The office or school cafeteria, a little corner of the food-service industry rarely covered in these parts, deserves some credit. The same group of people makes lunch or dinner or both every day for the same other group of people using roughly the same ingredients on whatever cycle their deliveries happen to be on. And nobody riots except, occasionally, prisoners (and Darth Vader, in this hilarious Legos video by Eddie Izzard).
Some cafeterias, such as Google’s, have a reputation as gourmet. Others are hallowed — see Gridskipper’s list of some of Washington D.C.’s powerful lunchrooms, including the Supreme Court and the WTO. Some really suck (think every public school and also prison and also many offices). All, however, share a few key traits:
• The line: It’s not a cafeteria if you don’t move your little plastic tray down a metal line with the food all behind some pane of glass. Or some similar setup. There’s something very comforting in this, as it brings a strong sense of order to the chaotic problem of figuring out what to eat for lunch. Or it’s depressingly like an auto plant. You choose.
• The workers. It seems there’s more interaction with cafeteria workers than with service staff in off-site lunch spots. While most deli counter staff will make your sandwich with little interaction, cafeteria workers are famous for providing the friendly exchange that helps brighten your day, or the surly banter that encourages you to eat outside the office now and then. When you think about it, you see these people just about every work day. Probably more than most of your friends.
• Plastic-covered desserts on little plates. Dessert tastes better when it’s served like this. Don’t know why. Don’t care, really. Sometimes, at home, we cut a slice of cheesecake onto a little plate, cover it in plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge for an hour, just to re-create the effect. No, not really.
• They are going out of style. This is disturbing. The office cafeteria is definitely on its way out, as companies look for ways to reduce overhead and employees look for ways to not eat institutional food delivered by SE Rykoff. But that’s nothing new. They’ve been going out style for decades now and they will never really disappear. As much as you’d like them to.
This is all by way of expressing a bit of envy for a sous-chef friend who is preparing to join the staff at Google in his former capacity as a web writer. Some people have all the luck, food-wise.
[Photo: Just a workaday lunch at Google via Brett L./Flickr]