how can I get out of eating lunch with coworkers?

A reader writes:

How can I successfully get out of lunches with coworkers? When I say no, they try for another date. And another and another. How can I politely say, “I’m not interested in spending my one work-free hour in the day with coworkers?” I don’t like spending the money and I don’t like wasting the calories. I feel compelled to say yes when my boss asks, but I don’t want to! Having lunch with a boss, whether you like them or not, means you have to be “on.” I’d like to spend my lunches doing what I want. How can I say no without alienating my coworkers and boss?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 131 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Queen of the Duck Club

    “I would like to forego the mid-day ritual of consuming a multitude of calorie-rich nutrients with a gaggle of colleagues. But alas, many thanks to you my good sir or madam.”

    Reply
  2. Heat's Kitchen

    I enjoy going out to work with my coworkers frequently and ask them. Many times I’ve been told they are too busy, or it isn’t in their budget. I don’t think twice about it. I also probably wouldnt be bothered if someone said they prefer to take care of errands/read/workout/etc. over their lunch break.

    But I agree with Allison to suck it up with your boss. They should be buying in that case, so take it as a guilt free reason to eat out! But if it’s happening often, I think you can say the same things

    Reply
      1. the gold digger

        And rightfully so! :) When money is tight and suddenly, you are expected to pay a lot more for a meal than you had planned (I took peanut butter sandwiches to work for lunch for years when I was paying off my student loans and would have been livid if I’d had to spend my precious cash on a meal out), it can be a very bitter pill to swallow.

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        1. K.

          Yeah, I didn’t blame her, particularly since this day was planned. Then-Boss and Former Coworker were on the road all day meeting with prospective vendors and they stopped somewhere casual to eat. Former Coworker usually brown-bagged it but since they were going to be on the move all day she obviously couldn’t refrigerate a lunch. They stopped at a Panera-type place and Former Coworker was like ” … Oh” when she got her order and saw that Then-Boss had paid already and was seated, eating.

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          1. Kathleen_A

            Hmm. I really wouldn’t expect my boss to pay under those circumstances. I mean, she very well might, since otherwise it would be two of us turning in expensed lunches instead of just one, but I wouldn’t expect it. YMMV (or at least your co-worker’s may), but I do not expect my boss to pick up every meal just because we happen to be traveling together unless she specifically offers.

            Reply
            1. Rusty Shackelford

              I agree. “We happen to be on the road together” is very different from being invited out to lunch, since Former Coworker would have been buying lunch somewhere even if the boss weren’t with her.

              Reply
    1. Naptime Enthusiast

      Same, there are some people who get weird about people turning down lunch invitations but for the most part, people will ask every day to make sure people know they are invited, regardless of turning down the offer previously.

      Reply
    2. Ann O'Nemity

      I’m curious – Is it expected that bosses always pay for lunch?

      In my career, I’ve seen all sorts of variation on this. My current boss rarely pays for lunch, unless it’s a true business lunch in which case the company pays.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer Thneed

        The person with more money pays. In a workplace, that’s usually the person with the higher-level job.

        And that’s partly because of how a lunch invitation from a boss isn’t really an invitation (and more of them should recognize that). So either the bosses pay for lunch, or they expense it and the company pays for it.

        Reply
      2. mf

        I wouldn’t necessarily expect my boss (or the senior person I’m eating with) to pay. But if someone with seniority (especially your boss) is asking you out to lunch frequently, then there’s a certain amount of pressure that goes along with that. And in that case, I’d expect the boss to pay at least some of the time.

        (And if it’s a working lunch or meeting, then work *definitely* should pay for it.)

        Reply
      3. NK

        I think it depends on the nature of the invite. A casual, “hey, are you going to grab lunch? I’m going to Chipotle” as your boss is walking out the door does not mean they are treating you to lunch, more just asking if you want to tag along. I’d expect it more for a more structured invite to a one-on-one lunch, though I’ve had very, very of those in my career. I’ve experienced/witnessed the former scenario fairly often though.

        Reply
      4. Naptime Enthusiast

        In my office, if we’re going out for a group lunch, everyone pays for their own meal. If it’s a catered lunch, whoever is hosting pays.

        Reply
      5. Kathleen_A

        I do not expect my boss to pay unless (1) she does the inviting and (2) it’s clearly a work-related lunch. Basically, if it’s mandatory and/or she can expense it, she’ll pay, but if it’s not work-related so she can’t expense it and I don’t have to go unless I want to…well, why *should* she pay?

        Reply
      6. Robin Sparkles

        Yes- it depends on context. If my boss specifically asked me to lunch – that would seem more like a summons rather than a casual invitation and they should pay. But – I have rarely seen a boss NOT pay if they asked-even casually.

        Reply
        1. Heat's Kitchen

          Good point to clarify! Usually when my boss asks me to lunch, it’s in the context of a working lunch so I expect it to be paid. I was assuming that was the situation here.

          I have had bosses in the past where we were more social and I definitely paid my own way.

          Reply
      7. ker

        I manage photoshoots at my job and I always pay for everyone’s lunch and expense it. This includes colleagues from company as well as the photographer and assistant we hire for the day. I’m usually the most senior person, but not always. I consider it a goodwill gesture to make sure everyone is fed since photoshoots are long days where you are on your feet and running around all day.

        Reply
      8. Ambpersand

        I work for a large company, owned by a very well known conglomerate, and the boss only pays if it’s an “expense” or “business” meal- including any during work travel. On the other side of the coin, my team (there’s only 5 of us, including the boss) will go out for a monthly casual lunch together but we all pay our own checks.

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        1. JerseyGirl

          Hmm, I manage a little team of four – me, two admins, and a volunteer. In the knowledge that our non-profit doesn’t pay the admins enough and just pays travel expenses for our volunteer, I tend to buy them lunch when we go out as a team once a month. I think they appreciate it and kinda expect it at this point. With my boss, I do lunch or dinner about once a month as well (always his idea) but that tends to be a bit more equitable – I make him let me pay about every third time.

          Reply
      9. A. Schuyler

        In my experience, the person with the higher position usually pays. The exception would be my current manager – we catch up over lunch or coffee pretty often, so I try to offer to pay about half the time and I actually pay about a third of the time.

        Reply
      10. Alex

        I think if you are the boss, it is nice to explicitly say you are doing the treating. A few months ago, my boss asked me out to lunch by saying “Can I buy you lunch at X place on X day?”

        So it was super clear that a) she was paying and b) this was a opportunity to make an impression with the boss that I shouldn’t turn down (in spite of the fact that I wasn’t fond of the kind of food at X place, nor did I particularly want to eat with her, but it was understood that I should say yes, and I did, and I’m glad I did.)

        It’s different if it is like “Hey, anyone want to hit the pizza place with me?”

        Reply
        1. Calico

          Lol when my boss says “wanna go and grab some pizza?” that’s definitely the “I’m buying us lunch so we can talk about Things” cue.

          Reply
    3. Specialk9

      I offer someone lunch or coffee (with enough time that they can make it work if they’re inclined) 2 times and then it’s on them to make it happen if they want it to. I like making connections with people, but I’m not chasing anyone.

      Reply
  3. Snark

    I’ve been here a couple times. A friendly but unapologetic, “Actually, I use my lunches to get stuff done and run errands, so that won’t work,” is just fine.

    That said, there’s a certain amount of professional capital that gets built doing things like this occasionally, and facetime with your boss that your colleagues are getting that you are not. I get not wanting to be on, but there’s an argument for sucking it up and doing the lunch occasionally.

    Reply
    1. Casuan

      +1

      OP, if you are willing to lunch with colleagues every so often then take some control of the timing. Ask your colleagues to lunch- at least the colleague[s] whose company you would enjoy. If it helps you can ask them a day or two in advance so you can mentally prepare for being “on.” Or it might help to eastablish a ritual, such as you usually go out once every few weeks; of course this takes time to establish. I don’t mean ritual as in saying “Every other Thursday I’ll go”; rather it’s letting your habits to speak for themselves.

      As for your boss, usually it’s best to accept.

      Reply
      1. Casuan

        One tactic is to have your colleagues select you out by giving a condition you know that they or the restaurant can’t accommodate.
        [not that I’ve ever done this before…*ahem*…just don’t overuse this power]

        Reply
  4. High Score!

    I straight up told my co-workers I required my alone time at work and found that no one cared. But then, we’re all engineers used to being blunt and we’re forced to work too closely together so a lunch break from everyone makes sense.

    Reply
    1. Hey Karma, Over here.

      Really, how did that…oh, engineers. Yeah, I get it. My dad is one. Less nuance, more, no, I don’t want to do that. Things go well.

      Reply
      1. Specialk9

        I laughed out loud at this response. Yeah, OP, this tactic will **NOT** go over well with
        many people. In fact, I’d go with this as the statistical anomaly. Usually a lot more social grace is required.

        Reply
    2. the gold digger

      I knew I was going to get along just fine with my new co-worker when she, our boss, and I traveled to HQ. We got to the hotel about 10 p.m. Boss suggested meeting for breakfast and new co-worker said, “No, I eat breakfast alone. I will meet you when it’s time to drive to the office.”

      Fortunately, my boss is an engineer, so he just shrugged.

      Reply
      1. Espeon

        I have wondered if I should go into engineering before… It seems I have definitely missed my calling! Ahh, to be so accepted for my bluntness and lack of sociability… *dreams*

        Reply
        1. WannaAlp

          10/10 would recommend. Have excellently straightforward colleagues who are generally cordial but not sociable. Paraphrased quote from one of them, when the most sociable of us was trying to organise a trip to a local hostelry: “Oh Tuesday is a good day to have it. I can’t make Tuesday.”

          Reply
  5. Turquoisecow

    My old job (first in an office) had a cafeteria in the building, and I got in the habit of eating lunch with my boss and another manager or two at his level. (They invited me on the first day and I didn’t have any other plans, so this became a ritual).

    It was super helpful for building rapport with these managers, and figuring out what was going on in the office – information that wouldn’t necessarily have been filtered down to me otherwise. So instead of “here’s a task, do it,” and not understanding why, I got to overhear a little bit of the reasoning behind why the task was happening.

    I almost didn’t realize how valuable this was until a coworker on my level commiserated with me on a project that she didn’t understand, and I was able to explain the reasoning for. In a less toxic environment, this might have led to a promotion eventually, since my feedback was sometimes elicited and even taken seriously.

    Reply
  6. TeacherNerd

    On the flip side, I was asked the one time I was getting over an upset stomach and even smelling food was unpleasant, and I haven’t been asked since. Apparently there’s a group of teachers who eat lunch together daily or near daily; I was asked once why I never joined them, but I’d never been told or asked, so it was awkward. (“I didn’t know about your lunching get-togethers.” seems the wrong response somehow.)

    Reply
    1. Jennifer Thneed

      Hah. I got the sooper-awkward comment from a family member once of why I hadn’t been at a cousin’s wedding. I swallowed all of my considerable ire on the topic (because it was a bad rude reason) and just said, “Oh, I wasn’t invited.” I let them figure that one out. Another time an uncle was all surprised when I showed up to a family get-together. I just smiled at him (I was genuinely glad to see him) and said, “Oh, I come to everything I’m invited to”. (Yeah, there might be some issues in that side of the family.)

      Reply
    2. Blue Eagle

      Feel free to take the initiative and let one of the lunch regulars know that you would like to join them for lunch and to let you know when they are going.

      I was in the same boat as you so I took the initiative and guess what – – they now regularly invite me to join them.

      Reply
    3. Specialk9

      I can imagine handling this like you are (my brain is not 1 hamster on a wheel, it’s dozens all going at once, all hopped up on social anxiety) but it sounds like your current method isn’t getting you the results you want.

      You want to go but are waiting for them to read your mind about your interest, and then also for them to do the asking? It’s not dating (and frankly that’s not an optimal approach to dating either), and that’s, well, just expecting a lot of emotional labor from others when you’re not using your words.

      What would happen if you asked people to go to lunch? (By text or email or note, if you get shy or tongue-tied.) It sounds like they would be receptive!

      Reply
    4. a1

      I don’t know why that’d be a wrong response. It’s honest and non-judgemental. “I didn’t know”. If it feels wrong or awkward, add on a “but now that I do I’d love to join when I can…”

      Reply
  7. K.

    Agree with Alison – if it’s your boss asking, you should go. It’s good uninterrupted face time.

    “Thanks, but I’m [doing activity] at lunch,” said while smiling, hasn’t failed me yet.

    Reply
  8. Pollygrammer

    There’s a lot of negativity in “my one work-free hour in the day.” I would really try to adjust your attitude there.

    Sometimes work isn’t going to give you that hour. Sometimes it’s an hour worth investing in your relationships with boss/colleagues. And although most of us would rather not-work than work, we really don’t want to send that message to our workplace.

    Reply
      1. Millennial Lawyer

        You can feel free to disagree of course but I personally did not get a harsh tone from Pollygrammer’s comment.

        Reply
        1. Luna

          Agreed, I don’t think this was meant to be harsh. And to be honest if an office has a culture of frequently going out to lunch, to refuse to attend any lunches, ever, is pretty extreme. Going every once in a while never killed anyone. It might always be an obligation, LW, or maybe it will turn out that your coworkers are nice people and you might enjoy it! Either way I think it is worth the effort to go on occasion.

          Reply
          1. NewHerePleaseBeNice

            I think if I asked a colleague out to lunch a few times and they repeatedly said no I’d stop asking.

            Reply
          2. JM60

            I think it’s very selfish to demand that a co worker spend their personal time (which lunch time often is in many states and with many employers) with you. Just because the office has a culture where co workers often eat lunch together doesn’t mean that you should hold it against someone for wanting to do their own thing at lunch (much like you shouldn’t hold it against a co worker to not want to go to a pub after work).

            Reply
    1. Safetykats

      Also, presumably you actually hav many additional work-free hours in the day – like all the hours between when you leave work in the afternoon/ evening and show up the next morning. If someone made the “one work-free hour” comment to me (with reference to their lunch time) I would see it as reflective of a pretty bad attitude.

      Reply
      1. A G

        Wow I wish. I have to waste most of my evening on commuting, preparing dinner, doing the dishes, doing chores, and getting ready for the next day. That doesn’t even count the time wasted on sleep.

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        1. bonkerballs

          ….All of those things are still work-free though. Perhaps you’re reading “work free” to mean relaxing time but to me “work free” simply means I’m not at work.

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      2. Xarcady

        You might be surprised at the number of people who work a second job. I do–a small, part-time retail job. The two other part-time employees in my department also have full-time jobs.

        There are two to three days a week when my lunch time *is* my only free time for the day, or at least between 8 am when I leave for Job A and 9:30 pm when I get home after Job B.

        Reply
      3. Alienor

        I have a short commute and am home by 5:30-6 pm every day, so in theory I have a lot of work-free hours in the evening…but it doesn’t matter, I still need that hour in the middle of the day. I’ll make an exception if it’s a special lunch (like for someone’s birthday) but I’ll be mentally exhausted for the rest of the afternoon because too many people.

        Reply
    2. Alton

      I think this depends a lot on the circumstances.

      I felt like the OP when I was working retail. I really needed that break so that I could get through the day of interacting with customers. The job wasn’t my “career” and I had no interest in making an impression beyond being reliable. I had no interest in socializing with my coworkers and gained nothing from it. Yes, I had a negative attitude–because I really disliked that job and wanted to get out of it ASAP. Also, the people who pushed me to eat lunch with them would spend the whole time gossiping and oversharing about their personal lives, meaning my breaks were often miserable.

      Now that I’m in a job that feels like a bigger part of my life and where I get along with my coworkers, I’m fine with the idea of occasionally getting coffee or lunch with them. But it’s still not something I’d want to do every day because I’m an introvert and having a break by myself helps me recharge and stay energized.

      My point is, maybe the OP has a reason to have a negative attitude about eating with coworkers.

      Reply
    3. Badmin

      Honestly, I felt like I could have written this being non exempt, my hour lunch is unpaid so if OP’s is also, sometimes the last thing you want to do is spend your unpaid “work free” hour doing something you don’t want to do and that feels like work because you are with your coworkers.

      Reply
      1. Bea

        Being exempt doesn’t mean you’re paid for lunch…you’re frequently expected to be there the same 8.5hrs. All the management here is and have to use comp time or PTO for weeks less than their 40hrs and don’t get a dime more for their 60 hr weeks they pull when necessary. So yeah.

        Reply
        1. JM60

          Being non exempt means you need to be paid overtime if you work for more than 8 hours a day. If a manager is having lunch with an employee for the client reasons that Alison explains in her answer, then that lunch should count towards that time worked. After all, if your doing business with your employee, that time needs to be counted as time worked,even if it’s informal.

          “plenty of business gets done at lunches with managers, in ways that you might never predict, and opportunities to talk with your boss informally often come with opportunities for feedback, mentoring, and overall insight into your company’s work that will be enormously useful to you. Plus, plenty of managers deliberately choose to have important conversations over lunch (about development, promotions, concerns about fit, and other topics), believing it’s a less charged environment.”

          Reply
    4. Former Employee

      It’s not even a question of being harsh. Saying to someone that, ” I would really try to adjust your attitude there.” is verbally shaking a finger in someone’s face. Ugh!

      She has one hour to decompress during the day. If work doesn’t give her that hour because it’s exceptionally busy, then that’s the way it is. However, to spend an extra hour every day with the same colleagues you spend the rest of your work day with really doesn’t do anything for you unless you want to catch up on the latest details of little Timmy’s potty training, Mary’s battles with her tween daughter who wants to wear clothing that’s more appropriate for sex workers or Jim’s latest problems with the 1965 Mustang he’s restoring.

      Now, lunch with the boss can be another matter. If it’s infrequent, chances are it’s worth doing. If the boss buys pizza for the group on a regular basis, then, no, it really isn’t “lunch with the boss” in a meaningful way, though I would suggest participating once in awhile.

      Reply
  9. MommyMD

    I say every time “thanks for the invite but I need to decompress” over lunch. Everyone knows this about me now and knows it isn’t personal.

    Reply
    1. Penny

      Yeah, I’ve done that before and it’s fine. I’m a huge reader and I love to read in uninterrupted peace and quiet over lunch. I’ve said “Sorry, I’m going to read now so I’m not going to be chatty.”

      Reply
    2. TardyTardis

      At ExJob, everyone knew I read/ate lunch for a half hour, and then tortured characters for the other half hour. I did accept some invitations, usually group things with all the other APs/accountants (depending on which job I was in), but normally I was left alone. I *may* have muttered about adding people who bugged me to the list of ‘rocks fall, everyone dies’ type scenes…(tried to look innocent).

      Reply
  10. QualitativeOverQuantitative

    I agree with Alison that while you don’t need to have lunch with your colleagues everyday, it is definitely something you should do occasionally in order to build relationships and set your future-self up for success. Alison suggests doing it quarterly, but I would do it more often than that. Lunch isn’t just lunch when it’s with coworkers or your boss. It’s an opportunity to learn more about what is going on, build relationships, and get your name out there. It would be nice if none of this mattered, but it does and that isn’t going to change any time soon. You have 20-ish lunches at work every month. It wouldn’t hurt to give up one or two in the interest of building your career.

    Reply
    1. grace

      Yep. Set a goal to do it once a month – honestly, I’d aim for twice, but you can build up to that if you want (ie, try for going to coffee the first week of the month, and getting lunch with a coworker or group of them the third, and so on). Networking is so important, and even more than that, it’s a great way to show that you’re invested in a career – you aren’t just there to clock hours and go home.

      On weeks or months you don’t go out, I’d also say to make an effort to be outgoing – stop in the breakroom for another pour of coffee or tea and chat with whomever is there, say hi when you walk in, ask if anyone wants a drink if you run out mid-morning for something. Even if you aren’t spending your lunch hour with them, you can still leave a friendly, cheerful impression in your wake.

      Reply
      1. OhNo

        Definitely agree to this. And if for some reason (mental health, maybe?), you’re someone who DOES need every single lunch to yourself, no exceptions, you can still do smaller things like this to build some of that network/camaraderie. It’s slower than dedicated social time like lunches, in my experience, but it can still get the job done.

        Reply
    2. Former Retail Manager

      Absolutely spot on. I am a talker and a luncher and I possess information that not everyone has which was been gained from various sources. (I’m not the only one with this info, of course, but there aren’t a ton of “sharers” in my organization and many keep things close to the vest, including good news about positions/promotions that one may be eligible for. I’m not like that.) Some of it I don’t mind discussing in the office, but some is lunch only discussion, and if you aren’t there, you miss out. I definitely think it’s worth about one lunch per month, maybe two, to get a feel for what’s going on and foster those relationships. You never know when someone may be in a position to help you out or vice versa.

      Reply
      1. rich tea

        Oof, that sounds cliquey as hell and like the sort of dysfunctional office culture I work hard to avoid.

        Reply
      2. Former Retail Manager

        I have to disagree. This is work related information, primarily about opportunities, both temporary and permanent, in other divisions that are coming up or are open. This information is not always disseminated by management via “official” channels. There are also instances in which some positions, although open to everyone who meets certain qualifications, are not actually disclosed to everyone with those qualifications. I don’t agree with that and if I know someone that I believe would be interested and a good fit, I’m happy to pass that information on. It should be passed on by management, but the fact is that doesn’t always happen. As for lunch only discussion, if there are cons to a position that someone may be a good fit for (i.e. difficult manager) I can’t exactly discuss that in the office or via e-mail. The majority of information I have is of a helpful nature and as I said, I’m not the only one with this information, but the others who have it tend not to be willing to share. Those folks kind of have an attitude of wanting to keep the information to themselves because they believe it gives them some sort of advantage by keeping their peers in the dark.

        Reply
        1. MrsGallagher

          Definitely similar to my workplace, in that they just like to keep things to themselves. Gossip or not, having coworkers who actually tell me what is going on has been infinitely helpful in me not being oblivious to upcoming changes, opportunities, or issues.

          Reply
      3. Natasha

        I disagree with the other responses to your comment, I know what you mean. For example, if I find out we’re looking to change technologies through a colleague, I might watch a couple tutorials to be ready for the next one.

        Reply
  11. SheLooksFamiliar

    OP, I hear you. I’m an introvert who actually likes socializing with my colleagues. But if I spend several hours in meetings, or interacting with people more than usual, I need to find some alone time during the day. I’ve been known to say, ‘I wish I could go to lunch with you, but I have some errands/need to catch up on emails/plan to eat a quick sandwich at my desk/am hunting for Judge Crater.’ My team understands, and I do my thing.

    But I think they are nice about it because I make a point of going to lunch as part of a group once or twice a month. You would be well served by occasionally going out with your team, too. Getting along with people is part of everyone’s job description, and you may actually need or want the goodwill of your colleagues. If you never socialize with your team, you might regret being too protective of your alone time. Just a thought.

    Reply
    1. Willow Sunstar

      Most people eat at their desks wher I work. There is no designated break area and the actual lunchroom is on another floor and is frequently freezing cold.

      Reply
  12. Hey Karma, Over here.

    How long have you been at this job? When I first started, people would go out, in small groups, in large groups, in pairs. But you could always find somebody and somebody was always asking. It’s been almost twenty years and We.Are.Over.It.
    People stopped asking, people stopped going. It withered away due to lack of interest. I think your situation will as well. It might take a decade, though!

    Reply
  13. Some Sort of Management Consultant

    Would it help for you to frame it in your mind less as “they’re out to steal my alone time” and more as “they like me well enough to want to spend work free time with me, and it’s nice to be asked”? You don’t have to say yes, just say no while trying to appreciate the sentiment.

    Reply
    1. PlainJane

      This. It’s perfectly fine to opt out sometimes in order to have downtime if you decline politely (I’m an introvert; I need my downtime too), but I’m a little put off by the idea that being asked to lunch is an imposition rather than a courteous invitation.

      Reply
      1. Alton

        I think this can be colored by your experiences, though. I’ve been in jobs where the people who asked me to lunch frequently were ones who certainly meant well but who were the type to talk your ear off even if you had very little in common with them.

        Reply
  14. Just Peachy

    I so, so get this!

    I had to attend a week long training with ten other employees last week at our corporate office. They had a dinner scheduled every night after our already long (10 hour) training days and I HATED it. I sucked it up and went, but I would have much rather picked something up on my way back to the hotel and eaten there by myself. I despise feeling like I have to be “on” in my free time. I need that time to unwind and relax!

    Reply
    1. Just Peachy

      To add, my biggest gripe about lunch/dinner/free time with coworkers, is that the conversation usually leads back to work. I don’t WANT to discuss work during my “work free” time. It diminishes the opportunity to unplug and recharge.

      Reply
    2. Catabodua

      UGH! I so relate. Once attended a conference for work where my boss and several coworkers were also there. We flew out on a 5am flight together (the admin booked our seats together), attended most of the same sessions, sat together at lunch, you get it.

      Then first evening they had a dinner where the national board was hosting and our great-grand boss was on that board and insisted we all go.

      Like, seriously – enough of you f-ing people already! It was just the first day and I could have happily not spoken to any of them again for a year.

      Reply
  15. Penny Lane

    It’s worth the investment to do it occasionally. You don’t want to be like those folks who sometimes post who can’t even handle the occasional interaction of “hi, how are you” or the once-a-year two hours at the holiday party. Building relationships IS part of most jobs. That doesn’t mean you need to do it all the time, but maybe once a month or so. Think of it as an investment in relationships that, if nothing else, will help you get your work done better if you rely on others for input or approval.

    Reply
  16. Manic Pixie HR Girl

    I typically bring my lunch both to save money and control nutrition, as I try to keep a pretty strict diet. (I allow myself frequent indulgences, but by meal planning breakfast and lunch, and most dinners, during the week it allows me to eat what I want on the weekends.) You mention money and calories, so going that route could work. “Thanks for the invite, but I’ve been bringing my lunch so I can save my eating out indulgences for the weekends and special occasions!”

    Reply
    1. SheLooksFamiliar

      My team’s eating habits are none of my business and vice versa – ‘I brought my lunch, maybe another time,’ is fine. No explanation or rationale is necessary!

      Reply
      1. Goya de la Mancha

        In theory, yes. However, some people are just dense/nosy enough that they won’t get the hint and stop without a drawn out excuse. I personally am not above lying in these situations – whatever gets them off my back.

        Reply
    2. Specialk9

      As an aside, I often brown bag lunches with friends and colleagues. Usually we’re meeting somewhere neutral where it’s not odd to do so, but even in a more casual or open seating place you can bring a lunch.

      Reply
  17. Hey-eh

    I used to say no to the twice daily coffee runs (our office coffee is terrible so everyone goes out) when I first started because I was broke and always already had my tea or coffee from home. Then I realized how many ‘mini meetings’ were happening during these coffee runs! So I started going for just the afternoon one, most days per week and I feel like not only do I know my coworkers more, but I know what’s going on in the company too. Not to mention, like Alison said, I’ve been told about promotions, people leaving, and been given check ins and mentoring during the boss-initiated coffee runs. A little cheaper than going out for lunch though.

    Reply
  18. Seal

    Early in my career, I was an instructor for various high school arts activities in addition to my FT day job. This meant that I was on the go and around people for upwards of 14 hours a day 3-4 days a week; during the competition season this included weekends as well. Needless to say, I coveted my lunch hours during the week, as it was often the only time I had to myself. Unfortunately, a new hire in our office (who was a terrible hire to begin with, but that’s another story) latched onto me and tried to go to lunch with me every day. I always made a point of getting out of the building and generally went to lunch at the same time every day, so whenever she saw me getting my stuff together she’d invite herself along. Telling her that I was planning to run an errand or read the paper didn’t work, nor did actually reading the paper right in from of her rather than talking to her at lunch. Telling her nicely that I needed some time to myself during the day was met with a blank stare. I finally had to resort to sneaking out of the office and changing up my lunch schedule to shake her. But that backfired as well; she started telling everyone that I was antisocial and unfriendly and generally went out of her way to be unpleasant when I was around. Because I was focusing on my work at both jobs while she was spreading toxicity, before I knew what was happening she became the leader of a pack of office bullies and I was their prime target. In retrospect, I would have done a number of things differently with that job (it was my first full-time job out of college), but I still would have insisted on having my lunch time to myself. Her extreme response to my setting boundaries said far more about her than it did about me.

    Reply
    1. Former Employee

      I wonder why anyone believed her since you were there first and they already knew you. It makes me wonder if there were several “mean girls” already in place and all they needed was someone to organize/lead them.

      Reply
  19. mf

    I get it, OP. I already spend way more time around people than I’d like during working hours–so why would I want to spend my personal time/lunch hour with them too? I suck it up and accept 1 lunch invite every 6-8 weeks, but mostly I say no.

    What’s worked for me is to come up with a few boilerplate soft no’s and recycle them as needed:
    *No thanks, I’ve gotta run some errands.
    *No thanks, need to spend my lunch hour making some personal calls.
    *No thanks, I have an appointment today.
    *No thanks, need to catch up some personal emails.
    *No thanks, I’m planning to finish a really good book.

    You can also just offer no explanation at all: “I can’t do lunch today. Maybe some other time when my calendar frees up.”

    Reply
    1. Manager-at-Large

      The problem with citing calendar or “just not today” for things like this is that there is a counter to be made – like “how about next Wednesday then?” or “when would work for you?” – if the person issuing the invitation wants to pursue it. If “some other time” is never going to be good, you need to be more clear about that or you just move the confrontation out to another time.

      Reply
      1. mf

        I would be vague in my answer: “Maybe. I’ll take a look at my calendar and let you know when I’m free.” And then I would conveniently “forget” to get back to that person.

        If they keep pressing me for a date: “Sorry, my scheduled is busy and unpredictable for the next few weeks. Can’t really commit to a date right now.”

        Reply
  20. LQ

    I think there are 2 key times when you need to try to say yes more. When you are new to a job or a team, or when you are trying for a promotion. I think the newness wears off after a couple months at most, but the other can take longer. If you’re new trying to make an effort to say yes more is helpful because you can burn into people’s brains that “they say yes, and are friendly” kind of idea (which then buys you a lot more leeway to cheerfully say no you’d prefer to read for the next 5 years of your career). It also helps a lot in understanding team dynamics etc.

    For a promotion it’s also important because I think it helps to be seen as a person that people go to with questions and can work with everyone, especially if that promotion ends up being to be boss of that team. But you can’t do it…in a way that seems mercenary.

    I’m right now trying for a promotion of a new team. I made a rule for myself that I have to say yes to every single lunch and coffee offer that I can possibly make. It’s…rough but I am learning SO much so much faster than I would with just a bunch of formal meetings (that I would not be able to have). It also means I’ve had 3 coffees in a day plus lunch with coworkers (well, went out for, I skipped actually getting coffee a couple of times, which no one ever bats an eye at).

    As long as you are seen as get along enough for your environment (and that people are still inviting you speaks well to that) I think pleasant “no’s” are nearly always acceptable.

    Reply
  21. Tammy

    I get where you’re coming from, OP, I really do. But as Alison points out, depending on your career goals, you might want to rethink whether refusing is worth the long-term reputational and career costs.

    Because (as I’ve talked about here before) I’ve been not just the only woman on all-male teams, but the transgender woman – and even lower down the totem pole in “geek cred” as a result – one-on-one relationship building has long been my career survival skill. When I joined CurrentCompany as an individual contributor five years ago, I made a very conscious, deliberate decision to prioritize that kind of relationship-building, and I have a LOT of lunches with people. Some are people in my direct line of leadership, but others are people in other parts of the company and at various different levels.

    As a result of that web of relationships, I’ve been able to accomplish things I never would have been able to do on my own. I’m developing a broad awareness of how different parts of the company function – and the challenges they face. And I’ve developed a ton of trust, respect and credibility with team members from the C-suite down to the front-line team members and all across the company. I’ve been promoted 3 times (I’m now a Senior Manager) and when I told my boss my next logical career leap would be to a director-level position and that I’d like to be an executive in 5-7 years, she told me she didn’t think either of those goals was unrealistic. (I also like and enjoy people, despite being something of an introvert, so connecting with people on a 1:1 level is fun for me.)

    In fact, in my recent performance appraisal, my boss wrote, “Additionally, Tammy is a bridge builder in that she reaches out cross-functionally to identify those she needs to influence to help create better outcomes for her team and customers. It’s rare I’ve met someone with whom she has not had lunch!”

    If you’re happy where you are in your career, you can certainly decide that you value your time alone more than you value this sort of bridge-building and informal networking. That’s a legitimate choice, and I don’t want to sound as though I’m suggesting otherwise. But if your future career goals include moving into more of a leadership role, you might think about reframing lunch invitations as an investment in networking – they’re a chance to build relationships and relational capital which can be hugely valuable down the road.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous Ampersand

      Absolutely not the OP here, but thank you for posting this. It’s really helpful for me.

      Reply
    2. CM

      This is a valuable comment, thank you! I also have this tendency to reach out to people outside my area, but haven’t made as much of a concerted effort as you have. I think that’s a great idea.

      Reply
  22. Scott

    I’ve never really liked having lunch with my coworkers. My absolute favorite thing to do over lunch is to workout. I have the most energy in the day at that time, it doesn’t affect my sleep negatively like working out in the evening could, and my muscle growth/fat loss seems to do best when I work out at this time. But I’m also a huge introvert, and totally get people that like the interaction during lunch hour.

    Reply
  23. hbc

    To decrease the amount of times you’re saying “no,” try immediately putting out a date yourself…but pretty far into the future. So if someone asked you today, you could say, “Hmm, today’s not good, and this week is pretty full. Do you want to plan on the 26th?”

    Also, depending on how many different people are asking and other logistics, you might be able to swing a regular “This is the day I socialize” thing. I find it’s easier to see the time coming on the calendar, and everyone will get used to your schedule and not hassle you so much.

    Reply
    1. Former Retail Manager

      I really like the pick-a-day idea. I have one co-worker that only goes out on Friday and another one only on Thursday. It’s just their thing….I don’t even know why and I don’t care. If they feel like coming along on their “eat out day” then they do. If not, that’s cool too. None have ever offered an explanation. They all just say “oh…Friday’s the only day I go out” and everyone is cool with that.

      Reply
  24. JKP

    Maybe on the days you do have lunch with coworkers/boss, you can carve out some alone time in other ways. Use your 15 min breaks to go for a walk on your own, or go sit in your car and listen to podcasts or read. I used to sit in the stairwell for short quiet breaks to myself (everyone always took the elevator at that floor, so the stairwell was always empty).

    Reply
  25. Lillian Gilbreth

    So this might be weird for lunch, but a few people in the comments have mentioned coffee so I’m curious – is it weird to go along and not get anything on an occasional coffee run? A few of the more junior people in my office went out at lunch for free coffee day, and again when a new convenience store (with lunch options) opened up so we could check it out. Both times a person or two came along for the walk and the fresh air but didn’t buy anything, and I didn’t think it was odd at all. I guess always coming along on a coffee run and never buying anything might come off oddly, but it seems like you can get some of the benefits without necessarily needing to waste the money or the calories.

    Reply
    1. hermit crab

      “I’ll come along for the walk” has been very normal anywhere I’ve worked, not just for coffee runs but also for going to pick up lunch takeout.

      Reply
      1. Former Retail Manager

        I used to have a co-worker that did this where driving was required. She just wanted to leave the office and chat so she’d ride along with me to pick up whatever order I’d called in. I never thought it was odd at all. So walking or driving….not weird, in my opinion.

        Reply
    2. Safetykats

      For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s weird. I think it might be weird if nobody ever addresses it, but it’s not rare in my office for someone to say “I’ve had a lot of coffee, but I could stand to get off campus.” That way everybody knows you’re just along for the ride, or walk, or what have you.

      Reply
    3. LQ

      This happens really frequently here. Some people don’t drink coffee, brought coffee, etc. It’s really normal (at least here) to go with on a coffee run but not get coffee.

      Reply
      1. hermit crab

        Yeah, I have literally brought my own hot beverage (e.g., in a travel mug) to drink while tagging along on someone else’s coffee run!

        Reply
    4. Catabodua

      Very common in my experience. I am not a smoker, but have been known to go out for smoke breaks just both because it gets me away from the computer for a bit and it is a way to get socializing in without standing at someone’s desk.

      Reply
  26. Boo Berry

    I’m a lunch reader and most people I work with know this, though they still ask me if I’d like to join them often enough, and if I decline will ask after what I’m currently reading, but I think the key is diplomacy. People can get peculiar about work place interactions and self exclusions.

    I’m an introvert in an extrovert’s position so the “performance” of it drains me by the end of the day and lunch is a good time for me to come up for air, so I totally get it. I’d just advise being careful in the way you phrase things.

    Reply
  27. IrritatedInWI

    I almost always eat lunch with a few coworkers (we are provided with free lunch in a cafeteria at my workplace), however I have a similar problem with some of them constantly bugging me about coming out for happy hours. The most recent example was on a Friday night a couple of weeks ago, a few coworkers and their significant others had made plans to go out on a Friday evening. I was constantly hassled about it for about 2 weeks weeks leading up to the big night out since my I (on behalf of my fiance and myself) declined the invitation. I’m sorry, but I spend all week here at work with my coworkers – I don’t want to finally make it to my Friday evening and then be stuck with them all night, too! I would rather spend time with friends that I’m not already with for 40+ hours a week. Is that horrible?

    Reply
    1. Just Peachy

      No, it’s not horrible. I feel exactly the same way!

      My boss (who likes to MAJORLY) plan ahead has already scheduled our Christmas party this year for a Saturday night. It’s always been on a weekday previously (in which we get out of the office for the afternoon), so I’m super annoyed by this! It’s 9 months away and I already know that I don’t want to attend, or make my husband spend one of his two weekend nights with my coworkers. Not that they’re bad…I’d just rather spend my time with friends than have to be in “work mode” during the weekend.

      Reply
      1. Marthooh

        Tell your boss! “Weekend nights are so busy during the holidays, I don’t know if we can make it. I always liked our weekday office party!”

        I’m guessing she would prefer an early heads-up about it.

        Reply
  28. Holly-Anne

    Sigh. I’m so frustrated by the fact that having lunch with coworkers is just one of those things you’re mean to accept as part of working life. Worse still is that much like ‘mandatory fun’ events these are meant to be an ‘enjoyable’ thing (I assume these lunches with your boss is casual, not an actual ‘working lunch’ for which you will be paid).

    It was a bit of a disappointment to find that even when we’ve finished school that those of us who are less socially inclined will be punished for being this way.

    Not that that’s going to change of course, just another one of those moments of accepting that life is unfair and you just have to suck it up.

    Reply
    1. SweetTooth

      I don’t think anyone is suggesting that this is something you just have to accept. Alison even said in her response that you can take a hard line on getting lunch, but it will potentially have career consequences if you refuse all attempts from people to get to know you. I see it as related to the part where managers of people need to have the soft skills of dealing with people. Doing an amount of social things, like the occasional lunch or coffee run or happy hour, means that you get to know a little about your coworkers and see them a bit as people. I’m not trying to win an award for Miss Congeniality, but I attempt to keep my own relationships with coworkers on the friendly side of cordial because it makes working together more pleasant and effective. Understanding how people communicate matters!

      I certainly prefer to have my lunches on my own where people can’t hear me chew and where I don’t have to make my weekend sound more exciting than it was. I get somewhat anxious and make dumb jokes that I then have to explain. But I have found that thinking of it as this big unfair punishment is not helpful for my own attitudes toward my job or my team. And really, if I want to climb the corporate ladder, that means my job will switch from being mostly alone at my computer to being mostly in meetings where I will need to be able to communicate effectively and maintain positive relationships.

      Reply
  29. LiptonTeaForMe

    I am a serious introvert that works in a call center, so my 45 minutes of not talking to anyone is sacred and also why my lunch is consumed at my desk. I don’t want to be accosted to go anywhere to do anything. Extroverts don’t always under this and many times choose to make this about them. Thankfully everyone is on the phone, so most of the time, no one bothers me.

    Reply
  30. Decima Dewey

    The library rules mean this isn’t a problem for me. If I’m at lunch, certain of my staff can’t be and vice versa. Someone has to deal with the public.

    Reply
  31. Andy

    I don’t know if it’s just a different culture in Australia, but I don’t get why this is such an issue. I’ve gone so far as to say (jokingly) that “I need a break from all you whack-jobs.”

    Reply
  32. Oxford Coma

    My go-to “leave me alone” lunch activity is to do my Duolingo lessons. It’s flexible, so technically if I skip a day for Bigwig Lunch That I Shouldn’t Miss, I’m okay. But it’s also a great excuse to be alone, because I’m using the speakers and microphone on my computer to complete lessons, so I need to isolate myself to prevent disruption. Plus, nobody rags on me for wanting to educate myself.

    The best part is, I can do one five-minute lesson, technically have done what I said I was going to do, and have the remainder of my lunch break to myself.

    Reply

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