Does Your Office Have Food Issues?

Where’s your office food hub? Perhaps it’s a co-worker’s jelly bean dispenser, or a candy dish filled with treats at your company reception desk. It may even be an actual table where people drop off treats they bring in from home. Most offices several “go to” areas for people seeking a little socializing and/or noshing. According to a Wall Street Journal article, the presence of this office tradition has the potential to cause quite the rift between colleagues. Imagine for a moment, a co-worker who declares (as quoted in the WSJ article), “If I have to smell it [the treats], I will move it.” One person’s invitation to stay and chat a minute is another’s evil temptation against the Battle of the Bulge.

The consumption of food—and by extension, the social aspect accompanying it—is a sticky wicket in the workplace. For every person wanting to show hospitality by bringing in a tray of brownies, there are several more trying to watch their caloric in-take.  What’s an office manager to do?

It seems to me that policing what people bring in, or where they store it is not the answer to this tension point.

The answer lies in fostering an environment where co-workers can productively work out their food differences.  There should be honest discussions that go on from all points on the Food Preference Continuum—from those that would set up a full service buffet (if allowed) to those who think all food should be banned.

So is it really necessary to talk about our food preferences at work? It might be, if you are sensing tension due to the presences of workplace snacks. There are essentially two roles in the food dilemma scenario: those who offer the food and those who wish to decline the offer.

For those who offer food, please keep this in mind:

  1. You are free to offer the food if within your company’s policy. Others are free to refuse the offer. Try not to take it personally.
  2. Consider the type of food you are offering. Are there co-workers with allergies or sensitivities to this type of food? Are you offering foods that might be prohibited based on a co-worker’s religious or cultural beliefs?
  3. Does the food have a strong odor? Even if you love the smell, many people may not.
  4. If someone declines, be gracious. Insisting (“Oh, it doesn’t have that many calories!” or, “Just a small bite!”) creates resentment in your co-workers.

For those who wish to decline an offer of food:

  1. Keep in mind that your foodie co-workers are not trying to sabotage your weight loss or healthy living plan. Many people see the offer of food as an extension of good will.
  2. Be proactive—when you see food come into the office that you know you don’t want (or need) talk with the person offering the food in advance— and in private. Let them know why you won’t be able to eat their food. Reassure them that it’s not personal.
  3. Whenever you decline the offer, keep your tone neutral. People often feel judged negatively if food they offer is declined with a comment that connotes “I would never eat that nasty/unhealthy/fattening stuff.”
  4. Polite phrases to decline the offer:
  • “Thank you, Susan. I can see that you’ve put a lot of work into this cake. As you know, I made a commitment to myself to stay on my eating plan and so I’m going to decline. Thanks for the offer, though.”
  • “It really does look tasty. I don’t know if you realized this, but I have a dairy sensitivity, so I’m going to have to pass on that cheesecake.”


If you’re a card-carrying foodie, you’ll probably never convince a vegan to belly up to the snack table. Even so, office colleagues can work out highly differing food preferences, if they maintain their respect (and patience) for one another.

Now, if you’ll excuse me while I go help myself to another handful of M & M’s. . .

photo credit: © Gennadiy Poznyakov

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