Tony Samson-125


FOOD, and any excuse to serve or share it, is part of our culture of hospitality. An unwritten rule on Filipino etiquette seems to expect meals as the center of any occasion. There seems to be an unbreakable social rule — where two or more are gathered for any reason, food must be served.

There are of course formal occasions that send out invitations, expecting food to be served like weddings, birthdays, corporate anniversaries, board meetings, and onboarding of new recruits.

Informal get-togethers also feature lighter meals. These include wakes, budget meetings, bridal showers, book launches, lectures on mental health, economic briefings, alumni chats and any event where participants need to be together for more than 15 minutes — just coffee and corned beef sandwich for me, please.

The convention of serving food at any social gathering attracts uninvited walk-ins whose primary motive is nutrition. (They don’t wear name tags.) The free meal accounts for the appearance of mothers with toddlers in tow in such unlikely corporate settings as an annual stockholders’ meetings of listed companies. (Where’s the buffet table?) Such stragglers arrive just when the reception desk is about to pack up. (Ma’am, is the baby suckling at your breast a preferred or common stockholder?) This opportune gate crash time comes after the president’s report, and just before “other matters.” (Are there any questions?) Corporate freeloaders don’t ask questions about EBITDA for the year and capex overruns. They head directly to the buffet where the lines are just forming.

Organizations, including civic clubs, are mindful of the expectations of the staff as part of an inclusive corporate culture. There are festivals that even welcome children and dependents into the hallowed corporate halls. The elevators can be full of guests and their caregivers when it is Halloween. The only passport to enter any floor with its celebrations is a costume — a cape will do even if it looks like a blanket.

Our foodie culture has its supply-side aspects.

Hosts of events that involve catering arrangements are frustrated in their inability to nail down the exact number of guests to expect with the determined refusal of invitees to follow RSVP protocol. (I’ve scheduled meditation sessions with my guru.) Even with reception desks outside venues where gifts are deposited and seating is assigned (Table #25), there are still walk-ins that just slip through — I just came from the washroom. And they have big bags.

A trip abroad to the international head office can be a cultural jolt. Food is considered merely a nutritional necessity and not part of corporate etiquette. If it is served at all, it is during a working lunch where culinary enjoyment complete with the smacking of lips is considered bad form like the opening monologue of an awards show. There may be sandwiches available in tiny self-sealed servings. Condiments like catsup and salad dressing are in sachets.

Even when a foreign host takes the visitor to lunch, it is likely to be at the office canteen where snacks (turkey breast on whole wheat) are the main feature. The occasion is likely to be on a Dutch treat basis as well. (Warm or iced water?) The visitor is informed that there is a coffee shop near his hotel that serves iced café latte. (Be sure to leave a 20% tip.)

Why is food a cultural part of our meetings? Can this meal culture be cut back, not just to improve the bottom line but contribute to a healthier workforce and shorter meetings? Constant snacking is certain to lead to obesity since social meals are often heavy in carbo and sugar — can you pass the doughnuts?

But if meals are removed from meetings, it is not the intended beneficiaries that may raise an eyebrow or two. One must only observe what happens to untouched leftovers to see where the pinch will be felt. It is no mystery then why there is too much food on the table at meetings even when there are only a few attendees. The meal option affects the serving staff and her preferred caterer, who is ready to pack the leftovers in nice boxes to take home.

Sequels to meetings only extend the food mandate. In case of a deadlock of ideas, the meeting is adjourned — let’s discuss that over lunch tomorrow.


TONY SAMSON is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda