Lunch room etiquette

When I was in school I was painfully bashful. All through high school I ate alone in the lunchroom. In college I would sometimes eat a meal with a friend but usually it was situations where I was eating at home or grabbing a bite alone. So I never really experienced eating with other people in those situations.

I’ve been working in a large office building for a while now, buying lunch in the cafeteria and eating it at my desk. This seems natural to me, so I’m not complaining. But as I walk through the cafeteria, I see a lot of people I know eating together, sometimes in pairs, sometimes as groups. It seems some people eat with someone else almost every day. How do these groups decide to sit together? Do they make a plan every day to get together as a groups? Do they ask someone else “want to have lunch on Wednesday?”

I’m long past my bashfulness (I think) but can’t even imagine how to go about having lunch with someone else, other than a few buddies. It seems like asking for a date if I ask someone I don’t know well if they want to eat lunch together. Is it rude to ask to join a group or a person sitting alone? Yes, I’m over thinking, I know. Just curious about the etiquette and how these groups form.

You are way overthinking. Want to sit with someone? Do you have something of a rapport with them normally? Just walk up and sit down, or at the most, say “Is this seat taken?” This is work, so it’s not as though you’re asking them for a lifelong committment, and if they enjoy sitting with others anyway, they shouldn’t mind fresh company.

If someone is so godawful rude as to tell you not to sit (which has never happened to me, ever!) then they’re not worth your time anyway. Really you’ll find out after you sit with them once or twice if they are enjoyable company.

Please remember that YOU should also endeavor to be enjoyable company, and not just sit there like a lump. Plan on adding at least 1-2 things to the conversation, and responding when someone asks you things, and making small talk. If you’re not used to it it may be awkward at first but fake it till you make it is utterly true.

I am also shy but I was an only child and I quickly learned that shyness=no friends.

I don’t think it’s “rude” to ask someone, but if they don’t want you - it might become awkward. Maybe think of a question to ask them when walking by (if this is even possible) - and see if they invite you. If you feel somewhat close to them - sure - I don’t think it is rude. You should probably be able to tell by their facial expressions when they see you if they want you to sit down or not.

I suspect most of these come by accident - two people are talking before lunch - and they just continue at lunch. If you know someone else that eats alone - maybe strike up a conversation before lunch and then just say something like “I’m hungry - care to join me?”

It’s probably easier to join a group of 3 or more than a group of 2. Finding someone else by themselves would probably work best.

It’s not hard to join someone, but please, if someone is reading or doing the daily crossword, don’t try to engage them in conversation. They likely look forward to those minutes where they don’t have to be social.


Agreed. I think she is asking the people who are already socializing at lunch, however.

At work it is not hard to join someone at all. They are supposed to have their game face on and be friendly. It’s actually more hard out in the real world.

Get a box of doughnuts and leave it in the lunchroom. Put a “Take one” sign on it, or send out an email if you’re allowed. People will start liking you a lot.

Everybody loves Joey Bagadonuts.

Right. And I’m a HE. An old he too, so I’m asking more about how other people go about arranging to eat together and if it is cool to approcah people already sitting down, rather than wondering how I can become more popular. I am perfectly fine chatting with others normally, I hope anyway, just never got into the whole eating together thing. Mundane and pointless might have been a better place.

Honestly? In my experience, all I have to do is show up in the lunch room with my food. If I attempt to sit down by myself, someone, somewhere, will wave me over (whether I want to or not – could have a book in my hand and it wouldn’t matter).

Don’t mean to sound stand-offish, but I’ve never worked in a corporate office where I had anything at all in common with my co-workers, so chit-chat was painfully awkward. When they talk, all I can do is smile and nod; when I talk, they do the same.

The only reason I avoided eating at my desk is that my supervisors would NOT recognize that as being “on break” even if my food was right out in the open. If I wanted a break, I had to leave.

The only important bit of lunchroom etiquette is: Don’t microwave your damn stinky fish when I’m eating lunch, dammit!

I bet my college experiences are somewhat relevant.

Basically when I got my food, I went to a certain area of the cafeteria where friends and acquaintances tended to sit, and looked for one or more of them to sit with and have a conversation with.

In a smaller lunchroom, you don’t have to hope that they didn’t sit on the opposite side of the huge dining hall like we had in college- just sit down and say hi.

You can almost always find something, and this is why a lot of the talk ends up devolving around work again. But I am definitely the odd duck in my office and don’t fit into a lot of conversations. It’s incumbent on me to take part in the conversations or search for topics that are of interest to others. That doesn’t mean I have to talk about True Blood or Downtown Abby but I can mention an interesting news article or talk about some new research or something like that.

Meh. The last thing I want to do on break is to get dragged into work stuff again. I don’t feel a strong need to make friends with people I have nothing in common with, either. I typically just eat at my desk and then use my break to go for a walk. Or I find a hidey-hole so I can read in peace.

Also, really, painfully awkward conversations. I was excitedly telling them about my theatre company performing in the Chicago Fringe Festival. Their interest was… polite, let’s put it that way. I gave up at that point did other things for lunch. I just can’t get interested in lengthy conversations about some infant’s digestive issues.

The OP wants to sit with them, so I was giving him some ideas. I don’t like it myself, but you learn how. I go out every day at lunchtime and get away from the office.

I hate talking about children, too, but it’s unfortunate that if there is more than one parent in the office, that is ALL they will talk about. I would just chat with different people until I found someone who shares at least some of my interests. I don’t talk to the new parents, good gods, am I crazy?

As to your theatre company performing, I think that’s very exciting and fun, and I’m sorry you have such a sorry bunch of losers that they don’t think so. Be truthful to yourself if not to me: did you, in fact, monopolize the conversation? Fail to notice their glazed eyes? Not let anyone get a word in edgewise?

If you were merely talking a little about it and they still didn’t care even a little, they’re kind of jerks who don’t care about anything outside their monkeysphere.

But as I said, I keep my interests separate. I’m just suggesting ways for the OP to get involved. No one at work really likes my interests: sci-fi and fantasy is practically VERBOTEN here, for example, most of them don’t even know what D&D is, most of them don’t read, etc. But they are nice people and even if they don’t like it they understand I am dying to see the next episode of my show or I stayed up late to read a really good book or whatever. And I make my comments short and don’t dominate the conversation.

This is not true. I have seen plenty of shy people get friends.

And since a boyfriend/girlfriend is also a friend, then what about all those shy people who even have an SO?

I think you are being overly literal, and perhaps I didn’t specify enough. If you are so shy that you hesitate even to talk to people, it is in fact harder to make friends than the gregarious, outgoing people. I learned quickly that I couldn’t let my shyness cripple me and that I would have to become outgoing to make friends.

And fake it till you make it really does work. These days I am a talkative, friendly, outgoing, introvert. :slight_smile:

Don’t bother. They’ll say “hey, aren’t you that dork from high school who always sat by himself in the lunchroom?” And you’ll hear their mocking laughter as you walk away, your face burning with shame.

Actually, a lot of you sound like me. I’d just as soon eat my lunch somewhere else rather than trying to make polite conversation. I’m still curious about those people who always eat lunch with others though.

I knew it! Thank you for your honesty. Now, can you tell me the best way to get apple sauce out of my hair and sweater vest before my 2:00 meeting?

I go out every single day because I NEED a break from these guys. :slight_smile: I have to already spend hours and hours with them, more than I spend with any of my friends or anybody else other than my SO.

Some people not only eat lunch together but then they take walks together in the afternoon and sometimes go out for drinks in the evening. I’m like, don’t you have enough of each other? Good God!

But when it comes to shy/introverted/quiet people making small talk I can definitely help with that. :slight_smile:

Yes, you are over thinking it. Just simply say “do you mind if I join you guys?” It’s not high school, they will most likely tell you to have a seat. :slight_smile:

Huh. I mix up eating alone or eating with friends. When I eat with friends, it’s usually because one of us asks the other, “Hey, wanna get lunch?” At other times, we see each other in the break room and just join. I usually leave people alone if they’re reading or something, and will make with a quick hello while I’m waiting on the microwave, then skedaddle back to my desk. If they’re not doing anything, I’ll join if I feel like it. If they’re my friend (and I mean real friend, as in they’ve been to my home, and and we hang out outside of work), I just sit down without asking. If we’re only work pals, most commonly people just ask “Hey, you mind if I sit down?” That’s usually what I ask too. Sometimes I’ll say “Hey, you want company?” which I suppose is more awkward phrasing now that I type it out, but I swear it comes out fine if you say it in a friendly way and are smiling. Seriously, people will agree to anything if you smile at them. You can be like, “Hey do you want a pile of dog shit?” and if you’re flashing a smile, they’ll go “Sure! I love dog shit!.” True fact.

Anyway, this is way too detailed of an answer. “Mind if I join you?” will be responded to with “Sure, no problem” 100% of the time.