Brown-Bag Lunch Etiquette

It's smart to bring your lunch to work, you'll save money and have control over what you're eating, but be polite about eating lunch in the office so you don't offend your coworkers.
By: Victoria Phillips
lunch at work
Brown Bag Challenge

We’re teaming up with fellow food bloggers to host a Brown-Bag Challenge, a month-long initiative to eat consciously and save money by packing a lunch each weekday instead of eating out. Join us here and share what you're eating on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #brownbag.

So, you decided to join our Healthy Eats initiative and brown-bag it for the entire month of September. What’s next? Avoid interoffice lunch drama by following our do and don’t etiquette tips:

DON’T wolf down your food: Food was meant to be consciously and meaningfully enjoyed, not shoved down your throat while you’re doing five other things. “Take a deep breath,” says Amy Ogden, publicist and business etiquette expert. “You brought your lunch, and that’s fine, but that doesn’t mean you have to eat it while you pound out an Excel report.” Even if it’s just 10 minutes, take a second to reset and not stare at your computer screen while you eat. "Not to mention, people can tell when you have food in your mouth, so don’t conduct business with your piehole stuffed," Ogden adds.

DO give others space: If you see someone eating lunch don’t interrupt until they’re finished. “If you have an urgent question, respect the fact that they’re taking a moment to decompress,” Ogden says.

DO be aware and considerate: Not everyone loves the smell of your curry noodles from last night. If your lunch is a smelly one, eat in the office cafeteria or at a picnic table outside. And if you’ve got messy food? Forget it. “That telephone or desktop is not yours, it’s owned by the company,” says Lisa Richey, president and founder of The American Academy of Etiquette Inc. “If you’re eating a sloppy Rueben and there is thousand island dressing and melted cheese falling onto your keyboard that’s just not being respectful of the company’s equipment.”

DON’T forget last week’s lunch in the refrigerator: Often, that ham sandwich you brought on Monday gets left in the lurch for better lunch plans. Come Friday, you’ve completely forgotten you brought a sandwich to work in the first place. Most offices clear out the clutter once a week, but don’t make more work than necessary for the custodial staff.

DO eat together: “Invite your colleague to the picnic table, boardroom or cafeteria and have fun for an hour,” Richey says.

DON’T throw away food at your desk: Even just a few bites of a turkey sandwich can smell up your cube. Take a few seconds and throw away your garbage in the cafeteria or one of the large trash cans in your office kitchen. People in the surrounding cubes will thank you.

DO swap lunches: “Two co-workers who were good friends liked to bring their lunch and swap,” Ogden says. “They had a regular rotation of bringing last night’s dinner and trading so they didn’t have to eat it again.”

Ultimately, treat the office just as you would any other residence. “Let’s face it,” Ogden says. “We spend more waking hours in the office than we do in our homes. Treat the place with just as much respect.”

TELL US: What's your biggest pet peeve with co-workers lunching at their desks?

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