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Desktop Dining Etiquette

Desktop Dining Etiquette

Hungry for career advancement? If you're like most business achievers, you're long on work hours, short on lunchtime.

Any desk jockey who's worked through lunch (and dinner) knows the desktop isn't just a place for your computer, phone and family photos. It's also a makeshift table. Nothing brings comfort during a hard day at the office like a slice of pizza and a bag of Doritos. Add some Red Bull and M&M's to the mix, and you're fueled up for success. Right?

Not so fast, Dorito Breath.

Work Shouldn't Stink

We've all been caught with crumbs in our keyboards. But is eating at our desks appropriate? Hold onto your stomachs. In Business Etiquette: 101 Ways to Conduct Business with Charm and Savvy, Ann Marie Sabath sticks a fork in desktop dining. From her "Twelve Commandments of Cubicle Etiquette": "Thou shalt keep snacking to a minimum. (Your cubicle should not look or smell like a mini-cafeteria.)"

Jodi R. R. Smith, president of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, concurs. "Smell is No. 1," she says. "If you go to the Korean place down the street and bring back a stinky pot of tofu or if you microwave popcorn, it stinks up the whole office. Most office buildings don't have windows that open, so you're sentencing your coworkers to a two-hour wafting period if you have a fragrant lunch. Unless you're standing in front of your desk, you shouldn't be able to smell your lunch."

Etiquette Entrees

This menu of guidelines will keep your belly full and your reputation minty-fresh:

  • Don't Eat in Front of Customers: "Some companies frown upon employees brown-bagging lunch," Smith says. "Watch what's going on. Is the boss eating at his or her desk? What are other people at your level doing? If you're around customers, eating at your desk is not a good idea."

    Smith recommends the break room, an empty conference room, a park bench or closing your office door. "Watching someone chomp down on a tuna sandwich is not a pretty sight," she says. 
  • Clean Up Your Mess (AKA Your Mother Doesn't Work Here): Smith observes that many IT people can't break to eat in the middle of writing code. "They get bagel seeds in their keyboards and then spend 45 minutes vacuuming them out," she says.

    If you must eat at your desk, wipe it down with Windex afterwards, and don't put garbage in your barrel. "Bring it to the kitchen where the trash is emptied every night," Smith suggests. 
  • Desktop Breakfast? Wake Up: Some employers expect you working at your desk at 9 a.m., not arriving and then going to the cafeteria for an egg sandwich. "If you're eating a doughnut at your desk, you're not working," Smith says. "The boss could think you don't have your act together. Be aware of your environment and perceptions." 
  • Breaking Bread Together Is Good Business: When the pressure's on, sometimes lunch is the nearest vending machine. But take the time to occasionally dine out with coworkers. "Lunchtime is social time," Smith says -- a time to connect and build networks outside of the office grind.

Key Insight: The Candy Jar

Don't keep a candy jar on your desk unless you want to attract a steady stream of coworkers like ants to a picnic. (And if you must share candy, make it chocolate.)

Quick Tip: Brush Your Teeth

Keep a toothbrush and toothpaste in your desk drawer, and use them. Nothing puts the kibosh on a killer presentation like a spinach smile.

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