Growing up, it was perhaps the worst sin we could commit: getting to the dinner table late. OK, that, and spilling sugar.
By the time I was in upper elementary school, my mom had returned to the outside-the-home workforce and still had a half-dozen people she was expected to feed at home. Take out wasn’t the option it is today, and daily grocery shopping was considered a waste of time when there were perfectly good boxed mixes and jars of food on the pantry shelves.
So what mom had going for her was the idea of a hot meal. She carefully timed everything out, so that the meat was ready when the potatoes and green beans were ready. If we were not also ready, it meant something would be cold by the time we ate it—particularly since we also waited for the food to be blessed.
When I think about that today, as we wait for our food to be delivered from a restaurant 20 minutes away, I wonder what we have settled for. Convenience at a price, and not exactly hot? Sure, we can warm it up in the microwave, but . . . really? And yet, we do it. We’re accepting take out that is lukewarm, at best, when we get it home, and delivery that—try as they might—is starting to wilt a little in transition.
A recent report from The Wall Street Journal echoes one of our own CultureWaves’ theories: lunch is a disappearing daypart. See our attached lunch infographic for a little more on that. The point WSJ brings out, though, is that companies, particularly those within the tech industry, provide meals. While it’s a perk, it’s also a way to keep employees inside and in the work mindset longer—meaning they don’t frequent the local restaurants that were often built specifically for lunchtime office traffic. San Francisco, in fact, has two city officials who have “proposed banning new corporate construction from installing employee cafeterias…”
Those cafeterias may well offer hot food, but we’ve eaten at our share of them over the years and haven’t seen a lot of excellence. In fact, we’ve gotten used to cold food with a few things that have become trends:
• Workplace perks where cafeteria-style food is set out for an hour or more, where employees can come in when they want and take what they want. Even being the first in line is a compromise.
• Guaranteed quick lunches that sit under a hot lamp—like the Lightning Lunch at Evil Czech Brewery in Mishawaka, IN. It’s an on-trend feature, and their food is creative and clever, but let’s just say that time under a hot lamp doesn’t do it any favors. Our tip: opt for a menu item instead.
• Hotel dining has tried to innovate breakfast, and more hotels have made this an enticement to stay. You can make your own hot waffles, toast your own bread, then pair that with a cold egg dish (not meant to be cold), lukewarm meat, and coffee that has been in a carafe perhaps a bit too long.
Sure, there is innovation in delivery that is keeping food hot longer, and making delivery from further away possible, but I raise the question anyway: Are we settling? Is there value in fresh-from-the kitchen hot?
I think so, but I still remember the joy of warm eggs in the morning, and hot roast beef for the evening meal.
As for spilling sugar, if you’ve ever had to clean that up, you’ll know why it bothered my mom. In my opinion, she wasn’t wrong on either count.