Coping with the Office
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Food and drink is an essential part of everyday life. Eating in the office is no exception, but finding something edible can be quite a task.
Often the most hated and dodgiest place in any company, the canteen has an undeservedly bad reputation. People's expectations are usually way over the top and it never comes up to their critical five star standard. It's probably best to think of the staff canteen as more of a café rather than a restaurant. Here are some pointers:
Immunity - Canteen food will always be a bit strange when you first come across it. It may disagree with you to a point where a day's sick leave is required, but do not despair - make sure you only get small portions to start with and build up your immunity. Within a month you'll be able to eat a horse (which is quite handy, really).
Selection - Most canteens have a reasonable selection of food. Unless you're the kind of person that would go to a Chinese takeaway and ask for curry and chips or would buy two kebabs, one to have cold the following day, it would be best to avoid the more exotic of foods like the curries and chillies. If the canteen gets these wrong, then you could quite easily spend the day on the toilet!
The Salad Bar - This is a great logistic success: a wide selection of veg from which you can help yourself. The only catch is that this is also a highly successfull breeding ground for bacteria, especially if one of the previous customers has a cold or flu. Don't assume that the small brown chunks are croutons.
Staff Discount - If you get one then use it. It probably means that you'll have to carry your security pass around if you have one, but it should reduce the bill to a much more reasonable level.
The Food Dispenser
This is one of the trickiest money-munching devices ever invented, second only to Durex dispensers found in the men's toilet in pubs. The point to make is that you should only commit money to these devices that you don't mind losing. Most companies have staff that will eventually get your money back if things go wrong, but this is often an arduous and time-consuming task. Here are some pointers:
Watch how someone else does it first. You can get a fair idea of what the pitfalls might be this way.
Avoid going for the crisp packet that won't come out. This may seem obvious but so many people either select a rack which has nothing in it, or in the case of the rotating spiral dispenser, the packet is too far back to come out in one turn of the spiral.
Be prepared to fight to get your money back. If you are unfortunate enough to have your money eaten by one of these machines, don't give up trying to get your money back. If you do, you could find yourself short of a few beers' worth in no time at all.
Violence against the dispenser? Don't even think about it. Just because you haven't managed to get your favourite choccy bar, doesn't mean that wreaking revenge is going to help. Take a deep breath and contact those lovely people in facilities. Besides, those machines are heavy, and have been known to fall and crush people.
The Drinks Dispenser
These wonderful machines can be used to dispense a variety of hot or cold liquids which can be loosely referred to as tea, coffee and soup. Once again, people's expectations go far beyond the machine's capabilities. Any liquid dispensed from a machine is going to have an extreme temperature - either blindingly hot or absolutely freezing. A way around this is to put the cup dispensed into another empty cup for insulation. Wait until it cools a bit before you try and drink it.
Tea - It's not tea. Remove from your mind any idea that this may have had any revelance to any herb- or leaf-related beverage. With this in mind, it does usually taste a bit like tea. However, don't be tempted to select the strong option as the results may turn your mouth inside out.
Coffee - It's the instant stuff. Usual temperature rules apply. Dispensers allow you, and sometimes positively encourage you, to drink huge amounts. If you drink huge amounts of coffee then you will be wired for the rest of the day. Don't think for a minute that this stuff is caffeine-free.
Soup - Do you like packet soup? If so, you'll love this stuff. The only tiny catch is that they rarely tell you what soup it is. If you have access to more than one dispenser, you may well find that different dispensers are loaded with different flavoured soups. Go on, take a chance...
The final word about drink dispensers is that it's probably worth trying everything at least once. You might get third degree burns on your tongue but it's unlikely that you'll get anything life-threatening.
Having decided that the canteen and dispensers are not for you, you will no doubt look outside for an alternative. The first problem is the inflated costs of everything. You're not going to get a staff discount here and you are often regarded as a captive audience.
If you go to a full-blown restaurant, then, apart from the cost, be prepared for a long wait. It's unlikely that you'll be finished within the hour. Pubs can also have this problem. You may have to take an extended lunch break just to have time to eat your food when it finally arrives.
The burger van is the last resort of the desperate. It's cheap, it's nasty, it's possibly lethal. If you really have to then you really have to, but it's going to be safer in the long run if you find an alternative.
To get decent food at a reasonable price in the work place is possible, it just takes a while to go through all the options to find out what works for you. Variety is the key to success, so keep looking around when you have a few moments.