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lost opportunity

Skipping lunch means
lost opportunity

By conservative calculation, today I estimate that I saved around $50,000 over the years by eliminating lunch from my regular schedule and finding other pursuits to occupy my time at midday. I didn’t do it to economize, you understand, but the savings were a welcome by-product and I still would be delighted if I could figure out what I did with the cash.
I’m counting just five lunches a week, because, to be frank, I always have done a little grazing around the house (with no cash outlay) on weekends. At a spartan allocation of $6 per lunch (including gratuity), over a 50-week work year, that’s $1,500 annually, or $49,500 for 33 years.
I checked the bank the other day in my search for the money. It isn’t there. They haven’t seen it.
To make matters worse, my total figure probably is far too low, since it makes no allowance for either rising restaurant costs or changes in my own tastes, which have grown more particular and probably more expensive over the years. In truth, the number probably is closer to $60,000, and if I had that money I could buy myself a nice gift or start a portfolio of blue chips.
It was a missed opportunity, and let that be a lesson to those of you who might be tempted to follow my example. Get an old coffee can, save that lunch money and in 33 years you’ll be widely respected and hailed for your wisdom and your canny financial wizardry.
I am prompted to reveal this personal experience by the news that fewer and fewer people are eating lunch as part of the business day. A recent survey conducted by Steelcase, the office-furniture manufacturer, reported that some 40 percent of American workers don’t take a break for lunch. They apparently just keep working or else relax around the workplace.
Of the remaining 60 percent who do take a break at noon, half of those don’t eat anything. They use the time for a variety of other purposes, the most popular being personal errands, personal phone calls or shopping.
When I began my business career, lunch was a more important daily milestone than it is now. I have no statistics to support that observation, but I remember there was a considerable number of people who would plan on drinking two or three cocktails before dealing with a husky lunch of beef stew, vegetables, potato and salad. How they managed to stay awake for the rest of the day, I never comprehended.
That’s an extreme example. Rank-and-file businesspeople were more conservative and abstemious, but they still ranked lunch as a major interlude. The Steelcase survey indicates that era has ended, at least temporarily.
There is a downside for those of us who seldom eat lunch. We miss out on some major food trends. For example, I didn’t learn until sometime in mid-1996 that the food industry had discovered and was urgently marketing portobello mushrooms. A mushroom sandwich? Portobello? Whoever heard of such a thing? Wasn’t that a seaport near Naples?
If I’d been eating lunch, I am sure I would have become aware of the portobello much earlier, probably by the late 1980s. Instead, I discovered it by accident one evening on a dinner menu. I had the same experience with the chicken Caesar salad. When I quit lunch, you could have either a chicken salad or a Caesar salad. Then I looked around and a new entry, the chicken Caesar, had assumed a dominant lunch role.
One of the biggest changes is in the description related to the lunching act. When I quit, people usually said “Let’s go to lunch,” or “Would you like to have lunch?” Now the popular description is “Can we do lunch?”
My own lunchtime hours have been spent running–or serving as the rear observer–with a group of joggers, men and women who meet daily at the gym and follow a number of regular routes near downtown. Fourteen percent of those surveyed in the Steelcase study skip lunch and either go jogging or exercise at the gym.
They believe it is a positive lunchtime activity. In assessing the results of 33 years of not eating lunch, I can report that my bank account is no larger and my waistline is no smaller.
(Only rarely does Dick Hirsch eat his own words.)


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