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Frustrations with the "working lunch"

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Question: I know before I start this that I'm going to sound like a shrew, but there is just no tactful way to put this.

I'm an executive secretary/admin for our company president and vice president of sales for a privately held manufacturer. We have about 500 employees at this location, and 150 of them are office personnel. Only three admin people serve this whole office. As I said, I have two executives and numerous requests from other managers, corporate personnel, as well as field sales personnel.

This is my complaint: On numerous occasions, we've catered lunches for meetings and mill visits. These meals are always delivered, served and taken away with little disruption of an admin’s day.

My VP of sales, however, is forever deciding to have a "working lunch," for which I have to order, pick up and deliver to him and others. This is at least one day a week, unless he’s traveling. Occasionally, our president will request this service, also.

These are usually orders for only three to five people, and none of the restaurants or fast-food places in our small town will deliver for fewer than 10 orders.

I have to spend my cash, my gas and time out of an already-busy work day to do this. I'm reimbursed for the money, but that in itself is a hassle, with forms and signatures required. Most of the time, it’s the next day before I can get it back.

To me, this seems to be an unreasonable expectation when my work load is already heavy. I'm not allowed to work overtime to catch up when I’ve lost an hour from my day.

I assure you that I'm not lazy. I love everything else about this job, but these too-numerous lunch requests are dragging me down.

Please don’t suggest that I try talking to the execs. When someone complains about their job at this place, it comes back to haunt them at review time. Also, please don’t suggest that I find a new job. I’m almost 59 years old and would like to retire from here. I’ve out-lasted four presidents and seven VPs, but I’m getting too old to be patient!  -- Elaine Cornwell, Senior Executive Secretary


Have you tried to talk to them about getting a company card? This may help with your out of pocket expenses.

What do the other admins do? Get them on bored. Rotate weeks. Do either of them support the staff that attends these meetings? Regardless.. there is always someone leaving for lunch and I would think if you call in an order, it would be very simple for someone to swing by and pick it up, no matter what their job title is. You all work for the same company and have the same goal.

The Director of our agency, when we have to set up and get lunches for meetings have always made sure that I order an extra lunch for the person who has to order and pickup, which is normally me. A free lunch is appreciated. I also am paid my travel for going to pick up the lunch. I have also set up accounts with several of the restaurants around town so the agency is charged and not me Our agency is also located in a small town and even our fast food restaurants have set up an account with us, which is a big help. Yes, to submit travel reimbursements is a pain but, I do consider it a part of my responsibilities and I also have a heavy workload but, I also know there will be at least one luncheon a week so I plan my work around that.

You don't at all sound like a shrew. You sound like someone who values her and her company's time.Don't know where you are located but in this area we have a service called takeout taxi which specializes in picking up and delivering from food establishments. Yes, it does mean that your lunch will be more expensive because of delivery fees...

I think you need to learn how to say "no." We have the advantage of having an in-house cafeteria that will provide lunch for fewer than 10 people when necessary, but before that, I would often be asked to get lunch for small groups. If there is a place nearby that isn't too inconvenient, see if you can make arrangements for them to bill the company directly on those occasions when you need to pick up lunch. Also, while most major caterers don't deliver for small groups, you can sometimes find a local deli that will. And ask for mileage reimbursement every time you are expected to do the pick-up yourself. Maybe that will cause them to re-think how they are handling the situation. And if you can find a place that will bill directly and at least occasionally deliver for you, don't give them a choice as to where lunch is coming from!

Enjoy the time OOO picking up lunch. You might ask if you could include a lunch for yourself, at their expense, for doing the running. If you don't have to drive far consider this an offset for the mileage. Set up accounts with local restaurants to direct bill. You not only get a break, you get lunch and haven't had to dig into your own pockets for the bill.

All suggestions sound good. First, the task of obtaining lunch should be rotated among the other admins. The "reward" for this task should be a free lunch. Second, if you can't get a company credit card, the VP of Sales should have the lunches charged to his personal credit card and he should be reimbursed for them when he submits his regular expense reports. Third, you should try using places that deliver. Even though there's an extra charge, it's a legitimate business expense that can be reimbursed (remember, we're using the VP's credit card if you don't have a company card). Fourth, if you are busy all the time (and most of us admins are) and you are not allowed to work overtime to make up the lost hour, you may have to tell the boss ocasionally to look at his and your priorities: maybe it's more important for you to work on one of his projects than to get the food for the "working lunch". Since you want to retire from this company, don't let this situation upset you to the point where it affects the rest of your work. And, good luck!

It's not fair to expect you to keep paying out-of-pocket for these expenses (especially if they're not reimbursing you for mileage). If you can't get a corporate credit card to pay for these (with your size of company, this is not an unreasonable request), ask that a petty cash fund be set up just for these expenses. While you'll still need to get the petty cash fund reimbursed, it will be the company's money, not yours. Also, be sure to be reimbursed for your mileage at the IRS rate.

You might also look into pizza delivery places; that's what we do for our training classes, since they deliver.

As the others have said, see if you can rotate this responsibility with the other admins. By sharing the burden will probably help.

Really, though, I would consider this to be part of your job. As long as they're not expecting you to give up your own lunch hour to do it (which is not right!), it's one of your job duties. Maybe not your favorite part, but it is an aspect of your job.

Having been put in the same situation: I refused to use my out-of-pocket money because the financial impact ends up being more than you can afford. I ask my bosses for the cash because it does not cross their minds how it is getting paid for and really don't mind. 2) I asked the CIO for the keys to his new BMW and he handed them to me. No one can accuse you of being lazy, it is a stressful duty, especially when setting up consecutive lunches and other things are going on. 3) For the smaller lunches, I have had to accept that it is part of the job and just do it because otherwise I was building resentment. I eventually found a couple of places that deliver and used the bosses credit cards to pay until I received a company card. Best to you.

Sweetie, older workers are too highly paid & they want you to quit before your retirement date & not have to give you severance. So they box you in with "food service" and other odious tasks, coupled with stern warnings to not "abuse" overtime.

You've got two choices - shut up & eat you-know-what, or leave. If you stomach sticking around, MAYBE they will give you a tin foil parachute before they eventually give you the boot. But likely they WILL figure out a way to lose you. Welcome to the 00's.

Maybe the next administration will be less oriented toward corporations and more toward humanity. But don't hold your breath.

Dear Elaine,

I hear and understand your pain here! The comments above all are good. A company credit card is the way to go. If they don't have one, ask your boss for his. Believe me, they aren't thinking about you, but if you mention "may I use your credit card", they do understand why you are asking. And by all means, ask for the boss's car or a company car. I used to use my personal car and bill back mileage. It was a pain, but I only billed once a month rather than weekly. It added up. I got to get out of the office, enjoy the sunshine and stress. Thankfully, they closed the district sales offices and I no longer have the hassle!!! This was a HUGE pharmaceutical company - Eli Lilly - you may have heard of it - the makers of Prozac. As a seasoned Executive Assistant, I grew tired of being laid off due to office closures, etc, and started my own business. It's also good to have a back-up plan in the event of mergers, lay-offs, retirement money not enough, etc. I just turned 50 and couldn't be happier. If you are interested in more details, please email me ( Take care and best wishes.

Alternately, could you use own credit card? You'd still have to submit an expense report, but at least you wouldn't find yourself short on cash until you could be reimbursed a day or two later.

I'm not sure where your office islocated, but there may be a Vmeals near you, or something similar. In Orlando, FL, we always order from They are like a broker for local restaurants. You do everything online - view the menus, place the orders, pay for orders, etc. The prices include tax, tip and delivery, so there is never an extra cost or hidden fee. Maybe there is something like this in your area. Some of the places charge a small fee ($15 or so) for orders less than their minimum, which varies, but this would be worth it to save you time, not to mention the disruption to your day. Good luck!

I'm one of those older (55+)highly paid employees who is fortunate enough to have a union to protect my rights. If you think that "Older & Wiser" has assessed your situation correctly, you need to document every single thing in the past year that would support the idea that they want to get rid of you and contact your state's Department of Labor. Also, there are laws in many states about harrassment and age discrimination, and if you think they are applicable to you, then contact the appropriate agencies.

On another matter: don't volunteer to use your credit card. If the boss wants lunch, let him use his credit card or get a company card. It is not up to you to pay for gas & lunch, even if you get reimbursed for it. Maybe ordering and getting lunch is part of your job (and this function should be shared with the other admins), but paying for it out of your own pocket, even if you get reimbursed, is not.

My suggestion would be to find a company who would be willing to invoice you -- if you consistently use their services. They should even be willing to deliver the food to the office. The worse they can say is no

I am an executive assistant to a person who holds 4 C-level positions in four companies, and I totally feel your pain. I have been in that situation many times, until I absolutely put my foot down and said that I would no longer float my personal funds for the company. Although I've always been paid a fair salary, it's not nearly enough to give the company "a no-interest loan" and wait for a week or the next paycheck to see the reimbursement. What if an emergency comes up, but my bank account or personal credit card is tied up with expenses for the company? And since there is no petty cash provided, someone else was going to have to subsidize the event. They ended up giving me a corporate credit and invoice approving authorization.

I don't mind the mileage reimbursement, since it's not immediate out-of-pocket expenses, but I've borrowed my boss's car many times.

I'm also in the age bracket you are in, but I don't feel threatened because I'm very confident with my role and position. However, I know what you mean about not wanting to try to find another job. It's a pain when you're younger, and even more painful now.

I agree with several comments about learning to say "no", use your boss's credit card not your own, establish corporate accounts for invoicing, documenting your duties ... etc.

Good luck!

I forgot one more thing ... I also have my own virtual assistant business, which has been pretty good for me and alleviates some of the stress of "the job." I have 5 regular clients who I do between 5-20 hours of work/month, and many other occasional clients. Sure I have to work at nights sometimes and on the weekends, but it's not bad to be able to work at home.

I was very surprised at the comments made by "Older and Wiser." Only you know the true situation at your job, but to assume they are asking you to pick up these lunches to force you to quit prior to retirement is an over-reaction (in the extreme). I started working at my company twelve years ago, at the age of 32, and the task of picking up lunches when needed has always been a part of my job (and has nothing to do with my age). I don't consider it demeaning at all; it's part of my job.

Everyone has different ideas about what an admin's job should include; I think that if a task is company-related, it's fine. (I would feel uncomfortable doing PERSONAL tasks for my boss, but not business-related ones.) I think that it's my job to do the administrative work to free up my boss's time for other things.

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