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FAST FORWARD: Business lunch blues

FAST FORWARD: Business lunch blues

Whatever happened to lunch? No I don't mean sandwich at the desk, laksa at the food court, muesli bar at the train station. I mean "lunch" lunch. "Let's do lunch". Restaurants. Wine.

Remember that kind of lunch? Sure you do. You know, "let's take the afternoon and enjoy the benefits of the corporate credit card." We need to mull these ideas over a bottle of Beaujolais. Followed by a proper red. Followed by ports. Oh my God, remember ports?

The problem with those kinds of lunches is that we can't remember them. That was the joy of them. Lost afternoons in some salubrious (or not) licensed (essential) premises where they served food (less essential). Discussions full of hopes and promises. Ideas which could launch a thousand empires. Visions so splendid that we all felt like power brokers, courtesy of the Cabernet Shiraz.

But all forgotten with the death of brain cells and tomorrow's hangover. Until the next long lunch.

I guess people had lunch before the 80's but that was my introduction to the power lunch and boy, what an introduction. Don't forget this was pre-email, pre-voicemail and, for most of us, pre-desktops. In the morning the mail came in, internal meetings were had, yesterday's phone messages (on pink while-you-were-out slips) answered, and by 12.30, the day's operational stuff was behind us.

Time then for the business end of the day - networking, strategic planning and schmoozing. The real deals were done in the restaurants, where we learned to work the room. It was a sea of suits, a cacophony of mobile phones (nineties now) and a shimmer of cigarette smoke.

So what happened? Well, a whole lot. Let me list the culprit factors.

FBT - that ghastly government deterrent to rightly claiming lunchtime business meetings as tax-deductible lunchtime business meetings.

The recurring recession - which seems to pop up every six years, that is if it ever really goes away. And with it, the lean and mean times. You know the spiel; staff cuts, pay cuts, less resources and less lunches. As a stalwart of the channel proclaimed about IT's latest economic foray - "same shit, different recession".

The reintroduction of the work ethic or its more honest cousin - fear of being fired. People are minding their backs, scared to leave their chairs and desks for the long lunch that is at least an obligatory 2 hours. It's all about looking efficient, putting in the hard yards, sacrificing family life. Forget fun!

Health. Now people jog (surely only fools go out in the midday sun) or go to the gym to keep the body in shape and deal with corporate stress levels. It seems more acceptable to be seen with a sports bag and freshly showered hair, than with slurry vowels and garlic breath. Funny that!

The technology thing and the global economy. We are now accessible for every working minute. Email knows no pre-lunch etiquette and requests for information bombard us all the time with no regard for our appetites. The working day which we used to compress into sensible hours now belligerently presents itself as 24x7.

So in defiance I went to lunch last week. No problem getting a booking in the half-empty gorgeous restaurant. Picture this: smoke free, no visible mobile phones yet lots of vibrating pockets, just mineral water - well, we threw caution to the wind and had a glass of Verdelho. We were also the last to leave at 2.40pm.

But what was worse was walking back into my office to 40 emails, 16 voicemail messages and the accusing looks from my colleagues.

Oh and no chair . . . but that's another story.

Vice President and Publisher, e-mail me at susan_searle@idg.com.au


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