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Office Hours

June 27, 2017

Usually, I have answers. Today I have a question. But before I ask the question, I’m going to tell you two stories.

The first is from the past.
The second is from the present.

Once upon time there was a guy named Daniel. Daniel graduated college and went into the workforce to be a productive member of society. As far as he could tell, this involved making a deal with the devil. Because effectively he found himself trading his freedom for money.

It’s a little simplistic. But you’ll have to forgive him. He was young. And still enjoyed Hesse.

Daniel was just one of scores—if not hundreds—of people working under the florescent lights. As a young man, in the first month of my job, walking down the white and sterile staircase into the dungeon of my department, I thought to myself, “How many years will I be walking these same stairs?”

There was one thing that got me through it. And it wasn’t the money.

It was lunch. And more specifically, it was going out for lunch. Getting the chance to leave the building, breathing fresh air, and feeling the warmth of the sun was life affirming. But more importantly, I got to treat myself to something delicious. It might not have been the most healthy option. But it was made fresh, and the vast majority of the time I got to sit down and enjoy it away from the stifling confines of my desk.

Even when I was a meager production assistant, I never had anyone looking over my shoulder to see how much time I was out of the office. I had my work responsibilities. And those needed to be completed. But there was no clock to punch. No micro managers. But I was careful not to abuse the limited freedom I so much enjoyed.

You know who I felt bad for back then? Some of the older workers in the office. A few were saving for vacations, or down payments, or college funds. So day in, and day out, when it was time for lunch they would bring out their brown bag, with either some kind of sandwich or maybe even a salad in a Tupperware coffin.

My goal here isn’t to belittle saving money. Saving money is very important. And I too would do things in those early days to put a little money aside. But lunch was sacrosanct.

If I was going to trade my freedom for money, the least I could do was buy myself lunch.

Story Two

Fast forward twenty years. Now we have the internet. It’s everywhere. Laptops are commonly issued to employees across many levels. Almost everyone has a mobile phone. Remote access VPN with two-factor authentication is so simple even I can do it.

There are a lot of people who could theoretically work just about anywhere.

Yesterday I spent a combined total of four hours working at little pecks in Troy. I did the first two hours in the morning, nursing a pour over out on the outside patio. It was covered just in case the rain came. But the courtyard was flooded with natural light, and it was filled with the peaceful sound of moving water.

While a few people were there to chit chat over coffee, there was only one other person with a laptop doing any work.

When I returned for some afternoon work, the weather looked a little threatening, and frankly I wanted to sit somewhere a little more comfortable. So I asked if the upstairs library was open. It was.

Generally, I don’t order mochas, but when I walked into the shop the barista was preparing a batch of housemade drinking chocolate, and it smelled magnificent. At little pecks, this is combined with Tandem espresso and the house made almond-date “milk”. It’s really tasty stuff.

When I took the mocha upstairs, I had the entire place all to myself.

But the issue isn’t just little pecks. The amazing space at Stack’s Espresso on Broadway, with those giant windows, all that natural light, and those amazing views of Albany architecture is also vastly underutilized. Both of these places have free wifi. Coffee can be had for just a couple bucks a cup. The staff is friendly. The food, should you order any, is good. The coffee is excellent.

So here’s what I can’t wrap my head around. It seems like the Capital Region doesn’t have a culture of going out to lunch during the workday. And it definitely doesn’t seem like people leave their office to do work at coffee shops near their workplace.

Any ideas why?

I’d love to hear from the working stiffs who toil away locked up in some building all day. Of course, if you are more comfortable replying anonymously, I’d totally understand.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. June 27, 2017 10:36 am

    I think it’s pretty simple, most workplaces have gone from allowing employees an hour for lunch, plus additional breaks to 30 minutes for lunch, and a single break if you get a chance. Unless you are steps away from a decent place to get food, you cannot travel very far in 30 minutes, place an order, receive and consume your food, and return to the office in time allowed. Also, I feel there are more and more restaurants moving away from the downtown areas, especially places where you have 30 food trucks vying for the same customer. I know in the New York State Campus, one of their two cafeterias almost have to get rid of their entire staff during the summer months. Also, without time or breaks throughout the work day, most people are forced to do any business/banking transactions on their lunch, leaving less and less time to enjoy life.

  2. Holly permalink
    June 27, 2017 10:37 am

    Of course! I tend to bring my lunch to save money (I take myself out for lunch sometimes), and I find myself distracted when I leave the office. Stacks is a block from my office, but I find it more invigorating to leave my office for a 20-30 minute walk, enjoying the fresh air, and then coming back completely rejuvinated and ready to finish out the day. So, I think it’s a personal preference.

  3. June 27, 2017 10:37 am

    I worked in the cube farm in downtown Albany for many years. It seems that the only time that people would go out would be Fridays or holidays. This was pre-Internet but I guess it hasn’t changed much.

  4. June 27, 2017 10:45 am

    I’m a salaried employee that gets an hour for lunch. I absolutely leave everyday for lunch, I work in a place that sounds like your first story. I have responsibilities that need to get done, as long as they get done, no one is micromanaging me or watching my time. I know I’m one of the lucky ones though.

    • June 28, 2017 11:44 am

      After reading some more comments, I do want to say that I’m a DINK – double income no kids in my mid-30s. I have no problem spending upwards of $50/week on lunch but I also don’t have child care to fit into my budget. If I had kids, I would be eating sad desk lunches in 30 min. too :-(

  5. AnonK permalink
    June 27, 2017 10:52 am

    I love going out to lunch. It’s one of my favorite things. I only do it rarely because:
    1. It’s not in my budget/ leftovers from home are cheaper. Cost of living keeps rising, my pay does not.
    2. In order to make our childcare arrangements work, I only take a 30 minute lunch (no clock to punch, but as you said, I don’t wan’t to abuse the limited freedom)

    I work near Albany Med and am often one of the scores of people out walking on their lunch break. The track at Albany College of Pharmacy is heavily used.

    Sometimes I go home and do a load of laundry, other times I goof off on the internet, fill out camp forms, pay bills, or make doctors appointments.

  6. RogerK permalink
    June 27, 2017 11:16 am

    I, like C above, was a salaried worker before I retired. During those last 25+ years, most of which were before the internet, I made a point of leaving my work building to have lunch at different establishments which required me to drive to get there. I too had an hour for lunch but would adjust my workday if lunch ran over the hour. I continue to believe it allowed me to be more refreshed when I returned and more productive.

  7. June 27, 2017 11:54 am

    The trend of the 30min lunch is prevalent because people would rather not extend their workday at the expense of having an extra half hour for lunch. That’s the simple answer. The longer answer is … longer. I will occasionally meet a friend for lunch that is longer and “make it up” somewhere else (basically, I typically work more than my designated hours in a given week), but I usually have to block it off on my calendar so that someone else doesn’t try to speak for the time.

  8. Jack C. permalink
    June 27, 2017 2:11 pm

    Both of those places sound amazing and the life of a tenure-track faculty member is pretty flexible in the summer (when the little one is at daycare). But both little pecks and Stacks on Broadway suffer the same drawback – parking. When the parking is capped at 2 hours, I can’t justify spending only two hours working at a coffeeshop. While I may not use up all 120 minutes, I often find myself cutting off my work to leave because the meter’s about to run out. I’d much rather go somewhere good for the freedom to stay and work for extended periods. Unfortunately, very few coffeeshops offer the right environment for that in the Capital Region. Uncommon Grounds is pretty small and often packed with UAlbany students or a boisterous crowd in line (even in the summer). A Perfect Blend in Delmar is close to home and has decent seating, but I have a hard time getting excited about their products. I haven’t tried Professor Java yet, but I intend to do so at some point this summer.

    Regarding lunch, I ate out several times per week while in graduate school, but now I simply don’t have the money. Mortgage, daycare, student loans, and car payments have destroyed our eating-out budget!

  9. Erin T permalink
    June 27, 2017 4:09 pm

    Does Stacks have food for lunch? I go to the one on Lark Street for midday coffee and it is always full of people working or chatting. I also know several professors who love the Hudson River Coffee House on Quail for working. Maybe those who can take advantage of working outside the office forget about the Broadway Stacks? And if they serve lunch, it would be good to market that more heavily.

  10. Cristin S permalink
    June 29, 2017 12:12 pm

    I work remotely, and have an hour for lunch. I never work at cafes, and honestly I’m not sure why. I do go to a co-working space though. Reliable WiFi, socialization with the same group of cool people, and I don’t feel guilty for nursing a coffee for 4 hours. All for $50/month, which is probably less than I would end up paying for going to actual cafes.

    As for lunch, I never go out and even when I worked in an office never really did. Too expensive and unhealthy, and as a millennial it’s my duty to spend all my money at hip gastropubs on the weekend ;)

  11. David E Nardolillo permalink
    July 2, 2017 2:18 pm

    I am not sure I agree with the premise, but to the extent that the lunch hour is underutilized here, I think Thomas’ comment at the top is a pretty good reason why. We also don’t have as many employers that expect such long hours, such that a long lunch is a trade-off for having to be in the office until 8 or 9 at night. Furthermore, a lot of people have a fair distance to hike to get to their cars in Downtown Albany, so that could cut into the willingness to travel for lunch. Maybe Uber/Lyft will change that. Even still, I’ve talked to a few State workers that regularly sneak over to places like Taiwan Noodle and Van’s for lunch.

    But I have to say, I did see a lot of people venturing out for lunch when I worked downtown. Jack’s, dp’s, and 677 all did a healthy lunch trade, as did places like the Fort Orange Club. Even workers with a tight lunch break would scoot down Maiden Lane for an off-the-bone Turkey sandwich or house-made Roast Beef on fresh rye from Sandwiches to Go, plus the South Mall has obtained a larger array of food vendors on the Concourse, and State workers on lunch support a healthy number of food trucks, just ask your boys at Slidin’ Dirty. Now that I work further uptown, I see a lot of people take advantage of La Empanda Llama, Cardona’s and Andy’s, although they bring it back to their desks. Delivery via GrubHub, etc. is also not uncommon.

    I don’t do much work in coffee shops for a few reasons, the biggest one being the generally private nature of the work matter, another being a responsibility to be in the office to be available for co-workers when they need your assistance.

  12. Maggie permalink
    July 5, 2017 2:22 pm

    I work within walking distance of Stuyvesant Plaza, and people do use their lunch breaks to go over there – but, like most other people have mentioned, since we only have 30 minutes, most of the time is spent on the walk, ordering food and bringing it back.
    I always pack a lunch to save money, but I do a similar thing – I’m much more likely to eat at my desk and use my lunch break to take a walk, get some fresh air, or even run errands. I’m sad to admit, though, that most days I don’t take a lunch break at all.

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