Q: What is a “walkaway” meal?

Actors have negotiated for and won very clear requirements for being fed when on set. But from time to time, and at the discretion of the production company, the cast and crew will be given an hour to go to nearby restaurants, or just munch from the craft services table, without a prepared meal.

They say that an army marches on it’s stomach, and they also say that the way to a man’s heart is through his belly. Whoever they are, they’ve clearly met and witnessed a hungry cast and crew, hard at work to create a television show or feature film, lining up to get lunch.

Within six hours of starting the day, you as an actor, your fellow cast members and the crew, must, by both SAG and AFTRA rules, be given an opportunity to eat. Most of the time, that food will be provided for you by caterers who are hired by the production team to feed the cast and crew, or you’ll get a per diem to pay for the walkaway meal.

Occasionally, at the production office’s discretion, you’ll be told that instead of getting fed by a caterer, you’ll be on your own for lunch, and given an hour to go nearby and grab some chow. This is called a walkaway meal, as you “walk away” from the set.

Producers know that trying to herd cats isn’t easy, and wrangling a cast and crew is a lot easier when they are in a nearby pack. When they disperse to the four winds to go grab lunch in a walkaway situation, it’s that much harder to keep tabs on everyone.

There are no hard and fast rules on how often the production office can call for a walkaway. They don’t do it very often, but there’s no maximum number of days or sessions or shoots in a multiday production that limit the production office’s choice. But know that you’ll get paid a per diem based on the meal itself if they do choose to let you walk away. Current SAG per-meal per diems:

Breakfast: $12
Lunch: $18
Dinner: $30

That per diem is not commissionable to your agent or manager – and although on very rare occasions you might get cash handed to you, usually it’s part of your paycheck when you receive payment for the entire job (or week if it’s a multi week shoot). You’ll want to be on the lookout for any mistakes in how you were paid, and that your per diem wasn’t included in commissionable wages.

When will you find out whether or not your day includes prepared food on-set, or the opportunity to sample the studio commissary, a food truck on the street near the sound stage, or the neighborhood eating establishments? Usually on your call sheet, there will be a notice that you’ll have one or the other.

It may be that you don’t find out until you arrive on-set, as the call sheet doesn’t necessarily have the latest and greatest data on it. Scenes change, budgets fluctuate, and decisions aren’t always made well in advance.

The best place to find out what the plan is for the day is from the base camp coordinator, or the stage manager if you’re working on a studio sound stage. They will always know – because they like to plan their meals, too.

And, of course, you don’t have to go anywhere. You can just retire to your trailer or dressing room with a plate full of carrots and dip, a bowl of cereal and a banana, or bring your own food from home – and prep for the scene you’re shooting that afternoon.

What’s your answer to this acting question? Let me know in the comments below.