How Much Should A Work Lunch Cost?

If your work lunch costs more than $10, you’re doing it wrong.

Photo: Flickr

When I was working in an office full-time, on the days I forgot to shovel leftovers into a Tupperware, I’d survey the sad state of affairs for food in the blocks around my office. Ordering in was a special occasion, reserved for days when standing up from my desk to do anything felt like an imposition. Leaving the office wasn’t much better; I got out, but only for a few minutes. I usually found myself standing in line for ten minutes waiting at one of those salad places where a man takes a mezzaluna and turns kale into confetti, paying $12 or so for what was essentially a fancy coleslaw.

This was fine for me. It worked. I was always full and always happy. One day, I made a rash decision: I ordered from the same salad place –online, instead of picking it up– and added an entire cornucopia of ingredients that came to $18 before tip, mostly without thinking and influenced by how ravenous I was. I was incensed at my own stupidity and very, very hungry. I ate the salad when it came because I was starving, but the experience stayed with me.

A work lunch should cost $10 and that’s it, I told myself as I forked stray lettuce and bits of cheese into my mouth. Any more and it’s a waste of money.

Lunch when consumed at your desk in the middle of the workday isn’t a meal. It’s a means to an end. You once were hungry and ten, maybe fifteen minutes later, you are not. It is fuel. A meal is an experience, a brief moment of respite eating something nice in a cafe by yourself, drinking a glass of wine. There’s a whole process, a song and dance, part of which includes getting the bill, looking at it and heaving an imperceptible sigh at how much you spent without realizing. In this context, the money spent is fine, because you did a thing. You sat in a restaurant, stared at a menu and decided to figure out once and for all if you like hearts of palm in your salads. If your meal alone cost $25, that’s great. That’s fine. But the price of a work lunch should reflect its utilitarian purpose because once you cross that threshold, eating becomes an Event, not something you need to do so you don’t snap at Jessica in your 3pm meeting.

$10 gets me something not terrible — “edible” as my mother says — and filling, like a BLT and a pickle from the deli, with an iced tea if I feel like it. Eaten at my desk, headphones on, gazing into the depths of an Amazon shopping cart for fifteen minutes, it is perfect. It is just the thing.

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