Lunch or Brunch?

The company lunch is dead. Like smoking in bars and eating at Gordon Ramsay’s, lunching at length is a thing of the past. There was a time not long ago when city boys, journos, admen and attorneys would think nothing of a three-hour, two-bottle, one-stogie luncheon at a lunch cafe. The work ethic has changed, and in the words of Russell Norman, who was Operations Director of Caprice Holdings before launching Polpo, “it’s no longer acceptable in modern company to acquire rat-arsed at lunch.” So instead we lunch on the hoof. Homogeneous sandwich chains are creaming it in whilst catering companies deliver “quality buffets” to your workplace. Upmarket restaurants are left to flog cheaper lunches in an effort to grapple back some type of custom. One of the clearest indication of business meetings moving to breakfast is the all day breakfast menu, also known as all day brunch.

Most noteworthy is that the growing availability of food outside rancid pastries and watery eggs. Now you can breakfast on anything from spiced banana French toast into bacon naan into sourdough with avocado with olive oil and chilli flakes. If a restaurant is to stand out it cannot get away with the normal breakfast menu any more. It is becoming more common to run business over breakfast; meetings which may once have happened over a steak and a jar, are now occurring over croissants and coffee. For a lot of us this is not an ideal switch. Although some can be dimmed and muted in the morning, hopefully by lunchtime the mind has managed to crank itself into some sort of functional order. Breakfast, many would argue, is a time for silence and recovery from whatever happened the night before, not for imitation smiles and flattery. But most importantly, what is the etiquette of the working breakfast and how can a food enthusiast cope with it? If you be abstemious and purchase juice and a fruit salad, or crack on with the full functions? It is embarrassing to be ploughing your way through a complete English while the person you’re meeting and attempting to impress has a skinny latte and an apple. The final breakfast meeting I went to followed a long night and I, ravenous, was thrilled to find that a spread of bacon rolls and croissants on the assembly table. To my dismay no one touched a morsel, and I felt too shy to go piling in solo.

Breakfasts are popular with restaurateurs for obvious reasons. They are paying megabucks to rent the website, and so it is sensible to squeeze as much from it as possible. Virtually everything about breakfast is cheap. A pot of tea which costs the restaurant only a few dollars to create can go to get a hundred times that. And yet something about the company breakfast appeals. A meeting at any other time disrupts the flow of work and writes off a portion of the day. Getting together for is more convenient and leaves you to get on with your daily business activities. Breakfast meetings work for most business workers as the day can be taken up with lunch and dinner service, and you can see why they’re popular in business, too. You get a good deal of work done before 9am and for a much smaller bill. For the punter it is also a novelty. Breakfast is usually a joyless nibble at a slice of toast and a hastily slurped mug of tea, day in, day out. Some variety from the dull morning routine is a cure. Then you can get on with your day with a full belly and sharper wits.

Mildred Shaw