Eating At Your Desk – Should You?

By | Aug 27, 2010

Should administrative support personnel eat at their desks?  Some organizations allow it.  Some don’t.  Professionally, though, whether it’s allowed or not, is eating at our desks something we should do?

Like many professional dilemmas, the answer is a resounding maybe.  For some administrative support jobs, occasionally eating at your desk shouldn’t present a problem.  For others, it should be absolutely forbidden.

Front Desk and Public Positions

Let’s face it, if your job is to be the face of your company at the front desk as a receptionist or in another public position, you should not be eating at your desk.  Just think of the impression it gives to clients.  They walk into your office and the first thing they see is you chowing down on a piece of birthday cake.  It is not a pretty picture.  Note: this applies to chewing gum as well.  No gum!

If you have a need to eat frequently, use your break times for a snack, but keep the food away from public venues.

Lunching At Your Desk

I know some of us lunch at our desk because of the lack of appropriate lunch room facilities.  If you eat lunch at your desk, though, make it obvious by having a sign you put on your desk that says “At Lunch”.  It will let you eat your lunch in peace and make it clear you are not actually working.  The Be Neat rule still applies, though.

Eating At Your Desk: The Rules

If your office isn’t in a public venue, and your office doesn’t have rules against it, then eating at your desk is usually not a problem.  Use discretion, though.  These are the rules I generally apply to eating at my desk.

  1. Make it occasional. Someone brings in some cookies or it’s the monthly birthday celebration.  Go ahead and have a snack at your desk.  If you are eating at your desk every day, however, learn to use your break time for your snacks.
  2. Be Neat.  Use a napkin and clean up after yourself.  Make sure you don’t leave any crumbs around to attract insects.
  3. Take small bites. You still have to answer the phone, so take small bites that can be quickly swallowed so you can answer the phone quickly.  Avoid chewy foods like toffees and caramel.
  4. NO GUM! Seriously.  No one wants to talk on the phone with you while you smack your gum.  Stop it now!

What Are Your Rules

What rules reign in your office?  Are you allowed to eat at your desk?  What about your personal rules?  Leave a comment and add your voice to the question.  Can you and should you eat at your desk?

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10 Comments so far
  1. Anonymous August 27, 2010 12:07 am

    Twitter Trackbacks…

  2. Georgia (3 comments) August 28, 2010 10:31 am

    I agree that it doesn’t look good, and often doesn’t smell good, when someone in a front office position eats meals at their desk. However, the employer should take office design into account. If a lunch or break room is provided, or an empty office or conference room employees might be allowed to use, they should be instructed to take their meals there, and they should clean up after themselves.

    However, what are front office staff supposed to do when no such provisions are made? Often, people don’t live close enough to go home for lunch. Not everyone can afford, or wants to, go out every day for lunch. Eating in your car, if you drive to work, can be uncomfortable, messy, and unappealing. Employers can put staff between a rock and a hard place, if they make strict rules about not eating at your desk, but don’t provide a reasonable alternative.

  3. Jodith (182 comments) August 29, 2010 7:46 am

    I agree completely, Georgia. If a company has strict rules about not eating at your desk, then they need to make a place available to those employees to eat away from their desks. Unfortunately, not all companies care enough about their employees to provide for their needs. And then they wonder why they have a high turnover rate.

  4. Anita (2 comments) September 3, 2010 4:53 am

    I have an interesting dilemma related to lunch breaks: I work for a small nonprofit (6 employees). The prevailing attitude is that we should all lunch together in a small conference room each day. Ironically, the manager seldom takes lunch break with us due to meetings, but supports this attitude for the rest of the staff. Most days, I would prefer to be alone at lunch, but if I choose to eat at my desk, several of my coworkers act as though I have personally offended them. I have tried going out for lunch, but I can’t afford to do that every day, and I still get the cold shoulder when I return to the office. What can I do to reclaim my personal time? Should I just ignore the hurt attitude? Is it worth explaining my need for “me time”? Should I discuss it with my manager in the hopes he will become more supportive of us all doing our own thing at lunch?

  5. Jodith (182 comments) September 3, 2010 7:19 am

    I would talk to your manager about it. If you are an hourly employee, they can’t tell you what you must do during lunch. If you’re like me and a real introvert, you need that alone time in the middle of the day to re-energize from all the energy you lose interacting with others for the rest of the day. If your manager has never done the Myers Briggs Personality Types, I’d suggest printing out some information about introverts to give to him so he can understand where you’re coming from. Communication is the key, especially in a small, tight-knit office like this. Explain that you want to be part of the group, but you just need your lunch time to recharge. Since introverts are only about 25% of the population, there’s a good chance that you’re the only introvert there, and the others just don’t understand what the problem is.

    I understand a small group like this wanting to build the team through together time. Perhaps you can compromise and lunch with them one or two days a week and have the other days to yourself?

  6. Anita (2 comments) September 3, 2010 10:48 am

    Good suggestions. I believe one of our staff has done alot of work with the Meyers Briggs Personality Types (he and I are both ISTJ’S), so I may enlist his help in preparing some information to share with our manager (who is definitely an extrovert).
    It was very reaffirming to hear you express the reasons I need that time during the day to regroup – so many times I’ve tried to explain how draining it can be to interact with others, but most people don’t understand. And I’m perfectly willing to lunch with the group occasionally, just not every day (especially after a three-hour staff meeting!)

  7. Jodith (182 comments) September 3, 2010 11:15 am

    I’m glad I could help, Anita. I’ve run into the same types of things with introvert friends and colleagues. They just can’t understand why I don’t want to go out and party after work. And all I can think is, “Aren’t you exhausted after talking to people all day?”. The Myers Briggs was a real eye-opener for me. I highly recommend the book “Please Understand Me”. It’s the best I’ve found for explaining types and their associated behaviors and communication challenges.

  8. Ayana (2 comments) September 13, 2010 1:05 pm

    I can remember, just recently, walking into my physical therapist’s office to find not only ONE of her receptionists eating at the front desk, but BOTH. They looked at me as if I was disturbing THEM LOL. I felt uncomfortable, but I was there for a purpose.
    When I was working, I NEVER ate at my desk – even when I had an office. Not only was it something I considered a disregard for the the customer/client/patient, but to get out of the office and have a change of scenery is good for the mind.

  9. Sally Scotia (1 comments) November 18, 2010 1:43 pm

    It really is one of my pet peeves. Watching co-workers take time to prepare
    the snacks they eat at thier desk. Make a quick salad, or use the microwave
    & then leave the office because they had no break.

  10. Anna (5 comments) September 6, 2012 11:55 am

    I disagree. I think it’s conditional. Some employees aren’t as fortunate as others to have the luxury and refuge of a door, or a cubicle partition to conceal them. Refusing to make allowances for individuals to be human is unfair and a little absurd. I understand that there are some behaviours that are inappropriate and grossly unacceptable in a professional setting. Having a fragrant meal at a front desk, or smacking on chewing gum is in very poor taste and doesn’t set a very nice impression for important guests and visitors, nor to other employees. In my position, however, I try to use my best discretion in what and when I eat, and I never have anything substantial. No one seems to mind. In the morning, for example, I’ll have a latte at my desk and maybe pick off of a muffin in small bites. I hide it next to my monitor so that it isn’t the first thing that guests see walking up to my window. It’s a long wait between when my day begins in the morning and the start of lunch in the late afternoon. In the interim, I’ll from time-to-time snack on a few small, neatly packed grapes in a container from home, or help myself to some assorted nuts when no one is around. I’m never disgraceful about it, which is where I think the stigma comes from. I don’t grind, smack or knaw on anything or stuff my mouth full when I’m eating, instead usually just having a nibble from a single grape or nut at a time and when no one is present and making sure to never have a full mouth just in case the phone rings or someone walks in while I’m eating. I think it’s all a matter of not what is being done in and of itself, but how. I agree that many people in front-of-house positions can be quite obnoxious when given certain privileges, but when used in respectful moderation, I can’t draw where it would result in a problem for anyone. I’m a human being who works in an office, I’m not an office drone. I’m not a mechanical creature. And no one expects me to be. I would hate to see the day when a few bad apples result in everyone’s mandatory submission to inhumane work environments.

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