It came at the very end of the email.
Oh yes, it looked perfectly nice, above board. Some might even say it was good manners. And yet it was as palatable as a lunchtime dainty proferred on a tray, laced with hooks inside the cream puff.
It wasn’t so much an invitation, but a trap.
Last week I braved the working woman’s nightmare.
It wasn’t laddered tights, or a wardrobe malfunction. It was worse than that. It was even worse than colouring in my nipples in the middle of a board meeting, or presenting straight-faced as the ‘three breasted woman from Microsoft’ when that shoulder pad set up camp between my twin peaks.
Last week, I was invited to meet with a client in Bristol. I thought it would be a one to one meeting, and wasn’t prepared for meeting the gang – the whole gang all four of the movers and shakers in their marketing department. Nor was I prepared for delivering a cogent presentation on my client’s marketing strategy for 2012, I thought it was just going to be a casual catch up. I jumped that hoop ok, it was the next bit that was a worry. I can talk till the cows come home, but I haven’t yet figured out how to do it with my mouth full.
Do you shrivel up and die when you read the words – working lunch?
Is there anything less compatible than working and eating?
If you get invited to a working lunch one of two things is going to happen. You’ll eat something and establish yourself as a piglet with bush piglet manners, or you’ll abstain, starve and fade away. And as your blood sugar falls through the floor you’ll start to jibber nonsensically and drool a little as you food-crazed stare into your colleagues’ plate.
It has taken me almost twenty years, but I have sussed entertaining clients. I’ve learnt to never drink more than one glass of wine whilst working, for fear of replicating that incident where they had to drag me out from under the tables and throw me in a taxi home. (In my defence, I’d been dumped by a bloke that day and it was Xmas and I hadn’t eaten.)
I’ve learnt to never socialise with the work crew, after that fateful toga party on that sales conference where we took photos under the table of what everyone was wearing under their togas, and promptly had my camera and film confiscated.
I’ve learnt also to -
- Always open juices on airplanes at arm’s length (like holding a baby with smelly nappy). They always explode all over your top. Always.
- Never order spaghetti at a work dinner, or anything creamy or drippy.
- Stagger food and drink when networking over lunch. It’s a waltz pattern – place your glass on a nearby table. Open your mouth to talk, then eat a bite, then take a sip from the drink on the table. Talk, eat, sip. Talk, eat, sip. It’s physically not possible to hold both a plate, cutlery and a glass at the same time. The waiting staff set you up for failure and stand in the kitchen sniggering at your consternation.
- Never eat finger food that leaves behind it a slick of oil on your fingers, because you can guarrantee that will end up on your jacket.
- Likewise avoid asparagus, mushrooms, green beans, and spinach – unless you want to look like Popeye with food between your teeth.
Yes, I’ve learnt all of this just as I have also learnt – grasshopper - that it is impossible to present and eat.
Those crunchy looking crisps? Not for me.
They crunch like an iceberg breaking free from the ice shelf.
That lovely baguette with salmon, cream cheese and dill? Not for me, unless I dare to demonstrate the voluminous capacity of my gob.
I toss aside the tossed green salad. I am not amused by the amuse bouche, and will desert the desserts.
Instead, I will hold my head up, look professional and talk authoritively about machines that go ping and plans to pimp them. I do not need to eat, I am working woman hear me roar.
And on the way home, I’ll probably pop into Burger King.
Is this your biggest work challenge? Do you also dread the ‘working lunch’ or even worse the ‘drinks after work’?
Image: Flickr CC