Quality vs. Company: The loneliness of Midtown Lunch’ing

Midtown lunch’ing can be a very lonely place. If you are like me, than you must know what I’m talking about. Every day, lunch rolls around and the troops gather- trying to decide where to eat. Well, gather isn’t necessarily the best word for it. Sometimes it’s phone calls or emails… but for me, the questions usually start around 9am, when I get into work. For one guy, it’s the first thing he asks when I walk in the door… “Where are we going to lunch today?”

But here’s the thing… he almost never comes with me. Why? Because when I’ve finally made up my mind, the place is either too far to walk, or he doesn’t like whatever ethnic food I’ve decided to partake in on that day. In other words, I don’t eat at generic delis- the lunch of choice for almost every single person I work with. If I went to Metro every day, I’d have 27 people to eat lunch with. Who says no to Metro? There’s something for everyone! And that’s why those places exist on every corner of Midtown. Quick, easy and there’s something for everyone.

Not me though. Generic delis don’t do it for me. I like to venture. 15 minute walk in the rain for sausage and cheese filled corn fritters? Sure. 10 minute walk to wait in line for take out cuban food, when there are 2 other perfectly good places within a block of my office. Why not? And Chinese food- there is no distance I won’t travel for cheap Chinese food.

The people I work with… not so much.Sure, I get takers for some adventures. Depending on the day, or where I’m going, there are a few friends who will go with me. But then the complaining starts. “How far is this place?” “Where the fuck are we going?” “We walked all this way for this?” It’s almost not worth it. If I go alone, I can walk however far I want, eat whatever disgusting food I find, and the only person that can blame me for a bad lunch, is me. Midtown lunch’ing is a very lonely place.

When I lived in Boston, it was easy. I worked in a place called Lynn, about 30 minutes north of the city. A small dump of a town, the options were really limited. Wendy’s, a diner, Panera and a pizza place were the standbys. When this little Salvadorean place with amazing tacos opened up, it was an epic event. Lunchtime was easy. The office was small, and I had my group of lunch friends. There were fewer places to choose from, and you had to drive to most of them, so lunch wasn’t about food, it was about friends (and getting away from work for an hour). If people weren’t too busy, we’d go to the all you can eat chinese buffet, Kelly’s Roast Beef, or the mall food court. Those were the days…

But in New York, it’s not that easy for me. My priorities have changed. Lunch is still about getting away and spending time with friends… but my friends are now Ressie Mae, Sophie, & Jiannetto. With friends like these, who needs real friends!

But sometimes I cave, and the desire to “fit in” causes me to go somewhere I would never eat, just to hang out with work friends. This happened last Thursday, when I picked “being normal”, over walking ten minutes in the rain to eat somewhere good (but alone). We went to a diner, that I won’t even bother mentioning the name of- but you know it. There’s one on every block of Midtown, the menu is huge, and there’s something for everyone. It’s like a “splurge” to all those people who normally get a salad at Metro.

Lunch was fun, but the food was super greasy, a little too expensive for Midtown Lunch, PLUS it put me in the bathroom for the rest of the day. That’s right. Of all the garbage I eat for lunch, it takes a steak and cheese at a generic Midtown diner to take me down. It’s amazing what I’m willing to do for friends.

Which do you choose? Food or co-workers? Don’t you wish they could both get along? You know how you feel on your birthday, when all your different friends get together and attempt to co-mingle, and you feel weird, and it never really works out. That’s how I feel every day going to lunch. I want my co-workers to come with me, and meet my “lunch” friends- but it’s just too much. Sophie lives too far away, Ressie Mae is way to fat, and nobody likes any of my weird Asian friends. They’re much happier with their $8 salad.

Midtown lunch’ing can be a very lonely place.


  • Well, I’d take your weird Asian friends over a damn 8 buck salad any day, Zach.

  • I understand!! I’ve been at the same job for about 6 years and have cycled through 3 or 4 groups of lunch friends, some more adventurous than others. Alas, I’ve lost my co-adventurers and journey to lunch alone… This also sucks because there are times when you’re trying a new place and wish others were with you to order a bunch of different things and compare.

  • in my office, here’s how it goes:
    “i’m so bored with the deli or au bon pain”
    me: “have you seen this great blog? midtown lunch! it lists all these places to eat in midtown!”
    “really, wow”
    :::nothing happens::::

    “it’s so hard to find vegetarian food near here”
    “have you see the midtownlunch blog? they list all these veggie places, i found a great indian food cart!”
    “really, huh”
    ::::nothing happens:::

    but i think you would find that in any group of people, there are those who prefer comfort/convenience and those that are adventurous.

  • We should make a midtown lunch club! Then you could ditch the lame co-workers and spend an hour meeting new cool people and eating something besides paninis. I’d be down!

  • Hey, I think a midtown lunch club would be a great idea! I’m the lone person in my office who will walk distances to mix it up lunchwise.

    And how about a couple of midtown breakfast poll/posts? Like, where everyone gets their coffee in the morning? The best breakfast sandwich, etc.

  • I’m in almost the same boat.. fortunately I have one luncher that will go just about anywhere too… hell we did 15 blocks for that mexican place on 10th ave / 47th.. the first two places I took him when he started were closed by the health dept so it a miracle he trusts me at all.

    I personally torture the metro eaters with the story of the ginormus cockroach the nearly scurried into a friend’s bag in there one day.

  • At my last job I used to eat lunch with a guy who insisted on eating Subway at least once a week – Subway is worse than a deli in my book. I started changing plans whenever he insisted on Subway and he started to get the point.
    At my current job I eat alone except for about once a month. As much as I like company, there is something refreshing about walking out of the building and not having to build consensus, but just go eat what you are in the mood for at that exact moment. As much as we complain about midtown, it is much better than being in an office park in the burbs.

  • Well said. This essay puts into words EXACTLY how I feel.

    Kudos for having the courage to write it.

    I am an adventuresome person, and do not like to eat at the same place twice. I love to explore, and the drones at my work bore me with their Au Bon Pain, Metro, Subway, Lenny’s. Yes, each of those places are very good. But not every day. There are enough places listed on this blog to keep me happy for a long time, with no repeat visits, and that is exactly what I intend to do. Yes, it is not Chinatown, it is not Jackson Heights…but Midtown does have variety and a lot to explore (now that my eyes have been opened by this blog). Let’s explore!

    And I agree with Ezra. Why should I have to get a consensus to get the lunch I really want? No! Why should I cave in to friend’s diets, time schedules, walking peeves, boring tastebuds, money issues? I don’t have to! I have no problem with sitting in a place alone and enjoying my food. I have even done so in sit down restaurants, even fancy ones. If I want to try something, damn it I will! If I am uncomfortable, I bring something to read, and then usually people leave me alone.

    I spend the day surrounded by people and talking to people. My lunch break is my 45 minutes of ME time.

    Although I do agree with Jane. A midtown lunch club would be great fun. :)

  • I second (or fourth?) the Midtown Lunch Club.

  • Mmm, that sounds like fun. My coworkers all eat in our cafeteria- tell me that isn’t much worse. I eat alone nearly every day now. Of course, I walk home and choose to eat with my dog, but… yeah.

  • mmm…. Kelly’s Roast Beef! Brings back memories of when I lived in Boston!

  • You completely captured how I feel everyday. Everyone around me seems to be happy eating the exact same salad everyday. I feel like an outcast.

  • I know that place! It’s Evergreen Diner on 47th!

  • you hit it out of the park again, zach. most people in my office bring in the same turkey sandwich everyday and they appear satisfied. i have to leave the office. i have to find something new and i’ll go to great lengths to do so. luckily i’ve worked at enough jobs in midtown to be able to plan lunch dates with former coworker foodies. or would it be former foodie coworkers? you get the point.

  • sorry that sandwich put you in the bathroom all day. that’s the worst! i vote for lunch club, too. i’m in the high 40′s and bway.

  • Lynn, Lynn, city of sin, you never come out the way you went in…

    I miss Kelly’s too.

  • Zach – I think it’s time to set up a php forum board so all us midtown lunchers can set up lunch time meet ups.

  • You are such an inspiration, it’s easy for us at the conjunction of Chinatown/ LES/ Nolita/ Soho to find a different spot for lunch everyday but MIDTOWN? It’s very impressive – the lengths you will go to eat something good for lunch everyday. We should have a downtown meets midtown lunch one day!

  • Interestingly, in my office, solo lunch used to be the general rule. Since I turned everyone on to midtownlunch, however, we’ve been occasionally heading out in small groups to check out the recommendations. Katy Roll and Burger Joint are current big hits for the group. I’m going to have to organize a trip to Sophie’s next.

  • I used to work with the nicest guy, but the only things he ate were chicken parmigiana, pizza and chicken francesce. No kidding. Whenever we had staff lunches, we were really limited. No one seems to care that I eat mostly vegan, haha. Anyway, I understand your sentiments. It’s not just my co-workers who have different tastes than me. When I eat at a restaurant, I want the food to be really special (or else I’d eat at home for “free”). But my friends go to any place, no matter how generic or sucky. Oh, I work at 39 St. and 3 Ave., so if you need a lunch buddy, e-mail me!

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