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20-40-60 Etiquette: Should you eat at your desk?

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QUESTION: I work in an office in open cubicles, but I’ve had this question in other office setups. For the past two weeks, I have not had time to go to lunch, so I have been eating lunch at my desk. Sometimes I bring lunch from home and sometimes I run out and get something from a nearby restaurant. But lately, I have wondered if I am bothering other people by doing this. I try to do it discreetly. Are there etiquette rules concerning eating lunch at the office desk? Is it polite to chew and type?

CALLIE’S ANSWER: In an open office concept, most people have headphones to block out unwanted noise. I think your first step is to simply ask if eating at the desk is a bother to people around you. Most likely they will say no.

LILLIE-BETH’S ANSWER: In an open office, eating at your desk is trickier than if you can close the door and eat privately while getting work done. If you can, go to the break room and eat quickly so you aren’t disturbing others around you with chewing, crinkling or odd smells. If you’re on deadline and that’s impossible, be as discreet as you can: No meals with strong smells. No loud snacks or loud chewing.

The NBC television show “The Good Place” focuses on a world in which you earn or lose points to determine whether you go to a version of heaven (“The Good Place”) or hell (“The Bad Place”). One of the actions that can get you sent to “The Bad Place” is warming up fish in an office microwave. (You can probably add microwaving popcorn to that list, too, especially when it accidentally burns.) Keep this in mind when you’re considering whether to eat at your desk — these kinds of behaviors are annoying to enough people that sitcom writers zeroed in on them. In an open office setting our space doesn’t quite belong solely to us and anything you do at your desk is magnified. What doesn’t bother you might bother someone else, so understand how your actions affect others nearby. Or eat elsewhere.

HELEN’S ANSWER: Most offices have a policy about lunch at the desk. Find out what yours is, particularly, if you think you are bothering other people.

It is always better to take your lunch to the lunch area, or to a room where your manners cannot be questioned. But, if time is limited, a quick lunch at your desk and quick clean up may be necessary.

GUEST’S ANSWER: Chuck Ainsworth, community leader: Much has been written regarding proper manners for dining. While everything seems to be more casual these days, good manners are always appropriate and appreciated. Every company has its own culture and employee guidelines. You should first ask what, if any, rules or customs are in place for your office regarding eating in your cubical.

If there are none, I would suggest your first alternative would be to use the employee break room. If you absolutely have to eat at your workstation, you should still be respectful and considerate of your co-workers. I would suggest avoiding smelly and messy foods, avoid eating in front of customers or talking on the phone and thoroughly clean your area, disposing of your waste from the room. So, take a break from that computer that is like a boat anchor on your life and enjoy a nice lunch! Bon appetit.

Callie Athey is 20-something, Lillie-Beth Brinkman is 40-plus, and social columnist Helen Ford Wallace is 60-plus. To ask an etiquette question, email

Helen Ford Wallace

Helen Ford Wallace is a columnist covering society-related events/news for The Oklahoman. She puts local parties online with daily updates. She creates, maintains and runs a Parties blog which includes web casts. She is an online web editor for... Read more ›