The Case Against Eating Lunch Outside

A blog about business and economics.
Aug. 15 2013 3:14 PM

The Case Against Eating Lunch Outside

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Outside—a land of danger and despair.

Photo by MANDEL NGAN/AFP/GettyImages

The Slate D.C. office very much has a "sad desk salad" office culture, which I don't approve of, so I was excited when a colleague proposed today that a bunch of us should all eat lunch together outside in Dupont Circle. It's a great idea. Sharing a meal with others is fun. And you get good ideas through casual conversation. For example, I mentioned that I thought the one flaw in this plan was the outside element of it. Why eat outside when the excellent option of inside is also available?

The obvious flaw with eating outside is that the weather is often unpleasant. That's why people aren't suggesting that we eat outside all the time. Only on special "it's such a nice day!" kind of days do people want to go outside. But what's a nice day? Well, it's a day when the temperature outside approximates the results of indoor climate control technology.

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Another big problem with eating outside is it's often difficult to find tables and chairs, so you end up (as we did today) sitting in the dirt. Outside proponents like to refer to this dirt as "grass" but if you look at it you'll see that the blades of grass are mostly just resting atop dirt. If you sit on the "grass" for a while and then stand up, the parts of your body that were in contact will the grass will be covered in "dirt."

What about the sunshine? Yes, obviously eating lunch in a windowless room is sub-optimal.

The breeze? The fresh air? Open a window! In fact, it's even possible to combine open winds and climate control technology to fine-tune the ambient temperature while allowing a room to fill with breeze and fresh air. I don't recommend doing this constantly since it's bad from an energy-efficiency standpoint. But as an every once in a while treat? Why not. It's not like you're eating lunch in the park every day of the year either.

Inside has other crucial advantages. If someone wants to excuse themselves briefly to use the restroom, they can do so easily. Obviously in principle it's possible to relieve oneself outdoors as well, but this is generally frowned upon in urban green spaces. There are also electrical outlets where you can charge your phone. If the breeze coming through the window gets to be unpleasant, you can close the window.

But here's the real thing. People are going to read this as a kind of #Slatepitch but as I live my life I see that despite all the talk about how great it is to be outside, people don't really put their money where their mouth is. Property owners are much more likely to build an addition to their house (thereby increasing the inside/outside ratio of their property) when they're feeling flush than to orchestrate a subtraction in order to get more open space. Even in places like Southern California where there's really great weather all the time, the landscape is covered with buildings and people spend a very large sum of their income on purchasing or renting inside space in which to live over and above the inside space in which they work.

So it's not so much that I need to persuade people that inside > outside as that I need to persuade people to admit what we all know: Inside is great, and humanity has struggled for tens of thousands of years to spend as much time as possible there.

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