It was not that the firm could not afford a more decent meal for its management team but it wanted to impress upon them the need to be austere given the uncertainties of the coming months.
“Chau mai fun is better than chau yau yee, I suppose,'' one senior manager quipped on seeing the limited choice.
Chau yau yee or fried cuttle fish is a Cantonese euphemism for getting the sack.
Although it is less than two weeks to the Chinese New Year, companies have cut down on new year offerings. This includes the annual practice of sending mandarin oranges.
Most companies have also printed Chinese New Year cum Hari Raya cards to reduce expenses, encouraging their staff to share their cards. There are even reports that there may not be too many Chinese New Year and Hari Raya open houses this time.
The Negri Sembilan Gerakan, for example, has announced that it will do away with this Malaysian tradition, which is rather sad considering the fact that Malaysians now celebrate the festivals of all ethnic groups.
Information Minister Datuk Mohamed Rahmat, too, made a similar announcement recently, saying he may not hold a Hari Raya open house as it will incur a lot of expenditure.
Their intention to reduce spending and help in the recovery of the economy are certainly laudable but one cannot help but suspect a somewhat fastidious reaction on their part.
Such open house gatherings encourage the interaction of Malaysians and help strengthen their appreciation of the country's racial harmony and political stability.
It is also a living showcase to outsiders, who seem to believe that Malaysia will explode into racial riots simply because consumers are rushing to buy sugar to beat the price increase.
What our Malaysian politicians can do is to hold joint open houses to reduce expenses. Such functions can also be moderate in scale.
Rather than drown in the gloom and doom of the economic situation, Malaysians should ask themselves what they can do for the country in these trying times.
We must also project our confidence to face the slowdown and come out as winners instead of sending the wrong signals to outsiders.
Malaysians must support the campaign to grow our own vegetables, not that this can resolve our economic woes much but it is a symbolic gesture to show our seriousness in wanting to reduce household expenses and to cut our food imports.
But the media should not be overzealous in promoting family-run cottage industries with low technology know-how as fine examples of Malaysian entrepreneurship.
Self-employment, which generates income and create jobs, are superb efforts but let us not lose sight of our target.
There are other better examples of Malaysian export-oriented small and medium-sized industries, which we can give prominence.
Just a few months back, Malaysia had adopted a high-profile campaign, projecting itself as a haven for hi-tech industries, particularly its Multimedia Super Corridor.
These projects will go on as they will enable Malaysia hone its competitive edge and come out on a sounder footing.
In fact, it has become more necessary to show the world that we will be able to pull through if we are disciplined and united, as the Prime Minister said. A picture of a confident, positive, well-educated, hard-working and innovative Malaysian workforce is what we want the world to see us as.
As the executives strolled out of the meeting room, after adopting various strategies, one of them said he would insist on his staff thinking positive.
A firm believer in Chinese numerology, the manager said he would be greeting his friends differently during Chinese New Year.
“I won't greet them with sun leen fai lok but sun leen fai seong,'' he said. Sun leen means new year in Cantonese. Fai lok refers to happiness but, unfortunately, it also rhymes with plunge certainly something no stock market pundits want to hear.
On the other hand, fai siong means bliss. It also sounds like “quick recovery.''
The manager said such greetings may not help much in bringing the economy back to its feet but it would at least emphasise the point of being positive.
That's not all. He advises his colleagues not to mention low foo or tiger during the celebrations. What could be worse than foo, which sounds like bitter in Cantonese?
“Although the tiger won't be roaring much this year because of the downturn, we can at least refer to the animal as tai mau or big cat. Big is good,'' he quipped.
Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, too, has included positive tones in his Chinese New Year cards, which use Chinese calligraphy, to friends and associates.
The Bahasa Malaysia translation reads: Yang bijaksana tidak keliru. Yang berakhlak tidak gundah gulana. Yang berani tidak gentar which means the wise never get confused, the virtuous are not emotional while the brave do not get shaken.
But all Malaysians, in ushering the Hari Raya and Chinese New Year, must believe that while we are down, we are not out.
The same Malaysia Boleh spirit, without sounding puffed up, must prevail in facing the challenges of the year.