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The PR food fights

Is it a good idea to have your breakfast and lunch at your desk if you work in PR? And if you do munch at your desk is it acceptable to eat whatever you fancy? These are just two biting questions addressed in this investigative (or perhaps just nosey) article about the food habits of PROs in the office.

Breakfast briefing

Let’s start with the most important meal of the day, breakfast. If you think this should only happen at home, then Steve Earl, managing director, Europe at communications agency 3 Monkeys/Zeno, says you are wrong: “Eating breakfast at work isn’t just acceptable, it’s now part and parcel of the day. Many of us can’t face food when we first wake and do some exercise on the way in, so need something when we first get to our desks.”

For those who are shocked of the idea of leaving home with an empty stomach, Oliver Sonenfield, senior account executive at communications agency Cohn & Wolfe, suggests having two breakasts: “As a self-confessed food-lover, I’m willing to admit that I have two breakfasts most mornings – something on my way in and some delicious Warburtons toast while I check my morning emails at the office.“

Say no to desk eating!

Whatever the mealtime, Simon Turton: owner of agency Opera PR, is not a fan of food by your keyboard: “I personally will drink coffee at my desk and may eat the occasional chocolate bar whilst working, but I am very aware that it would only take one slip and my laptop would be history. I think that is unacceptably slovenly to eat at your desk. Apart from making a mess and the potential for food to get into keyboards and other hardware, you need a break from your desk, to stretch your legs and give your eyes a break from the screen.

“The hour lunch break for many may be a distant memory, but you need to give yourself a break from work. If you work for a company that has a canteen it’s a great place to catch-up with colleagues; if you have to go out for a sandwich that’s also a great opportunity to have some breathing space in a busy working schedule.

“This Americanisation of how we treat food and eating – something that gets in the way of our hyper-busy days – which is a far cry from how our continental cousins treat mealtimes. I shall certainly never forget my first business meeting in France. I arrived at 12.30, the appointed hour for the meeting, and the first thing my host said was that we should go to lunch – we had a very pleasant lunch in a local restaurant and I can’t remember if we got the project, but I have always thought that the French get their priorities right.”

Sian Gaskell, managing director of PRagency CubanEight, says that the worst thing about the desktop lunch culture is that it’s infectious. “If your colleagues are having a ‘working lunch’, the pressure is on to sacrifice your lunch hour too. Although on the face of it working through your lunch may seem like a small sacrifice, this can actually add an additional three and a half working days to your month - yes, that’s an extra 27 working hours.”

Some companies try to stop eating at desks by offering incentives not to. Cohn & Wolfe’s Sonenfield describes how his agency works: “Being glued to your screen all day is certainly discouraged and we regularly eat lunch together in the office’s social space, as well as making the most of the restaurants and cafes nearby. Lunch also provides the perfect opportunity to get out and be curious – we are asked to commit eight hours a month to visiting exhibitions or other sources of new ideas. Increasing our curiosity even has its own timesheet job code!”

Lisa O’Keeffe, brand manager of the website for parents, Day Out With The Kids, says life is a picnic working in her office: “Here we've got our own picnic table to help encourage us to get away from our desks for lunch. Whether it's tucking into last night's leftovers, or an expertly packed lunch, it's also been known to host the odd picnic and pizza party. Getting away from your desk, even just for 10 minutes, always helps you to feel more productive in the afternoon.”

Other agencies do more than just discourage desk eating. Tom Bowers, junior account manager at agency Promote PR, says that in his agency eating lunch at your desk is banned: “However busy you are, it’s important to step away from your PC or laptop screen for a bit and either get some fresh air or sit in the office eating area. Personally, I think it has a positive impact on my productivity in the afternoon when I’ve been able to give my eyes a rest and break up my day.

“Aside from lunch, I think snacking at your desk is fine. The feeling of hunger is tough to ignore and a quick nut bar or similar at your desk to keep your energy levels up is a positive thing to do.”

We like desk eating!

Others are happy to while away lunch hours at their desks. Laura Burch, head of PR at marketing agency Inkling, says: “I eat more meals with my colleagues than I do with my husband. Almost without exception I breakfast and lunch al desko side by side with work mates who are doing the same. I know all the reasons why we should be getting outside and taking an hour-long break (wellbeing, blah blah blah). But the reality is there’s rarely the time and we can rarely be bothered. And to be honest, I quite enjoy it.

“At about midday, we usually start chatting about what we’re going to have; we’ll then pair up for mini excursions to Pret, Wasabi, etc; then the office slowly starts stinking of anything from soup to beans on toast to pizza whilst we all intermittently catch-up on gossip or check what’s happening elsewhere in the world (by the world I mean social media). We’re also keen snackers – current office favourites are lentil chips and Thursday has been renamed ‘NugNug Day’, which is when our Maccy’s obsessed AE buys 40 chicken nuggets for everyone to share on a first-come, first-served basis. As a vegan, I’m not a fan of NugNug Day”.

Another desk eater is Heidi Bland, co-founder of agency Bland PR: “We always tend to eat at our desks being a busy PR agency, we tend to opt for something healthy and light to avoid the three o’clock work slump. Pollen + Grace make fab lunch boxes full of goodness which keep us full for hours and help us to stop snacking. As my co-founder Alice is also my twin, we usually grab the same box… Alice copies me of course!”

Keep it fragrant

If you are nibbling at your desk, you must think of those around you. 3 Monkeys/Zeno’s Earl says: “There is a common-sense line though – and normally it’s the nasty niffs of particularly pungent take-aways that breach it. When that happens, it’s not so much a case of complaints but of retributory banter targeting the source (or should that be sauce?), to make them think twice before a repeat purchase.”

Inkling’s Burch says: “There are a few ground rules in our office – no fish in the microwave, especially no mackerel at breakfast (yes, that did happen once!), and eating any sort of splashy noodle soup at your desk is almost guaranteed to give you a sticky keyboard.”

Keep the noise down

As well as thinking of smells, think of the noise too. Bland’s Heidi says: “Anyone who eats very loudly with their mouth open should definitely be banned from eating in an office, nobody wants to see or hear that when trying to get some work done! Luckily I sit next to Alice and she is a very considerate quiet eater!”

Case study 

Ban last night’s curry!

We grill (see what we did there?) Alex Mulchrone, consultant at public affairs company Interel Consulting, about his views on food in the office: “Food is central to office life. Food lifts your spirits on those long office days and helps you power through multiple endless meetings. Plus, the way to your colleagues’ hearts is more than likely through their stomachs.”

Is it a good idea to eat at your desk?

“No, but I do it anyway. A refreshing walk at lunchtime is a great way to stretch your legs, but it’s much easier to scoff something back at your desk, especially when the to-do list is long.”

Should you have breakfast at work?

“I’m a fan of the workplace brekkie. It means you start the day on a full tank of energy, plus it maximises essential sleep time in the mornings.”

What are people's annoying eating habits?

“The colleagues who reheat last night’s curry or brings in tuna-egg sandwiches and stinks out the entire office should re-evaluate their priorities.”

Bring or buy?

“I like to bring my own – salad in a tupperware box. You can save so much money, plus it’s generally a healthier option than buying. Going out to buy lunch on a Friday is a great end-of-week treat! A street food burrito is my staple.”

If you’re reading this as you eat your lunch at your desk, then lets’ hope you aren’t chewing loudly and the smell of your food is not making other people gag. But if you are fortunate enough to be able to step away from your screen, let’s hope your meal is delicious and you find yourself in convivial company. And should anyone be interested, here is a picture of my own lunch, aromatic broccoli soup. I can’t think why I am sitting here eating it on my own...

Written by Daney Parker, editor of PRmoment

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