Guest Post: 7 Reasons There Is No Such Thing As A Free Lunch
It has, I think you’ll agree, been too long. Too long since Dr Simon Percy Jennifer Best sat on the 7 Reasons sofa and shared with us thoughts from the deepest sanctums of his mind. Today that changes. Because he’s back. He needs no further introduction so we’ll leave you in his capable hands. We’re off to the pub for lunch. He’s paying.
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch” is one of those glib phrases that people trot out and everyone accepts without investigation in to its accuracy. Now you don’t need to, because here I give seven reasons as to why there really is no such thing as a free lunch.
1. Potential Suitors. Often on a date, especially in these enlightened times, people will spilt the bill. But there might be a rare occasion when you’re taken out for a meal and the other person offers to pay. “Great,” you think. “A free lunch!” Wrong. The chances are that they will want something in return, a walk along the beach, a goodnight kiss, your hand in marriage. Would you swap any of these for a spaghetti carbonara? No. Nor would I.
2. Aged Relatives. Imagine the scene. You’re an impoverished student and your Great Aunt Doris* rings you up and invites you round for Sunday lunch. “Great,” you say to yourself. “A change from tinned tuna and beans on toast, and a free lunch!” Wrong. You arrive and while the smell of roast beef is wafting through the house, Great Aunt Doris will ask you for help with something relatively straight forward, changing a light bulb for example…. By the time you’re able to escape several hours later you’ve cut the grass, creosoted the fence, put out the bins, cleaned out the guttering and regrouted the bathroom. You’ve saved her several hundred pounds and given vast quantities of labour in return for a bit of overcooked beef and soggy Yorkshire puddings.
3. Business Lunches. We’ve all been there. Arranging a meeting and your colleague/client says, “why don’t we meet over lunch, we can get it on expenses”. “Excellent,” you think. “A day that I don’t have to pay for an over-priced sandwich and get a free lunch!” Wrong. Okay, you can get to see people and impress your colleagues, but it requires you to talk to people and costs valuable time. There is a surefire rule that applies to meetings: not only do they cost valuable time, but you invariably leave them with more work to do than at the start. Is the free lunch worth it when you have to stay in work late and buy an expensive Chinese takeaway for dinner so you don’t collapse with starvation before you get home?
The same applies to conferences where, although the lunch is free, the cost is to your soul. It dies around the same time as the first speaker puts up his fourteenth powerpoint slide.
4. Friends With Children. There is a stage in many people’s lives where you are single, but have friends who are married with kids. You probably get to see these friends less often. Then, when summer starts they ring you, “come round for a barbecue, we’ve still got lots of wine left over from Timmy’s christening so there’s no need for you to bring anything”. You’re free, you want to see them and excited at the prospect of free food AND drink. Well, calm your excitement. This invitation is just a thinly veiled ruse by the parents to neck as much chardonnay as they can while their hyperactive children, thrilled by the novelty of a new adult, begs you to play with them. As for the free lunch? Not a bit of it. Okay, you get plenty of grilled chicken and salad and a couple of glasses of wine. Cost to you: a dry cleaning bill for your grass stained trousers, a new hat after your panama is used as a Frisbee and a large chiropractors bill having been rugby tackled by “little” Jamie, who is nine years old but already the size and weight of Brian Moore.
5. Parents Of Your Future Spouse. Picture the scene. You’ve been with your girlfriend/boyfriend/partner for a respectable length of time. Then one day they say to you, “my parents have invited us for lunch on Sunday” Cue you breaking out into a cold sweat about what to take them. Your partner reassures you that their mother doesn’t need flowers, and their father doesn’t need a bottle of Scotch. “Phew,” you think. “A free lunch!” Wrong. You’re on to a loser here. If it goes badly and you’re (even inadvertently) rude about them/their house/their food/their dog or, perhaps worse, you’re too friendly and don’t give your partner enough attention, then you pay by having to buy them presents in recompense. If it goes really well it will progress your relationship to the stage where it costs you a hefty amount for an engagement ring or your life if you find yourself married to them.
6. Single Friends. I, like lots of people, have single friends who are, lets face it, what can charitably be described as “hard work”** When your friend that fits that description sends you an innocuous text message saying, “let’s meet for lunch, my treat,” you may think that means a free lunch and a pleasant afternoon. That text message notification should actually be an alarm bell, as what it actually means is an afternoon where you spend hours counselling them about their life, their job, their latest (failed) relationship, clothes and the price of garden furniture. This involves you consuming the annual output of a medium sized French vineyard to cope. They join you in polishing off several bottles, then when the bill comes they say, “I’ll pay for the food, can you get the wine?”. Free lunch? Not a bit of it. There’s a very real prospect that you will need to remortagage your house to pay your credit card bill that month.
7. Yourself. Clearly the only safe person to have lunch with is yourself, you would be paying so obviously it wouldn’t be a free lunch, but it’s likely it will be cheaper than the other options.
*If you don’t have a Great Aunt Doris then you can imagine my Great Aunt Doris.
** I don’t rule out the possibility that I am, for some of my friends ‘hard work’.