10 Reasons Why

10 Reasons Why the Cafeteria at Work Is Just Like Real Life

Cafeteria at Work

1. People will stampede if food is involved.

Until 11am, everybody in the building is a sloth. Phones are unanswered, priority emails are ignored, and conference calls are full of long silences and the sounds of tumbleweeds blowing past. Nothing is accomplished whatsoever, with customers out of service, and small riots are developing as trouble tickets are not worked. The governor considers mobilizing the National Guard, but no one is returning his calls.

But as soon as that lunch bell dings, the cattle drive kicks into full gear. Two seconds ago, everyone was too weak to hit “next” on their iPod. Now the race is on, with people thundering down the stairs, commandeering the elevators, and parachuting into the cafeteria. It’s a free-for-all of gluttony, rude shoving, and a disregard for fat grams. This is serious business.

And if you don’t have any intentions of eating lunch today, stay far away from the cafeteria and the surrounding hallways. This advice should not be taken lightly. You’re dealing with a crowd of crazed, drooling zombies who will stop at nothing to satisfy their twisted desires. At the very least, you could lose a limb. And on Taco Salad Day, your life is meaningless to these people. Stay in your cube and pray for daylight.

2. If you give people too many choices, they will buckle.

Our particular café has several food stations, with a “grill” area, an “international cuisine” area, a “dripping with cholesterol and breaded lard” area, and so on. Initially, this design appears to be very considerate and thoughtful on someone’s part. And it would be, if we weren’t dealing with lost souls who have no idea what they want.

The Losties wander around in a migratory circle, glumly reviewing the options at each station, frowning, and then moving on. Nothing will satisfy them. Ever. But they keep going, apparently thinking that the fifth time they slog their way past a station, the contents will have magically changed in some way. Nope. It’s still the same bubbling vat of split pea soup as it was the last time. Same crackers, too. And yep, the same moron is still standing there, trying to decide between the cup and the bowl, mesmerized by the shimmering heat coming off the pot, along with a faint wisp of ham and the scent of splattered soup on the floor. He will still be standing there next Tuesday.

3. People with “Visitor” badges should be denied entry at the door, no questions asked.

There’s already far too much activity going on in this place, with physical jeopardy around every corner. We don’t need to complicate things by throwing strangers in the mix. They don’t know the procedure, so they end up just getting in the way and asking too many questions. If I stop to tell you how the salad bar works, the line at the enchilada bar is going to get longer and they might be out of ranchero sauce before I make it through. Then I will have to hunt you down and torment you like Bette Davis tormented Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

4. People take this “eating healthy” thing too seriously.

Look, you person standing there clutching the pesticide-free apple and the bag of organic granola, we don’t need your kind around here. I want to enjoy my onion rings without any guilt or mortified looks from people with zero percent body fat. I’m very happy for you that you’ve made some positive lifestyle changes. But I haven’t made a similar decision, and you need to take your bean sprout cheesecake somewhere else. Go outside and enjoy nature. I’m going to stay in here and enjoy processed foods doused with chemical lubricants so my body does not immediately reject the pretend food.

5. People don’t know how to drive.

It’s very simple, folks. Common courtesy should be your guiding principle when maneuvering around the cafeteria. Don’t run around all wild-eyed like somebody misplaced a cattle prod. Look where you’re going, stay on the correct side of the road, and yield to the right or the person with the heavier tray. Don’t you dare cut me off, zooming in front of me without the proper turn signal or a polite beep on the horn. Road rage can take place anywhere, even cafeterias, and you don’t want me to go there.

And no, it is not okay to violate protocol by running up at the last minute and joining a group of your friends who are in the line ahead of me. You do not get a free pass just because you know someone’s name without having to look at their ID badge. You need to get your ass to the back of the line, and stand there with the other losers who didn’t have enough ambition to knock slower people down and get to the cafeteria first.

6. People mistakenly assume that standing at the same food station makes us friends.

It doesn’t matter that we are breathing the same relative air and waiting for the same type of entrée. Unless I give you specific permission, which will probably never happen even if we’ve had intimate relations in the past, you are not allowed to speak to me while in line. I’m focused on an end goal of filling my belly. This equation has nothing to do with you or your troubling need to socialize while we watch someone shove tuna surprise into a plastic container.

Turn around and talk to the person on the other side of you. The probability of an actual response is far greater with them, even if they lost their vocal cords during the tragic bull run of 2003, when the cafeteria accidentally served chicken-fried burritos and Cheez-Whiz casserole at stations that were too close to one another. (It was a dark time, especially since they had to close the cafeteria for 3 days until they could get the questionable residue off the ceiling.)

7. People are mystified when asked questions by someone wearing latex gloves.

Okay, Sludge Boy, you need to pay more attention to the line server who is just trying to get your food right and is not trying to send you over the edge of sanity. When she asks “what vegetables would you like with your Asian stir fry?” she means exactly that. She just wants you to select the ingredients for her to throw in the sizzling pan. She is not asking you to stare stupidly at the grated carrots and the sliced bell pepper while crickets chirp and civilizations decline. Pick something. Or leave the line. A or B. Well, there’s one other choice. I could have my cousin Guido take you out back and explain life to you, using implements he keeps in a rusty toolbox. You don’t want that to happen. So make up your mind, and do it now.

8. Some people have odd rules about their food.

What kind of life experiences have people had that would lead them to say things like “I’d like the alfredo sauce on the side” or “I can‘t eat anything green” or “my vegetables can’t touch” or “extra tofu”? Seriously, why do these people even leave the house?

9. The people working the registers are the spawn of Satan.

Well, not all of them. One in particular. I don’t know what I did to this man, or when, but he hates me. He can be chatting away with the person in front of me, comparing baby pictures and making plans for a picnic. Then he catches sight of me, and his eyes go dark. He scours my tray to make sure he doesn’t miss any possible extra charge, whipping out his little pricing chart to see if he can combine any of my items and make them into something more costly. Wait, a banana and a container of milk? That COULD be a fruit cream latte with room. That’s twelve bucks!

No, it’s just milk and a banana. Two bucks. Can’t stand you.

And don’t let me head his way after visiting the salad bar, because then he actually has to WEIGH my salad to determine the price and that just goes against his concept of God and nature. From the look on his face, you’d think I just cart-wheeled into the room, completely naked, and then done the splits on the muffin counter. He sighs, grabs the container, slams it on the scale, doesn’t wait for it to settle so I’m probably getting charged more, throws the container back at me, and then barks out my total.

When he returns my change, he won’t even count it back, just wads up the bills and coins and shoves them at me. Then I’m dismissed and he immediately turns on the sunshine for the person behind me.

I actually don’t want to ever find out what I did that drove him to this point, because whatever it is can’t possibly be as bad as he’s making it, and I’d only be disappointed at the revelation. He’s just a selectively bitter man with sociopathic spikes of outrage. Which actually makes him just like me. We’re probably related, sharing a distant relative who escaped a potato famine and moved to the New World aboard the good ship Barley Hops. Maybe THAT’S why he’s mad. My branch of the family toiled in nicer factories and we eventually got into the better social clubs.

10. People don’t know how to behave around plastic utensils.

Just behind the registers, and before you hit the “dining room” proper, there’s an area where you can get silverware if you’re staying, plastic ware if you’re headed back to your cube, and a variety of condiments. This is where people with no sense of decency really shine, tempted as they are by the idiotic decision of the cafeteria staff to provide paper sacks to carry your stuff, if needed.

The “everybody owes me” people will grab a sack and start snatching up fistfuls of forks and spoons, followed by three inches of stacked napkins. Then they move to the condiment section, practically dumping entire bins of little packets into their sacks. (Who really needs 100 servings of mayonnaise in a desk drawer? Help me understand that.) And of course, these people are loading up all this mess without even trying to be sly about it, glaring rudely at anyone who has the nerve to get in their way.

Yet these same people are stunned the next day when the cafeteria manager announces a 10% price increase to cover operating costs. So they steal even more. And the prices go up again.

Now do you understand how our economy got this way?

People take more ketchup than they really need.


(Originally posted in “The Sound and the Fury” on 06/10/10.)

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