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Bringing your packed meals to the food court mall

So, you're at the food court. Yes, there are an array of choices for you to chow down. But is it okay to bring your own packed meal and eat it at the public food court mall? Or is this a big no-no?

I can understand not to bring your own meal into a restaurant. But the food court at the mall is kind of fair grounds, right?

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  1. the food court is a public space, so i think it's absolutely fine - i did it all the time in grad school at the one on our campus. i will say, though, that you should remain aware of your surroundings and have respect for the people who do actually purchase food there. since those tables are technically designated to serve as seating for the businesses in the food court, it wouldn't be fair to monopolize one to enjoy the contents of your brown bag while someone who purchased a meal *there* is left standing, with no place to sit down and eat.

    1. I do it all the time. Sometimes I buy a cold soda or frozen yogurt and eat it after lunch. I don't see a reason not to, unless there's a sign posted that the tables are for customers only.

      1. most older & wiser mall employees without any lunchroom in their store can be found in the food court, eating food they brought. I know I alway used to, and always saw people from other stores doing so as well.

        1. Perfectly okay as long as you give the security guard a bite.

          1 Reply
          1. re: beevod

            Depends if she looks like she'd like to be bitten

          2. No reason you can't do that....it's not like there's anything worth eating at the food court anyway. Except maybe a corn dog. Mmm, corn dog.

            1. it's a public place! you can eat what you like unless it has signs that say 'customers of x only'

              1. ... as long as you bring enough for everyone.

                1. If the tables are there for the public then no problem eating there. If it is for the customers of the restaurants then you should not. Hopefully there are signs to the latter. But one thing that should not occur is taking any of the packets or utensils from the restaurant unless you ask and they say it is OK. If you do it would be a nice gesture to buy something from the vendor as a thank you.

                  1. I think that's OK. What I don't think is ok though is this, I took my mom to the doctor a few weeks ago and there were a couple of "twentysomethings" eating some asian take-out reeking of garlic, sesame oil etc. in the waiting room. I think that's a little arrogant and over the top. I've seen the same thing on Airplanes too. No Class!

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                      I cannot even imagine eating in a doctors waiting room. I get strange looks for bringing a bottle of water, and I take one of them everywhere.

                      1. re: pegasus1

                        Personally I have never gone into any waiting room, especially at a medical facility, that did NOT have a sign that read "No food or drinks allowed in waiting room." I love my water, too, but tough it out in those situations.

                        If a mall food court forbid people from bringing in their own brown bags of food, where would all the employees from the surrounding stores eat? My DH used to work at a mall long time ago, and we would have gone broke if he had to purchase food in the food court. He took his meal, along with napkins, and plastic utensils, and would buy a drink at one of the spots. If it was crowded he would offer up a spare seat to anyone who looked like they needed one. Most of the tables have at least 2 seats, if not more, and people are willing to share a spot if they are hungry and tired!

                      2. re: mrbigshotno.1

                        But sometimes you have no option on planes, and in fact, the airlines tend to encourage it. Sometimes you're making connections with long travel time but no time to grab a bite between flights. Sometimes you just don't want the overpriced, stale airline food.

                        Doctor's office, not so much.

                        Food court, okay.

                      3. It's fine as long as you clean up after yourself.

                        1. So long as there's no sign designating your seat as "belonging" to any particular restaurant, why not?!

                          The malls are doing so badly these days, with on-line buying competing for their attention, that it would be a very self-destructive mall operator who actually prohibited eating home-brought lunches at the food court.

                          1. When I worked at the mall as a teenager, I always took my lunch to the food court. Usually I bought a soda (mmmmmm, the days of fountain Coke with no regard to waistline). I certainly would not expect the mall employees to clean up after me though, and as someone said, if it was packed, I would give up my seat for someone who had bought their meal there.

                            1. I agree with other posters - the seating in the food court that isn't designated as "belonging" to any particular eating establishment is fair game as long as there aren't any "no outside food or drink" signs, etc. It's fair game to sit at these tables without buying anything or while eating outside food. I'd add the caveats that if you haven't bought anything and there aren't any more seats for paying customers, you should probably vacate and that you shouldn't steal utensils, condiments, napkins, etc. unless you purchase something (or get permission).

                              1. I agree that it's ok as long as you clean up after yourself, and don't take needed seats from people who did purchase food there. If the place is really full and you see someone walking around with a tray, that should be your cue to get up.

                                1. Food court operating expenses, including rent and common area maintenance, are pro-rated to food service tenants in their occupancy cost, which is incredibly high. Bringing one's own food to a food court is akin to bringing one's own candy to a movie theater. Easy to rationalize, but as the defensive tone of replies here underscores, the practice doesn't win any merit badges. When the amenity is abused, usually by loitering teens, it is correctly a tenant-landlord matter and limitations to 'invited guest' legal status can be put in place.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: huckfinn

                                    I agree with you. I rarely go to a mall but when I do, it seems like there are plenty of benches throughout that aren't part of the food court. Wouldn't it be more appropriate to eat there? If the food court vendors are paying rent for that space, it's more than a tad cheeky to take advantage of that. IMO, of course.

                                    1. re: c oliver

                                      That's a good argument, but I wonder whether some mall managers, given their druthers, might say they prefer that people gather to eat in designated areas, rather than scattered throughout the mall, because of the inevitable increase in trash left behind (unfortunately, not everyone is meticulous, even if well-intentioned). They may prefer that the benches placed around the mall be used for rest for weary shoppers (or as the Official Husbands' Waiting Areas), and food courts for eating, whether mall vendor offerings or food brought from home. Maybe they're counting on yit that if you are surrounded by the food counters, it will tempt you to make a purchase even if you did bring a sandwich from home.

                                  2. I don't have an opinion on whether it's ok to bring your own food, but let's all remember that mall food courts are NOT public spaces (usually).

                                    1. Are they really public, like a city park or are they private property. Is the maintenance and cleaning being paid for by your tax dollars, or the rent moneys paid by the food vendors? Is your sitting there with your own food making a table unavailable to a paying customer? I don't think its a very good or ethical idea to bring your own food to a mall food court, no matter how you rationalize it.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: rednyellow

                                        The big difference is that everyone at the Mall is a potential customer.. If anyone on this board is going to the Mall with the sole intention of eating their homemade lunch at the food court, I'll eat my hat ... or a more improbable dare, I'll eat the food served at the food court.

                                        I have no problem with anyone who is actively looking to shop at the mall eating other food at the food court. I haven't heard of any Mall having a problem with it either. When I've seen it, nobody has been busted. These days, most Malls are happy anyone is showing up.

                                      2. Being a mall employee means that I am often there 5-7 days a week, and cannot afford to eat every meal there. We have a break room, but I rarely choose to eat in there, as I would rather have a little space from my work environment. I have never had any issues with other mall staff or security. I don't think it's unfair to the mall...not everyone can eat the food provided.

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: milkyway4679

                                          What does fairness have to do with it?

                                          The question is whether one can or cannot do it.

                                          Whether something is fair, and whether something can be done, are two entirely different things.

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            Actually, many employers do look at fairness. It helps them keep employees happy. Last time I checked, most businesses don't want disgruntled employees. They certainly don't want disgruntled customers.

                                            1. re: Steve

                                              What huckfinn said is 100% correct! Technically (and legally if you look at the leases of the occupants in the food court) the mall food court is operated through the tenants in the food court. They pay a higher share of operating costs to maintain the court, which actually acts as one common dining room among the tenants. So bringing a bag lunch from home and eating in the food court is the same as bringing a bag lunch from home and eating it in the dining room of a restaurant. It's not the best idea.

                                              Let's face it - the food court tenants aren't making any money off of you (even if you buy a beverage, which doesn't help them much), so why should you benefit from their operating costs? They don't care how happy you are or not.

                                              There are the 'park benches' located throughout the mall for those who do wish to eat a bagged lunch. Those areas are maintained by the operating costs of the stores you shop in and/or work in - and they want to keep you happy.

                                              1. re: OOliver

                                                At several malls I've been to the 'park benches' have signs that say no eating or drinking while sitting on the benches..

                                                1. re: OOliver

                                                  Actually, buying a beverage probably does more for their bottom line than anything else. The highest cost component of a fountain drink is the cup.

                                                  1. re: ricepad

                                                    Nothing wrong with buying only a drink. It's easy to bring along a sandwich or a small tupperware of whatever, but it's kind of a pain to shlep a water bottle while shopping all day. Also, you can't keep a soda or water bottle cold on your purse. Nothing wrong with buying only what you want.