In almost every war movie I’ve watched there’s one guy that seems to be able to scrounge anything. In the corporate engineering world we all scrounge for parts but the talent we really admire is the food scout. It’s no secret that engineers are strongly food motivated. I don’t know what the connection is but I do know that the best way to ensure engineering attendance at a meeting is to offer free food. The scouts let us know where the food is.

In typical engineering fashion we usually develop an informal network to keep everyone informed of free food. The moment food appears, as it invariably does in a large company, the food scouts are quick to locate the food and inform the rest of the engineers.  Locating the food is a talent. Those with this talent and willingness to share with their fellow engineers quickly become very popular.

Prior to a re-organization at my company, I was privileged to work with the best food scout I’ve ever met. He expanded his network to include non-engineering people too. By including them in his network, he was always informed when they had food. If there was food anywhere in the building he knew about it and once he discovered it he made sure everyone in his network was informed.

Not content to leave free food to chance, he organized the engineers  with a regular Friday donut run. No longer was Friday morning hit or miss depending on the whims of other people. Friday always started with free food. Sometimes it was muffins, sausage rolls, bagels and creme cheese, even fresh fruit. There were no rules about what was brought, merely that it be there in the morning.

That left four days to chance and he really did not like leaving food to chance. That’s when he discovered “Lunch and Learns.” I think Lunch and Learn was developed to get engineers to attend training classes without killing an entire day. The concept is simple, when someone has a subject or a product to introduce, they offer free food while they are giving the presentation. For vendors it’s amazingly effective because they get access to a number of engineers at a much lower cost than taking everyone to lunch and they are expected to do a presentation on their products.

Once word got out that someone was organizing them, vendors quickly jumped on the concept. Our food scout made all the arrangements. He reserved conference rooms, he let our vendors know what kind of food was available in the area and approximately how much to bring. He made sure the conference rooms were cleaned up afterwards and made sure that everyone had access to any food left over.  Yes, he always inflated his numbers just a little to make sure he had enough to share with the other people in his network.

He had no shortage of vendors willing to take part. He could easily have arranged a new Lunch and Learn every week. He did show that he was motivated by more than food by limiting the topics to those related to what we did.  Lunch and Learn soon became a regular event every other week.  Our engineers were kept well informed on new products and well fed.

Alas, all things come to an end, our master food scout was transferred to a new division. Friday morning food is back to hit or miss. Lunch and Learns still happen but very infrequently. He’s working as diligently as ever for his new division and still tries to keep me informed when food is available but it’s not the same.

There is a bright side though, I think I’ve lost five pounds since he left.

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