Is it inappropriate to take leftovers home when your boss treats you to lunch?

A reader writes:

My boss recently took the department out for lunch. He treated us to a holiday lunch back in December and wanted to do it again as our department has been doing well. We’re a small group: my boss, our admin, myself, and a coworker who is one of my peers. These lunches have been at fairly nice sit-down restaurants, and my boss always tells us to order whatever we want. I’ve always interpreted that as order whatever I want within reason, and I typically order something similar to what he’s having (i.e., no dessert for me if my boss doesn’t get dessert).

At lunch, my boss ordered the pork tenderloin. Our admin got a large salad. I got the grilled salmon. My coworker ordered a chowder, the steak, and an extra side of fries. The restaurant was busy, and it took forever for the fries to come out. I prefer to eat small meals, so I ate half my entree and had the rest packed up in a box. My coworker also had leftovers packed up as she couldn’t finish her steak and didn’t even touch the fries. Despite not being able to finish her meal, she asked if anyone wanted to split a dessert. We skipped dessert as my boss needed to get back to the office for a meeting.

When I bumped into our admin later in the day, she said my coworker and I should not have taken our leftovers with us. She seemed to think that it was very inappropriate and that we had committed some kind of faux pas. This is the first I’ve heard of anything like this. Back in school, I had attended a professional development seminar, which included an etiquette dinner that covered all sorts of nitpicky things. In a formal setting, I can see how leftovers might be a no no, but for a casual lunch, I don’t see why it’s not okay. If it were a client lunch, I would have ordered something smaller to avoid the hassle of leftovers entirely.

What surprised me was that our admin went on and on about how inappropriate it was that we got the leftovers to go, but didn’t mention a word about my coworker ordering the most expensive entree, additional items, and suggesting dessert. To me, that was inappropriate even though our boss did tell us to order whatever we wanted.

What are your thoughts regarding leftovers? I naturally eat small meals and hate for food to go to waste. Is it considered inappropriate to take the leftovers to go when your manager is treating you to lunch?

I think it’s perfectly appropriate to take leftovers with you when you’re out with your manager or coworkers, if you have a reasonably informal relationship with them. If you don’t, or if it’s a client lunch or an interview, I would not — since in that context, rightly or wrongly, asking for a doggy bag generally seen as a little … gauche. Plus, you should be focusing on the business of the meeting, not the food.

You’re also right to follow the lead of the host (your boss, in this case) on dessert, appetizers, and the general cost of your meal. Otherwise, if you order significantly more or at a significantly higher price, it can come across as taking advantage of the host’s hospitality — so your coworker was in the wrong there.

By the way, etiquette also considers it rude to tell someone that they’ve broken an etiquette rule, so your admin was in the wrong herself for chastising you for the doggy bag later — let alone “going on and on” about it.

{ 210 comments… read them below }

  1. Yup

    I usually don’t take leftovers from work lunches, only because there’s rarely room to store them anywhere back at the office.
    But I thought the question was interesting so I googled ‘business lunch etiquette’ and found a thread on Corporette, if you’re interested in their discussion. Most people didn’t seem to think it was any big deal as long as (like Alison says) the lunch is informal/casual and you’re not dealing with leftovers because you intentionally ordered a gargantuan meal on the boss’s dime.

    http://corporette.com/2009/09/21/reader-mail-can-i-take-the-leftovers-from-my-business-lunch/

    So I think your colleague is making something out of nothing. Enjoy your salmon.

  2. The Other Dawn

    I don’t think the OP is wrong in bringing home the leftovers, especially since it was lunch out with people she knows fairly well. I do think, however, that the coworker who ordered all that food and then suggested dessert is the one who’s in the wrong. It seems obvious to me that she was looking to have her boss foot the bill for a leftovers dinner later on that night.

      1. Jessa

        this exactly, but the other coworker was worse, it’s extremely rude to harp on things like that.

    1. Anonymous

      I have an employee who does just that when I take all of us out for a departmental treat. She’s ordered 5 pancakes plus sides during breakfast and eating one or gets a huge appetizer, entree and dessert during other meals only finishing the app. I’ve never said anything to her about it but it does bother me. Since I say “get what you want” (since I don’t want to tell what to eat) I don’t feel like I can chastise her about it. Instead, I’ve stopped taking the group out. Instead we do small parties in the office or I’ll get them something that they can use personally. It was the only way I knew how to handle the situation without embarrassing her or contradicting myself.

      1. Chriama

        How would people recommend dealing with a situation like that? I’d be tempted to take her aside after a few incidents and ask why she does it? I know it’s rude to tell people they’re rude, but that is so blatantly against social convention that it seems she’s banking on the fact that there aren’t established norms for addressing it.

        Seriously, some people know how to flout etiquette in precisely the right way to ensure that no one will call them on it because there’s no “polite” way to do so. She sounds like one of them

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I might address it as a professional development thing — as in, “this isn’t a huge deal, but it’s something that could potentially impact the way people perceive you if you do it in other business situations.”

          Ugh, but as I write that out, I realize that I probably wouldn’t. But if someone wanted to take it on, that might be the way to go.

          1. Anonymous

            Here’s what I’m up against: we’re a non-profit type organization that’s always having meetings and parties with food for customers and clients. When leftovers are available (about 80% of the time), everyone asks her if she wants to take the food home to her family and she accepts. This has been going on for years, since I was just her co-worker. It happens so much, that it’s a given that any food left is general packed up and ready for her to take home.

            1. Chriama

              Then it’s totally outside your scope of influence. It does feel awkward, but maybe I shouldn’t be so obsessed with judging her either. Haha

            2. KellyK

              Really, at that point, the only thing you can do is set your own boundaries. If lunch is your treat, then pick the place based on what you can afford even if she does order a ton of food, and don’t actually say “get whatever you want.” If it’s paid by the organization, set a limit per person.

            3. AnotherAlison

              WTH??? That’s ridiculous. Everyone should get an equal chance at meeting leftovers.

              Here, the people who set up/clean up meetings put the leftovers in the breakrooms for anyone. For a while we had one clerk who would pack up everything for herself & her husband when she cleaned up after meetings, and people were NOT HAPPY. She was later let go in a layoff. . .and when more people were hired for that position, she wasn’t one of them.

              1. Anonymous

                She gets what left after the raid from the other employees. Trust me, there would be picketing and rioting going on if that wasn’t the case!

            4. anna

              I worked with a woman like you describe. All food was automatically hers, even my leftovers when we went out to eat and I paid. Even things I brought for potluck were given over entirely to her. It was bizarre.

              I found out after working there a while that she was the sole provider for 9 adults and 6 children, all relations. I’m not saying that makes it right but that was what was going on.

              1. Elizabeth West

                And none of the adults could get a job, even part-time? Wow. Sounds some kind of exploitive. I would absolutely have balked at giving her my leftovers that I paid for. Sorry, but it’s not my job to support her family.

                On the other hand, we would get turkey gift certificates for Thanksgiving at Oldjob, and I would give mine to a lady that worked in the shop. She always had a huge amount of family coming over. I hate turkey, live alone (or was gone for T-day), and never used mine. I preferred to give it to her rather than waste it.

              2. Melissa

                I’m not judging her and you never know where you’ll end up in life, but I am having a hard time imagining any situation in which I would be taking care of 9 of my grown adult relatives.

          2. Stanley

            I addressed this once with an associate of mine during a quarterly review. My only saving grace was that I was her manager, and it was our director who was providing the free groceries to her and (seemingly) entire family. I was able to address it completely aside from the review process as my personal take on things that could help her become more professional and thereby lead to possible promotions and advancement. It turned out to be the right time since the flow of conversation was her long term goals with the company. She stood by her stance that she was doing nothing wrong but agreed to follow my advice. We no longer work for the same company so I have no idea who she’s mooching off of now.

        2. Brooke

          We have had this problem in our office as well. My boss, the owner of the company (we are a small office) will take everyone out to eat and, of course, tell everyone to order anything they want. We had one employee who would regularly order the most expensive thing on the menu. She would do this when we were doing client lunches as well. The owner did not say anything about it, but the Office Administrator was upset about it and brought it up in an office meeting. She just set the standard rule of no more than $10-$15. She did say that this could change depending on the restaurant (such as, at Christmas, the owner took us all to a very nice restaurant and she increased the maximum amount). It seemed to work as we never have this problem anymore. I think it made it easier for everyone to have an amount to keep in mind when ordering – especially if you are not one who normally considers the price when someone else is paying for your meal.

          1. bearcat

            +1

            That was going to be my suggestion. Just set a limit before you ever get to the table. Our office likes to send links to the menus around to everyone before we get there so people can plan it all out if they want.

          2. myswtghst

            I like this idea. While some people may be able to figure out the rule was instituted because of one person, it is an across the board rule, and it would help me out because I often feel anxious about ordering too much / something too expensive at work outings.

          3. FD

            I generally feel more comfortable with a limit as well, because then I know the expected range. A lot of times, if I have to order before the host, I end up ordering just a soup or something else as inexpensive as possible because I’m trying to outguess everyone.

            1. Cat

              I find the “Oh, I need just a minute – can you come back to me?” move effective in those situations. Or, nothing wrong with asking people what they’re planning on getting as you peruse the menu.

          4. Elizabeth West

            That’s a great idea. Not only does it curtail mooching, but it gives people a general guideline on what to order.

          5. tcookson

            We had to set a rule about each person not exceeding a certain amount for meals; our costs for entertaining guest critics and lecturers had become out of control with faculty ordering really expensive entrees and having unlimited mixed drinks.

            We set a rule that employees can order meals that cost the federal per diem amount for whatever meal they’re having (we have a chart that breaks down breakfast, lunch, and dinner amounts for each per diem amount). For example, in our city, the per diem amount for dinner is $30, so we suggest that a $23 plate approaches the $30 limit when tip and tax are added. My boss has had me collect reimbursement money from people who exceeded the limit, just to prove that he is serious about this.

      2. RubyJackson

        Aw, that doesn’t seem fair that everyone else is paying the price for this lady’s overstep. My first thought, however, was maybe she isn’t paid a lot of money and this supplements her groceries. She might be hungry.

      3. E.T.

        I once found myself in a similar situation too. One time I decided to thank a temp at the end of her term with our company, so I took her to lunch at one of my favorite restaurants near the office. I ordered from the lunch special menu (which includes a drink), and it was around $15 dollars. The temp didn’t like what was on the lunch special menu, so she asked to see the dinner menu. She then ordered a drink, an appetizer, and the surf and turf off the dinner menu. Her total came out to over $50. She even wanted to order dessert, but I told her we didn’t have time anymore (because her surf and turf took so long to prepare). She asked for what she didn’t finish in a to-go box, and then said happily that she had dinner now. If she had ordered from the lunch special menu and then asked for a to-go box, I wouldn’t think it was inappropriate. But I was bothered because she ordered so much expensive food, wasn’t even able to finish it, and then wanted dessert on top of everything.

        Ever since that incident, I no longer treat people to that restaurant anymore, which is a shame since they are very good and their lunch special menu is very affordable. Instead, I now only treat people to the sandwich shop near my office, where the most expensive sandwich meal combo is $9.00.

        1. OP

          “and then said happily that she had dinner now.”

          Wow, as if ordering $50 of food wasn’t inappropriate enough, she just had to throw that comment in there!

          1. Just Jane

            OK, it’s gauche to announce it like that, and to order the most expensive items possible, but is anyone else remembering the poster who was struggling to pay rent and bills and was ‘living off cupcakes in the break room’ because she didn’t have enough money for food? (She wrote in because she couldn’t afford pants that fit the dress code, IIRC). People can be quietly living in really desperate circumstances, and having leftovers from a work lunch might be the difference between leftovers dinner, and no dinner. No idea if that was the case here (probably not, really, since most people in those circumstances feel awkward & ashamed and aren’t likely to draw attention to their food-gathering)… but without knowing personal circumstances, I’d be inclined not to be too judge-y.

            1. Tex

              But it sounds like she went for the most expensive thing vs the most filling/largest quantity of food plate (probably a pasta dish). I think being judgy is perfectly fine in this case.

              1. E.T.

                I think Tex summarized what I was having a hard time trying to say. If she had ordered one of the lunches, which would have been a good amount of food even though it wasn’t as large as the dinner items, I wouldn’t be bothered if she took home her leftovers and the remaining bread from the breadbasket. But she refused the lunch menu, asked for a dinner menu, and ordered one of the most expensive items. And, after not finishing her appetizer and meal, she then wanted dessert.

                I feel even in dire circumstances, a person should not take blatant advantage of other people’s generosity. If you’re really hungry and someone offers you bread, you don’t ask if they can give you foie gras instead. But, the temp was at the end of her term with us, so maybe she didn’t care what kind of reputation she left behind.

              2. Jenna

                I wouldn’t feel comfortable ordering something more expensive than my host’s meal, but, I would not be able to eat the pasta(gluten intolerance, and the odds of a wheat free pasta are vanishingly small). Sometimes I have a hard time finding anything that I can eat at some restaurants.
                I’m not saying this is the case in this instance, but, sometimes you don’t know what the circumstances are.

            2. tcookson

              I think most people in that situation, not wanting to call attention to themselves, wouldn’t flamboyantly order the most expensive things on the menu, and so much food. The people I know who are pinched for grocery money would order normally and have half their meal put into a to-go box, claiming to be on a diet (if they explained anything at all). But they would definitely be subtle about it, not obviously greedy.

        2. Ruffingit

          Wow. I would be extremely embarrassed to order $50 worth of food on someone else’s dime for LUNCH. That is excessive. I wouldn’t write off that restaurant as a place to take people though because most (not all, as shown by other comments) people seem to understand office etiquette as it applies to food and probably would not do this. $50 for lunch…geeze.

        3. EnnVeeEl

          No. 99.9 percent of people would order off the lunch menu and be fine. This particular woman was just unprofessional and trying to get over. I’m particularly insulted that she might have ordered alcohol too (you mentioned a drink).

    2. Amanda

      …And it seems that the OP (and her small, appropriate meal) got lumped in with the gluttonous person and her multiple courses.

      1. Tina Career Counselor

        At a previous job, staff were allowed to take food leftover from client and other meetings. People would aggressively lurk or pace around the conference rooms waiting for the meeting to be over. Some of the conference rooms were all glass, so these lurkers were extremely conspicuous to everyone in the meeting, including clients (and this was a finance company that worked with high-wealth clients). Certain staff members were referred to as “the vultures”. It became some awkward and embarrassing that the company established a new rule that people were not allowed to get food out of the rooms when the meeting was over. If there was anything left over, the office manager would bring it to the cafeteria and then people could take some.

          1. FiveNine

            An entry-level guy I work with once packed up an entire box of cupcakes to take home for himself after our monthly birthday celebration. It is an office of more than 300 people, and we generally set out the leftovers in various mini-kitchen areas where we have refrigerators and sinks for people who couldn’t break away, or for people coming in for a later shift, etc. He just swooped in in his winter coat, artfully double-layered a bunch of cupcakes in a box, and, as several people watched with their jaws on the floor, walked straight out the door on his merry way home.

          2. tcookson

            I know, right? Just read Miss Manners or any other advice columnist, especially around the holidays, and they are chock full of people writing in about their family fights about who gets the leftovers. Some people lose all sense of pride, dignity, and perspective when faced with the prospect of free food. And it’s not just the ones on a tight budget, either — we have one professor who is just fine financially, but he just loses his head if there is a buffet. He has to be the first one there, get the most food, and take home leftovers. In most situations, he cares very much about appearing to be well-mannered, but free food is his downfall. I wonder what gives with people like that?

            1. Melissa

              Maybe he comes from a background in which food was scarce? I’ve learned that sometimes people who grew up without enough to eat have a hard time shaking that feeling.

          3. Melissa

            I just don’t understand it. I’m a graduate student and there are of course the myriad jokes about graduate students descending upon the free pizza and sandwiches after some faculty meeting or other event in the department. And I have some friends who basically stalk seminars to wait until they are over and get some food – or worse, nip in and grab something, then run out before the seminar starts. I don’t GET it. We’re not paid handsomely by any stretch of the imagination, but I certainly make enough money so I don’t have to stalk seminars and embarrass myself in front of faculty members over a measly slice of pizza. Who wants a reputation around the department/office as a vulture?

        1. Cat

          We announce “second seating in X location” via the intercom when leftovers are fair game.

          1. Cassie

            Love the “second seating” announcement!

            I admit that I do keep an eye out for meetings and stuff for free food, but I don’t loiter around waiting for the meeting to end. And I try to help out with the clean up, so at least I’m doing something for the free food. I’m not saying people need to always help out, but there are people who never offer to help but are always there for the food.

            At least now my cubicle is in the main building, so I usually know when the meeting is over because I’ll see the attendees returning to their offices – I used to be in an adjacent building and would have to be strategic about when to pass by the meeting rooms.

  3. A Bug!

    By the way, etiquette also considers it rude to tell someone that they’ve broken an etiquette rule, so your admin was in the wrong herself

    Yes, absolutely. In my experience, it’s an excellent indicator as to whether a person is actually interested in following established etiquette or just thinks everyone should behave the same way they do.

    1. fposte

      Oh, nicely put.

      I mean, I can envision a situation where taking home leftovers could be tacky–if an employee deliberately ordered more on the boss’s dime to take extra home, as it sounds like the OP’s coworker might have done. But even then, it’s dependent on knowing a motivation that you probably don’t know, and it’s still not appropriate to go on and on about it. Either stay out of it or offer a quick friendly word for guidance’s sake. This just sounds like the OP was getting berated, and getting berated unjustly and by somebody whose business it really wasn’t anyway.

    2. Maire

      Is that not what etiquette is anyway: thinking everyone should behave the same way as everyone else?

      1. Heather

        I was always taught that the purpose of etiquette is to keep from making others feel uncomfortable or awkward. It’s supposed to be less about judging people for doing things “wrong” and more about having shared rules that make it easier to navigate situations.

  4. Kristi

    If I’m reading this correctly, its a “Let’s treat ourselves to lunch out for doing such a good job.” If the last dept lunch out was in December, it sounds like this isn’t a weekly occurrence. The Boss has a budget for things like this and it is in appreciation so why not. I have more of an issue with the Admin going out of her way to reprimand the OP which isn’t really her job/business.

    1. E

      Depends on the office. When my department head takes us out to lunch (also about twice yearly — holidays and fiscal year end), she pays out of pocket, not out of budget. We’re a non-profit. I’d be particularly horrified knowing that somebody was ordering that amount of food (the steak and fries coworker, not the OP) knowing that this was on our department head’s own dime as a nice gesture.

      I don’t see an issue with boxing food up if it’s leftover from a normal sized entree.

      1. Elizabeth West

        I don’t either (boxing up leftovers), mainly because normal-sized entrees these days are WAY more food than one person can (or should!) eat in one sitting.

  5. Nikki J.

    I’d find gluttonous waste to be far more offensive than ever taking food home. Let’s spend less time caring and worrying at what “looks right to others” and be more practical. Personally I find it so awkward when I am out with someone, they don’t eat the majority of their meal then just have it cleared and thrown out. Yea, I get if the food was awful you don’t want to bring it home, but the “oh, I don’t do left overs” is not ok. Overall I’d say avoid scheduling a lunch meeting if you don’t actually expect people to eat and focus more on business.

    1. Kristi

      Totally agree about not wasting perfectly good food. But again, it wasn’t really a “lunch meeting, ” I think more of a thank you/appreciation thing..which hopefully wasn’t ruined by too much shop talk :P

    2. Alicia

      Ugh, I hate the whole “don’t do leftovers” thing. Some foods aren’t great leftover (get too soggy, etc) but dismissing the entire concept of it… just doesn’t make sense to me. Heck, today for lunch I had leftovers from dinner last night. Granted I was raised on leftovers at least once a week.

      *ponders* are people just much better cooks than I am and make exactly two servings of dinner? and do they like cooking a zillion times a week? (okay, I know this blog was about doggy-bags, but it’s the same food-wasting principles in question).

      1. Chriama

        I also don’t see how you could never have leftovers. I cook for 1 person, so unless I’m willing to divide a recipe that serves 4 (and thus have to measure out 3/16 of a cup), whatever I cook for dinner on Sunday is lunch for most of the week. Although I have gotten better at “partially” cooking my food because lasagna squares baked from frozen are much better than refrigerated and microwaved…

        1. TL

          I eat food you don’t have to cook – salads, yoghurts, sandwiches, cereal. I eat a lot of spinach and avocado – yum!

          You’d be surprised how long one can go without cooking/eating leftovers if you’re truly dedicated :P

          1. Chriama

            The problem is that I prefer savoury over sweet food so I’m more attracted to chips and ramen than cereal or yogurt. find that too many easy foods are sweet or otherwise unhealthy (I used to love this one yogurt until I took a look at the ingredients and sugar was first. Ouch), or it’s expensive to keep them on hand (e.g. deli meats for sandwiches)

            For me, cooking is definitely the path of least resistance unless I want to have instant soup instead of blood running through my veins :p

            1. TL

              Ah, my mother refused to keep junk food in the house when I was little so it never occurs to me to buy any of it. I hate cooking – well, I hate the cleaning caused by cooking – more than I enjoy a full-on home cooked meal, so that’s why my diet is so weird.

              1. Chinook

                I am wiht you in not liking to cook, especially every night after I get home. as a result, I cook in batches on the weekend and create my own frozen dinners/lunches. I usually cook or one two big meals and then immediately portion up the leftovers and put them in the freezer or fridge. It has become more interesting since my microwave died but I was pleasantly surprised by how much you can reheat on a stove top.

                And, on the plus side, every so often I have a surprise lunch where I may not know what is in the plastic container but atleast I know it is something I like.

                1. ThursdaysGeek

                  I make soup out of leftovers and veggies that would otherwise go to waste. All the soups go into the same type of one serving containers and get frozen with no labels. I just grab them when I make lunches for the day. Mystery Soup is great!

                2. Elizabeth West

                  I should do this more often. Most of my meals, especially in the summer, are microwaved/toaster oven because I own a giant electric Philco from the 1950s (came with my house) and it’s a pain to heat up stuff. Fuggedabout turning on the oven in the summer.

          2. mel

            I never have leftovers either! But I also don’t use recipes and maybe that’s why people end up with leftovers? If I cook one piece of chicken it’s pretty easy to not have extra.

            1. Emily K

              This is me. I live alone and usually cook for one, but I don’t follow a recipe or measure anything. I just…use one serving of all the ingredients. It might make a difference that I’m also grain-free, so I’m not making big pasta dishes or casseroles or anything like that. It’s all some variation on putting a serving of meat or eggs into a frying pan or wok with a bunch of veggies, oil, and spices. Or putting a serving of meat/eggs into a frying pan/wok and serving alongside a salad.

              It’s actually pretty hilarious when I try to cook for a potluck, because I’ll feel like I’m putting SO MUCH FOOD into the pan, because it looks like SO MUCH MORE than I usually cook, and it ends up being like 4 servings. (Which, granted, is 300% more food than I’m used to seeing in the pan!)

        2. The IT Manager

          I also don’t see how you could never have leftovers.

          I’ve hard of people who don’t eat leftovers and I assume they are just wasteful and throw it out instead of eating the leftovers. We always had leftovers in my house growing up. And now I’ll cook a big main dish over the weekend and eat the leftovers all week so that’s very odd to me.

          Admittedly one case is an older man who’s wife will cook a full meal for him whenever he’s ready to eat even if its at some very odd hours due to his job and he’s the only one eating. She’ll prepare his packed lunch too. So there’s some other odd (gender role) issues there too.

          1. Kelly O

            My grandmother did that for my grandfather, but that was clearly a very different time period (and he was admittedly quite the jerk about it, even after she got too ill to cook.)

        3. VictoriaHR

          I have two boys, so little food goes to waste. After eating a big dinner, they’re all like, “I’m hungry!” 10 minutes later /sigh

        4. Lily in NYC

          I have a friend that refuses to eat leftovers (even if it’s from a meal he or his wife made) because he’s a crazy germaphobe. And my ex wouldn’t take home leftovers because he was from a very wealthy family and was taught it was tacky (but then again, I know plenty of rich people that take leftovers home).

          1. Kelly O

            One of my very favorite experiences/stories from high school involves placing in an Optimist Club essay contest. We got to go to one of the absolute nicest restaurants in Birmingham (no joke, they exist) and have lunch. The other two winners were from a swanky private school in town. We had a lovely meal, with these amazing orange rolls.

            We were trying to be polite and not scarf them all. (We were from the “redneck” school, after all, and all these other people were prominent businessmen and people from Swanky Private School.)

            So, after things are over and we’re getting ready to leave, my mom notices one of the Swanky Private School moms taking the cloth napkins, and walking around to all the bread bowls in the room, taking the leftover orange rolls while the staff at the restaurant was trying to clean up.

            We just sort of gaped for a moment, because, you know, fairly well-to-do lady from Swanky Private School in Most Expensive Part of Town is snatching bowls from waitstaff and being downright ugly to them.

            Funniest part? One of the waiters who’d helped us stopped my mom and my teacher as we’re walking out and hands each of them a white box full of orange rolls.

            I suppose tacky is as tacky does.

            1. LMW

              I attended an onsite donor recognition luncheon (fancy schmancy for those of us who donated at a certain level). It was catered by our onsite vendor (who runs our cafeteria…which usually has terrible food). The lunch was fantastic, especially the dessert (some type of mousse-y, cheese-y berry treat), but attendance at the lunch was really low because there was a conflicting event. So at the end, there were all these leftover desserts sitting on the table. I will admit, after the event, I did ask the waitstaff what they were going to do with them, and a co-worker and I took several back to our team as an afternoon treat. Very well received by the team, although I do think we were slightly tacky. (Worth it!)

              1. Jessa

                Not nearly tacky if you ask. Sneaking around is tacky, asking if they have to toss stuff because it’s been served out (health regs) and can you please have some, is totally different, polite and NOT tacky (for instance they could have said no, and blamed regs to soften it, if the usual response was crew got to eat leavings.)

          2. Anon

            My ex once threw away at least 6-7 servings of pasta after a group dinner because he doesn’t like the way it reheated. Ridiculous.

            1. Jamie

              I don’t think you can reheat pasta – can you?

              I will make extra sauce for pasta dishes and freeze that, but I always thought you had to make pasta fresh or it would get mushy.

              1. Laura

                I reheat pasta all the time, and I prefer mine on the stiff side of al dente. Generally speaking, only reheat once (so reheat just the portion you’re going to eat, don’t keep reheating the whole lot of it), and store separately from any sauce if possible (though I also do pasta casseroles like mac’n’cheese and they reheat fine, too). Also, heavier pastas like penne will stand up to reheating better than, say, bowtie.

                I do a lot of the cook-a-huge-batch-then-freeze-portions thing — I figure if Stouffer’s can do it, so can I.

              2. NBB

                I reheat pasta all the time! It doesn’t get mushy at all, as long as you reheat within a reasonable amount of time (less than a week or so).

              3. tcookson

                I have some leftover spaghetti noodles from our dinner last night (spaghetti, green beans, and rolls) that I am going to use tonight as the noodles in my chicken stir-fry. I will heat some canola oil over medium-high and toast them quickly until they’re lightly browned and heated through. I don’t know if that’s “legitimate” as far as stir-fries go, but my husband and kids like it a lot!

              4. Hooptie

                Late to the party – but I worked in a restaurant back in the day. Instead of cooking spaghetti from scratch each time there was an order, they cooked a gigantic pot’s worth in the morning (al dente). Then, they put it (plain, no sauce) in covered containers filled with cold water and stored it in the refrigerator until needed.

                After that, it was a simple matter to just heat it up as needed in the pan with the sauce, and much faster.

                I used this trick with my ex all the time. He loved spaghetti; I don’t particularly care for it. So I’d make a big batch as described above and when he wanted it, he just pulled some out, added the sauce, heated it up and was happy.

          3. Elizabeth West

            Some really super-rich people are hilariously frugal, especially if they didn’t grow up that way.

      2. Rana

        We generally don’t have leftovers in our household because our meals tend to be one-pot or one-pan things, and there’s rarely enough room for multiple meals in them. So one dinner might be stirfry, or it might be pasta with sauce, or it might be asparagus risotto. We usually don’t have a lot of side dishes – just the one main dish – and that’s probably a factor as well.

        1. Rana

          That said, I do like leftovers. One reason I love going out to eat is that most places serve enough food that I get two dinners out of it – the meal in the restaurant, and the reheated leftovers the following night. But I don’t typically order extra just to have the leftovers (Chinese food being a possible exception.)

      3. FD

        Yeah, I mean, French Fries just don’t reheat well. But almost everything else reheats just fine.

        Besides, if you get creative, you can cut a lot of things up and toss them in something else. Leftover chicken too small to make a full meal? Put it on a salad.

          1. Emma

            Me too, but it depends on the fry. The very, thin ones end up either too mushy or too hard to eat cold. But the most…robust?…steak fry type of fries with a crisp exterior and fluffy interior? Excellent cold. :) /fry fiend.

      4. Melissa

        When I lived by myself leftovers were like my favorite thing. Most meal recipes serve at least 2 people, often 4, so sometimes I would have dinner that night, lunch, dinner, and lunch again. Even now that I’m married we usually still have enough to form at least part of a lunch the next day. I feel like if you’re not eating leftovers at least some of the time, you have to be wasting food.

    3. Susan

      You’d probably hate eating out with me then :) Restaurant meals are so huge these days that it’s hard for me to finish an order. I would LOVE it if restaurants would offer portion sizes, so I could get the “small” chicken, or half of a side, rather than just order what’s on the menu and not be able to finish it because portion sizes are so huge. I’m also not big on most restaurant leftovers, for the simple fact that I generally forget to eat them and they go to waste. So, not a glutton by any stretch, but yea, I eat small portions and don’t take home leftovers.

      1. Sascha

        Agreed. I dislike most leftovers. I usually go out with friends so there is always someone who will take my leftovers. I’m grateful that a lot of restaurants are now doing small plate options and offering lunch portions at dinner time.

    4. TL

      I, er, don’t do leftovers.
      Once they go in my fridge I either forget about them or think they look really unappetizing so I don’t eat them, then they spoil and I just throw them out.
      So I just don’t bring them home anymore. (sometimes my friends will take my leftovers which I’m cool with)

    5. Amanda

      I’m not that bothered if someone is “anti-leftovers” as a personal preference, but I am bothered about business and etiquette conventions promoting wastefulness.

    6. AnotherAlison

      As long as we’re “doing” and “not doing” leftovers, I would like to take this opportunity to say how annoying it is when my mom cooks dinner for 30 (for 10 actual guests) and insists on sending all the food home with me because “she doesn’t ever eat the leftovers.” A lot of the foods are not very healthy & we try to watch our intake of junk.

      1. Alicia

        My Mom still hasn’t completely figured out how to cook for just her and my father now that my brother and I are both 30 (give or take). Her regular meals would still feed four adults + leftovers, but she has become so accustomed to cooking that for two people that when me and my fiance are there she cooks enough for six + leftovers. I love the doggy-bags, but I now live 5 hours away, and I don’t feel like taking a cooler every trip just so my Mom can shove food at me. :)

        1. Natalie

          I have this same problem, and I’ve never had kids. The average grocery store does not seem to be selling to the 1 or 2 person household that cooks their own food. I can get a bunch of single-serving frozen dinners, or a package of raw meat that would easily feed 6 people. It’s like they haven’t caught up to the last few decades of demographic shifts. Something like 30% of households are just 1 person.

          We tend to buy the large portion and freeze the remainder, but our apartment has a small, crappy freezer so that’s not always an option. And some meat you just don’t want to freeze.

          /end rant

          1. KarenT

            And even when places have small servings, they are a rip-off. Half a dozen eggs costs almost as much as a dozen.

        2. Anonymous

          I decline the mother-leftovers once. Then I accept whatever she insists on shoving off on me after that. I thank her.

          Then I stop at the first gas station as I leave their house and toss all of the really terrible leftovers. The fatty or sugary junk food is the first to go.

          If it’s non-perishable food, then I’ll donate it or put it up for grabs in the employee break room.

          She often would insist on giving me food that would simply not make the trip back in any safe state (it’s a 6 hour drive!), or food that I wouldn’t eat at all.

        3. tcookson

          I have that problem if I’m making a soup or stir-fry or something for which I’m not following a recipe, but just making it up as I go along. I’ll start off with something reasonably-sized, but the more additional ingredients I add, the dish just keeps growing bigger and bigger until it’s waaay more than I ever intended to cook!

      1. tcookson

        Yes! We have a night a week at our house where everyone can just pick their favorite leftover from the fridge and eat that. The kids love it — we call it “Root Hog or Die” night (as in root around in the refrigerator for something to eat, or die of starvation because mom’s not cooking tonight).

    7. Cassie

      I agree – it bugs me when people are wasteful with food. My family does not waste food EVER. My parents think you can just cut around mold and it’ll be fine. I have to badger them into tossing out stuff.

      I tend to be a bit of a picky eater on some stuff (like I don’t like sesame or poppy seeds, don’t like veggies, don’t like melons…) so I go with a little serving first to figure out if I like it or not. I don’t want to take too much food only to realize I hate the glaze or sauce.

      My coworker friend, on the other hand, will take several servings of something – then after the 1st bite, she figures she doesn’t like it, and tosses the rest. What a waste.

      Take 1 serving, figure out if you like it or not, and then go back for seconds and thirds if you like it. You don’t have to pile up at the beginning.

      1. Jessa

        That coworker needs to be introduced to the concept of the “taste” as in you put a taste of something on your plate, sample it while standing at the buffet and THEN decide whether to take more. It takes two seconds unless the thing is served in large noticeable portions (chicken breasts, roulades, etc.)

  6. Chriama

    OP – you mention being surprised that the admin didn’t comment on your coworker’s excessive ordering (which was very bad manners and also weirdly audacious), but maybe she had a separate conversation?

    One thing to note is cultural expectations around bringing food home. In North America it’s widely acknowledged that restaurant portion sizes are unhealthily large, but I remember meeting someone from England who said you really only ever pack up a meal for kids, and an adult taking home the rest of their food would be sort of immature/tacky.

      1. Parfait

        Eddie Izzard on being European: “Carrying things out in doggy bags, we can’t do it. What? You’re going to eat that LATER? Ewww!”

        1. Anonymous

          *UK reader who always asks for a doggy bag in restaurants slinks into the corner…* Maybe I just slum it with restaurants, but most places have been happy to box up leftovers for me

      2. Elikit

        Here in Australia (Sydney), when I first moved here I was surprised that getting your leftovers packed up was not a done thing.

        Things have changed a bit in the last nine years, but it’s still more of a gauge it yourself sort of thing. If the restaurant does takeaway food it’s generally not strange. If it doesn’t, kiss that food goodbye.

    1. jmkenrick

      Yes, wanted to echo this. I know doggy bags are considered tacky in Sweden and France, and I would imagine some other places as well. Honestly, it’s just not really done.

      1. The gold digger

        Which is why my husband and I discreetly placed our leftovers from our lunches in Paris in the ziplocks I had brought in my purse. I am not going to pay for food and then send it back to the kitchen.

    2. Brightwanderer

      I can confirm that it would be odd to ask for leftovers in the UK. Except pizza. It’s totally okay to ask for the rest of your pizza in a takeaway box, for some reason.

      1. Brightwanderer

        (okay, wait, scientist brain won’t let me get away with that. I can confirm that IN MY EXPERIENCE, in my part of the UK, it wouldbe odd… etc)

      2. Frenchie

        It is because portions are a lot smaller. And also, there is a cultural thing about finishing your plate – not finishing means you did not like it. It took me months of training to be able to NOT finish a plate in a US restaurant and not feel like I just insulted the whole kitchen staff.

        1. CatB

          Yes, same here (Eastern Europe). Every time I leave something on the plate I feel compelled to say it was very good, but I just can’t eat anymore. The cultural pressure is even worse in a private setting (ie, visiting friends).

    3. Bwmn

      Keeping this in mind – I think a lot of this goes back to whether or not you’d ask for a take away container in a more formal business lunch.

      While there are posters here that comment about not taking a doggie bag as waste – I wonder if that waste is ever noticed by the boss, client in a negative way (presuming that the amount of food initially ordered was “normal”). Between the “leftovers are gross” and cultures where doggie bags are seen as very juvenille/not done – is the better assumption to not take leftovers in cases in a more formal business setting?

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Yeah, and I think that’s the thinking behind the guidance not to take leftovers at client lunches or if you have a more formal relationship with your boss.

  7. Matt

    I once had a boss scold me for starting to leave the restaurant without taking my leftovers. I obeyed and quickly got a box from the waiter (even though I was leaving the dish because I didn’t like it). She is a very seasoned professional, well-known and respected in our company.

    1. Anonymous

      I think this is a cultural and generational thing: Some people just think it’s a sin to “waste” perfectly good food while others think leftovers are disgusting. It all depends on who you’re with and if they have the courage to speak up about taking the food (or not).

      1. Eric

        My boyfriend is one of those people that hates to waste food. I’ve found him munching away on two-week old pasta before. He’ll cook me dinner and eat leftovers. I find it weird but funny.

        1. Sascha

          I had a friend that would make food one day a week and eat on it all week, but the really gross part was that he would leave the food out on the counter instead of putting it in the fridge. So pot of rice on the counter for a week. He had a very robust immune system.

          1. Amanda

            I did that when I was in Peace Corps. Not for a week, but definitely until the next day or day after.

            I did have a refrigerator available in my host family’s house but it was always so full I felt guilty using it for anything more than a bottle of water or a container of yogurt.

            1. the gold digger

              I discovered when I was in the Peace Corps and did not have a refrigerator for my first year that a turkey can be left out overight and not kill 24 people. I also discovered that opened yogurt does not have to be refrigerated.

              1. Jessa

                Yoghurt and foods like it were developed in places with less refrigeration available to preserve dairy foods.

              2. ThatGirl

                I did a study abroad in Mexico and it blew me away that the local grocery store (and my host family) did not refrigerate eggs.
                Many years later that still boggles my mind.

                1. the gold digger

                  They didn’t refrigerate them in Chile, either. I have read that it is something to do with if the shells are washed and stripped of some protective coating?

                2. Elizabeth West

                  If the shells are NOT washed, then you don’t technically have to refrigerate them. They keep longer if you do, though.

                  Disclaimer: used to raise chickens

                3. Emma

                  My father informed me that eggs weren’t refrigerated in his house because he lived in pre-electrified Ireland (as in, prior to the rural areas being connected to the grid…not that Ireland is currently spasming from shock!). I visited my family there recently and they leave the butter in a dish in the cupboard all day, only refrigerating it at night. Of course I suppose one of the reasons you’d turn milk into butter, yogurt, cheese, etc. is to give it a longer shelf-life.

  8. Sascha

    Interesting topic. I grew up in Texas, so I’ve grown up with huge servings at restaurants, and taking leftovers is very acceptable, even in business settings. I would probably not take leftovers if I was meeting a client (like OP said) or doing a lunch interview, simply because I don’t want the hassle, but also I don’t want to stuff myself stupid and look like I’m just there for the food. In those situations, I would order something small and light to avoid leftovers entirely.

    In this case, I really don’t get why it’s so bad to take the leftovers, especially in light of the coworker ordering tons of food and not eating it, and also not being sensitive to everyone’s time. Sometimes restaurants take a while and you can’t control that, but I would not have suggested dessert after seeing how long it was taking with everything else.

    1. Kelly O

      Agreed.

      I prefer to get a lunch portion if it’s at all possible, but I have no problem in getting a box for leftovers. Fortunately I’ve never been in a position where it was not appropriate to the environment. (Although trust me, there was a time I could absolutely demolish those larger meals.)

      For me, the admin made the bigger mistake in going on about it. Even if she had any say in the matter, a brief comment would have sufficed (the lunch was over, leftovers already with the OP. As Olenna Redwyne would say, once the cow’s been milked, there’s no squirting the cream back up her udder. (Thank you, George R. R. Martin for that one. It has come in quite handy.)

  9. EnnVeeEl

    I don’t think the OP did anything wrong. I think the admin should mind her own business and do her job. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t include lecturing people on their table manners.

    As for the coworker ordering the most expensive meal, it’s tacky, but what can you do? I probably wouldn’t say anything about that.

    1. Kristi

      But as far as the steak, her boss told the dept (of four, mind you) to order whatever they wanted. If there was a dollar limit, she should have said otherwise. And it just doesn’t sound like the boss had an issue, this is all coming from the Admin.

      1. Cat

        I feel like if people are ordering entrees, a steak isn’t crazy out-of-line unless it’s significantly more expensive than anything else. But ordering a side of fries and then not touching them is weird. I think everyone understand if you don’t finish them, but just taking them all home does sort of imply you wanted a free (second) meal.

        1. EnnVeeEl

          Right Cat. It seemed like the other coworker (not the OP) ordered food to specifically save for later, not ordering food and then not being able to eat it all. And even if someone at work says “Order whatever you want!” that doesn’t give you a pass to order the most expensive thing or a lot of something.

          1. Liz in a library

            Yep. That’s how it reads to me too. That’s really the issue, not the leftovers.

            1. Kristi

              But its not “Order whatever you want” every week/month. Its specifically holiday thing, or “thanks for doing such a great job, the company appreciates you” thing. And if I’m the boss, I’m really not going to care if you take leftovers home or about a $5 dessert. What do I care if you ate in front of me or at home? I’m sure he/she has better things to worry about.

      2. KellyK

        I think “order whatever you want” is one of those polite phrases that isn’t always meant to be taken at face value. (Much like the expected response to “How are you?” is “Fine, thanks. And you?” rather than an actual answer.)

        Granted, I think anyone who uses those polite phrases is taking the risk that someone *will* take them literally.

        1. Jamie

          Yes. Like others I once had a co-worker who would delight in ordering huge amounts of food and congratulate himself on having dinner for the night. This was not an entry level employee and he was making a large enough salary that the unabashed glee at getting two free meals for the price of one was glaring.

          My employers pay for lunch a couple of times a week – they tell you where and if you’re interested fine and if not, no pressure…but I always say thank you and I’m surprised that I’m still one of the few who do. Just because something happens with regularity doesn’t mean it should be expected – it’s a nice gesture and should be acknowledged as such each time. Pet peeve.

          1. tcookson

            I always say “thank you” too; I think sometimes people forget that things like this aren’t just an institutional perk of the job, but are kindnesses to them from real, actual people. This is true even if the event is funded with company money; the bosses don’t have to decide to spend the money that way, and the fact that they do should be acknowledged and appreciated.

          2. KellyK

            Totally agree. Any time someone’s doing something nice for you, a thank-you is required.

  10. Tiff

    Put me on the Waste Not, Want Not team. Taking leftovers is cool, especially if you’re like me and can’t really eat a whole lot in one sitting.

    As for ordering the most expensive meal…I only do that on dates. Which may explain why my husband only takes me out once every 3 months.

  11. Kim

    I just had an informal interview lunch, where leftovers came up and I didn’t know what to do, but it sounds like I did it wrong! I ordered a dish which came in two halves, and Inonly ate half of it. When it was time to go, the waiter asked me if I wanted a box. I wasn’t sure what ti do, I didn’t want to seem gauche as AAM says, but I didn’t want to seem wasteful either, especially since I am in a field that focuses on sustainability! I ended up taking a box, but I felt pretty dumb, especially because they gave me a tour of thier office afterward and I had to wander around with it!

    1. Amanda

      You may have been fine. I’ve noticed that the non-profit field is very pro-leftovers, so I think I may vary depending on field.

      1. Rana

        Agreed. I’ve seen that in academia too. It’s pretty funny when you see a bunch of senior professors “mooching” the remains of a buffet. (One gets trained in the art of leftover scavenging early on in grad school, and it’s a really hard habit to break.)

  12. Amanda

    Alison-would you say conventions around taking leftovers vary depending on fields? I’ve noticed in the non-profit world that after events like group lunches and parties, the organizers practically shove leftovers at employees and volunteers.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      It wouldn’t surprise me at all. There are some fields where you’re expected to project a sort of powerful/well-off image, which for some people taking home leftovers would be at odds with. (Not that taking home leftovers should be at odds with that image, but image is a weird thing.)

      1. KayDay

        This is very true. I used to meet up with a friend to eat our brown bag lunches (or sometime other take-away lunches) outside, and she informed me that it was generally frowned upon for mid-level and above people to do that, because they wanted their clients to think that they were (a) making enough money that they didn’t need to bring lunch, (b) out entertaining a client at a fancy restaurant, and/or (c) too busy to eat. It all seemed ridiculous to me, and I was glad I didn’t work at her office.

      2. OP

        It’s interesting that you should mention this. A friend was recently telling me about how his office always orders a ton of food, and it’s unclear if anyone takes the leftovers home. He works at a small hedge fund where meals are provided for everyone. Some of these people have had Ferraris shipped to the office and are clearly obsessed with projecting a powerful image, so I can’t imagine them taking the leftovers home. I asked my friend if he has ever packed up the leftovers, and he felt it would be too awkward to do so.

        1. Zahra

          Could they at least call a non-profit that caters to homeless people instead of throwing it away? I mean, hedge funds have such a bad image with the general public, that it could be a good move.

          1. Kat M

            I know a couple of places like this that save the leftovers for people like the night cleaning and security staff. So the food is still eaten by employees but nobody in a hoity-toity position loses face.

          2. Jamie

            That’s problematic in a lot of areas. We had our wedding catered by a local restaurant and ordered much too much so called some places because we had trays of stuff unopened and untouched…they couldn’t take it because it didn’t come directly from a restaurant, but a private home.

            I see the logic – but it was sad to see all that food wasted.

    2. COT

      Yeah, I think nonprofits recognize that most folks make modest salaries, and their interns/volunteers/AmeriCorps folks are getting paid little to nothing to be there. When I was doing my full-time volunteer year, my coworkers always made sure that leftovers got sent my way, and my housemates and I found it a thoughtful little gesture.

      1. Amanda

        Plus, a lot of non-profits promote sustainability and making the best use of minimal resources to the people they are trying to serve (not to mention bragging about low overhead costs). So it would seem hypocritical to throw away leftovers.

    3. Brett

      It definitely varies a lot. In the public sector, it is verboten (sometimes illegal) to even have your meal paid for, whether by a vendor, a superior, or a co-worker, much less take home leftovers.

      When the boss does take us out for lunch, each employee _must_ pay for their own meal. We make an informal exception for retirement meals, because, well, they’ll be gone by the time the ethics violation catches up to them.

  13. Lily in NYC

    What we have here is a very special type of person – the admin on a power trip. I am an executive assistant and come across these types all the time in my job. There’s just a weird breed of assistant that think they are the arbiter of other people’s behavior in the office. I have a vindictive streak and depending on the relationship with my boss, might mention it to him in an offhand, no-big-deal kind of way- sort of like – “hey, I just wanted to make sure you are ok with my taking home leftovers because I was taken aback when Admin ripped me to shreds for doing so.” That way you are letting him know what happened without tattling.

    1. SW

      I’m also an EA, and I would have totally done the same thing. This job has helped me perfect my “Oh, just so you know…” tone.

      1. Jessa

        Yes. if the admin had a point because they were the finance admin, the point should have been made (as mentioned above) in a policy statement about $x per lunch, $y per this type of dinner, etc. Not as a snark against a specific employee.

  14. OP

    Alison and AAM readers,
    Thanks for taking the time to respond to my question! I realize this is a trivial matter compared to some of the other topics discussed on this blog, but this has been bugging me ever since I ran into the admin after lunch.

    I’m normally pro-leftovers as I hate seeing food go to waste, but I wasn’t entirely clear on what the business norm is as this is one of my first job out of school. Thanks for filling me in!

    1. Sascha

      I don’t think it’s trivial, it helps to talk about these subtle things that go on in the working world. Also I think it’s just fascinating sociologically.

    2. Anonymous

      Not trivial at all, workplace etiquette is just as important as being on time for work or not completing work correctly, IMO. Thanks for bring it up!

    3. Elizabeth West

      Most questions people think are silly or trivial almost always seem to have other people wondering the same thing and afraid to pipe up! So ask away! :)

  15. Hannah

    If it is an in office thing, I suggest offering leftovers to interns, apprentices or younger folks who probably need them more than those with experienced salaries do. Even if I go out and come back with leftovers, I will put them in the fridge and let the interns know it is there, first come, first serve. I know when I was in my early 20s, I would’ve been thrilled to not have to buy lunch one day or eat my leftover pasta and try something from a restaurant I couldn’t afford.

    1. Rana

      Yup. There were a number of days in grad school when we were grateful that we got the leftovers from various faculty functions.

      (Within reason, of course. It’s one thing to set out the leftover cheese and crackers; it’s another thing entirely if it’s some moldy gunk that got forgotten in the faculty fridge.)

    2. Lindsay J

      Yes, I loved it when my boss at one of my jobs did this. She was the type that didn’t believe in leftovers for herself (or donating items to charity, but that’s another post) but she would box the meal and bring it back for me and the office manager to enjoy. That meant I could save my lunch money for the day to buy a little treat when I needed one.

    3. glennis

      Regarding leftovers from functions – I worked in a very busy meeting facility. We were asked to make an exception to our policy for a very connected client, and booked two meetings back to back in the same room on a very busy day. Our crews were required to make a set-up changeover in a very short period of time to accommodate both meetings.

      The client was also very casual about providing us with her set-up requirements, so it was difficult to plan the changeover. But oddly, every time she communicated with me, she kept mentioning that it would be OK for our crews to eat the leftovers from their brunch meeting. She mentioned this several times.

      I found it really insulting, actually – we were trying to get information about the work we had to do so that we could do the best possible job for both customers – the “connected” one and our regular customer – and she thought that our crews could be mollified by the thought of free food.

  16. jennie

    I always observe the norm of ordering like my host, but I’ve worked with people who order as much as they can when the company’s paying and even one who would order a beer at lunch even though we’re not allowed to expense alcohol. My boss at the time didn’t refuse him and just complained about it afterwards.

    1. Ms Enthusiasm

      I think there can also be a difference depending if the boss is paying out of his own pocket or if he is using the company credit card. I’m not saying it is right to go overboard in either case but it might influence me a little bit. I work for a large corporation and know they would have no trouble paying the lunch/dinner bill (again within reason). But if I know my boss is paying out of pocket I’ll definitely be more aware of prices so not to spend too much.

  17. Angelina Retta

    Maybe people should stop saying “get whatever you want” if they don’t really mean it.

    1. fposte

      I think even people who mean it don’t mean “for the rest of your week as well as today,” though. Same as they don’t mean “including a car, if there’s one for sale in the lot.” And it sounds like the OP’s boss did mean it–it’s just the admin who got exercised about.

    2. AB

      Perhaps they need to be more explicit and say,

      “Get whatever you want AND can reasonably expect to eat here, as opposed to food to bring home untouched to eat for dinner.”

      1. Jessa

        The problem is a cultural one here. Etiquette states one should order in the area of what the host does. Period. If the host is in the 40 buck range, then 35-45 bucks is good, unless the host specifically recommends something highly pricey as in “Oh, I don’t like lobster myself, but I’m told it’s great here if you like it.” Same with type of booze and amount.

        Some people have been raised not knowing this. No matter how the host phrases it “have what you want,” without addendum is likely meant to be “within reason, and comparable to everyone else here,” and NO that does not mean asking if you can have the lobster if it’s not offered, because etiquette also says they shouldn’t say NO to a guest.

    3. ThatGirl

      That expression is in the same vein as ‘my house is your house’, it means you should feel comfortable and welcome while you are a guest in my home. It doesn’t mean rearrange all of my furniture and/or paint my walls a different color.

      1. Lindsay J

        I was thinking of this one myself, or “You’re welcome back any time,” which certainly doesn’t mean to show up with no invite at 3AM.

  18. Tekoa

    On a topic totally unrelated to this…

    I just sent the Askamanager link to my mother who is applying for a job as a preschool teacher after working for 17+ years at the same daycare. She’s aware a lot of things have changed but doesn’t know where to start. Like, I had to explain to her that resumes are no longer printed on expensive paper and handed out in person. Or what a cover letter is. I’m working with Mom so she won’t accidently become The Clueless Applicant. Thank you Alison for helping me help my Mom. ^_^

  19. Brton3

    I’m not sure why the taking of the leftovers is controversial. In a larger sense, would it have been better to let them be thrown out? I mean, waste not want not, right? I would think it a little rude to have left the leftovers behind.

  20. Sara

    Interesting….not sure if this has been brought up but I feel like playing Devils’ advocate here so to speak. I have a feeling I would be *THAT* coworker.

    I’m pro leftovers, but at the same time, I HATE carrying food around. The only time I’ve been in such situations is with friends or family, and if someone insists I take leftovers, I don’t see anything wrong with doing so.

    Maybe the coworker would have normally ordered something that expensive and didn’t order with the intent that “Hey, boss is paying for it!”? And didn’t think anything was wrong with asking if anyone wanted to split dessert? Because if someone else says “Order whatever you want!” I can totally imagine ordering….literally whatever I want, whether it was cheap or on the mid-higher level. Also, asking “Does anyone want to split dessert” but just not realize if I breached any etiquette and in fact, if no one ever mentioned it to me, I would continue to think I had done nothing wrong.

    I don’t know–I used to think being professional was simple but the more I read on AAM and experiencing at work myself, it just seems so sooo soooo complicated. It’s easy to learn from mistakes but then when certain situations are presented to you and there’s no time to think or act carefully…..what then?
    Like, I read this now and I know if I’m ever in this situation in the future I will: order something that I can easily finish, try to order after others so I can take their cue and order something similar, not be the first one to bring up splitting dessert…..but then God knows, something else may come up where I’d make a huge blunder….

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Thinking about this, a lot of this stuff can actually be picked up in etiquette books, which I know might sound like an old-fashioned idea, but I used to read them all the time just for fun and they really do teach you a lot of this. Get a modern one — like a late-edition Emily Post or Miss Manners.

      1. Sara

        Yeah? I’ll check those out then!

        Do you think workplace etiquette is totally different from regular social etiquette? I mean are there things that would be OK in a social context totally NOT OK in a workplace context? I kind of get the big, obvious things, but it’s always the small, subtle, seemingly minor things (but aren’t really that minor to others?) that throw me off.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Yeah, I do think there are some differences, but knowing most of the etiquette stuff will still give you a good foundation for office stuff. Plus, it’s just interesting to read — I have a bunch that I’ve just read for fun, because it’s interesting. Some of them are set up like advice columns — readers’ letters and the answers, which I like.

          1. Jessa

            Post does a business etiquette book, and you can Google specifically business etiquette to get information. You can also check out a number of business sites that have specific info about foreign country etiquette if you’re going over on business.

          2. Elizabeth West

            You know what’s really fun? The super old ones, like from the Victorian age. I have several of those and they are HILARIOUS.

            Sometimes the advice (especially for babies) makes me cringe; I want to go back in time and shake them* and say “No, no, you can’t do that! That’s dangerous!”

            *shake the authors, not the babies

            1. tcookson

              I love reading the really old ones for the advice on how to run a household when it was common to have live-in servants. They read as if everyone has a butler, a cook, and a housekeeper and the advice is for the lady of the house on how to properly manage them all.

        2. Anonymous

          Yes, here’s an example from a trip to Europe in a male-dominated field. The Europeans that I wok with don’t seem to understand the difference, but it’s pretty obvious to me.

          I (female, junior staff) was on a trip with my manager (male, senior staff). We met a German that we were doing business with. The boss knows this German pretty well. The boss greets the German and extends his hand for a handshake.

          The German very deliberately ignores my boss’s hand and turns away from my boss, towards me. He insists on greeting me and shaking my hand first (so I do, to end the awkwardness as quickly and quietly as possible). Then he turns back to my boss and shakes the boss’s hand.

          To me, business etiquette would dictate you greet senior staff first. At minimum, you respond promptly to someone else greeting you, and you don’t place junior staff in an awkward position relative to their boss. Old-fashioned social etiquette would be the only thing that dictates greeting the woman before the man. I would hope modern social etiquette is more gender-neutral and would instead go by familiarity or age or something.

          1. Jessa

            The problem with this is that different countries are at different places on what an American for instance would consider “modern.” In some cultures it’s women first, in some it’s oldest, in some it’s who greets you first or who is senior in rank. And in MOST places social etiquette informs business etiquette hugely.

          2. Jen in RO

            I was really surprised to travel recently (on the Romanian national airline) and get served before the guy next to me. In my experience the flight attendants serve food starting with the window seat, but in this case they served it: window seat (woman), aisle seat (me – woman) and middle seat (man). It was a bit odd, but also pleasant in an old-fashioned way.

    2. ThatGirl

      not be the first one to bring up splitting dessert

      I don’t think the issue was that she asked to split a dessert but that she ordered a bunch of food (soup, steak, and fries) that she didn’t finish then wanted a dessert.

      That seemed greedy to me which in turn made her action tacky. In my mind, if you are too full to finish your main meal then you don’t have room for dessert.

      1. Sara

        That’s a different way to look at it that hadn’t occurred to me–
        then again, and again in a social context–there’s always room for dessert!

        eeeesh, im scared to think of all the tacky things I’ve done. :(

  21. Chocolate Teapot

    At my old job, I used to be part of the stampede after reception had emailed that there was a leftover meeting buffet to be consumed. Mind you, that used to be smoked salmon and parma ham.

    At my current job, when we order in lunch for meetings, there is usually enough for leftovers, except on one occasion, and various co-workers (who have nothing to do with the meetings except for eating leftover sandwiches) complained that we didn’t have as many leftovers!

    There are some small pots of cherry tomato, mozzarella and pesto salad which I have taken home at the end of the day before. I find that they make good pasta sauce.

  22. KVM

    I work in higher education, administratively – you won’t believe what goes on.

    Very often, our most senior VP will provide lunch for our unit of 100+ staff – and there are a few individuals (one of my direct reports included) who will box up the leftovers to take home. LIke, a shopping bag full.

    Also, semi-annually, we’ll have a Division-wide event – holiday party, town hall meeting type thing, which is basically our seven story building’s worth of staff. These will be off-site, and catered. The same staff from my department will box up those leftovers as well. They have NO PROBLEM walking out with boxes of food in front of the most senior of executive management.

    The mind, it reels.

  23. Ed

    I experienced this once when a new manager took our department out to lunch. We went to a Chinese/Japanese restaurant near the office. My team ordered basic stuff like fried rice or sweet and sour whatever but the younger guys from the helpdesk all ordered sushi. Their tabs were $60-70 each and they thought it was hilarious. Of course, the older people there understood our boss couldn’t say anything about it but he was clearly not happy to be turning in that bill on his expense report. Obviously, we never went out as a department again but my team was still taken out occasionally.

  24. Oxford Comma

    I’ve never thought about this before. Usually the servers ask if you’d like your leftovers boxed up. If it’s been especially formal or if I’ve been interviewing, or if it’s just inconvenient to take something, I’ve declined, but otherwise? Yeah, I’ve always taken it home. Interesting points raised as usual and the comments have given me something to think about.

  25. Louis

    Most of the places I worked, taking leftover from a business lunch home would be seens as inappropriate.

    On time, when i was woking in France, a consultant did ask for leftover and was ridiculed behind his back for weeks.

    In Quebec, in the IT field, I’ve seen anyone ask for them. Most people wouldn’t care, but it would look wierd.

    I’ve heard it’s more commun in the US .

    I guess it a cultural thing that has to be evaludated on a workplace by workplace basis.

    You can probably apply a sort of leftover Pascal’s wager… Maybe leftover are ok, maybe they aren’t but you are pretty sure that no one will have anything to say if you don’t take leftover home.

    1. Elizabeth West

      You’re right; it varies from place to place, even here in the U.S. It’s more common here, because restaurant portions are much larger than anyone can eat at once. I’ve eaten with international who say how surprised they are at the amount of food they are given, and are they really expected to eat ALL of that?

      1. Oxford Comma

        Well, and is it less awkward/gauche when the server is actively asking if you would like to take it home?

  26. rw

    Whenever I’ve taken my teams out, I’ve always made a point to ask for my leftovers to be boxed, both to show that it’s okay and because I don’t like waste. My bosses are the same way.

    Regarding prices, I always order a club sandwich for its convenience, but tell the others, “Management’s willing to cover $X per person, so order what you like up to that.” (Yes, in some cases I’m the “management” being referred to, but they don’t know that and phrasing it this way avoids awkwardness)

    1. Lindsay J

      I like this phrasing. It makes everything explicitly clear without being accusatory or putting anyone on the spot. I hate eating out when anyone else is covering the bill because I never know what is appropriate and what is not (I know to look to the host as a general rule but sometimes you don’t know what they will order until they actually order and then if I’m next I feel put on the spot, plus I don’t know what is appropriately close in price – $2? $5? – so I usually wind up choosing the least expensive entree on the menu).

  27. nyxalinth

    Wow. So many little pitfalls in the office setting world. I’ve never really considered myself to be the traditional office setting sort, though. I don’t mean the getting too much thing, I mean whether or not taking home leftovers would be frowned upon. I would not have guessed such a thing.

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