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U.S. WORKPLACES Extra duties take a bite out of lunch breaks



Published: Mon, February 17, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



While some workers are looking to save time, others are looking to save money.

CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Going out to lunch with a business associate or a co-worker used to be a common practice at Focal Communications. But things have changed at the Chicago-based phone service provider, which has been hard-hit by the slump in the telecom industry.

The company laid off 300 employees in October and is reorganizing under Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company's remaining 850 employees are scrambling to meet its restructuring goals.

"People are a little gun-shy about spending money and are being more conservative," said Jeff Greenberg, a marketing director for Focal. "And some people just don't have time for lunch."

Across the country

Nationwide, businesses are turning the leisurely midday break into a relic. About half of full-time employees spend less time eating lunch than they used to, according to a recent survey of more than 1,000 people by the Washington, D.C.-based National Restaurant Association.

About one-fourth of those surveyed said they frequently spend most of their lunch break doing things other than eating. About 40 percent reported when they do eat lunch, they bring something from home at least once a week. And when workers go out, they most often dash to the nearest carryout location.

Many employees say they'd like to go out to lunch but can't afford the luxury.

"If I take an hour-and-a-half lunch outside, that's an hour and a half that I'll have to stay later at the end of the day," said Mileen Zucker, an accounting supervisor for Allstate Investments in Northbrook, Ill. "So usually, I'll go down to the cafeteria, go upstairs and eat at my desk. I eat at my desk normally four days a week. "

Cutting back

Plus, intent on slashing costs, many companies are telling employees to cut back on taking clients out.

"I do a lot of business in New York, and I'm finding that restaurants are often empty in Manhattan during lunch," said Lyn Chamberlin, the owner of Skyemedia, a Sudbury, Mass.-based public relations firm. "It's becoming politically incorrect to spend $50 for lunch."

Greenberg said Focal often views business lunches as an unnecessary expense. "If you're taking out a customer or an employee, it's more of a reward than anything. And there are benefits to that," he said. "But we're trying to find cheaper ways to accomplish the same thing."

Too often, too little business is served up between courses, Greenberg added. "With business lunches, you end up never talking about what the stated goal is," he said. "You spend five minutes on business, and the rest is about personal things. "

In an effort to take smaller bites from their workday and wallets, some business people are scheduling more early-morning meetings over breakfast, which often is quicker and cheaper than a sit-down lunch.

"I'll often do 6:30 a.m. or 7:30 breakfast meetings," Chamberlin said. "If you're going to eat during work, you'll eat during that time of the day."

Chamberlin said conference calls and events outside the workplace, such as half-day or all-day seminars, also are becoming more popular options.

"The bottom line is that if I'm going to do a meeting, I'm doing it without food," he said. "Most people don't want to be wined and dined at work. They're more interested in their co-worker's or business associate's intellectual capital."




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