Work-Appropriate, Non-Edible Indulgence
January 25, 2018 11:40 AM   Subscribe

My Dear Hive Mind: Next week, the staff in my lab will have two evenings in a row where we will have to stay late for meetings. We all hate evening meetings, so I'd like to do something to make the second one a little easier (I don't have control over the first one). I was planning to order dinner for us, but one of the staffers feels uncomfortable eating in public, and wouldn't eat at a meeting. What are non-food ways of making this meeting more pleasant (aside from keeping it as short as possible)?
posted by MrBobinski to Work & Money (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a break room where you could put food out during the work day to graze upon as they see fit? This keeps the meeting non-food while also ensuring everyone else isn't running on empty.
posted by aniola at 11:48 AM on January 25, 2018 [15 favorites]

Could you take orders at the end of the meetings for coffee/tea/cocoa/soda and bring it to your staff on the mornings after the late meetings?
posted by shortyJBot at 11:48 AM on January 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

Frankly, I wouldn't adjust the situation to fit the preferences of the person who won't eat in public, since being uncomfortable eating in public is...a bit unusual, shall we say. Certainly it's unusual enough that she needs to be the one accommodating everyone who wants to eat, not the other way around; her preference is no reason to have all the other staffers go hungry at a late meeting. Order dinner, and whoever doesn't want it doesn't have to eat it, but most people will appreciate it. I also agree with aniola's suggestion to put out food so people, particularly the one staffer, can eat it during the day if they want.
posted by holborne at 11:54 AM on January 25, 2018 [55 favorites]

How restrictive is the dress code in your workplace? Relaxing the dress code seems to be a big hit for people who have to wear dress pants all day, for example.
posted by Emmy Rae at 12:13 PM on January 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

I realize it's unusual. The staffer is not at all asking everyone to accommodate them. It's me who is unsatisfied with the dinner option, because I'd like all four of us have a good time, if possible. I know there is a non-food way for us to do this...I just don't know what it is.
posted by MrBobinski at 12:14 PM on January 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

I am not sure how lenient your work environment is for something like this, but I've had jobs in the past where, if I'd put in a bunch of extra hours or had to come in on a weekend or something, I could take an off-the-record half day later in the month as long as I let my boss know ahead of time and there wasn't anything important going on. Doesn't make the meetings themselves any more pleasant, but it could be something to take the sting off of them long term.

Also, sometimes when my department (marketing) has our periodic long-but-necessary meetings with admissions, my boss will have a little branded promotional trinket waiting on the table for everyone--a college water bottle, fancy folder and pen, etc. Don't know how practical that would be for your department, but I know I'm always a little happier about those long meetings when I come away from it with a cool new notepad to write in.

But yeah, other than that, all the best meetings I remember are the ones that were not any longer than they had to be and felt like a productive use of time where a lot got done. Outside of snacks or beverages (I do love a meeting with a special treat beverage option!), there's not a lot to do for them to make them better other than to conclude them quickly and make sure the time is used in as worthwhile a way as possible.
posted by helloimjennsco at 12:39 PM on January 25, 2018 [6 favorites]

Since you are asking about only three other people, I would just go ask the three other people.

Nevertheless (should all be about the same $ as ordering dinner), here's what I can think of:
* babysitting reimbursement
* credit towards food delivery to use at a later time
* $ or cash approximation
posted by batter_my_heart at 12:40 PM on January 25, 2018 [7 favorites]

Credit towards food delivery is a good option. They can order on their way home and not have to worry about cooking dinner or they can save it for another time.
posted by I'm Not Even Supposed To Be Here Today! at 12:41 PM on January 25, 2018

Depends how late exactly the meeting is going, but I bet the other staff members will be much more "uncomfortable" being forced to stay hungry than your single staff member will be with food provided that you certainly won't be forcing them to eat...have you asked them? I can't even describe how cranky and miserable I would be if forced to wait hours later than usual to eat, regardless of any other "perks".

I agree that a meal with just 4 people might be awkward if one person abstains, but could you provide hearty snacks to eat throughout the meeting? Or at the very, very least, make it clear beforehand that you will not be providing food and they're welcome to bring things to nibble on during the meeting (or during a break if that's not possible).
posted by randomnity at 12:42 PM on January 25, 2018 [8 favorites]

Pizza Pizza pizza! The staff member who doesn't eat in public doesn't have to partake.
posted by pintapicasso at 1:03 PM on January 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

The appropriateness of this definitely depends on your work relationships/culture, but I had one supervisor who gave me a little present to give my kid (and my child-free coworker a dog toy for his pup!) when we had to work a weekend. It was a sweet acknowledgment that he knew extra time at work meant time away from our families.

Also, everything helloimjennsco said, especially about off-the-record compensatory time off and efficient, productive use of the time.
posted by xylothek at 1:05 PM on January 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

I'd really be so cranky and upset if there was a long evening meeting without substantial food provided or the opportunity to go out and get that food -- and I'd still prefer the first option since the second option unnecessarily prolongs the meeting.

I know you want to be respectful of the staffer who doesn't eat in public, but I think you'll have three other unhappy people if you don't address the food question in a substantial way.
posted by andrewesque at 1:07 PM on January 25, 2018 [17 favorites]

You did not say how long the meeting would last. If it will go several hours I don't think people will be fully productive if they are hungry after working all day. Offer to order dinner from a local restaurant to be delivered just before the meeting. They can order from the menu. The one person can join everyone else or can save it for later after the meeting. Offer to allow them an hour before the meeting go grab dinner also offer to reimburse the expense.
posted by tman99 at 1:10 PM on January 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Let's assume the poster has the food thing figured out, since they specifically asked for non-food suggestions.
posted by Emmy Rae at 1:15 PM on January 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

This may not be possible depending on the nature of your work, but can you offer them a commensurate late start on the morning of the meeting (so that they only work a regular-length day) or the morning after the meeting? If that's not possible - perhaps encouraging a long lunch or long break during the day?
posted by mosst at 1:23 PM on January 25, 2018 [8 favorites]

In some places when I have worked late, the company paid for a ride home in a taxi/car service type thing. Not really helpful if everyone is a driver or bikes or whatever, but it was a nice perk.

You could also get delivery of better-quality meals that can be taken home after work, (a la Munchery or something). It means that everyone gets free dinner that night or they can have it at a later date or eat if for a meal at work the next day...

Basically ... it's hard to come up with a non-meal treat for work, to enjoy at work, when you're also interrupting 3 peoples' meals for 2 nights in a row.
posted by vunder at 1:35 PM on January 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

[Folks, let's let the "is it or isn't about the food" thing rest at this point; the food-is-important-though position's been clearly stated a few times, so whatever ambiguity in the question notwithstanding go ahead and focus on non-food stuff at this point barring any followup request from the asker to the contrary.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:41 PM on January 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Will there be breaks and a separate break room available? If not - I agree that food is off the table. It would be socially awkward for all to be eating except one person, and you're really considerate and thoughtful to think of everyone in the group.

If you can't offer the food separately and make it optional, you could ...

* make a a coffee/tea/hot chocolate run during the meeting
* leave a personalized, small gift for everyone at their desk the following morning (or week, if that's more convenient) with a handwritten, personal thank-you note recognizing that individual's efforts
* gift a personal holiday (or paid half-day off) for them to use as they wish
* host an off-site work meeting at a local coffee shop, coffee's on you, and thanking everyone for their efforts
posted by onecircleaday at 1:54 PM on January 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Time or money to compensate.
posted by kapers at 1:54 PM on January 25, 2018 [9 favorites]

How're people getting transport home? In my field, late hours mean transit by town car or taxi on the company dime.
posted by joyceanmachine at 2:03 PM on January 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

Hire a masseuse to come in and give short (10 minutes or so) neck/shoulder massages? If there’s time to fit that in, that is. My workplace did that once and it was heavenly.
posted by Empidonax at 2:12 PM on January 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

You see, having to stay late at work is never going to be made indulgent by anything. The only thing food does is reduce the misery. The kindest thing you can do is wrap this up as quickly as possible. If you want to acknowledge it sucks and absolutely do not want to order food for the occasion make it known people are welcome to eat anything they have brought in and perhaps spend the money you’re now not spending on dinner on a gift card foe a coffee shop or something similar. They can enjoy that at another time.
posted by koahiatamadl at 2:12 PM on January 25, 2018 [10 favorites]

Are they getting compensatory time at time-and-a-half? That would be the expectation at places I've worked.

Since lab staff - Is there extra equipment you don't *need* but that would make peoples' days a bit easier (e.g. another vortexer or cordless computer mice or poster tubes or a pound of better coffee for the break room)?
posted by momus_window at 2:22 PM on January 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

Childcare or room with kid-friendly movie for those who need it. A safe ride home for those whose rides or bus schedules are thrown off by the change in plan. Three day weekend or other flex-time option. Pretty much any luxury item is going to be less universal or less appropriate than food, and the options above would acknowledge the reality of what gets lost when most folks need to work evenings.
posted by tchemgrrl at 2:47 PM on January 25, 2018

I'd prefer the comp time off, personally. If I know about the meeting ahead of time, I can plan bring my own food. With comp time off? I can run those inconvenient errands that are only really possible during weekdays.

(However, definitely make sure there's some sort of drink/caffeine option available, so people don't fall asleep.)
posted by spinifex23 at 2:57 PM on January 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

On the topic of making the meeting as short as possible, make dang sure all the tech / video-conferencing / computers/ whatever is setup fully before the meeting starts. Meetings starting late during the workday because of the above is frustrating enough. Late meetings where every minute wasted trying to get the the video conferencing set up is time out of my evening will cause me to rage and there is no food or other nicety that will make up for this lack of preparation.
posted by cgg at 3:18 PM on January 25, 2018

Floor lamps instead of overhead florescent lighting. So much less awful when one's nighttime schedule is being up-ended.
posted by teremala at 3:38 PM on January 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also decaf coffee and herbal tea, unless everyone's a total caffeine fiend.
posted by teremala at 3:43 PM on January 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Depending on the length of the meetings I think a half day (either morning or evening depending on personal preference) the day after the second meeting is a great perk! This is assuming that's around the same amount of extra time people have to stay late for the meetings - maybe a comp day is in order.

Assuming you don't already do this for all meetings, sending out any relevant documentation as well as an agenda ahead of time so people can be prepared and efficient is always much appreciated by most people. Nothing worse than a bunch of tired people brainstorming or being put on the spot to answer tricky questions they weren't expecting ...
posted by love2potato at 6:13 PM on January 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

So many creative ideas! I'm thinking a very efficient meeting and a late start the next morning, with coffee waiting for folks when they get in. And now I have a lovely catalog of ideas for future thank-yous. Thanks everyone!
posted by MrBobinski at 6:44 PM on January 25, 2018 [4 favorites]

Definitely offer food! Certainly you can provide reasonable accommodations for the person who doesn't like to eat in public, without denying the rest of the group a very reasonable meal while they work through dinner time.

Email everyone a menu early in the day. Let them know you'll order their choice of dinner to be delivered to the conference room at 6:30pm. And, let them know that if they prefer to eat earlier, they can pickup or oder something before hand, and expense it up to $X.
posted by reeddavid at 10:28 PM on January 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

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