Cambrian: Slice of Life

There’s no free lunch with a sales pitch on the side

Ding-ding! It’s lunchtime.

Hmmmm. … Sharing lunch with my husband. Lunch with family. Lunch with friends. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Ideally, lunch is a midday time to regroup, relax and refuel for the rest of the day. Smart people — at least those who can — turn off their phones and leave their office or job site. Perhaps they head for a favorite restaurant. Maybe they brown-bag it on a park bench or at the beach (aren’t we lucky that it’s so close?). Maybe they’ll take a catnap, or go for a run and then eat a power bar and drink some Gatorade.

It’s their time, so they can do what they want. Hopefully, what they want is something rejuvenating and refreshing.

But there’s a commercial trend out there that could taint my concept of the midday meal as a relaxing, enjoyable break in the responsibilities of the workday.

The premise is “lunch to sell me something.”

A flier in the mail or online boldly proclaims, “FREE LUNCH!” The disclaimer of “informational seminar” often is printed in much smaller type, perhaps even somewhere else on the card or letter.

Now, I’m no babe in the woods. I certainly don’t expect to get something for nothing.

I know if I’m being hosted overnight at a posh resort, I’ll have to prove my financial qualifications before I sign up, and then set aside a few hours for a high-powered sales pitch about why I absolutely must buy a time share there. (I didn’t.)

Where a free “business” lunch is held, however, may depend on the amount of potential profit at the end of the deal. Financial or property investment lunches are often hosted at posh, upscale restaurants. Less lavish products — such as Medicare supplement policies and knee-replacement options — usually are touted at places politely referred to as “family dining.”

It’s shrimp scampi vs. meatloaf.

But, honestly, do I really want to hear about cremation or burial options at lunchtime?

“Oh, Mrs. Tanner, you really must have this walnut-and-bronze casket for your final resting place … and in the meantime, have another bruschetta.”

No, I don’t think so, thank you.

I’d rather share Chinese chicken salad or a burger with friends at Old Stone Station. Saté at Robin’s. Wor won ton soup and honey walnut shrimp with family at Dragon Bistro. Halibut and chips with strangers-who-become-friends on the dock at Giovanni’s in Morro Bay. So many good choices.

However, I’ll pick my own companions and conversational topics. It’s better for the digestion and the disposition.

And, for a real change of pace/lunchtime respite, we could join other diners at Cambria’s Senior Nutrition program, which serves lunch weekdays starting at 11:45 a.m. at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 2700 Eton Road. Meals can also be delivered to homebound seniors who participate in the program. Participants must be at least 60 years old (or married to a program participant who is) and complete an application.

Surprised by the suggestion? Don’t be. Those meals would be a great opportunity to share convivial time with new friends … over meals I don’t have to plan or cook.

We can chat about art and pets, grandkids and sunsets, taking pictures, making cookies and making a difference.

Those are the same kinds of topics we’d share on social media, but somehow, being face to face inspires longer exchanges as we’d delve deeper, laugh and brainstorm. There’s a warmth and humor in-person that can’t be conveyed as well via a computer monitor or iPhone.

Technically, the lunches are free. But the program is chronically underfunded, so many seniors who can will pay the cost of about $3 each, or more if they can.

No, we wouldn’t have to eat there every weekday to participate in Senior Nutrition. However, we would have to plan ahead, as longtime site manager Jesse Miller says reservations should be made at least two business days in advance (927-1268).

I can check online at for the month’s meal offerings; all who dine on a given day get the same menu items served.

Let’s see …. Tuesday’s Swedish meatballs and whole-wheat pasta? Wednesday’s lasagna? Friday’s chicken ranch salad? Another Tuesday’s sliced turkey and homemade stuffing?

Actually, the menu really doesn’t matter, as long as we’re sharing the meal with genuinely friendly people … who aren’t trying to sell us something.

Kathe Tanner’s “Slice of Life” column runs every other week in The Cambrian and the Tribune. Email her at ktanner @the tribune news .com.

Senior Nutrition

The Senior Nutrition Program of San Luis Obispo County is a private nonprofit organization. Donations are welcome. Send them to “Cambria Senior Nutrition Program” c/o St. Paul’s (2700 Eton Road, Cambria). Or better yet, my senior friend, stop by for lunch.