The Office Food Trap


It doesn’t matter if you work in a newsroom, a corporate office, a non-profit or school there will always be the carry in. Some people call it a potluck. Others call it a pitch-in, bring-a-plate, dish-to-pass or any multitude of other words that all mean you bring something and have a feast.

Seems easy enough, right? You bring a dish and so do your co-workers. But that’s where it gets tricky. Some co-workers might be on a diet or are diabetic. Or can’t eat sugar substitutes. Or show their love with food or by commenting on your food choices. These landmines don’t have to be difficult.

Do what you can for your dish, the one you bring. If you love macaroni and cheese and have a fantastic recipe, make it! Don’t modify it unless you have to for yourself. That way you’ll know what goes in it and can tell your coworkers when they ask. Plus, you’ll know you can at least eat what you brought.

A note on co-workers asking what’s in the dish, it might be because they have an allergy or an intolerance or because they think the dish is so fantastic they must have the recipe. Be flattered and be kind.

You might feel obligated to take something because your boss made it, even if you already know you loathe the dish. That’s ok. Find a way to make it at least look like you tasted it. If that means cutting it up into teensy, eensy bites or hiding it under something else, fine, just be discrete.

As for an out on the whole thing all together you can always claim you forgot about the carry in, already made lunch plans or ate a huge breakfast and are stuffed. Regardless of whether or not you choose to participate, just be polite. Accept others food comments and occasional criticisms as a reflection of them, not you. Some people just show love with food.

How do you navigate the Office Food trap?

Guest List

At some point in your professional career, you’ll be putting together a party, get together or other named event. It might be a BBQ or a soiree. As previously addressed in Treating Others Fairly, you have the option of inviting the whole department or office or keeping things very quiet to be fair. As in, no one else in the department or office knows or will hear about the party.

That means you can’t invite five out of the six people in accounting, but you can invite five out of the 60 people in the office.

Some general guidelines:

  • Don’t work on party plans in the office.
  • Don’t email the invitation to a work email address or work address.
  • Keep the party talk out of the office (even the recap!).
  • Don’t lie. If someone asks you about it, see below for how to respond.
  • Make sure the people invited know to be discrete because you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Tell the invited guests that you had to keep the list small.

Hopefully the people you are inviting are more than just office friends and they will understand.

If you’re lucky no one else will find out, but be prepared to answer those questions. Author and Real Simple etiquette expert, Michelle Slatalla, suggests blaming the venue or budget for keeping the number of invitees to a minimum should anyone inquire.

How have you handled office party invitations?