My Executive


    Jul 10, 2013

    Eating in office? Don't leave a mess


    IS IT rude to grab a bite at your office desk? Whether it's a full lunch or just a little snack, there are rules to take heed of.

    For one thing, it's not okay to eat in front of someone who is not partaking. But nobody expects you to share your food should they walk in on you grabbing a quick bite in the office. If that happens, ask if you can get back to them when you're finished.

    There are a few other points to remember.

    Your lunch should not smell so much that it attracts attention. Nobody should be able to hear you chomping on it either, or slurping your soup or beverage.

    If the office has a communal kitchen, some rules for peaceful coexistence should apply.

    Spell out who is in charge of the kitchen and has the authority to determine when and how it is cleaned. Post the rules clearly, together with whatever rule you might have about kitchen postings. Is the refrigerator door fair game for announcements beyond the cleaning schedule?

    If it is off limits, let everybody know. Otherwise, it will be festooned with family photos, advertisements or for-sale signs.

    Refrigerators need to be cleaned every week, and food should not be stored in them over weekends. Never put smelly food in the fridge.

    Whatever you put in the fridge, make sure it's in an airtight container labelled with your name. More than likely, there will be some unlabelled food - do not consider this fair game for you to scarf down. When in doubt, ask.

    Better still, if you have something for the entire department to enjoy, put a note on it that says so.

    Don't be a space hog and monopolise the fridge with a colossal container that is sure to flatten everybody else's focaccia.

    If, although your lunch was clearly labelled, some fledgling criminal has stolen it, ask around without making a fuss. Give the miscreant the benefit of the doubt - this time.

    Mention it to your department head, without naming potential suspects so that it can be brought up at the next office meeting.

    You could also send an internal e-mail or text message with a little humour, offering a reward to the person who brings the goodies back.

    Microwaves are not for cooking in the office. They are only for heating food, so don't monopolise them; and don't walk away and leave the microwave while something of yours is being heated. Wipe off any exploded pieces of food in the microwave.

    Be careful what sort of food you prepare so that it doesn't leave the entire office redolent of eau de popcorn, or worse. In fact, some offices have rules against popcorn because of the smell, and the likelihood of it setting off the smoke alarm.

    Many offices use single-serving coffee-makers. While this eliminates the hassle of who cleans the coffee pot, it still means that whoever drinks last, cleans up after himself and gets the machine ready for the next person. So, dispose of the used container and be sure to wipe up any drips.

    The well-known Boy Scout rule of leaving a campsite cleaner than the way you found it should be applied to office kitchen sinks and counters.

    Crumbs have no place on the counter or in the sink. Wash your own mug, plate, silverware and cups, and put them on the drainer right away.

    And if you spill something, clean it up. Your colleagues are not your servants, nor are you theirs.

    The writer is the founder of executive-training consultancy The Mitchell Organisation. She has written several books, including The Complete Idiot's Guide To Modern Manners Fast Track.