You’ve made it.
You’ve trudged through four hours of work – maybe even more – staring at the clock every so often, waiting for that magical hour-long respite in the middle of the day. Your empty stomach grumbles with anticipation, partly dissatisfied with the instant coffee that’s the only thing your office pantry has to offer. You briefly recall those days in school when surreptitiously eating in class behind the teacher’s back gave you a sense of adventure. You’ve dealt with pending reports, pointless emails, an endless meeting and maybe even a trip to the boss’s office. The stoic dryness of your computer screen, the suspicious silence of your peeping-tom co-workers and the Ibsen-esque gloom hanging in the air of your office are playing on your mind. The last few minutes before the clock strikes 1:00pm are the slowest. But you’ve finally made it to Lunch Break.
In case you are one of the superheroes who manage to wake up early enough to make breakfast and lunch for the day and take a lunchbox to work, I salute you. You are the sterner stuff that Shakespeare wanted ambition to be made of.
In case you’re like me – waking up at the exact moment when you still have enough time to take a shower but still late enough to panic – you often lunch at some kind of restaurant or joint around work. (May it be noted that I do not regret my sleeping habits. We all must make choices in life.) If you belong to this class, you make a dash for the lift as soon as the digital clock on your smartphone strikes 12:59 and curse the company for getting an office on such a high floor. You jab at the ‘down’ button repeatedly even though it doesn’t make the lift come any faster. It doesn’t work that way with lifts. You squeeze uncomfortably into a tiny lift full of equally hungry people and curse under your breath when it decides to stop at every floor until the main lobby.
You reach the restaurant, already imagining your favourite lunch being placed in front of you. You order your food and take a seat (or the other way round) and then begins the devilish wait – the most criminal waste of your lunch break. A lot of restaurants are very busy during this hour and invariably someone’s food will take forever to arrive. As minutes of your precious lunch break pass, the hunger in your paapi pet grows from strength to strength. Your heart beats nervously in the clutches of the fear of returning to your desk within the hour. If this has happened to you, I sympathize. I know them feels.
I’ve tried to put together common sense, my interpretation of Gandhigiri and my trademark lunatic ingenuity to come up with a few tips that may help you shorten your waiting time by engaging in some complex psychological warfare with the restaurant staff. (Disclaimer: The tips range in intensity from the simple and mundane to Crime Master Gogo. Try these at your own risk. Some of them may entail you making a complete fool of yourself.)
#1: Sit where they can see you. You don’t always have a lot of choice while sitting down in a crowded eatery, but still try to make yourself clearly visible to the servers. They need to be able to observe you.
#2: Order something simple enough to prepare. That way, if you have to complain, you can say ‘Yaar ek dosa banane mein kitna waqt lagta hai?’
#3: Try not to look occupied by anything in particular when you’re waiting for your food. You don’t want the servers to think you don’t mind the wait. They’re terrified of people not coming back to the restaurant, so that oughta hurry them up.
#4: Execute the classic Look of Boredom. Prop up your chin in one hand and look around vacantly at nothing in particular. Periodically lock an expectant gaze with one of the servers.
#5: Yawn and stretch. Remember, boredom is everything.
#6: Keep looking at your watch every 24 seconds. Look at fellow patrons and shake your head in disappointment after an exasperated sigh and rolling of the eyes. Two hungry and impatient people are better than one.
#7: Enhance your Look of Boredom by playing a homespun beat on the table with your hands. Don’t be shy. It will make you look even more impatient. That way your body language says, ‘My food better get here before I get as good as Zakir Hussain, or I’ll Teen-taal you in the face.’
(Pro Tip: If there are enough of you, you can start singing a proper Qawwali. Your food will arrive in seconds.)
#8: Fold your arms and look directly at the servers with one eyebrow raised. Do not disengage the eye contact. As they move around, follow them with the same look. Everyone fears the eyebrow.
#9: If you’re at the kind of restaurant that serves free papad and pudine ki chatni before your meal arrives, finish them off and ask them to bring you some more.
#10: Drastic times call for drastic measures. Shake some salt into your palm and eat it slowly and conspicuously.
#11: Find the person who took your order and follow them around the restaurant quietly. Do not answer any of their questions. Just shadow them. Bonus points if you co-ordinate your footsteps with theirs. If you’re not enjoying your food at your table three minutes later, you’re doing it wrong.
#12: Whatever you do, do not hold your knife and fork in each hand and bang the table chanting ‘Khana! Khana! Khana!’ You are hungry; you are not one of the hungry children from Mr India. Be cool.
#13: If you’re at a restaurant in Delhi, ask if your meal is delayed because the UPA government got a job in their kitchen after the LS elections. No self-respecting restaurateur can stomach that, even if he owns a 100-square-foot halwai shack. (#politicalsattire)
#14: If you’re at a restaurant you don’t visit very frequently, tell the server you’re the Health Inspector and watch as the entire place shifts into fifth gear. Not only will your food arrive early, it will be clean too!
(Note: This is not always successful. If someone asks for your ID Card, turn around and Bhaag Milkha Bhaag.)
#15: A hungry man is an angry man. But never lose your temper with your server and ask ‘Tu jaanta hai mera baap kaun hai?’ This can easily backfire and you might just be in for a surprise. Once again, you are hungry; you are not a douchebag.
Surely, you get the general idea. Once you get the hang of the kind of psychological games you need to play, you can even invent your own signature tactics to get the job done and save your lunch break from eternal doom. If you come up with something really cool and effective, let me know! I will shamelessly take credit for it while talking to my colleagues over the crappy instant coffee…