Dear Professor Moriarty: A Company Christmas Dinner Disaster

This week's guest columnist is Professor Moriarty who reports that he is, contrary to rumors, very much alive and quite busy planning for a major event that you will all witness soon. Very soon.

Dear Professor Moriarty,

As the only female coder at a Silicon Valley startup, I’ve been delegated to doing the company Christmas dinner—which was okay the first two years when we had 8 people on staff, with half of those being the brothers of the owner. Last year, we had 16, and that was tough.

After a new round of venture capital, we now have 32 staff, and my boss is planning on doubling again to 64 next year before we go public. My boss is an engineer who doesn't understand how cooking for 32 or 64 is insane. He thinks my process is sound, so I can “just scale up.” And he won't take no for an answer. 

This is more than a little sexist and oppressive, but I need the salary and the health benefits. This is a dream job the other 11 months of the year, so I don’t want to quit. 

How can I convince the boss that he’s asking too much?

Fed Up With the Company Christmas Dinner

Dear Fed Up,

When you hire a person, there's often a contract full of dry legalese that no one really reads. In my line of work, there are no contracts and no courtrooms to settle disputes like yours. 

So I have to make it very clear before I hire a safecracker that he's being paid a set amount, and if he helps himself to a few stacks of purple 500-euro notes, I can't let that go unnoticed or unpunished—it would become known, and others would also take advantage of me. Therefore, despite my affection for his skills and for him as a person, I'd have to dump his corpse into an industrial furnace. 

Your situation is less extreme, and you won't require the services of a blast furnace. Yet, the principle is the same: this conflict between you and your employer stems from a gap between expectations and result.

You expect to show up to work and get paid for your efforts in the technology sector, then go home and enjoy a private life, a domain where your boss has no straddle.

On the other hand, your employer has no such expectations. Since there's no real separation between his business and family life, he may see you as an extension of his family. A sister or daughter of sorts. Since you've done the Christmas dinner for years, to him this is a cherished family tradition. 

Perhaps his family doesn't have a second Christmas dinner at home—this may be their grand event, where everyone comes together.

Your boss likely sees this sudden refusal by you as an act of defiance, which is why he’s asking around for signs of your depature.

How can this be resolved?

In my situation, I've never found mere words to work where the stakes are prison or piles of loose diamonds. So, no, debating your boss won't solve the issue.

The last resort in my line of work is bringing in hired muscle, which is expensive, risky, and messy. Despite the adverts on the telly, no detergent truly removes blood stains. In your case, hiring an attorney to litigate this dispute isn't a wise choice. Lawsuits are expensive and slow. 

Here's my suggested solution: change the terms of the debate. To your boss, it's: “Will she handle the Christmas dinner or will she abandon her duties before leaving for another job?” Reframe the question to: “How can we make this work?”

Appeal to his grasp of numbers and give him an option that’s fair to both of you—and that's by finding a reputable catering company. Then, help your boss pick out a menu for the best company Christmas dinner yet. 

—Professor Moriarty

See also: Dear Professor Moriarty: Advice for an Overbearing Mother


Guy Bergstrom is a speechwriter and reformed journalist. He's represented by literary agent Jill Marr and can be found on Twitter @speechwriterguy or at his blog, For etiquette questions you want answered in this column, try


  1. Melissa Keith

    I like the industrial furnace deal. Or you could poisen his soup! HAHA!

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