State. For seven bucks, you get your choice of two different entrĂ©e items, each one generous enough to cover a meal on its own. Just be careful about asking out your waitress, ‘cause if you actually do take her out, it becomes very awkward to bring another date to eat there later.

Wardrobe - The vast majority of my power lunches are with guys with straight jobs, so they always have to come in business casual, often with ties. I go out of my way to dress as casually as possible, to reinforce the fact that while they may be making considerably more money than I do, I can at least dress like a slob at work. Viva the ivory tower. The exception is my buddy Ben, who manages to work in the law field in a half-buttoned shirt and corduroys. Truly the best of both worlds.

Recommendation: Hot lunch spots will be filled with urban professionals in khakis and business suits. A floor-length white fur coat and a purple three-piece suit will make a statement they will remember.

Timing - I have many friends and colleagues that favor an early start time in these cases, often around 11:30ish. While I understand the desire to avoid the lunch rush, it makes more sense to me to wait until after said rush, say about one to two in the afternoon. The rationale is that the more work you get out of the way before lunch, the less you have to deal with when you get back.

Recommendation: Go around 1:30pm, and if your friend gives you grief about it, tell them you’ll buy them a souvenir shot glass and to stop griping.

Guest - Here we have everything from the old friend you haven’t seen in five years to the blind date you aren’t sure you can hack a whole evening with. Either way, picking the right location will ensure a good time. Most often I use the power lunch to stay in touch with my elaborate network of kindred spirits, but sometimes I’ll actually use the meeting for business or more intimate personal purposes, inasmuch as a blind date can be considered an intimate personal purpose. When you consider the fact that you will likely be hugging the person you are on the blind date with, in my book that is more intimate than the old buddy you give the handshake/half-hug/back slap thing to, even if the latter is more meaningful in the long run.

Recommendation: If he’s available, I’d call Don King.

To Drink or Not to Drink? - I’m not referring to alcohol, here. What I’m getting at is do you or do you not order anything besides water at a meal. If someone else is picking up the tab, probably not. If I’m paying, probably not. So when do you? When you’re at a place like Iggy’s, that has great custom lemonades that are almost worth the three bucks. Or when you just don’t give a rat’s, so you blow $2.50 on a Sprite.

Recommendation: Go with the water. You may contract any variety of microscopic illnesses, but at least you won’t have to endure the additional shame of having paid for them.

Conversation Topics - 99 times out of 100, conversation topics will be based in either the “catching-up” field (how is work, have you been on a date in the last six months, was the operation successful) or the “Seinfeldian” field of “topics that bear no relevance to our daily lives” (will Jack Black be dead within five years, a la Belushi and Farley). On the odd occasion I have a more business/progressive intent to the lunch, I may try to engage the friend into some sort of formal commitment, such as “if I e-mail this 214-page manuscript to you, will you read it?” or “if I show up at your office on Monday, will you pay me?” but these types of power lunches are few and far between.

Recommendation: Any topic that will attract the uncomfortable attention of neighboring tables is always a score. “Really, Bob? How long do you think you can get away with keeping that Amway salesman in your basement?”

Bill Coverage - My experience thus far has fallen into four categories:

1. Split the check. This one covers the lion’s share of get-togethers, and also creates the biggest hassles for our servers.
2. Trade-off. This is the mutual good faith gesture, where one friend takes the load off the other’s back for every other lunch. In some ways, it is used to prioritize an effort between the two friends to try to get together frequently.
3. I’m on a date, so I gotta pay. Self-explanatory.
4. Josh is really poor, so his friend picks up the tab every time and refuses his offer to chip in. Self-explanatory.

Recommendation: Go to the bathroom as soon as your server delivers the check. Stay for thirty minutes. If your guest gets annoyed, they will suppress their anger, assuming that “it must have been the food”.

Careful attention to the above categories can result in a pleasant experience for all involved. Careful attention to other inconsequential categories, like shoelace color and obsessive menu manipulation can result in confusion and/or revulsion for all involved. The important thing is that we show love and compassion for our fellow man, be it through unbridled zeal or those subtle gestures like a kind word or a touch to the elbow. And always tip at least 15%.