Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Death to Breakfast

There was a time when the power lunch was as much a part of the daily business routine as morning rush hour. A "per diem" or daily allowance pretty much meant whatever the traveling salesman or busy executive wanted so long as they got the job done and brought home the whale. The scene from the film "Pleasantville" comes to mind where the idealized world of the Nelsons, Cleavers and Andersons all sat down together for breakfast, a meal that would take all day to prepare and the rest of the night to sleep off: pancakes, ham, sausage, bacon, eggs, toast, butter, jam, milk, orange juice and coffee, don't forget the syrup. More than a bit over-exaggerated perhaps but the message was the good life in a land of plenty. Every meal featured meat and potatoes instead of granola and green tea.

The last holdout of this by-gone era seems to be the breakfast buffet at the larger business hotels around the country where even some of them have either eliminated the costly practice all together or, in the case of the Embassy Suites, offer a continental buffet with eggs cooked to order. Their thinking in the one price for all option is people will belly up to endless helpings of self-serve food but maybe make only one trip to the chef in the interest of time and self-discipline.

What is harder to find is a company willing to foot the bill for compulsive over-eating or the rates some hotels charge for that excess which with tip can equal the total daily allowance in just one meal. I once worked for a major company based out of Chicago that limited all meal expenses to $25 per day. We were "forgiven" for going over that amount up to $50 per day if we happened to be traveling overseas. For me in Japan on one occasion that meant the 900-Yen pancakes at the hotel for breakfast and the rest for dinner while hoping that our hosts would pick up the tab for lunch. They did, along with their counterparts on a subsequent trip to Paris later that year. I would have starved otherwise.

Part of today's office gossip around the water cooler amusingly includes interpretations on the meal expense policy of various companies around the country. Not only is there a question on how much is spent but also whether or not there are specific limits to each meal, if lunch is included or if there is simply a flat amount the employee can spend each day to cover all dining no matter which meal or how many.

To be sure, lunch, dinner and holiday buffets can be found from the smallest to the largest towns in America. Indian and Chinese buffets are not known for American-style breakfasts but must surely build their business model around the lunch rush where they go begging for business after 3PM. The bottom line is that in this day and age of rush and on-the-go, few of us have time for more than a McMuffin or a power bar in the morning. The full breakfast is losing its grip on our psyche as well as our stomachs.

But not completely for there will always be room for bacon!

Gotta go.

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