Stephen Jardine: Stuff Christmas lunch is made of

Stephen Jardine
Stephen Jardine
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The work’s Christmas lunch should be a bright spot at in the dark December days, but it rarely turns out that way. It comes in two varieties. The first is booked at Easter by someone with too much time and not enough friends.

They circulate the menu in September, the secret Santa list in October and the office Oscar nominations in November. As a rule of thumb, the more planning and anticipation, the less the enjoyment.

The second type is more interesting. It is booked by the first person to crack in the face of imminent festivities and, by that stage, usually involves a visit to the local Chinese restaurant. Thanks to the magic of Christmas, it is generally much more successful than the precisely planned event.

However, the fundamental problem for both is the people present. If you like them, you probably socialise with them anyway. If you don’t like them, the last thing you want to do is share a meal and cracker jokes.

In the good old days, it was simpler. The boss paid and most people had a great time because it was at someone else’s expense. Thanks to the credit crunch, things have changed.

I know someone who used to enjoy an all-expenses paid work Christmas lunch in a good restaurant. A banking crisis later and the festive frolics have transferred to the canteen where there is a choir from the local primary school and an alcohol ban.

“From a productivity point of view it is genius”, he confessed. “I’m back at my desk in 40 minutes and relieved the meal is over for another year”.

And what a meal. Spare a thought for the chefs. For 11 months of the year they strive to deliver something different and delicious then along comes the workplace Christmas lunch. Even the most exotic and adventurous foodie inevitably reverts to prawn cocktail, turkey and Christmas pudding and all because of tradition.

Even someone with a Michelin star is going to struggle to make that more than it is but they have no choice.

Regular customers go to ground and who can blame them. With Noddy Holder on the sound system, tinsel on the till and a turkey the size of Calton Hill in the oven, Christmas is an odd time for many restaurants.

I know that from harsh experience. My wife has her birthday close to Christmas and every year I look for a turkey free zone. We usually end up in the local Chinese restaurant, inevitably sitting beside the disorganised office outing mentioned earlier.

But despite it all, none of us would have it any other way. When the tears, recriminations and hangover have gone all that is left is the memory of someone from accounts vowing never to organise another office Christmas lunch. Three months later that same person is collecting deposits and checking who is vegetarian all over again. And that’s the magic of Christmas.