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Take what you want, or leave enough for others?

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  • akq Sep 25, 2008 04:27 PM
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In my office we often have food brought in for lunch meetings. After the meeting, if there are leftovers, an email goes out to the entire office that there are leftovers in whichever meeting room. Sometimes when I haven't had a chance to get my own lunch, I'll go and grab some of the leftovers, but I am often caught in the quandry:

Should I take what I want (i.e. a whole sandwich, etc.), or should I leave enough of the leftovers so that whomever wants something gets at least something?

Usually, if I get there before other people show up, I just take what I want to eat for lunch, but if there are a ton of people who show up and not enough leftovers for everyone to make a whole lunch, I just skip it and go out to get my own lunch. That is, unless I have to work through lunch. In that case, sometimes I will just take what I want, even though it may mean that someone else gets nothing. For example, today there were six pieces of leftover pizza and some salad left over from a meeting. I had been on a conference call through lunch and was not going to be able to get out of the office to buy a lunch. I got to the leftovers first (my office is close to this particular conference room) and I took two pieces of pizza and some salad - enough to fill me up - leaving only four pieces of pizza and salad. No one else had shown up yet and I have no way of knowing whether anyone else would show up for the leftovers, how many people might show up, when, etc. Should I have only taken one piece and then circled back around 30 mins later to claim another piece if it hadn't been eaten?

Does it matter that in my office there are professionals and support staff in my office? Since I am a professional and paid more than support staff, should I defer to support staff so that they get the free lunch? Or does it make more sense that since I am more likely to have to work through lunch and simply not be able to get away from my desk to buy my own lunch (as an "exempt" employee, I am not guaranteed a lunch break like the staff is), does that mean I should get the lunch?

What do CH'ers think?

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  1. In the office environement if it's leftovers, I think it's whoever gets there first. As long as that you don't take more than you need. Nothing wrong with two pieces of pizza.

    At my office we had a secretary who kept tupperware in her desk to stock up on lunch leftovers for dinner for her AND her husband. After a couple of years of this, she was finally told to stop. It's amazing what people won't do...

    1 Reply
    1. re: FoodChic

      Ah yes, taking more than you need is a big pet peeve of mine, too. Sometimes I'll be "late" to to the leftovers call, there's nothing left and have to go without lunch until a late dinner at 9pm or so...but people have wrapped up the leftover sandwiches and left them in the fridge for the next day. I am often tempted to eat them late at night when I am working without lunch or dinner and they are home with their families eating dinner...but I never do.

    2. Leftovers can be tricky. If you're just an occasional visitor to the leftovers table, I'd say take a reasonable portion and don't worry about it. If you're a regular who is there almost every time, then you probably want to wait to make sure others get some first. I was near the leftovers table at the last place I worked, so I usually waited for a while before taking any. If I've had to walk any distance to the leftovers table, I usually haven't gone every time and just take what I want within reason.

      1. I think what you're doing is fine. Taking a whole lunch if you didn't get a chance to get lunch is totally acceptable. But if there are leftovers all the time and you're usually able to take time to buy lunch, I do think that it's appropriate to allow lower-income employees to count on those free lunches.

        This is a little different but I worked at one office where we had lunch every day, and at the end of the day one worker consistently stole ALL of the leftovers and took them home -- sometimes huge trays of food, that she couldn't possibly eat herself, and sometimes taking the food before the end of the total lunch range (I think it's still lunch until 3pm, especially at this office). The upshot was she generally left behind salad and veggies so I scored the parts I wanted most!

        1. OK, I'll be the bad guy to open the eyes of this so-called "professional" -- Leave the lunches for the staff. If this is anything like my lace-curtain law firm was, it was the well-paid professionals who were treated to the catered lunches because their time was SO valuable. When leftovers were advertised, this was to open the doors to the staff who generally were not invited to the original lunch. You were on a conference call? Oh, my heart bleeds for your hungry stomach. Let me ask you this: Do you have a company credit card and are you permitted to charge meals? If so, then leave the free food to those who don't.

          Now don't get me wrong or confused with the other issues. Yes, it is horribly bad manners for the staff person to save food to bring home for her and her husband and family. Yes, it is bad form to "save" food for later when others may want it now and get shut out. But in terms of office morale, before you grab that leftover food, compare your salary to that of the staff, compare perks (do you pay for your own parking? do they? the aforementioned credit card?) and ask yourself what impression you might be presenting and what the folks who paid for the food would be thinking if they saw you. Then take that pizza box down to the loading dock or into the computer room or some other location where hourly people are tied to their posts and will really appreciate the gesture.

          2 Replies
          1. re: nosh

            I think this is a lovely idea, particularly the idea of taking food to people who can't come and get it themselves. When we have leftovers, I frequently take them to the guards or service staff rather than leave them for the other teachers. It's not a big gesture, but it is always really appreciated.

            1. re: nosh

              Whoa. No company credit card. No charging lunch to the firm. They don't pay for my parking. I get paid more, but also have to work more. I don't have guaranteed lunch or other breaks, no sick days, no vacation days, no overtime or holiday pay, etc. I am not complaining about my situation (am quite happy here), but just to point out that my firm isn't the "lace-curtain law firm" that you describe. Maybe this is strange, but it's not the "free" food that I am interested in, it's just that the food is in the office and doesn't take 30 mins to go and get it. In some firms it would be acceptable to send staff to pick up lunch, but not here - if I want lunch I have to get my own and if I don't have time, I eat chips out of the vending machine.

              The folks who pay for the food are the partners - they take leftovers as well if they haven't eaten yet. The emails go out to the entire office. If they wanted to give staff first crack they could send it to all staff, but they don't.

              I am not sure if it matters, but on the particular day I wrote about, I had planned to attend a lunchtime presentation in person and buy my lunch on the way, but an hour before the meeting I was given a rush project that I had to work on through lunch and didn't have time to leave the office to buy my own lunch as I had planned, so I attended the presentation via teleconference, listened while working on the other project and grabbed some leftovers because they happened to be available.

            2. When you are taking the leftovers imagine your boss is standing to your left and people who report to you are on the right.

              Personally jfood does not how people wantg to eat sandwiches that we delivered at 1130, sat open though a meeting gathered onto a single plate and then open to all. They've been sitting w/o refrigeration for 2+ hours and have been picked up, stared at, returned to the plate. blech.

              9 Replies
              1. re: jfood

                Hey, jfood. NEVER underestimate the power and attractiveness of FREE food! Many of those who would return a $60 steak if it were one degree overcooked and spend hours perusing a wine list and carefully comparing vintages will KILL for that unclaimed ham and cheese sandwich!

                1. re: nosh

                  Yes jfood has seen the rush to the bottom. Now his admin wraps them in plastic to try to keep the troops alive.

                  Ten years ago nine of us ordered ordered Indian Food at a London Law firm at 1130PM. It did not arrive until about 130-200Am and none of us knew why. When the receptionist told the group the food was ready there were 81 cartons of food. The receptionist was asked why. Her response..."You said there were nine of you and you wanted nine dishes. So nine times nine is 81 and that's what I ordered."

                  Needless to say every associate in the firm ate for free that night.

                  1. re: jfood

                    I find it interesting that many of these responses involve experiences at law firms, as did mine. I wonder if the ordering in lunch thing is more common at law firms?

                    1. re: FoodChic

                      jfood is always a guerst at law firms and they always feed him at lunch.

                      when there are meetings at jfood place between 12-2, they always order food as well.

                      1. re: FoodChic

                        I've never worked anyplace that provided lunch. If there was a lunchtime presentation, one person would take everyone's "order" collect the money and go get the food shortly before the presentation. At one firm I worked at if anyone was still on a rush project at 8pm, one of the partners would order out.. It didn't happen often, maybe 3 or 4 times a year at most.

                        1. re: FoodChic

                          The firms I worked in ordered lunch for meetings/depositions quite often. The leftovers were always fair game. Leftover = take what you would like to eat there in the office, not to bring home. Sometimes we ask each other if we would not mind bringing a pastry home to a spouse, as they will sit in the fridge forever. You know girls - always dieting.

                        2. re: jfood

                          It is so funny -- During the week, you try to get four co-workers to agree where to go for lunch and one is on a diet, another isn't eating meat, a third is now vegan, and you had Chinese for dinner last night. Then a Friday birthday comes around and a few boxes of really bad pizza, think Pizza Hut with mystery meat, are delivered and everyone is scarfing them down!

                      2. re: jfood

                        Eating leftovers is not my preference and I only do it, generally, when I don't have time to leave the office for lunch and haven't brought anything from home. We cater maybe 10 lunches a month and only some of them have leftovers, so it's not an everyday thing.

                        My bet is that if you asked my boss whether he'd rather me take leftovers and eat at my desk while working or take 30-60 mins to pick up my own, he'd choose the former, especially if there's a rush project I'm working on. In fact, the partners take leftovers when they haven't eaten yet. Usually I take 60 mins for lunch, buy my own food and sit in the lunchroom watching CNN and reading the papers. It's one of my favorite parts of the day and I happily stay an hour later in the evening to do it.

                        In some offices it would be acceptable to give your assistant $ and ask him/her to pick up your lunch, but not mine. While I bring my assistant and paralegal drinks and baked goods from Starbucks all the time, it never goes the other way - just our culture. If I don't have time to pick up my own lunch, I am on my own since we don't have a cafeteria or a sandwich cart or anything like that.

                        1. re: akq

                          "While I bring my assistant and paralegal drinks and baked goods from Starbucks all the time, it never goes the other way - just our culture.

                          Yup...it's okay and proper to gift down, but rarely to gift up (which can be seen as brown-nosing).

                      3. IMVHO, it is not like you are taking enough to feed a family of five. You are not taking "leftovers" you are taking your first shot at it. Take what you would normally take if your were eating lunch.

                        1. The fact that you're even concerned about the etiquette involved here probably means you're behaving correctly. I'm afraid we live in a society where too many people are only out for themselves and don't care at all about what's fair to others.

                          I don't think it matters so much about professionals versus support staff, and when there are a bunch of people hovering over the leftovers, you're right to only take a small portion or to give up and go elsewhere for lunch. But if you're the only one in the room, I don't think anyone would argue against your taking what you want since you're right - who knows how many people will show up to grab leftovers? For all you know, they could just sit there uneaten.

                          1. I'd say no matter what level, you should be able to go and take what you NEED for that meal. If you normally eat an entire sandwich for lunch, then take that, along with some salad, and a drink. I don't expect my boss to wait till others go... I mean, if that is the culture, then that's great, but generally, it's not. You snooze, you lose. As the department manager think, "I'll let me admin assistant go first" his peers are eating his share, while his secretary is finishing up on the project that is due at 2:00 p.m.!

                            Plus, in most places, the office staff do rush over first anyway, which is fine. The only thing I would watch out for is not to be the first one there every time! :-)

                            1. I agree with the poster who said to leave the food for the staff. Yes, you work more hours but you are paid a LOT more money than any staff person. You chose that profession and the hours that come with it, whereas a lot of staff people didn't exactly sit in high school classes and dream of being someone's secretary and personal assistant the rest of their lives. Many staff people work 2 jobs or are cutting extreme corners to make ends meet and frankly, I can see why they would save up free food to take home and eat for dinner. I think that's a very sad statement.

                              Bring your own lunch, order something in or go out and get something for yourself but leave the free food for the staff.

                              JMO.

                              1. The thoughtfullness of your post and replies indicates that you're doing fine: eat what you need on those times when there are leftovers and you have no other options - and enjoy what you eat!

                                1. We infrequently have lunch provided for a meeting (and usually it's the management team meeting), and when there are leftovers the same people go to eat them every time. I say hooray! Don't let the food go to waste.

                                  I am not interested in the leftovers, primarily because I have usually brought my lunch and eaten it at my desk, working, much earlier in the day than the leftovers are announced. I do think that it's good to take what you need and not more. Unless there are leftovers at the end of the day, I don't think it's ok to take leftovers home. Eat what you need, no more.

                                  In my office, there are unpaid interns that I know will scarf up anything the rest of us don't eat...provided we get there before they do. :)

                                  And as a professional NOT in the legal business (how did all of you get in here?), I'll tell you that as much as I know I have to work more than the nonexempt employees and at a higher level, my reward is the higher pay. Even though I work in the nonprofit industry my salary is twice what my assistant's is...so I say she gets first dibs at the free sandwich, never mind that I have to work through lunch. But that's my choice for me, not my choice for akg. Like a number of people have said, the fact that you are even thinking about what is the right way to handle this means you are probably on the right track.

                                  1. i think you're very thoughtful for thinking of others and that it was absolutely fine to take two pieces of pizza. you deprived no one of their rightful due and i think you are no more and no less entitled to leftovers than anyone else in your office (though i'm guessing you do have access to food delivery for those times you cannot leave your desk).

                                    the only real rule with leftovers in my office is no hoarding. if there isn't a massive amount of food and lots of people want it, it really irks me to see some people grab eight sandwiches to stash in the fridge for later. THAT's poor manners. what you did is not poor manners.