Lunch time mania
Clink and clatter, corporate conversations, and meaningful meetings – this is the scenario you can expect to see if you ever walk into a restaurant during lunch time, specifically in a commercial area. And the same is true for an office canteen. However, lunch time for office goers is not as superficial as it seems. There exists a connotation within these conversations and walls of the restaurants and canteens during luncheon.
At noon, eateries in the commercial hubs of Dhaka, such as Motijheel, Gulshan, and Farmgate are usually buzzing with suited, white-collar employees devouring lunch. It is a spectacular scene to witness groups of colleagues joyfully laughing over an incident at office, or a triad of people formulating new and innovative ideas, or just a couple of people quietly eating food. This bustling environment usually lasts from 1PM to 3PM, defining the situation of lunch time mania in Dhaka.
Satisfying the rising demand
The altering demand of people, the rapid pace of economic development combined with the revolutionary turn in the restaurant industry in Dhaka are shaking things up. While five years ago, there were limited options for choosing the mode and source of lunch, the alternatives now are innumerable. This has also led to better affordability and higher availability.
"Initially, we only served food of a particular price range. However, after a few months of operation we realised there exists a demand within the corporate sector for more affordable lunch on a regular basis. To fulfil this need, we revamped both our menu and the restaurant and are now able to cater to a large pool of loyal customers daily," said Mohammed Shahidul Islam, managing partner, Nawab Chatga.
Seeing this as a good business opportunity, a vast number of catering services and restaurants are popping up in commercial areas. Family style restaurants, fast food stores, catering services, and food delivery apps are all serving towards satisfying the lunching requirements of office goers. These food hubs are further classified, ranging from fine dining restaurants to small scale eateries, catering to the demand that exists in a flexible manner.
Health and hygiene
While there are myriad options available, the question lingers, are they actually fulfilling the vast demand that exists?
Most people are now health conscious and look for hygienic and healthy options. Because this is the decision of consuming lunch on most days of the week, the source must be decided conscientiously.
"Although the availability of lunch is better than ever now, it would be great to have more catering services that serve homelike food of the best quality without the addition of extra spices and condiments for the sake of better tasting food," said Rabeya Moyeen, senior project manager at a research institute located in Gulshan.
As people age and become prone towards a healthy living, there persists a growing concern regarding source of food they are consuming. Most people cannot find a trustworthy and reliable source of lunch depending on which they can order food every day, setting aside the looming concern of health and hygiene. Despite many commercial areas housing dozens of eateries that serve homelike food, there exists a dearth of such dependable food sources.
However, there is a lucky bunch of office goers who have the privilege to enjoy homemade food every day of the week. This is often the case for entrepreneurs or office goers who live in the same neighbourhood as their workplace.
"Being a gym owner and having a health-conscious perspective, I am lucky to be able to have homemade food delivered to my office, coming right out of my home kitchen every day," said Fatah Saad, owner, Hammer Strength Fitness Club.
A proper lunch is customary in our culture, and while many office goers crave homemade, deshi delicacies, it is always not possible to have such kind of food.
Reazul Islam, deputy managing director, AB Bank, stationed at their office in Motijheel said, "I usually pack lunch from home because I prefer to eat what I would typically have if I were back home. But sometimes, unwillingly, I have to resort to order a takeaway lunch box from restaurants nearby."
And there are many more like him. Despite the vast availability of various cuisines, homemade food is irreplaceable. Some people willingly forego purchasing lunch from the office canteen, nearby restaurants, or catering services because they are accustomed to the deshi palate.
Call them boring eaters, but truth be told, we Bengalis are more comfortable to our very own deshi delicacies than we realise. After all, nothing compares with the delight of having a steaming plate of plain rice, along with thick lentil curry, fried fish, and a side of spinach amidst all the hustle and bustle.
Imagine the disappointment on a child's face if he opens his tiffin box to find such an assortment of food — he would probably skip having anything in his tiffin break than to face this embarrassment among friends.
Remember sitting in class at college while getting a hunger pang and daydreaming about rushing to the canteen to get that hot plate of khichuri bhuna after class?
As we pass through these phases of life and finally get into work life, somewhere deep down we wish we could go back to the simpler, tiffin box days.
Work over lunch
A typical lunch hour at office is dictated by a monotonous routine, whereby employees get a small break from their harried schedules. People from all departments march to the canteen, where groups of colleagues can be found chitchatting.
In other cases, on an extremely busy day at work, some employees can be seen having lunch alone at their designated cubicle, or aggressively typing away at their keyboard unbothered to eat but trying to complete the tasks at hand. Unfortunately, sometimes due to heavy workload this small recess is also missed by many.
Instances like these forces you to take a walk down memory lane and reminisce the meek days, when life as we knew it was humbler and when there did not hang a guillotine of responsibilities on our necks. To keep up with the fast paced environment and to excel in the competition of life, somehow we all end up in places where we never desired to be, trapped in a web of corporate politics and encumbrance of obligations.
Respite from a hectic schedule
However, among the pressure of crunching numbers and meeting deadlines, a one-hour break for lunch comes as a respite to many.
"Often days, I look forward to lunch time because this hiatus allows me to casually catch up with colleagues and discuss something other than work. To some extent, this also boosts our productivity at office," says Mahir Ahmed, assistant executive, Branding and Corporate Communication, IPDC Finance.
While some companies offer flexible lunch schedules, others have rather rigid timetables. It is not possible to go out of office for lunch in the prospect of a "colleague's hangout" within such a short period. On the contrary, on special occasions such as Pahela Falgun, groups of colleagues flock to restaurants and order according to their heart's desires. Being forced to consume lunch at their workplace, it is not every day that they get to eat according to their heart's will, despite having access to a plethora of delicious cuisines available right at their fingertips.
At other times, when workload is relatively low, it is a common sight to witness groups of employees enjoying a warm cup of tea at the local tea stall and discussing futile incidents or concocting crucial conversations regarding life and its odysseys.
"Our office location is in an eerie dead-end, which allows us a repose from work by sitting on the pavement sipping coffee after lunch. This makes me recall the days when I had plenty of time to spare for hangouts. Now I have my own identity, and am receiving so many benefits and facilities, yet I barely have time to maintain social and familial relationships," said Pushpo Meem, a banker working at Gulshan.
The other group of people
Despite having access to so many options and holding numerous privileges, we do not fail to complain. If you ever happen to be travelling on the road during lunch hour, you may witness a band of rickshaw pullers taking their afternoon siesta, uncomfortably resting their heads on the passenger seat and using their dowdy cummerbund as a shade from the scorching sun.
This ten-minute break after their luncheon, maybe the only one they can afford to have, amidst the frenzied chores that they continue to do day after day to earn basic bread and butter for the family. The half-an-hour lunch break may be his only opportunity to socialise and catch a break from the shackles of commuting through the roads and alleys to earn a living.
Lunch hour among the working-class people is not limited to grabbing a quick meal before re-joining work. It has more meaning and insight than the naked eye can see. Whether it is a banker contemplating his life choices or a rickshaw-puller happy to take a quick nap amidst the hustle of work, lunch time mania poses more significance than just consuming food.
Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed