There’s a lot of truth to the notion that a meal tastes even better when it’s free. While working in the bank many a meals were on the house. Stay past 8pm and you were entitled to a dinner, compliments of the Paris Berkeley Capital. This was one of the many perks of the job, which, when you really thought about it, was another way of keeping you chained to the job.
Given the bank’s enormous budget, it didn’t really matter how much you spent on dinner when you worked late at the office. Especially when it was commonplace for many bankers to spend thousands on drinks in one go while entertaining clients in nightclubs, restaurants and lounges. So what was £30 or $50 for dinner? Nothing really.
So when it came to late nights at the office – that was the case 95% of the time – no expenses were spared. We’d head out somewhere nearby, often a sushi joint, and would order more than enough food. It wasn’t about how much room you think you had in your stomach as it was what you felt like seeing in front of you as you sat down to eat. Like a wealthy Russian or Gulf Arab at Harrods you grabbed whatever you liked. “Just order it,” we’d tell one another if someone’s eyes stayed fixated on a particular menu item longer than a split second. If you were undecided between two mains, you ordered both. Plain and simple.
The right time to eat
You were allowed to order dinner on the company only after a certain time. Naturally, the closer you came to that time the stronger the gravitational pull of your chair. Consequently, if you finished your work and were ready to leave but you were only ten minutes away from dinner time you hung around a bit longer. What the hell, you’d think to yourself.
You were said to be “pulling a stretch”, “stretching it” or “going for a stretcher” when you delayed going home to the comfort of your bed in exchange for having a free meal at the office.
Some days I’d walk past a colleague sitting at the desk doing nothing but chatting on the phone with a friend or just surfing the web. “What are you up to?” I’d ask.
“Pullin a stretch,” he’d reply before looking up at one of the digital clocks around. “Ten more minutes and I’m gettin sushi for me and my girl.”
Very often you weren’t the only one to enjoy those perks. With the corporate card, you’d throw in four or five extra dishes, a couple of deserts and a handful of pricey health drinks and then went home with dinner ready for your guests. You’d just scribble down the names of a few colleagues on the receipt just in case you had to justify the bill. But that never happened. Nobody was ever questioned and dinner bills at sometimes ran up to a few hundreds pounds.
The precise rule was that if you stayed past a certain time you could order dinner. And if you knew for sure that you’d be sticking around late then you could order it in advance. So you could get up, put on a jacket, walk over to the restaurant, pick up the food and either come back to your desk and do a few minutes of work, i.e. send an e-mail to a boyfriend or girlfriend, and then head out or just go straight home if you didn’t feel like pretending you had work to do in the office.
Living in a big city is expensive and, therefore, for the younger, more junior bankers this phenomenon was partly a cost-saving mechanism. For the more gluttonous bankers, it was a way to feast like a sultan. And yet for some, spending inordinate amounts on dinner was about revenge. It was payback for the hell the bank put them through.