Dining In

You can tell a lot about a company by how it deals with food and drink for visitors. It could be that ubiquitous candy jar on the reception's desk; the lunches served in the conference room; or even the age of the food lingering in the office refrigerator.

Is it merely a reflection of how you value your guests? Does it truly indicate how well organized and efficiently run the office may be? Are the selections appropriate in a business environment? Is there any food or drink at all for your guests?

Let's start with the bowl of candy on the reception desk. A large Big Hunk candy bar being served would no doubt put off a prospective client. Not that there's anything wrong with the candy bar, but these can take a good 10 minutes to get through by the most experienced 8-year-old.

I remember my brother once telling me that someone in his office served up Milk Duds. He remembers someone saying, "I haven't had one of those in years. They break your teeth." Naturally, a few minutes later somebody broke a tooth.

I recently encountered a classic in one office-the jalapeno jawbreaker. No comment necessary. I'm thinking some mints might be a better choice.

Conference Room Dining
It's entirely possible that your clients might not find your presentation quite as scintillating as you perceive they might. With that in mind, feed your crowd earlier rather than later. Nothing says "we care" more than a well-organized spread dropped on the table at 11:30 a.m.

Avoid the sleep-induction properties of turkey and especially alcoholic beverages. You really don't want your clients snoozing on you during your key presentation. If not properly prepared, your cluck really can disable your clients. Salmonella is one of the most dangerous forms of food poisoning with some rather disabling symptoms, such as the inability to sign your contract.

Cheese puffs can easily result in a slew of unseemly orange-stained paperwork at the table. Technical drawings are particularly disdainful of the puff.

And what about the staining properties of some fruit juices? One really doesn't want their conference table looking like some surrealistic circus clown convention.

Surprisingly, the fruit platter is generally also a bit of a tail dragger since the popular favorites are spotted and grabbed early on. While no one doubts that we should encourage healthy selections, the back of the chow line does not bode well for those who prefer strawberries.

I read somewhere that General Douglas MacArthur had incredible bladder stamina. He held extraordinarily long meetings and would wait until his antagonists would leave the room for a break. When they did so, controversial topics would be raised and resolved before they could return.

I recommend sticking to caffeine-laced drinks and foods that will not incapacitate your guests for days.

The Office Refrigerator
Have you looked closely at your refrigerator lately? Regardless of all the rules and regulations taped onto the door, I suspect it's still filled with unloved meals of days past. Let's just hope it is days past rather than months.
Typically, the office refrigerator is used to store cold drinks for guests. I distinctly recall being served a canned soft drink once that didn't successfully make the transition from a disgusting refrigerator to the conference room table. Clearly, some of the can stayed in the refrigerator, and some of the refrigerator stayed with the can. Ugh.

Vegetarians, Vegans, Ex-Smokers, And Special Requirements
There are certain groups in our society that seem to enjoy taking offense when confronted with traditional norms and mores; none more so than the ex-smoker-the office equivalent of the placard-wielding, street-corner zealot. In my experience, ex-smokers tend to require breaks more often, mostly to vent their jealousy with the current crop of smokers more than anything else.

It's good form to ask your guests if they have any special dietary requirements as part of setting up your meeting. Their requirements may dictate stopping at several different food establishments in order to be properly provisioned. It's also a great way to make them feel welcomed. I remember a fish-eating colleague was thrilled to see some salmon patties show up at a company barbeque.

Always Have A Dump Plan
Most of the time there will be leftovers after lunch. Rather than cluttering up the table, try to pass them off quickly to the voracious wolves in your organization, most often found in your fabrication or installation departments. Saves them some money, keeps them from going out for lunch, and you might even get more work out of them-all of which works out if you feed your conference room early.