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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Lunch Louts

I had a work experience this week that really had me boiling. Maybe my loyal readers can put in their two cents on whether I am overreacting with my ire. I don't think I am.

I had a 1 PM meeting with a new client. It was at their offices, and was scheduled to run for about an hour. My meeting directly before that ran late, so I figured I would grab lunch after the meeting. I arrive at my clients' offices, and am shown into the conference room. Those of us meeting for the first time make each other's acquaintance, and we all sit down. The meeting begins. A few minutes in to the meeting, there is a knock at the door. The receptionist comes in to the conference room, with a brown paper bag that has the unmistakeable scent of food wafting from it. "Your lunch is here", she says, and drops the bag on the table. I watch, as for five solid minutes, the meeting participants proceed to dole out the food and drinks from the bag amongst themselves. "Who ordered the pastrami on club?" "I'm the pastrami on club." "Who got the diet peach Snapple?" "That's me." "Kasha knish?" "Over here!" And so on. I then sit there, conducting the meeting, while four people chew on their sandwiches and guzzle their soft drinks. No one offers to order food for me. (One of them being Orthodox, they had ordered from a kosher restaraunt.) No one offers me a drink. And no one so much as apologizes for the rudeness of their not being able to wait until the meeting was over (as they expected me to do) to stuff their inconsiderate and obnoxious faces. Had they expected me to brown-bag it? To boot, the meeting ran late, which meant I didn't get "lunch" (a chocolate bar and Snapple from the newstand in the building's lobby) until 3 PM.

Maybe I expect too much in the way of hospitality. Blame it on my being a Jewish mother. But I have never in my life seen such a lack of manners. The fact that they ordered lunch to the meeting without calling ahead for my order was bad enough. I mean, who has a lunch meeting without providing lunch for all of the participants? But to unwrap and eat said lunch at the table, failing to notice how rude it is to munch away while the person you are meeting with has nothing at all to eat or drink front of them is truly inexcusable.

I'm so pissed off that I'm seriously contemplating not taking this firm on as a client. I am thinking that their lack of politesse (and generosity) does not bode well for a mutually rewarding professional relationship. Am I taking this too far?

38 Comments:

Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

I'm not sure, but i'd definitely back you up if you refuse to deal with them again. They didn't even offer you a glass of water or coffee or anything like that?

9:15 PM  
Blogger projgen said...

I don't think you're overreacting. You can tell a lot about people (and their companies) by how they treat guests, especially at mealtime.

If they were planning lunch, they should have asked you in advance if you would like anything. At the very least, they should have asked if you'd mind if they ate in front of you. That was just downright rude and inconsiderate and something I would never let happen in my meetings.

9:27 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

steg:
No, they didn't offer me a drink. Maybe they wanted me to beg???

progjen:
Thanks for backing me up. I actually am leaning against taking them on as clients.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Henchy said...

Orthomom.....In 15 years of being invloved in business meetings I never came across a story like yours. I don't think you are over reacting, what they did was terribly rude. If you don't need them as a client, great for you.

9:41 PM  
Blogger The Town Crier said...

They by any chance Jewish?

9:58 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

henchy:
Tell me about it. I NEED them as a client, but am considering not taking them on anyway. Sometimes the money earned is not worth the aggravation it entails.

ttc:
Yes. How'd ya guess.

10:08 PM  
Blogger Ayelet said...

Totally and inexcusably rude. At the same time, I wouldn't cut my nose off to spite my face. If you need them as a client, take them - and know that you are well above these people in your standards of behavior and know what to expect from them. This way, in the future, you'll know to come prepared with your own baggie!

10:54 PM  
Blogger Robbie said...

That's definitely inappropriate.

What if next time you had a lunch meeting with them you let them know your order, jokingly?

Or, be sure to schedule the meeting not at lunch time.

(Or, call the restaurant, pretend to be from that firm and tell them they left out your order and add it to theirs!)

11:36 PM  
Anonymous Fox said...

These potential clients couldn't send a clearer message if they put a banner outside their building!

When people are this self-absorbed and clueless about appropriate behavior, it's probably just the tip of the iceberg. They'll demand endless revisions in your work for them; they'll propose outrageous "project creep"; they'll try to involve you in their infighting. And they'll probably want to argue about the invoice at the end, too!

Ask yourself this question: would you encourage a woman who "needs" to get married to overlook potentially abusive behavior in a prospective shidduch? Of course not! True, you're not making a lifetime commitment -- but a lousy client can make life miserable for a long, long time -- and these folks are signalling that they're prepared to be pretty darned obnoxious.

11:40 PM  
Blogger respondingtojblogs said...

I join the consensus here. I never eat in front of anyone unless they are either eating or they turned down my offer to share. These folks sound pretty Cro-Magnon.

12:21 AM  
Blogger MUST Gum Addict said...

A chocolate bar and a snapple. Sounds like my kind of lunch (if you even DARE tell me it was a Snickers...)

I agree with most of the sentiments here -- it was certainly rude behavior. Most of the clients that I deal with will either call me ahead of time to ask what I'd like for lunch (which I politely decline on most accounts -- not too many frum jews in my line of work), or they schedule the meeting to start a few minutes later.

As for the business, if it's something you feel you would need (don't always think of the money with clients -- think of what it means to you and your business by having such a client on board), go for it. You certainly don't strike me as someone who sits idly on the sidelines. Go on the attack -- most clients might even appreciate it. Luckily, you mentioned that there was another frum person -- I would approach that individual and make a subtle comment about your feelings about the lunch meeting that day. I'm sure that person will immediately realize his mistake and in a nice way, make sure that such things don't happen again.

12:38 AM  
Blogger queeniesmom said...

Clueless and classless make for bad clients. We allneed clients but there's also the aggravation quotion - is the money worth it?

An aside , although it doesn't excuse their collective appalling behavior, there may be an age factor involved. Unfortunately, many haven't been taught proper manners and have absolutely no clue how to behave. They act as if they are still in HS or collge.

Good Luck!

1:04 AM  
Blogger YMedad said...

Of course, you could call another meeting, at an in-between eating time, say, 10:30 or 2PM, and then have them wait for 15-20 minutes and when you enter, have a napkin to your mouth and announce that you're so sorry you had to delay the meeting but with your schedule suddenly changed, you had to have some food first and that they surely don't mind.

2:37 AM  
Blogger Jameel @ The Muqata said...

OM: Yes, they were rude, crude and offensive. I woudln't harp on it too much (seems like you've already therapized it all out of your system by blogging about it).

As you know, you meet all sorts of jerks in the business world...real world...blogosphere...etc.

Take them as a client...maybe you'll educate them a bit and the whole world will improve.

5:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You seem pretty outspoken...a well place comment by u, in a fun, jest kinda way wud hv woken them up & maybe even forced them to share. why sit there & seethe? u seem like a sharper woman than that??

6:24 AM  
Anonymous peninah said...

ooh that's just horrid. my Firm (and my own Company [sep orgs]) would not tolerate that. doing that would not cross their minds. They go out of their way for food and hospitality, and once when my order didn't arrive in a timely fashion the partners I was meeting with didn't eat their food b/c it would be rude to eat while I couldn't. [I purposely avoid lunch meetings on fast days b/c trying to explain that would be too difficult].

I have begun to re-evaluate who and how I chose my clients. While there is that "starvation" quotient I'm trying to get the right answer to, I also think that *first* impressions are VERY important.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Frummer????? said...

I tend to decide how I feel about a person by the first vibes I get off them.

Despite it being somewhat unfair to judge somebody before you really know them, I believe that my initial feelings about how I feel about somebody are usually more or less right in the long run.

Orthomom:

How very prim and proper of you not to have asked for a break during the meeting. Very British, reserved.

8:15 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Thanks, everyone. I normally am quite outspoken, but there were four men sitting across from me who didn't seem find their actions at all rude. I felt outnumbered. I also just kept hoping the meeting would wrap up, and allow me to grab something on the way back to the office. I wasn't even absolutely starving - more livid. I'll update everyone on what I decide to do about keeping them on as clients.

8:59 AM  
Blogger gabe said...

I agree with all you've said, HOWEVER, before you write them off here's an experience I've had, and my reaction. I have a client, that will call me twice a day for an update, I will tell him in the morning "I'll have the answer for that next week". He'll still have his secretary call me that afternoon, only to ask the same question, and I'll tell her "I told Mr. P. this morning, that that answer won't be here until next week", to which the secretary will respond, "I know, but he told me to ask you anyway". The next morning, she'll call again, with the exact same question, I ask her why she's asking me, when I told her yesterday "not till next week", she'll give the same response. This happens every day! The reason I keep him on as a client, is because, there are difficulties with ANY client, and, granted, this part of it is annoying, but I accept that with this client, this is where the aggravation is going to be. With another client, maybe I wouldn't have that aggravation, but he/she may not be as loyal, and I'd have to constantly be making sure that they don't go elsewhere. Bottom line is every client brings a certain amount of stress, if you are aware of where the stress is coming from, you can formulate a plan on how to deal with it in order to minimize it. In this situation, you know your dealing with selfish, inconsiderate, jerks. Find a way to take advantage of that knowledge and capitalize on it.

10:49 AM  
Anonymous Essie said...

Oh, man! How rude and insensitive! As some of the others have said, you have to weigh how much you need them as a client (and who they may potentially be connected to--additional future clients?) and the level of insensitivity you are willing to put up with. As fox said, this may just be the tip of the iceberg.

11:14 AM  
Blogger Shifra said...

I've also never seen that before in my life!

I've had non-kosher lunches ordered for me that I've had to refuse (also ackward) but that was ridiculous!

I agree with you, it certainly speaks to their corporate culture- it's US and THEM.

Good Luck!

11:22 AM  
Blogger my bald sheitel said...

oh wait, they were all men? hehe. maybe they just didn't think about it and only thought about how they themselves were hungry. either way, don't lose the business over it. you can think they don't have manners but if you need the business, take it.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

I'm trying to come up with reasons why they could have acted as they did, but I'm only able to come up with partial answers to a couple parts - the rest is just rude.

Perhaps they'd assumed you'd eaten already, which is why they didn't order for you. You had actually planned on doing so, so that's not too outrageous. They doled out the food according to who ordered it, and that makes sense as well.

But for the life of me, I can't come up with a reason why nobody offered you anything, even a drink!! Sure, maybe they were all starving, and maybe they didn't think you'd want to take bits from their meals [I was going to say the non-frum ones might assume you won't eat it, but you said it was Kosher - which means they realized that they were ordering something Ortho people eat] - but nothing excuses this disgusting lack of hospitality.

And kudos for not taking on clients for the sole reason of lack of manners - though I can see how that might not be feasible; too many people don't, and it's easy to never find clients doing so. However, if more people would have such standards, perhaps more people would do a little more introspection.

11:47 AM  
Blogger Ezzie said...

And kudos for not taking on clients for the sole reason of lack of manners

That should say for *thinking about* not taking on...

11:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

OM: I totally back you up. These people were completely rude and oblivious.

OTOH, I've been thinking something along the lines of what Gabe wrote. It might be difficult to separate out the food and manners aspect, but did they seem like good clients otherwise?

Every client or organization or person has flaws, not to downplay how obnoxious these folks were, and if you do need the client for parnassah, consider whether this is something that reflects what these people's overall behavior might be with everything, or whether this is one unseemly aspect, but otherwise they might be good clients.

It reminds me of college searches. A bad host might turn a perosn off from a wonderufl school, but the host is one tiny aspect of the school. A good host and a fun and friendly visit might entice someone to attend a school, but that person also has to look beyond the social experience to see what the school offers overall.

Hope that makes sense.

You are strong, so if you choose to take on the challenge of these clients, I'm sure you can handle it and maybe teach them somethiong.

But if you choose to turn them down because of this inhospitable, rude experience, you are not overreacting at all.

11:52 AM  
Anonymous REReader said...

I would be very cautious about taking them on as clients--it might be okay, but it is my experience (I'm a freelance book designer) that that's the sort of client that is likely to "forget" about paying invoices on time. Even more to the point, they are the sort likely to keep asking for extra work without feeling they ought to pay extra for it. If you do decide to take them on, be sure to send detailed estimates of every job beforehand, carefully spelling out exactly what is included and what extra work will cost.

You may notice the voice of experience here. I have one client that made me start sending detailed estimates, and every time I took on a job, I had to add further definitions to the estimate. I knew I finally had it down to the right level of exactness when they stopped hiring me--they didn't want to pay what I actually charge, even though they agreed to it; once they couldn't claim ignorance, they went on to take advantage of some other idiot. On the whole, it wasn't worth the time and aggravation to work for them.

2:01 PM  
Anonymous REReader said...

(On reading over my comment, I noticed an ambiguity. They didn't ask for estimates, their outrageous attempts to get something for nothing caused me to decide to send detailed estimates.)

2:03 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

I don't think you are over-reacting at all. Things like that get me angry too! I used to have a job in which every Wed we had a staff meeting. Every meeting my co-workers would discuss all morning where they would order lunch. They never once thought to order from a kosher place which we had menus for.

3:36 PM  
Blogger StepIma said...

That sounds incredibly rude - and absolutely not businesslike.

But there's rudeness that is perpetuated on purpose, to send a message, and then there's just plain bad manners because people are idiots - which is what it sounds like you were dealing with. And I don't know that giving up a client because they're an idiot is always the best business move. Sometimes you can charge idiots double :)

If you were running the meeting, that sort of situation could be dealt with by saying "I didn't realize we were ordering lunches... who can I speak with to put in an order for myself?" - and then stopped the meeting till they brought the receptionist back in for you. If they wanted you to work for them, they would know that you expected that level of respect -- after all, if you get to make the decisions about whether or not to work with them, then you certainly get to show them that you expect equal treatment. And if you're not running the meeting, you can excuse yourself, go to the receptionist, and order a lunch. When it gets delivered to you, they'll get the picture.

You can't change their behavior if they're unable to see that they're rude. Or if they're doing it intentionally. But quitting (or not taking their business) without telling them what they did won't help a bit. On the other hand, take-no-prisoners poise can go a long way.

That or a bullwhip.

7:37 PM  
Anonymous jerusalemom said...

This never would have happened in Israel. It's unheard of to meet at any time of the day without being offered snacks or at least a coffee. It's practically impossible to make any kind of large purchase like furniture, appliances or a car without being offered drinks.

Really disgusting and I also wouldn't deal with them.

7:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hate to say this, OM, but I bet if you were a man you would've been offered lunch.

2:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the Talmud specifically forbids such behavior, pointing out that the scent of food makes one salivate, and this can cause illness (ulcers?). Also there, it says that if the person is pregnant, it can allegedly cause a miscarriage.
Sad commentary on the lost art of chivalry, too.

3:46 PM  
Blogger The back of the hill said...

The people who do not eat with me are either already my enemies, or may soon be on my s--list.

As, indeed, are also the people with whom I will not eat.

8:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone told me that you were blogging us about that meeting. My deepest apologies. We also thought that the meeting would wrap up quickly, and reordering would have taken another 40 minutes. I apologize for not offering you part of what I had, but I think it would have made you uncomfortable. Anyway, my deepest apologies.

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