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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

A legend in its own lunchtime

The credit crunch has us all tightening our belts. Gone are the lunch hours spent sipping fresh fruit smoothies and eating sashimi (I’m an actuary; those lunch hours never really existed). In their place, for those fortunate enough, is the trusty staff canteen.

I gave up communal eating after the nightmare of school dinners. Do you really expect school children to like vegetables if they share the same consistency as soup? Given that one of the perks of my new(ish) job is access to a staff canteen, I have been forced to reassess this view. So at 12pm every day — a bit early, but the benefit of the small queues far outweighs the negative of feeling peckish at 5.30pm — I head up to the 19th floor to discover what delights the chef has in store for me.

The canteen is actually rather excellent with a salad bar, deli bar and hot food counter — you really are spoiled for choice (when the benchmark is a sweaty sandwich, that isn’t difficult). Being an actuary, I usually have my safe default choice (chicken salad sandwich and a few pieces of fruit) but the hot food counter is high-stakes with beef stir-fry and noodles — a big hit; and fish fingers and chips — a definite miss. The benefits of the staff canteen are obvious, but the firm also does well out of it.

A trip to the canteen can take a matter of minutes; a trip to Pret a Manger in Canary Wharf at lunch hour can potentially take a lifetime. I’ve gone from taking an average of one hour for lunch to 15-30 minutes. Given my charge-out rate, this is clearly beneficial to the firm, even after allowing for my £3 food allowance. It’s positive net present value.

There are also softer benefits to the staff canteen. I now spend far more time eating with colleagues than I used to, creating valuable team bonding time. The staff canteen helps to create a more egalitarian workplace. The big shots eat the same food as those lower down the pecking order. Food really does help break down the corporate barriers. What’s more, my £3 allowance is a sort of sunk cost — I only benefit if I go to the canteen. This creates a great degree of persistency in my choice of where to go for lunch, ensuring the aforementioned company benefits do arise.

As with any relationship, my staff canteen does have a special place in my heart, but I have had my head turned by a couple of other canteens. In particular, a trip to Bloomberg’s office is a must — the place in undeniably cool. The canteen is more of a ‘help yourself’ collection of pods with smoothies, nuts, seeds and all manner of herbal teas. Best of all, it’s all free, even to interlopers like myself.

It is often said that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and quite rightly so. I have a lot of love for my staff canteen.

Recommendation of the month
Tate Modern — Pop Life: Art in a material world

Tate Modern, South Bank’s art behemoth, is currently exhibiting a collection of some of modern art’s finest in an exploration of the legacies of Andy Warhol and the 1960s pop art revolution. The show brings together artists from the 1980s onwards who have embraced commerce and the mass media to build their own ‘brands’. Pop Life includes Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami and more. On until mid-January, why not explore a bit of culture to brighten up the autumn weather?

Client entertaining
Swiss Re — 39th floor

Only really an option if you have dining membership at 30 St Mary Axe, the restaurant on the 39th floor (and accompanying bar on the 40th) offers one of the most spectacular views across London. Gaze down with a certain smug feeling that most of those below will not get to share this line of sight. Oh, and the food is pretty good, too.


Matt and Finn welcome your comments and contributions. Please e-mail arts@the-actuary.org.uk