Acquire and assimilate social skills and etiquette while dining in the workplace or other professional settings. Navigate the social graces of a buffet. Learn the unsaid norms of the pantry refrigerator and rationing the cooling space. Take this lesson to learn all this and more on food and eating in the workplace.
(laughs and picks another slice of the black-forest birthday cake placed on the main table in a meeting room)
“Arre, no. I’m taking this one home for my sister. Lovely cake! You also take. Don’t worry yaar, it’s only our people here. Everyone has probably already had a slice by now. And so what if it gets over??…. they’ll bring more”.
Haven’t we all at some time seen instances like these, if not been directly guilty of such behavior ourselves?
What’s with all the formality?
Truth is, mealtimes offer a great opportunity not just to relax and refuel for the rest of the day, but also to interact with others and build stronger bonds with colleagues. But as you’ve seen in the examples earlier, it’s also an opportunity for one to get it all terribly wrong, and unwittingly invite everyone’s contempt and disgust. Eating is an inherently messy affair & bad manners just make the whole thing worse.
Furthermore, even at a formal event such as an annual office party, make no mistake, you are being judged by your superiors and colleagues. People with good table and social manners at the very least, don’t stick out like a sore thumb. You don’t want to be a Sadosh, who just can’t take a hint from his colleagues, or a willfully inconsiderate Omisha or a Hirani, who has unwittingly become an official embarrassment. Your professional image and brand most certainly extend to your office dining conduct.
But what is one expected to do, really? As always, it’s probably best to start with the basics.
Basic Eating Etiquette
Firstly, check your company’s policy regarding food in the workplace. Some organizations prohibit all food at your workstation. But even if your company does allow food at your desk, never eat when interacting with customers or clients in person or when on the phone.
Also, no matter where you are eating, avoid chewing audibly, crunching, lip-smacking, slurping burping or picking your teeth with your fingers or fork in front of everyone. Not cool. If you are caught unaware by a phone call or a colleague’s question mid- morsel, whatever you do, don’t answer it with your mouth full. Finish that morsel first. Rest assured, your prudent silence will be forgiven – appreciated even. If you’re mid-morsel when someone cracks a brilliant joke and you can’t help laughing, cover your mouth with your hand – or you’ll make everyone in the room lose their appetite instantly.
When you’re done eating, brush your teeth and check for food on your face and clothing, especially if you’re in a client facing role.
Now, let’s look at some common eating zones you’d find in a workplace, and the best way to conduct yourself in them.
The common cafeteria
A study at Cornell University found that co-workers that eat together may help them perform better as a team. However, your colleagues, like you are there for a break and tiring them further with conversations on work-related matters is never ideal.
Now, here are a few table manners that can act as a guide during your office lunch breaks in a common dining area:
• Posture – When seated at the table, sit upright in your chair. Leaning over your food like you’re protecting it from everyone else will just inspire everyone to leave you alone. Ensure you are taking your food to your mouth rather than your mouth to your food. Also, while eating, ensure your elbows are off the table.
About the Food – In case you want something that is across the table, request someone to pass it to you rather than executing a full body stretch across the table. [. Before sipping liquid, make sure your mouth is free of food and patted clean with a serviette or a tissue to avoid leaving food on the rim of the glass. Avoid stuffing your mouth; take small well-proportioned bites. Second servings are not frowned upon, as long as others have finished their first serving.
• Leaving – If something urgent needs your immediate attention, excuse yourself before leaving the table.
Break Rooms or Pantries
If your break room has a refrigerator, don’t take up too much space in it, don’t steal food brought by others and don’t bring food that requires 20 minutes in the microwave. Bring something that heats up quickly so others aren’t left waiting on you. Also, seeing as it’s not your kitchen table in there, try not to spread your meal courses all over the table. Also don’t chat loudly on your cell phone, especially if it’s a personal call, or play loud music. Other employees may want to talk to each other or may prefer to eat in silence.
At some companies it’s perfectly acceptable to eat at your desk; and some days, a “working lunch” may be your only option. In these situations, given that your colleagues are just a couple of feet away from you, you should take even greater care to respect others. Unanimously, at the top of the etiquette list, don’t bring food with a strong odor. Don’t launch an assault on their senses by bringing foods that have garlic, fish, or foods with generous amounts of spice.
Meetings and Office Parties
At some workplaces, office birthday parties are a frequent occurrence. Who doesn’t like cake? But don’t cut yourself an oversized slice or take a little extra for later.
At meetings, don’t take more than your share of biscuits or candies and don’t eat while you’re speaking to the staff or while listening to someone else present. Give the meeting your full attention.
Now, the food at these events is usually never fully consumed, which means large quantities of leftovers. Interestingly, you will be still be frowned upon if caught sneaking away leftovers for the family – which can be embarrassing, because it isn’t really much different than looting office supplies for the home use. It’s just not worth the hit to your reputation. Appear thoughtful instead, and suggest leaving food and snacks in a common area for all to enjoy.
To conclude, the art of eating at the workplace is not about conforming to a rigid set of social rules. It is simply about respecting those we are working with. And remember that dining should be about keeping it simple with food, smiles and good conversations. It’s your personal professional brand on the line after all. Enhance your image by conducting yourself well, with the added benefit of your colleagues really appreciating your thoughtfulness.