Whether you're sneaking a few potato chips in the break room or partaking of the fresh donuts at the morning staff meeting, you're on the job even when you're not at your desk. No matter how comfortable you are with your co-workers, practice proper etiquette when eating in the workplace. After all, your boss or a client could walk in and catch you with mustard all over your blouse, which definitely doesn't convey a professional image.
Basic Eating Etiquette
Workplace dining etiquette begins with basic manners, such as not eating with your mouth full and not eating in front of others. Check your company's policy regarding food in the workplace. Some organizations prohibit all food, especially if you work with the public. Others are more lenient. If your company does allow food, never eat when interacting with customers or clients or when on the phone. If you eat at your desk, avoid messy foods such as pasta -- unless you want to deliver that report to your boss with spaghetti sauce all over it. Instead, choose something simple like a sandwich. Throw away all food wrappers, and if you spill anything, clean it up immediately. Promptly wash any dishes, glasses or coffee mugs you use. When you're done eating, brush your teeth and check for food on your face and clothing.
At Your Desk
At some companies it's perfectly acceptable to eat at your desk; in fact, having a "working lunch" at your desk may be the only way to finish all your assignments. Even if the company allows it, that doesn't mean you get a free pass when it comes to etiquette. Instead, you should take even greater care to respect others, especially if you have a cubicle and work in close proximity to your colleagues. At the top of the etiquette list: don't bring food with a strong odor. It's distracting to employees who are trying to work, and if the food is especially smelly, it could make your co-workers sick.
Break rooms are often small, and they can feel downright claustrophobic when half the staff decides to take lunch at the same time. Don't take up too much space in the office refrigerator, don't take food brought by others and don't bring something that requires half an hour in the microwave. Bring something that heats up quickly so you won't make others wait. If you can see the break room is already crowded, wait if possible or start taking your lunch at times when you know fewer people will need the room. Also, don't be too casual. It's an office break room, not your kitchen table, so don't spread out your newspaper all over the table and don't chat loudly on your cell phone, especially if it's a personal call. Other employees may want to talk to each other or may prefer to eat in silence.
Meetings and Office Parties
At some workplaces, office birthday parties are a weekly occurrence. While the allure of cake is tempting, practice decorum even as you celebrate. Don't cut yourself an oversized slice or take a little extra for later, and don't take your treats back to your desk. Finish eating before you head back to the office. At meetings, don't take more than your share of Danish or muffins and don't eat while you're speaking to the staff or while listening to someone else present. Give the meeting your full attention no matter how loudly those chocolate sprinkle cupcakes are calling your name.
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