Saturday, February 4, 2017

The Microwave Popcorn Memo War

The following is a reconstruction, from memory, of a "Memo War" that occurred at a law firm I worked at, over 20 years agoThe names have been changed to protect the guilty parties:

Dewey, Screwem, & Howe, Attorneys at Law

To:  ALL STAFF                            From:  Arnold Dewey, Senior Partner

RE:  Microwave Popcorn              Date:  April 15, 1995


All Staff persons should be aware that eating snacks at your desk is not permitted.  In particular, microwave popcorn should not be consumed in your work space.

The staff break room is provided for this purpose, during your standard break periods, as well as during the lunch hour.  See, e.g., HR Staff Memo of July 21, 1993 for further information.

This issue has come to a head, as I was giving a prospective Japanese client a tour of our offices, and one of our secretarial staff was eating a bag of microwave popcorn at her desk.  Unfortunately, the smell from microwave popcorn tends to permeate the office and my client was asking me if the circus had come to town, and moreover, could he have some popcorn, which the secretary refused to share.

To maintain an environment of professionalism, snack foods, in particular, microwave popcorn should NOT be consumed at your desk during working hours or at any other time.  In addition to the odors involved, the detritus of such endeavors may attract insects and other vermin, when disposed in office garbage cans.   Again, please use the provided break room for such activities.

--A. Dewey

Dewey, Screwem, & Howe, Attorneys at Law

To:  ALL STAFF                                 From:  Sarah Conners, Paralegal

RE:  RE: Microwave Popcorn            Date:  April 17, 1995


Concerning the memo of the 15th last, with regard to the above-captioned matter, I draw your attention to the Human Resources Manual for the Law Firm of Dewey, Screwem, & Howe, Attorneys at Law, Page 112, Section II, subsection (b) which states, to wit:

“Staff is required to use the break room for luncheon and breakfast and other meals as necessary, but is allowed to consume occasional snack materials at their desk or in their office, as required.” (emphasis added).

Attention is drawn to the fact that microwave popcorn is clearly a snack food, and as such, under the rules established by the HR department, is clearly allowed to be consumed in one’s work area, desk, or office, whenever deemed necessary by the employee.

Thus, with regard to the aforementioned Memorandum of the 15th last, there is no requirement on the part of  staff from refraining from the consumption of microwave popcorn at an individual’s desk, office or work area, notwithstanding the representations of  the Partnership.

--S. Conners.

Dewey, Screwem, & Howe, Attorneys at Law

To:  ALL STAFF                              From:  Arnold Dewey, Senior Partner

RE:  RE: RE: Microwave Popcorn  Date:  April 19, 1995


Am in receipt of your memorandum dated April 17, 1995.  While the partnership recognizes that the Human Resources Manual allows for consumption of the occasional snack at an individual's work space, office, or desk, microwave popcorn does not fall under the category of “snack” on the following grounds:

  1. Microwave popcorn requires heating a microwave, a cooking process that defines it as a meal, and thus not a snack, and as such should therefore be consumed in the break room at not at an individual’s desk, work space, office, or other areas in the office environment.
  1. Microwave popcorn can contain up to 500 calories in one bag, which represents a substantial portion of a 2000 calorie daily intake, thus rendering it a “meal” and not a snack, and as such should be consumed within the confines of the break room, and not an individual’s desk, office, or work space.
The Partnership would like to be flexible in this matter, however, if we allow cooked items to be consumed within a person’s work space, this could lead to an escalation of other cooked items, up to and including a Thanksgiving turkey, being consumed within the work area, if the definition of “snack” is given no further boundaries.

As a reminder, Office Staff is encouraged to use the break room for consumption of meals, using the cooking appliances provided in the break room.  Outside cooking devices brought from home, including but not limited to, crock pots, toaster ovens, coffee makers, rice makers, and the like, are not permitted in the break room area and not in an employee's work space.  A microwave is provided for staff use, along with a coffee maker.  These are the sole items to be used by staff during, before, or after working hours.

Thank you for cooperation in this matter.

--A. Dewey

Dewey, Screwem, & Howe, Attorneys at Law

To:  ALL STAFF                                    From:  Sarah Conners, Paralegal

RE:  RE:RE: RE: Microwave Popcorn   Date:  April 21, 1995


In receipt of your Memorandum dated the 19th of this month and will take under advisement.

However, in the absence of any modification of the Human Resources Manual to define “snack” in a more definitive manner, we contend that microwave popcorn remains defined, by default, as a snack, and until such time the HRM is revised, staff is instructed that they may continue to consume this product in their work space.

--S. Conners.

Dewey, Screwem, & Howe, Attorneys at Law

To:  ALL STAFF                            From:  Joan Rivers, Human Resources

RE:  Staffing Changes                    Date:  April 23, 1995


Until further notice, Mr. Arnold Dewey will be taking a sabbatical for much needed rest and relaxation.

Sarah Conners, Paralegal, has announced she will be leaving the firm as of this Friday, to spend more time with her family.  A going away party is scheduled for Friday at 1:00 in the break room.  Ms. Conners requests no microwave popcorn.

--J. Rivers

* * *

Believe it or not, this actually happened, although I *might* have embellished it a wee bit.

If you work for an organization, and such a "Memo War" breaks out, be sure to update your resume, as you will need it shortly.  When people stop talking to each other and resort to written communications to communicate with someone in the same office as they are, things are not going to go well.  And this includes e-mails as well.

What memo wars and e-mail wars tell us, is that a breakdown in face-to-face communications is happening.  And by posting public memos (or e-mails cc'd to everyone in the office) you are taking small, private matters, and making them public, in an attempt to court public opinion to "your side" of an issue.

It's just a horribly bad way to go about effecting change, and it always ends up in disaster.   Managers who try to manage by memo rarely win, but are instead viewed as ineffective.   Subordinates who try to respond to this gambit, usually end up being shown the door, as was the case here.

If you see a "Memo War" breaking out (although today it would more likely be an e-mail war) just head for the door - you are working in a dysfunctional office.


  1. At the firm I was at, the issue was the smell the popcorn made, which a partner was upset about, as he was trying to impress a client.

    But apparently, there are other concerns - the stuff catches fire in the microwave, sets off the fire alarm and results in downtime for the office.


    Microwavable popcorn is a FIRING OFFENSE at Carnival, apparently!

  2. Seattle City Hall has such a ban, too!


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