Office Lunchroom Etiquette

I eat a lot of frozen meals. They’re cheap (*some of them), easier than packing a lunch, and quick to heat up, but most of all I think they taste good. You won’t hear many people saying that, in fact the general consensus seems to be that they’re quite gross. Think what you want, I like’m, and I eat’m a lot.

With that said, I am in the lunch room area almost every day heating up a frozen meal. It is this experience that qualifies me to comment on lunchroom etiquette. I am less qualified to talk about coffee etiquette (Ben maybe you can jump in here) but I still have a few thoughts I’ll offer up on that as well. So here is my list of things to keep in mind when in the office lunchroom, and I hope to keep updating this as time goes on.

  1. Don’t make snide remarks to someone about the food they are heating up, chances are they are heating it up because they like it (example: "Looking yummy…hahaha")
  2. In the same vein, don’t heat up or prepare something that is going to smell up the whole office (I’m thinking **tuna as I write this, but there are probably other smelly foods to avoid)
  3. If your food boils over onto the microwave tray, clean it up
  4. If a piece of food falls onto the tray, you can only pick it up and eat it if no one is looking
  5. Even if no one is looking, it is not acceptable to eat food out of the trash
  6. If you stop your food with any number of seconds left on the timer, reset it to zero
  7. Throw away the used coffee filter if you are the one who takes the fresh pot/thermos out from under the machine
  8. Brew more coffee if you finish the last of a pot (don’t stop pouring right before you know it’s going to run out either)
  9. Don’t leave the room while your food is in the microwave (this leads to burnt food, or worse, someone else has to take your food out of the microwave to put theirs in)
  10. No conversations in front of the microwave or coffee pots (it’s a pain to have to walk between two people talking to fill up a cup)
  11. Don’t leave your dirty dishes in the sink (put them in the ***dishwasher, and if the dishwasher is full, empty it)
  12. When reaching for plasticware in the drawer, try to touch only the one you are going to use
  13. If you are filling up a large nalgeen bottle with water and you see someone with a small cup, stop, and let them fill it up

*I typically eat Banquet brand frozen meals, which usually cost around $1 a piece (probably giving them an even worse reputation than your typical frozen meal). Brands such as Lean Cuisine, Stouffer’s, and Healthy Choice range between $2 and $4. At that point I question the choice of buying a frozen meal, when you could get all kinds of fresh lunch for around $5.

**I once sat next to a woman on the bus who looked over at me sheepishly and said “If it smells like tuna, that’s because I have a tuna sandwich in my bag.” That pretty much grossed me out.

***Growing up, my family always rinsed dishes before putting them into the dishwasher. I found out after meeting my wife that this is not necessary, in fact it is a big waste of time. As long as you brush off the main chunks of food, the dishwasher will do the rest. If you don’t have a dishwasher like we do, this is not very helpful advice.


  1. You actually covered the important part of coffee etiquette, refilling an empty pot, AND you got the part about not filling your cup up all the way to avoid the empty pot. I once was getting coffee and I was preparing my cup (with cream and sugar), meanwhile, some other guy comes over and proceeds to drain the pot, and walk away. I wanted to beat his head against the wall.

    - ben (Sep 22, 2006)

  2. So I was in the lunchroom yesterday (on 9, obviously) and ALLLLLLL of the 4 regular coffee pots were empty. Yes all. Who does that?! So I refilled 2 of them, but I wasn’t going to go farther than that. There is only so much one person can do.

    - Erin (Sep 23, 2006)

  3. I think anything above filling one is beyond the call of duty. You are obviously an over-achiever Erin.

    - rett (Sep 24, 2006)

  4. I walked into my office today after I returned from my lunch break to find that a co-worker had reheated 3-day-old cabbage rolls. Needless to say, the entire office smelled as though animal flesh was rotting. I stumbled upon your page while looking for a list of office lunchroom etiquette. Thanks for the guidelines.

    - Robin (Oct 3, 2006)

  5. Robin, that is extremely nasty, definitely worse than tuna, thanks for sharing 🙂

    - rett (Oct 3, 2006)

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