The Muffin that won’t Die

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I believe that the average American doesn’t travel on business. This is based on the people I know and the fact that there are more blue collar workers than white collar workers. That said, I believe the lack of business travelers are the reason the $16.00 muffin story won’t die – dispite the fact that it has been proven to be false.

I have found that as I scale the ladder of my profession that I am traveling for busy more and more. About once per year – which isn’t much – I get in my car or on a plane and travel as close as Chicago or as far away as Orlando. My mother always says, “Must be nice,” which is proof to me that she’s never travelled on business.

I don’t enjoy spending a week away from home and hearth learning a new piece of software or listening to business lectures. Don’t get me wrong – I love learning new thing and expanding my mind – that’s not the issue. I just don’t like all of the expense paperwork that comes along for the ride.

Anyone who knows me is aware that I don’t keep track of my own bill paying. I deposit my check and the bills are magically paid. (Okay, it isn’t magic – Cheryl does the bill paying and the budgeting.) However; while on the road, I find myself wondering what’s a reimbursable expense and what’s coming out of my own pocket.

Is $10.00 for breakfast too high? Can I have a drink at dinner? What about that notebook I purchased?

I hate it.

Which brings me to the breakfast muffin story. The Justice Department held a legal training conference in 2009. Because of the way the Hilton Hotel bills, it looks like the government spent $16.00 per muffin – except they didn’t. (You can find a nice breakdown here.)

But, that’s not why I’m writing this.

I’ve read numerous articles on this and there were some comments regarding why the Justice Department provided breakfast at all.

Look, no one who works for the government (outside of Congress) is getting rich. In fact, despite misleading reports to the contrary, government employees actually make less than their private enterprise counterparts. (Exception is public school teachers vs private school teachers.)

The reports are misleading because you can’t compare the general population to government workers. You have to compare apples to apples.

For example, the Racine Police Department was hiring a Data Analyst a couple of years ago. I excitedly read the qualifications, realized that I was qualified for the job and considered putting in an application. I would love to put aside my driving gloves and work closer to home. Except, the job’s top pay was – at the time – $17,000 less than what I was making. Now, it is $22,000. Well, even being close to home wouldn’t justify that much of a pay cut.

The lawyers for the Justice Department are probably making more than you or me, but they’re not making as much as their private enterprise counterparts.

Which brings me to my next point – paying for breakfast on a business trip is what happens in companies all across America. Paying $16.00 per person for breakfast might seem high to someone eating off the value meal at McDonalds or sitting down at a George Webb, but it isn’t out of line for Washington DC. Cheryl and I spent $40.00 for breakfast while in Chicago.

In addition, providing a breakfast – as businesses do – is a smart move. It gives your attendees a chance to bond and share ideas over a meal. It, also, lessens the chances that you’ll spend even more for breakfasts your attendees purchase on their own.

There’s always talk of running the government like a business and, in this case, the Justice Department did. And, look at the backlash it caused. 

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