my boss has banned hot take-out food at lunch

A reader writes:

I work as an administrator in a sales office with a lot of unspoken rules, varying from black shirts being banned from the dress code (“it looks like you work in a phone shop”) to all staff must attend mandatory month-end events and splash a large amount of money on alcohol, despite different salary levels and commitments.

One of the new rules that have come into place is absolutely no hot take-away food. I can imagine this would work fantastically for an office surrounded by a variety of places to pick up less offensive, lack of greasy food. However we are essentially in the middle of nowhere. The closest places to grab lunch are a fish and chip shop, a “dirty chicken” shop (I wouldn’t even class it as food; it makes KFC look gourmet), and a butchers/sandwich shop that opens while we are not allowed to leave the office and closes before I can even step foot outside for my break. Anything that staff could get to with their vehicles would make them completely go over their allocated lunches and is a huge no-no in our company.

The reason for the rule is a combination of the director wanting a healthier office (he’s joined the gym and gotten a bit into shape) and wanting no offensive odors from takeaways. It’s started to border on bullying as one person who was absent last week popped out and picked up a breaded chicken wrap. The director saw the bag and well…went a bit mad to say the least. The rule was loudly reiterated and a few backhanded comments about rising obesity within the company.

A lot of people are very angry. A lot of staff feel very belittled and treated like children in regards to some of the rules already in place. I’m lucky in the sense that I have different hours from the rest of my colleagues (standard 9-5 job) so I have time to swing by a nice deli near my home before work.

A few things have cropped up:

* I’m seen as a voice on the shoulder to the managing director and unofficial HR, so a lot of the staff (even senior management!) are asking me to try and bring it up with him to persuade him to change his mind.

* Unofficially the idea is being thrown about by the managing director and senior management that I do a lunch-run before work, which I’m extremely unhappy about. I don’t drive so I’d have to struggle with 13+ people’s lunches on foot. A few colleagues who have excellent working relationships will on the odd occasion ask me to grab a couple of things, which I’m happy to do (and the favour is returned in and outside of work). There is an unspoken statement that hey, if I do it for those two people, why not the whole office?

What would you recommend as a diplomatic way to go about this? I can’t really put into words how angry this has made staff here. This new rule has tipped the scales and there is a lot of grumbling this morning. And it’s made me download a few cooking book apps for making my lunch before work!

It’s not crazy to have guidelines about particularly strong-smelling food, or eating in areas frequented by customers. But if he’s really just banning all hot take-out food because of his own desire to be healthier, that’s not really reasonable, especially in an office where your lunch options are as limited as you describe.

It sounds like your boss is confused about rules he’d like in place for himself (eating healthier) and what he can reasonably push on other people without being overbearing.

I think your best bet here is to talk to him as a group and explain that the rule is overly onerous — that the office is located in an area with limited lunch options and that unless he wants to authorize you all spending a lot longer at lunch so that you can eat elsewhere, it’s putting you in a difficult spot.

If you know from experience that he’ll respond better to this coming from you than from a group, that’s fine too — but in general, presenting this as “this has become an office-wide concern” (if you can say that accurately and with the permission of others) can have more of an impact.

As for the idea of you doing a pre-work lunch run, just say no. You could point out that you don’t have a car and thus it would be way too much of a burden, or that you don’t have time in the morning before arriving at work, or that you don’t want to be in the position of juggling people’s orders and dealing with their money, or even just that getting lunch is an individual responsibility, not something that you’re willing to take on for the entire group.

Your bigger problem, though, might be that you’re working for a small organization run by a dude who sounds like he doesn’t understand what is and isn’t appropriate for him to control (and the fact that people’s weight, diets, and alcohol expenditures fall in the latter category).

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 337 comments… read them below }

  1. Hlyssande*

    Wow, what a crappy thing to push on to workers, in addition to all the other things mentioned (forced spending on food and alcohol every month? NOPE). It might be a little different if there were actually viable food options nearby, but I wouldn’t be happy with that either, personally.

    If he’d like to get a nice cold lunch catered in every day, that might be a solution…as long as it meets everyone’s dietary requirements every time. If they’ve decided to police what people are eating so closely, they might as well provide approved food every day (still must meet all dietary requirements/have alternate options).

    1. grasshopper*

      Definitely agree that if he insists on certain food, then he should provide it. And in that case, it should be brought in by the caterers/restaurant/shop, not by someone going to pick it up.

      The price tag for the boss footing the bill for the food service might make him change the policy!

    2. Muriel Heslop*

      My first boss insisted we all eat the catered lunch he provided for us, every day. We could NOT bring our own lunch. It was nice for a while but I really got sick of variations of the same thing for months on end. Huge budget saver, though.

      1. Mabel*

        I worked at a small financial firm for several months in the mid ’90s, and they had lunch brought in every day. It was a variety of things (salad, cold cuts, pasta salad, some hot food, etc.), and people would go in the kitchen and get what they wanted. There was also soda, juice, snacks, etc. available all the time. What I didn’t realize when I took the job was that this meant we were supposed to work through lunch. This aspect of the job turned out to not be too bad (I did personal business and Internet browsing or reading while eating at my desk), but not being able to take a break at lunch on a regular basis is something you should tell a prospective employee about so they can factor that into their decision about taking the job.

        1. S*

          My current company does a variation of this. We have a fully stocked kitchen (breakfast foods, sandwich ingredients, canned soups, microwaveable mac and cheese, etc), and catered lunches once a week, but it’s an unspoken rule that if you’re planning on making food from the kitchen or taking advantage of the catered lunch day, also be prepared to work through the hour.

    3. Alter_ego*

      I have a loooooooooooooooooooot of food allergies. I would love to see a boss attempt to accommodate them all, with a cold lunch, which would absolutely make it harder to for me to eat.

      1. Mabel*

        Me, too. I used to just say that I’m allergic to wheat, but that didn’t work out because I would be given alternative food that I also couldn’t eat. So now I just say that it’s a really long and boring list and that I’ll figure something out. I really appreciate it when people try to accommodate everyone, but I’d almost rather just deal with it myself and eat salad if necessary (and then eat more when I get home if I need to). But that wouldn’t work as a daily solution to not having what I needed for lunch.

        1. JB*

          Oh, man, the nice people who try so hard to accommodate you, only to be shot down every time. I so appreciate them, but I end up feeling guilty that their efforts get them nowhere. I want to say “No, thanks, I have food allergies” and then hand them a piece of paper that says “I’m sorry! You can’t help me! Please don’t try!”

          1. Anonsie*

            And no matter how many times you say “No really, you don’t need to feed me, it’s difficult and I’m fine taking care of myself” some people will not stop trying to feed you and then get so hurt when you keep having to tell them no. Then you’re the jerk who can’t be accommodated. Woo.

            1. JB*

              Right? I hate that feeling. And, if there are other people around, knowing that they are bored to tears listening to the back and forth–that’s also a great feeling.

              People who try are fantastic. People who won’t let it go when you’ve said no, and then you feel like a horrible person who doesn’t want to be helped, that’s not so great.

              1. beckythetechie*

                Sounds like smelling someone else’s chips or fried chicken will take him “off the wagon” so he’s covering his own ass by being one.

                But, on the same line, it’s not your job to protect or take care of the whole office. Sounds like time for one of those senior officers you mentioned to talk to your (collective) boss on behalf of everyone in the office unnecessarily put out by his sudden decision to be the food police.

          2. Connie-Lynne*

            I have a friend who keeps all of her food sensitivities on a web page, which she will link to you if you’re willing to try it. It is long and involved, but in the end it boils down to, no citrus, no gluten, no nitrates in meat, and for gods’ sake be cognizant of cross-contamination.

            She’s always happy to either have you run a menu past her _or_ to bring her own food to parties.

            I really like that she just has a list I can check. The negotiation back-and-forth with people who have long lists of dietary restrictions is not comfortable on either side, and her list eliminates that.

            1. JB*

              That is a great idea! I would try something like that if my friends and family could be trusted to read ingredient labels, but sadly, most of them don’t. I always bring my own food to get-togethers.

              And the fact that you really like that she has a list you can check? That means you are willing to check the list to see if you can accommodate her. I hope she appreciates that!

              1. Jessa*

                I went to a very good friend’s house and she was cooking something and I asked her about the sauce (allergic to mustard, so big deal,) and she’s all “Oh I checked it.” And I happen to pick it up right after she sloshes it all over all of the chicken (the main part of the meal) and lo and behold she cannot read. Regrettably I no longer trust people to have read the label. I can’t afford it. Unless the person in question is cooking from scratch themselves, I just have to see the bottles now.

                Not to mention the fellow workers (there were two of them, one with devilled eggs, and one with quiche) who every year I’d remind them and before I ate any I’d ask, and they’d forgotten yet again to leave it off. Now if you don’t want to that’s fine, but stop promising me every darned Christmas potlatch that you’re gonna make something I can eat.

              2. Connie-Lynne*

                She does — but hey, we’ve been friends for 15 years so it’s a small enough adjustment for me.

                I also enjoy the challenge of making sure I can fit everyone’s dietary whatevers in and still provide a satisfactory meal for everyone. Among the odd jobs I took when young was running my own professional kitchen in a nightclub (ah, the glamorous world of the theater), so she can also trust me to actually check and understand the labels. It makes it fun for both of us.

              3. I'm a Little Teapot*

                I only have one food sensitivity – tomatoes – but had a huge yelling argument with my mother when she was really insulted that I wouldn’t eat the red, obviously tomato-ey rice dish she served at dinner. She swore that there were no tomatoes in it, there couldn’t possibly be, she’d read the label. I didn’t believe her and read it for myself. “Tomatoes” were the second ingredient, right after “rice.” She didn’t apologize, and remained insulted and huffy.

                I’ve never trusted her to read a label since. I always read the ingredients on everything she puts in my food.

                Strangely, my mother is usually a very kind, considerate, accommodating person. She just has this one bizarre blind spot.

                1. Katriona*

                  Are we long-lost sisters? Right around the time I discovered I couldn’t tolerate cheese, my mother apparently discovered a thousand new ways to cook with it (she rarely did before). Three years later and she still gets offended every time I won’t eat something that’s been smothered in the stuff.

        2. JB*

          Sometimes I have to even turn down bottled water, and people look at you like you’re crazy for that one. And trying to explain that technically I’m not allergic to that food item you are offering me, but it was probably processed in a way that makes it a no for me, it’s just too much. It makes people who are naturally considerate feel terrible that they can’t help you out, so I usually just say that I’m not hungry.

        3. Emily*

          I have a wheat (not gluten) intolerance, and there’s been this interesting transition over the last few years. Suddenly, wheat-free options are everywhere and the servers at restaurants get it the first time I tell them I don’t want any bread/sauce/beer/croutons/whatever (yay)! But right on the heels of this explosion of choices came this backlash from people without dietary restrictions whose reactions to being told I have a wheat allergy range from skepticism to ridicule.

          I’m not terribly sensitive to cross-contamination – my jaw might get itchy and I might have a little bit of gas but that’s it – so now I’ve reached the point where unless it’s absolutely necessary for me to disclose my allergy, I just say, “No thank you.” I’m tired of my allergies being a topic of conversation, and I’m tired of the assumption that I’m the one who wants to be talking about it when everyone else are the ones always asking about it.

      2. Hlyssande*

        Part of my hope was that he’d find it way too hard to be able to meet everyone’s needs and give up on the whole thing. :(

    4. Anonymous Ninja*

      I worked for a small business that bought us lunch every day! The owner picked the place, we got to order anything off the menu and he paid for it. One of the admin’s did have to pick it up though. But yeah, the owner wanted us in the building throughout lunch, so that was the solution (we were also paid for lunch).

    5. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      It’s super nuts that the boss has decided that it’s any of his business how much his employees weigh… but is pressuring them to consume alcoholic beverages, which are just about the definition of empty calories.

      (To be clear: I think drinking, except to excess, is a totally fine choice for adults to make. But “You can’t eat those chips!” and “You have to drink this beer!” are messages completely at odds with each other.)

      1. JB*

        Right? Alcohol is not known for being low on calories and high on nutrition. Lots of deliciousness, not so much on the vitamins.

      2. Jane Elliot*

        I think I know the answer. I may be wrong, but I think it’s because the boss is in the UK, and he’s being classist. Probably inadvertantly. Being overweight is a sign of being lower class there.

        No takeaway greasy food… because greasy takeaway food is a sign of lower class. No black shirts because they “make you look like you work in a phone shop.” And working in a phone shop is a sign of being lower class, right, OP?

        The UK has different standards of class than the US. He wants you to have food from a higher class store, like Sainsburys or something, right?

        1. Sarah in DC*

          I’m not disagreeing that the UK has different standards of class, I don’t know if it does, but both of those things are associated with class in the US as well. Low income people generally have restricted access to healthy food and there are a host of other reasons they are more likely to be overweight (working multiple jobs so limited time to prepare healthy food, exercise, and get adequate sleep, high stress, inconsistent access to food at all). Working in a phone store is likely to be a minimum wage type job and isn’t generally considered a “career job” by many people in the US. Does everyone in the US make these assumptions? Of course not, but they are definitely there.

          1. Jane Elliot*

            Right, just saying the connection the boss is making between these weird things is class. But in the UK, class is a *huge* deal.

            I have a friend who’s overweight and who moved to the UK and who gets screamed at almost every day on the street, horrible abuse “you cow!” and words I can’t write here. She won’t ride public transit there because of the horrible things screamed at her.

            1. Jez*

              I live here, I am overweight, and I have a really hard time believing it’s as huge a problem as you’re making out. We’re not that horrible a place.

              Class is a big issue, yes. Just as much as it is for the US, though.

              1. Jane Elliot*

                Hey, I’m not saying the UK is a horrible place at all; there are wonderful things about it and wonderful people.

                There are horrible things about America, too. Neither is a utopia. For one, we tend to see race and discriminate on race much differently than the UK. They have a history of class based discrimination, the US has a history of race based discrimination, because of the history of slavery, which the US never had. Reading some books about how this system evolved and why is important. (Malaria causing mass deaths in the south, requiring the import of slave labor from Africa, the natives dying in such great numbers they weren’t considered suitable for slaves). Try Charles C. Mann, 1493.

                Even books like Harry Potter try and reference the “class discrimination” in the UK through metaphor, which drew through the UK through the 20th century and continues; wizards vs. muggles is just Rowling’s way of referencing people’s way of discriminating from the powerful to the powerless (those with money and technology to those without.) You can even find it referenced in Dr. Who and Torchwood, if you look. The same way if you look in American culture you can find plenty of references to our long and ugly history of racism which continues today… as anyone paying attention to the news lately has noticed, I’m sure. Ferguson? Eric Garner? Black lives matter?

                Not that one is any better than the other, it’s just different.

              2. Artemesia*

                No opinion about being overweight in the UK but I do remember an incident when my daughter and I were visiting London and got a bit lost and needed directions to the Tube to get to the British Library. I approached a man politely with ‘Good afternoon, might you be able to help us with directions. . .’ and before I could finish the sentence he said ‘you go that way for Harrods.’ When I said, ;that isn’t where we need to go’ his retort was ‘That’s where all you Tory toffs want to go.”

                Believe me we didn’t look that rich — at least nothing we were wearing was expensive or ‘high class’ to me. And my accent was certainly not upper class British. If I had been fat, I could easily imagine him calling me a Tory cow.

              1. Merry and Bright*

                Me too, and I live here! There are plenty of overweight people in the UK so it doesn’t even stand out. Some schoolkids and some parts of the inner cities are bad sometimes for street abuse but even so. On class though, I like the saying that people who worry about class haven’t got any.

                1. Artemesia*

                  No opinion about being overweight in the UK but I do remember an incident when my daughter and I were visiting London and got a bit lost and needed directions to the Tube to get to the British Library. I approached a man politely with ‘Good afternoon, might you be able to help us with directions. . .’ and before I could finish the sentence he said ‘you go that way for Harrods.’ When I said, ;that isn’t where we need to go’ his retort was ‘That’s where all you Tory toffs want to go.”

                  Believe me we didn’t look that rich — at least nothing we were wearing was expensive or ‘high class’ to me. And my accent was certainly not upper class British. If I had been fat, I could easily imagine him calling me a Tory cow.

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  On class though, I like the saying that people who worry about class haven’t got any.

                  Heh. I like this. Though I did teach myself how to eat peas off the back of the fork, just in case I’m ever invited to have dinner with anyone smart, or the Queen, or anything. #heyitcouldhappen

                  @Artemesia: Several not-so-polite words for that guy come to mind. :P

            2. Mander*

              Eh, I am an obese American who moved to the UK, and in ten years I have only ever had one comment thrown at me on the street.

              Back home, it was pretty much a weekly occurrence.

              Your friend must have moved to a uniquely fat-phobic place.

              1. Fish Microwaver*

                I am what you might call a bit plump. Strangely this is the only thing that I have thrown at me on the rare occasion I get into an argument with a stranger, say, over a parking spot. ( as in F off you fat bitch.)

        2. Bunny*

          Fat, Prole Brit here – I’m… not sure it’s a class thing.

          I mean, the black shirts thing definitely is. That’s definitely a “you look like you work in one of those prole shops like Primark or Phones 4 U!” thing. But the fatness thing?

          No, fat stigma over here is pretty much identical to in the US, so far as I can tell – there is some conflation of it with racism and classism, but the average person isn’t anti-fat because “it’s common”. They’re anti-fat because of… well, I’m not going to go into a massive HAES rant on here since it’s pretty much as off-topic as you could get, really.

  2. esra*

    Definitely push back on the idea that you pick up 13 people’s lunch before work. That’s not reasonable.

    While I think you could certainly bring up the staff sentiment with the director, I’d be pretty nonplussed that senior management is essentially pushing this on you, an admin, rather than talking to the director themselves.

    1. Rayner*

      That was the thing that made me go O.o?

      What’s stopping senior management actually pulling up their socks and going to talk to the boss themselves? Why does it have to be through someone who is actually lower down the rank to them? Point them in that direction OP, rather than doing it yourself. If more people come forward and say, “Actually, I’m not okay with this,” then maybe the boss will pay better attention than if it’s just the unofficial HR.

    2. BRR*

      This is the most ridiculous suggestion, of course by the people who don’t have to pick it up. The OP needs to flat out refuse from the beginning to make it clear. “I’m not able to pick up lunch but if you would like to that would be very nice.”

      Also see if any place will deliver? We have a local place that everybody in the office can place an order as long as it’s by 11 and they bring everybody’s by at noon.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        It sounds like she has an administrative role – how can she say no if they tell her she has to pick up the lunches? I’ve had to do this same awful task in a previous job and it was a complete nightmare, but I had no way to refuse. It was the main reason I left that job.

        1. QualityControlFreak*

          This is tricky. I think she could ask how she is supposed to report the time she spends performing this function as it is clearly hours worked. (Personally I would eat whatever I damn well pleased for lunch. And I would eat my lunch in my car.) But admin or not, working an extra pre-shift shift to deliver lunch for 13 people every day is not something I would be doing for free. So that’s where I’d start.

    3. INTP*

      Yeah, there’s a problem here that runs much deeper than lunches. You’ve got a batcrap crazy director issuing bizarre rules according to his whims and opinions and senior management that are scared to even talk to him about it. And said senior management are trying to throw the poor OP under the bus to bandaid the problem rather than handle it. (If senior management collectively have something to fear in approaching the director, you can bet the OP does too. And anyone with a brain knows that one person without a car trying to get 13 sandwiches is unfair and unsustainable. It will take the OP forever to wait for those, presumably outside OP’s working hours, and then it will be difficult to transport them, and inevitably they’ll put mayo on the vegan’s sandwich or something and someone will have no lunch and the backlash won’t be directed towards the real problem because everyone is afraid of him.)

      I’m not sure if the OP can do much here besides try to encourage coworkers to approach the director collectively. But definitely don’t enable them by taking on that sandwich duty, OP!

      1. Michelle*

        Definitly don’t take on sandwich/lunch duty! Years ago when I started working as an admin, I had to order, pick up and deliver lunch for a group of directors/managers who were in a meeting all day, several days a week and it was an absolute nightmare. We were expanding but closed to the public while doing so. Every week for months, I had to do this, using my own car because we didn’t have a company car yet, and the entire time, not once did they offer to pick up the tab for me (company was picking up the tab for them) Of course, if anything was incorrect, I had to either take it back or listen to someone complain about not having lunch because “it wasn’t ordered right!” Because we are also in an semi-isolated area with very limited choices (Waffle House or convenience store) ordering, picking up and taking back if necessary took forever.

        They usually ordered from the most expensive restaurant in town and since I couldn’t afford to eat there everyday, it was always a rush to either pick up a dollar burger from somewhere or get back in enough time to eat before the cleaning crew came in.

        The company did pay me mileage for picking up the food, but it never really “paid” for the gas I used doing this.

      2. Collarbone High*

        “It will take the OP forever to wait for those, presumably outside OP’s working hours”

        This is a really important point that’s getting overlooked. Depending on the type of shop, it could take an hour for OP to order and wait for 13 lunches to be made — that’s not a reasonable request.

  3. Karyn*

    Yeah, if he was willing to bring in approved/dietary-requirement-conscious food, then fine, I could see this. But policing everyone’s hot food items because he perceives them to be less healthy than, say, salad? Does he have any idea how unhealthy you can make a salad? If you wanted to be passive-aggressive, you could dump half a cup of ranch dressing on a salad with a bunch of croutons and cheddar cheese and call it a day. ;) I’d have a terrible time there – I eat soup every day for lunch, and I bring leftovers from home all the time because I can’t afford to eat out.

    That said, Alison’s advice is spot-on. Go with a “this is a concern for all of us” approach, and if that doesn’t work, start revising your resume, cause he’s only gonna get worse from here (no black shirts?!)

    1. BeenThere*

      Passive aggressive me would bring a cheese plate for lunch everyday.

      I’m a fellow soup and bring leftovers for lunch which has actually included a cheese plate on occasion :)

      1. Natalie*

        Or make a very healthy fish curry for everyone. With lots of onions.

        Just because it’s not takeaway doesn’t mean it can’t smell, boss man!

        1. Dynamic Beige*

          That’s what I was thinking! If everyone in the office brought in something from home like that every day for a week, I think that director would long for the smell of a greasy chicken wrap.

          To a certain non-bat-crap-I’m-not-in-full-agreement-with-this-guy extent, if you bring your lunch in, you save way more money than buying takeaway everyday. If you want to enforce a policy like this, you need a kitchen with microwave, hot plate (or stove), refrigerator, dishwasher and some form of cleaners or rota for employees to deal with the mess (considering there is always that one person — at least — who leaves their food in the fridge, makes a mess and doesn’t clean it up). A break room that vents to the outside would also help. He can’t just dictate that others do this or that without providing them useful options. Deli sandwiches may be nice for a day, but after a month? When it’s cold out and you want hot food?

    2. Dmented Kitty*

      Not to mention questionable salads may contain listeria.

      Last I heard *that* may help you lose some weight, but it’s not going to be the healthy way.

    3. Collarbone High*

      Heh. My first job was at Burger King, and after a few months of eating double cheeseburgers every day, I declared myself “on a health kick” and replaced them with a large chef salad, drenched in four packets of dressing (2 bleu cheese and 2 French) and 2 packets each of bacon bits and croutons. Then corporate published a calorie count guide and I discovered I’d been better off with the cheeseburgers.

      1. FD*

        As I recall, when I worked at Culver’s, we discovered that the avacado pecan bleu salad was the single item with the most calories and the most grams of fat.

    4. Sans*

      Yeah, that’s the first thing I thought – I could bring in a pretty unhealthy cold lunch! And for that matter, a healthy hot lunch. He’s just another control freak.

  4. UKAnon*

    Is there anything to stop workers bringing in a sandwich packed lunch every day? I don’t mean to sound unsympathetic but I don’t see what stops people making a cold lunch at home and bringing it in, or even “healthy” lunches to warm up like casserole/soup etc.

    Sympathies on being asked to do the lunch run though! That does sound like a pain. Could you ask the company to arrange a taxi for you from the shop if they do insist on it?

    1. tesyaa*

      Some people don’t have time – daycare dropoffs or whatever. Some people might not have access to a kitchen (some roommate situations, for example). Some people don’t like to cook or are unable to cook – even a sandwich.

      1. JB*

        Some people may not like making sandwiches, but they may have to. The boss sounds like he isn’t interested in keeping morale up at the office and is unrealistic about people’s options, but there can be legitimate reasons to not allow hot foods, particularly any kind that leaves a smell behind. I cannot tell what kind of office this is, so I don’t know if there’s a good reason for the new rule or if the boss is just kind of a jerk.

        I personally think that if you aren’t running the risk of bothering customers, you should be able to eat whatever you want, so the rule isn’t a good one unless customers are involved. But sometimes people act like it’s eating take-away or starving. As someone who loathes cooking and has very little time for it but who has no choice because of diet restrictions, I know that packing yourself a lunch every day even when you hate it is something that can be done. And even in my pre-diet restrictions days, I worked some places where lunch breaks were too short to go grab food, so I had to bring food. It can be done. People won’t starve. But whether it’s a good rule to have is a different question, and the answer is “usually not.”

        1. Zillah*

          Not to be a jerk, but I literally can’t eat sandwiches. I’m vegetarian and gluten free (and have other dietary restrictions), so it would be completely cost-prohibitive. I’m an extreme case, I know, but sandwiches are much tougher once you start getting into a lot of good restrictions.

            1. JB*

              I’m not saying people have to make sandwiches. Someone said some people don’t like making them, and I was just saying that sometimes we have to do stuff we don’t want to. I would bet good money that you don’t have more dietary restrictions than I do, but I can make it work. I wish I didn’t have to, and I think the boss’s rule is stupid and a bad idea unless it’s because the food is making a customer-facing area smell like a fast food joint, but my point is that the options are not (1) smelly take-away or (2) starving.

              1. Zillah*

                You might have to give that good money up :) it’s never wise to assume things about people online you know nothing about. I have some pretty significant food restrictions, but regardless, it’s not a pissing contest – the overarching point is that while restrictions sometimes make sense, nonsensical restrictions – which this is – are deeply problematic. Food is an intensely personal thing, and people have many different situations and needs. It’s important to be mindful of that, and the OP’s boss isn’t being so. That’s not a minor problem, and it’s reasonable for people to be angry.

                1. JB*

                  I’m not assuming things–that’s why I didn’t say that “I guarantee I have more restrictions than you.” I’m saying that having dietary restrictions, even severe ones, doesn’t mean that you *cannot* bring your food from home. In fact, you often *have* to bring your food from home (I would love to be able to buy something from a fast food place). And I am saying that just people don’t *want* to make sandwiches (or whatever low-cost, not-difficult-to-make food you want to choose) doesn’t mean that they will have to starve if they aren’t allowed to get fast-food take away at lunch. That is all I’m saying. I said that I think the boss’s rule is stupid, and I meant it. And I get that people don’t want to have to bring their food from home. I don’t either! But the fact that fast-food take away isn’t allowed doesn’t mean no options for food.

          1. TL -*

            There are other fast easy less expensive options beyond sandwiches that can accommodate restricted diets. Not fun, and I don’t agree with the rule, but it can be done.

          2. INTP*

            I agree that sandwiches are not a solution for everyone, but the OP mentioned downloading cookbooks, so I don’t think all warm foods are banned. Sounds like it’s just fast food.

            While I don’t agree with this rule by any means, that makes it a bit different. I think most people can figure out some way to bring a lunch other than fast food whether that’s sandwiches purchased from the grocery store or home cooked meals.

      2. Ife*

        This is a very interesting perspective to me because until very recently, I could not afford to do take-out more than a couple times a month, let alone every day for lunch! People who went out every day blew my mind a little bit from a budgeting perspective, so I always assumed they were making way more than me. I’m still not sure how someone with a tight budget AND dietary/time/whatever restrictions would be able to do this, I think they would have to find a way to make cold lunch work. I would’ve had to. But reading the comments here, I can understand why it would be way easier for some people to go out every day, even if money’s tight.

        In fact, coming at it from another perspective, my stepdaughter always wants cold lunch, and we agreed on doing it once a week because it IS kind of hard to find the time/energy/inspiration to make something for her every day that doesn’t have to be refrigerated or warmed up. (Qualifying for the free lunch program changes the time-vs.-money equation here for us)

      3. Kate*

        Some people are unable to make a sandwich? Barring some kind of disability, I’m not sure how that’s possible–I’ve seen young children assemble sandwiches! Making your lunch the night before is probably easier for those with daycare dropoffs or hectic mornings. Lots of sandwiches or simple salads don’t require the use of a kitchen–and many can be bought in grocery stores pre-made, if it’s really a problem. I’m sympathetic to the OP’s situation too, and think someone should speak up, but I was wondering why every single person in this office was going out for lunch daily.

        1. AW*

          I can’t speak to whether this is an issue in the UK but in parts of the US, food deserts are absolutely a thing. Some people straight up do not have access to a real grocery store and rely on convenience stores and fast food in order to eat.

      4. Artemesia*

        When my totally non-cooking father was a young single man living in a boarding house with a couple of roommates, they would take turns doing the lunches. Giant jar of peanut butter and of jam, pack of bologna, mustard and loaf of bread. The guy on duty would make a huge batch of peanut butter/jelly and of bologna sandwiches and put them in the refrigerator and the guys would take them, an apple or banana and be good to go.

        ANYONE can make lunch. It isn’t rocket science. It is not expensive. Buy a pack of yogurts, fruit, sandwich makings or package up leftovers. Done.

        Of course this boss is a jerk. I definitely think the OP should not be the one to enter the lions den. There is always some woman employee who is pushed forward to do this sort of thing while the politically wise hang back. Let those who outrank you do their own dirty work while you work out a way to bring your lunch with the least effort possible. I have been the person who gets pushed forward to deal with a problem that is really not my monkey — I finally learned not to be that person unless it was clearly my circus.

        1. Kas*

          Don’t forget some people can’t eat wheat, dairy, nuts, eggs….

          Some people might not have access to a fridge, so they can’t store all that yoghurt, bologna, leftover food….

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I think, though, that we’re going overboard here speculating on the possible scenarios where someone might not be able to make sandwiches, make not have access to a fridge, etc. No suggestion in any situation will work for every single person in every case, but many will work most people in most cases. When a suggestion doesn’t work, people are free to not use it or ask for advice on how to handle their particular circumstances. But if we can’t make any suggestions here that won’t apply to 100% of people everywhere, I should shut this site down and go away. It’s the nature of suggestions that they won’t be universally usable for various reasons.

            Not picking on you here, Kas, just noticed a trend along these lines in the comments on this post and am a little baffled by it.

            1. Kas*

              For me it was the offhand tone of the “advice”, like the adviser assumed that the only obstacle to following it was that the person wasn’t bringing sandwiches because it had not occurred to them to try. But I’m dropping the subject now.

        2. Layla*

          I’m in Asia and what qualifies for lunch in western countries amaze me.
          I’ll probably die without hot food for lunch( ok exaggerating ). It’s what people do here when they are dieting.

          3usd gets you hot lunch food here. Making a healthy sandwich / salad may cost more – those ingredients are expensive here ( depending – boiling a chicken breast could be cheaper )

      5. mel*

        That’s why I usually end up bringing a can of ravioli to work that I’d swiped from my cupboard while running out the door. The situation doesn’t seem extreme enough to have to set up an Office Mom to bring prepared lunches for everyone.

    2. misspiggy*

      If the boss doesn’t want smelly food, that rules out bringing in stuff to warm up. And many people are just too tired to make lunch at home and bring it in. But even that’s not relevant – it should be up to every employee how to spend their free time.

      1. UKAnon*

        Perhaps this is a culture thing but I really don’t see it that way. I’ve always known it to be the norm to bring in food every day from home and that going out to buy lunch is not uncommon but certainly not what most people do. I would never think of it as taking up my free time – after all, that’s just time you’d spend in walking to the shop and back anyway – but as, well, feeding myself.

        And it doesn’t have to take up time outside the lunch break. Throw some bread, butter, sandwich filling, fruit and crisps/nuts in a bag each day before work and keep a plate and knife at your desk.

        1. neverjaunty*

          I understand that FOR YOU that is very simple. Please consider that when people are telling you “just throw stuff in a bag” does not always work for everyone, they are not wrong simply because your experience is different.

          And anyway it’s really beside the point. It is not Boss’ business what the employees eat as long as they are not ruining the work environment. The last paragraph of AAM’s post is really the most important; this is a dude with boundary issues and poor management skills.

          1. UKAnon*

            But I think the point is that they *are* ruining the work environment. How many letters does this site have of people complaining about smelly food? This is just come from someone with the power to change that.

            I’m not saying the ban’s reasonable. I’m saying there’s a reasonable solution around this until/if it gets changed.

            1. Anonymous Ninja*

              Except it sounds like the issue isn’t smell, but the boss believing that hot food is unhealthy.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  The boss is saying this, not the other employees. They are upset about it. And the OP said that the boss belittled another employee for bringing in something he apparently didn’t think was healthy enough, i.e. a breaded chicken wrap. So this is about the boss’s control issues.

                  And I think he’s a micromanaging control freak jerk.

            2. Lurker*

              Cold food can smell too: red onions, tuna fish sandwiches, deviled eggs, pastrami, etc.

              I am very sensitive to smells (not just food), and all of the things I mentioned are traditionally served cold and have very strong odors.

              1. JB*

                I got the feeling (but I could be wrong because the letter doesn’t go into this) that it was that particular greasy-food smell that was trying to be avoided?

                1. Doreen*

                  I get the same feeling- and it might be those specific places rather than the type of food. The smell of KFC or Popeye’s doesn’t bother me but there are some tiny places near my office that have terrible smelling fried chicken and fish ( i think they don’t clean/change the oil often enough)

                2. JB*

                  @Doreen I think that the food at those places tends to be delicious–what is it about decades-old oil that makes chicken taste so good? But it does leave behind a particular smell.

        2. Stephanie*

          Yeah…it happens that people can’t always cook. I had a rodent infestation in my kitchen once and I wasn’t really cooking in there until that got resolved. I bought food out a lot until that got resolved (or ate things that required me to be in there as little as possible).

          Another time, I had a living situation where I was renting a room in a house and the owner (who was my friend…don’t do that living situation, guys) would get pretty passive-aggressive when I cooked in the kitchen. She didn’t cook a lot and hated the chaos I created when I cooked (I’m the type who will have all four burners going). I always cleaned up after myself, but I could tell she disliked it in case I did flake out and leave onion husks on the floor.

          I bring that up to point out that it’s not always possible for people to prepare food at home.

          1. Val*

            +1 on the renting situation — I’ve lived in group houses, I’ve lived alone, I’ve lived with countless roommates. The most tension-filled living situations were always with only one other person, a friend who actually owned the place (condo, house, whatever) and rented a room. It doesn’t matter — you might actually be paying more in rent than they’re paying (I was) — it is and always will be THEIR PLACE, and you’re just the person renting a room from them. I won’t go into it but you’re far better off, especially if there are just two of you, both going on a lease as renters instead of in an owner-renter situation.

          2. namelesswordlessworldlesswanderer*

            Hear Hear.

            I live in a micro apartment; my “kitchen” consists of A hot plate, a crock pot, a toaster oven, and a dorm fridge. There is not much cooking going on in my 180 square feet of living space. This boss needs to take his head out of his ass and get a prescription for Xanax.

        3. Mike C.*

          Look, the norm for me is to once a month thoroughly clean out and lubricate a selection of fountain pens, rotate through my collection and finally choose and refill with appropriate inks based on color, permanence and other factors. I don’t think of it as taking up my free time because I’m not spending time buying boxes of pens or throwing them out or chasing after people who have stolen them and so on.

          The point is, everyone’s normal is different.

      2. JB*

        That’s true, but if the boss wants to ban foods with smells, that up the the boss as well, so the employees may need to consider other options, including spending free time making or buying food to bring in.

        But was it all reheated food? I got the feeling it was the kind of food the LW was describing–fast food, fried food, the kind of food that leaves a greasy-food odor behind.

    3. Jen RO*

      Because it gets boring. Because they don’t have time. Because they don’t feel like it. Because they’d like a proper meal to give them energy for the rest of the day. Who cares? This rule doesn’t make any sense. I had a sandwich for lunch today, but it was a choice.

    4. INTP*

      This sounds like the best solution for employees at this immediate time. The director is a nutcase and is absolutely out of bounds in banning the food that is available – but there are other workplaces that are not close enough to any takeout places for employees to get food and eat it within their allocated lunch times and employees manage.

      Would delivery be an option? Maybe the director would be willing to foot the delivery cost and tip if employees place orders from an “approved” place?

    5. soitgoes*

      I had a similar thought. People are obviously allowed to have their own preferences, but I’ve simply never worked at a company where every single employee purchased lunch every day, especially if the office is in an area that doesn’t lend itself to social eating. I wonder if there’s something else going on there, like maybe the boss doesn’t like to let people store food on premises, or the employees are uncomfortable with the idea of the boss seeing the food they bring from home.

      OP, can you weigh in on this? Are there circumstances at work that make it difficult to bring in a lunch from home?

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Yeah. Honestly, I find it really strange that everyone buys lunch every day. I’ve never seen that. Most people I work with bring their food. And I’ve worked so many jobs where wasn’t anywhere to buy food except a vending machine, this just doesn’t seem like that hard a solution.

        Bossman is still a crazy control freak though.

        1. soitgoes*

          Exactly. The underlying attitude of, “If we can’t buy food, then we can’t buy lunch at all!” is odd and warrants some more clarification, if possible.

    6. Kyrielle*

      Because they shouldn’t have to disclose health issues just to get the right to eat a lunch? Health issues can impact energy to prepare and bring a lunch, and also what you can eat. (Sandwiches become rapidly more problematic if someone has celiac, or IBS and needs a low-FODMAP diet, or has to be on a low-carb diet because of any of a number of issues, or….)

      And then there’s me…if there’s a refrigerator, I’m fine, but about the only sandwich I could bring in would be PB&J if there was no refrigerator. I know meat and cheese keep safely in an insulated bag for a while, but that doesn’t stop something that has “sat out too long” (conceptually) from grossing me out so much I would have to work to force myself to eat it. (Admittedly, I also would have trouble with all the options in the area, so clearly I’d have to figure out something!)

      1. UKAnon*

        See, I’m on a low-FODMAP diet, so I do understand dietary constraints, but that works the other way. What if someone has a nut allergy and takeaway food gets banned from the office? You end up with the same result as here.

        1. Cat*

          The difference is that’s a matter of life and death, literally, not someone not wanting to be surrounded by unhealthy food.

          1. UKAnon*

            But whatever for the reason for the dictat, it’s in place and the OP’s workplace has to deal with that in a way which doesn’t involve her turning into the lunch run unwillingly. My point was that it could have happened for reasonable reasons. Just because that isn’t the case, it doesn’t stop OP’s colleagues needing to find a way to deal with it until things change, just as they would have if it was for reasonable reasons.

            1. Kyrielle*

              But it *does* give a much better argument for saying “you need to band together and discuss this with the boss” BEFORE going straight to “why don’t you just suck it up and pack in a lunch”.

              “Going to the boss” because you’d rather still bring in peanuts even if it means you’ll put someone in the hospital is not reasonable.

              “Going to the boss” because he doesn’t like the food options available near you and wants you to only bring in cold, non-scented food (also restricting what you can bring from home) is a reasonable action. It may not net any change, but it’s worth trying before moving to “suck it up buttercup”.

              Life and death is a different thing than the boss’s druthers, especially when considering that this boss has a bunch of other arbitrary and unreasonable rules. Yes, after discussion, they may have to cope with this rule, which may mean jumping hoops (if needed) to bring in their own things. But it’s not unreasonable to push back first…and given this boss’s other issues, it’s not unreasonable to job-hunt over the overall situation, either.

      2. INTP*

        IME people with dietary restrictions are good about, and would usually prefer to, bring their food from home. Those people probably have their own arrangements in place as I can’t imagine someone with a serious food allergy or intolerance relying on fast food for their lunches, since it sounds like they aren’t exactly places that cater to ingredient-conscious customers.

        If the only change recently is that fast food isn’t allowed, I don’t think it’s unfair if they switch to catering with an option for special requests since people with restrictions could presumably continue bringing their own foods in. (I’m not assuming that all homemade warm foods are banned because fast food can reek up an office in a way that microwaved homemade foods can’t unless we’re talking fish, cruciferous veggies, or pungent spices.) However, if there are other new restrictions that the OP didn’t specify that also make it difficult to bring your own food in, it’s not a great solution. Of course, I can’t think of a single fair and viable solution to keep everyone fed until some sense is talked into the director and some of the restrictions are lifted.

        1. Anonsie*

          I think the bigger health related issue here are people with chronic illnesses that make the time and energy necessary to have a decent packed lunch a pretty big burden. I know when I have a flare it’s enough to make it through my day at work, I go home and I go the eff to sleep until it’s time to go to work again, no dinner or anything. Those are the weeks I buy my lunches.

          1. Anonsie*

            Though I should clarify– if I was required to bring my lunch (and I have had jobs where buying lunch wasn’t an option) I wouldn’t be up in arms about how they are persecuting me because I have special needs. Having to bring a lunch is life sometimes, you find ways to make your life work.

            It’s just that being able to buy lunch is one of those little luxuries in life that a lot of people, for a lot of reasons, really really enjoy, and taking it away arbitrarily is just a stupid thing to do.

            1. INTP*

              Oh, ITA that the boss is out of bounds here, and rules that inconvenience your employees without filling a business need are never good. I just meant that I don’t think it’s unfair if fast food places are replaced with catered lunches because if those are really the only options for eating out, it probably doesn’t change anything for people with food restrictions. I doubt that someone who can’t find something to eat with your average deli was relying on the “dirty chicken” shop, so the people who have health-related restrictions would already have figured out other arrangements, making it unnecessary for them to disclose their conditions just to get lunch.

              However, now that OP has updated that they have indeed banned warm homemade foods, that’s a problem. I eat vegetarian and am on a temporary gluten free experiment and IDK what I’d eat – sandwiches are out and I hate salad when I’m cold (which almost all offices are).

        2. Kyrielle*

          I have at least one of the ones I listed, plus another I didn’t bother listing, and one of the options near this workplace would work for me. I usually bring my own because I can’t stand the price of going out/ordering in, but there are three fast food options near my office where I can get something I can eat if I have to. If I also had energy reserve issues, I would absolutely be willing to buy my lunch.

      3. BeenThere*

        Yes! Lack of fridge can be a huge issue. Our office expanded and I was moved to a temporary floor, without a sink, fridge or microwave for the first few weeks and no sink planned for the future. I finally cracked it the watercooler ran out of water and went home to work.

      4. Artemesia*

        It is a lot easier to deal with serious food issues by bringing in your own food than by trying to cope with fast food. And any one who can get up and get dressed in the morning and make it to work is capable of bringing their own lunch if necessary to work. They just don’t want to. (and shouldn’t have to if they want to buy food out and it is available nearby) People are expected to many things to be presentable to work, like practice good hygiene, wear clean clothes,, wear appropriate clothes etc etc. Being required to bring your own lunch is no more onerous a demand than any of that.

        I have worked in settings where smelly foods were not allowed due to client facing issues. The boss did not want people coming into an office that smelled as he put it ‘like a fast food joint.’ It became an issue when the administrative staff went nuts in new offices that had a small kitchen and started cooking in the kitchen and filling the fairly small suite with pungent odors of frying fish and chicken. Heating up things that were brought from home was not a problem because people didn’t bring in pungent foods. I can see where that would have become an issue as well if we had had employees who ate that kind of food.

    7. Brett*

      > Is there anything to stop workers bringing in a sandwich packed lunch every day?

      Since this rule is motivated by health reasons and office obesity, if most workers start doing this it seems like it would only be a matter of time until carb heavy sandwiches were banned too.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I agree, especially since he threw a fit over the coworker’s breaded chicken wrap. He’s policing their food choices, which is unreasonable. And stupid. And I can’t get a picture out of my head of David Brent on a health kick.

    8. Mike C.*

      This really isn’t the point. Just because an owner’s stupid rule can be followed doesn’t mean that it’s reasonable.

    9. Anonsie*

      I’ve brought in packed lunches for many years and there’s no way around it getting old sometimes. I go purchase my lunch probably once a week and get whatever I want vs whatever I could make the night before and it’s a really nice treat that I really missed when I had a job that wasn’t within lunch break’s travel of anywhere.

      I’ve also gone solid months where I don’t pack a single lunch because I just have stuff going on.

    10. Nobody*

      I agree. I think the director is being ridiculous and his reasons for banning hot take-out are stupid, but I don’t see why this is such a big deal. I work somewhere that’s even more in the middle of nowhere. The closest place to buy food is a convenience store at the nearest gas station, but even that is too far to get to and from in our 30 minute lunch break, so everyone brings lunch from home. A lot of people bring microwaveable frozen meals when they don’t feel like preparing something at home. Some people buy a takeout sandwich or salad the night before. Nobody has suffered too much from the inability to get hot takeout at lunch.

  5. Allison*

    I can totally understand wanting to ban smelly food in general, but even if that was the only stated reason, it doesn’t sound reasonable for this situation. People don’t have much of a choice here, aside from bringing their own lunches.

    OP, you can absolutely limit the amount of people you run errands for. You can’t possibly be expected to get everyone lunch every day, even if they do pay for it. From what you’ve described, that’s enough to be its own part-time job. Maybe your manager should hire someone to take care of that.

    I realize bringing a lunch can sounds awful, but I do it every day and it’s honestly not that bad. My strategy is to bake three chicken breasts on Sunday (each with a different flavor seasoning or marinade, like Korean BBQ, lemon pepper, cajun, etc.), and pack three food containers, each with a chicken breast laid over white rice. Easy to store, easy to transport, and easy to pop into a microwave. Then if I need to make more during the week I can, but three offers some flexibility if I end up wanting to take in leftovers, or I get sick or otherwise need to work from home during the week. I do this because, like you, there aren’t a lot of good lunch options where I work, and I don’t feel like getting in my car and driving into town for expensive takeout.

    Of course, I will acknowledge that your boss doesn’t get to dictate your food options based on health alone.

    1. tesyaa*

      It’s good that you found a lunchmaking strategy that works for you. The OP isn’t asking for lunchmaking strategies, though. I bring my own lunch 100% of the time, but I totally get that some people don’t want to, or are unable to.

      1. the_scientist*

        Seriously, could we refrain on 100 commentors smugly explaining how they’ve managed to pack a lunch every day for their entire working life, despite having 7 children, working out 8 times per week and working 100 hour weeks?

        Okay, obviously I’m exaggerating to prove a point here, but this is the directly I see this thread travelling in. Like you said, the OP DIDN’T ASK for lunch-making strategies. If grown adults want to purchase their lunch every day, that’s their right and we can all stop the food policing. Perhaps the end result is that the OP and colleagues do end up needing to pack lunches anyway, but that doesn’t mean the boss is not wildly out of line and that his domineering behaviour shouldn’t be addressed.

        1. Kat M*

          But, in the end, if the boss won’t budge (and given how crazy he sounds, he probably won’t), there really aren’t a lot of options here. Yes, they should look for new jobs, but we always talk about how long it takes to find a new one and how we have to deal with the world as it is, not what we want it to be. At the end of the day, regardless of the rules, they’re going to have to eat and that means they’ll have to figure out a strategy to do so, at least until they find other employment.

          1. neverjaunty*

            But again, that is not what LW was asking. LW wanted to know how to deal with the immediate problem of angry co-workers and getting dragooned into being a catering delivery service.

            1. Kat M*

              Even so-yes, it’s unsolicited, but it’s good to let people know that things won’t always be a quick fix. And the commenter you replied to did acknowledge both things. I just don’t think it’s worth taking offense to. And I did have some of the lunch making problems mentioned in these comments.

              1. Allison*

                Doesn’t matter that I acknowledged those other things, I said something bad and I should feel bad.

                I didn’t realize there would be so many other comments like mine, and I didn’t mean to play it off like taking lunch to work was easy, I was merely offering a suggestion. In hindsight, it was rude and condescending and I shouldn’t have included it in my comment.

                1. Postradamus*

                  @Allison, don’t be so hard on yourself. Your comment was neither rude nor condescending. It was a matter-of-fact comment from your perspective, contained useful info, and the reaction you got was a bit over the top. No need to feel bad; you didn’t attack or belittle anyone. Threads just organically migrate this way sometimes and it’s OK.

                2. Allison*

                  No, it’s not okay. If it was okay, people wouldn’t have gotten angry about it. The fact is, I wasted everyone’s time with some useless “advice” the LW DIDN’T ASK FOR, as though I know their life. If they wanted to make their own lunch, they would, it’s not my place to step in and tell them what to do.

                3. A Minion*

                  You weren’t rude or condescending, you were simply sharing your own experiences, which is a perfectly legitimate thing to do and it’s even a nice thing to do. I read and re-read your comment and it was not, in any way, condescending or rude. The person calling you out? Now that was rude and condescending.

                  Don’t assume that you are automatically in the wrong simply because a person became angry over something you said. If that were the case, no politicians would be able to say anything, ever!

                4. Allison*

                  What, because they react in anger their feelings aren’t valid? My comment was highly offensive to people who, for health or economic reasons, may not be able to cook for themselves. These people were right to call me out.

                5. Elizabeth West*


                  I wouldn’t say offensive. Though I kind of felt the same way because I felt like the lunch advice (from everyone, not just you) was derailing the issue, which is that the boss is a control freak idiot foolish butthead. (Sorry, I hate people like this boss, and I’m sick and my filters are OFF.)

                  I’m going to copy and save your chicken lunch advice, though. I have a freezerful of chicken breasts and had no idea what to do with them. :)

          2. Magda*

            Absolutely there are times when you need to decide if a crazy boss’s policy is the hill you want to die on. And there are also many times when you decide it isn’t, and you need to find a way to deal with it. However, there have been many cases on AaM where pushing back in a professional and appropriate way has been recommended, and follow-up letters where letter-writers have reported it’s actually worked.

            I think when people advocate “you’re within rights to push back on X” it sometimes gets spun out into “you should resist X to your DYING BREATH” and that’s not what it means at all.

            In the end, the OP may very well have no choice but to suck it up and make sandwiches, but that doesn’t mean “suck it up and make sandwiches” is her only option in this situation. It’s a last resort – not necessarily the first.

        2. Squirrel!*

          Can we also not have 100 commenters going on and on about SJW-type stuff like, SOME PEOPLE LITERALLY CANNOT PICK UP FOOD TO THROW IN A BAG HOW DARE YOU ASSUME THAT? Both sides are equally annoying and don’t actually help the OP in any way.

          1. Kate*

            LOL, yes thank you. I was also thinking that if you’re in some kind of living situation where you can’t even store some peanut butter and jelly or lunch meat and cheese and a loaf of bread to assemble sandwiches, perhaps you should move, because that doesn’t sound like a good place to live.

          2. Anonsie*

            I don’t disagree with your last point but I’m going to also request we pretty please with sugar on top don’t start calling people SJWs. I can’t be the only person who is sick to death of that one.

            1. Squirrel!*

              If you’ll note, I didn’t call anyone an SJW, I merely said that people were going on about that type of nonsense. I hate that stuff too and I am not happy to see it beginning to infect sites completely unrelated to that kind of thing.

              1. Anonsie*

                I think the distance between our statements is a hair split, but it’s Friday evening so all I’ve got in retort is something something Squirrel Nutkin.

        3. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think it’s worth pointing out that the advice may not be helpful to the OP and “I don’t think this is really getting at the OP’s question because X” is fine, but I also really don’t want us policing everyone else’s comments to this degree. If there’s an issue with the direction comments are going in, I’ll stop in and redirect things. I think that makes for a more pleasant experience for everyone.

          There’s been more of this lately from multiple people and I want to take it down a notch.

        4. themmases*

          I agree. Not only did the OP not ask for lunch suggestions, they asked a couple of very specific other questions that have to do with work, not with people’s food choices. The OP has an overbearing boss and coworkers pressuring them to take on all the risk and effort of solving the problem alone. Those are office politics questions, not recipe requests.

      2. Collarbone High*

        Or forget them at home? I can’t count how many sandwiches/Lean Cuisines/Tupperwares filled with leftovers I’ve left sitting on the kitchen counter because something happened (usually involving a cat) as I was getting ready to leave and I forgot to grab my lunch. I’d be seriously annoyed if my only option to eat lunch on those days was a takeaway that was banned because my boss wants to control my eating habits.

    2. Cordelia Naismith*

      Except it sounds like the OP’s boss has banned all hot foods, which would include chicken breasts or leftovers you reheat in the office microwave, I assume.

      1. Cordelia Naismith*

        Wait, no, I take it back. I misread “no hot take-out food” as “no hot food.” My bad.

  6. Three Thousand*

    I can’t stand people like this boss. He’s on a diet, so his employees can’t eat junk food? What next, he quits smoking and now smoke breaks aren’t allowed? He decides to stop drinking and everyone else has to sign a sobriety pledge? Good luck hanging onto staff who have options.

    1. Kat M*

      I can see having no smoke breaks-smoking during work isn’t a right and there are circumstances where it might be beneficial to not allowing it-second and third hand smoke have effects on others. What happens when you have a coworker with asthma or any kind of lung condition? Also, if it’s truly an addiction, is that something a company should sponsor or should it be up to the person to manage it?

      I smoke socially. However, when I worked in education, I was not allowed to smoke during the day so I did not. When I worked at a cancer organization, I was not allowed to smoke, even in my personal life. I did not smoke. It’s just not that important and I don’t see it as equivalent to a sobriety pledge.

      1. Three Thousand*

        I’m fine with a company having a blanket smoke-free policy. I just wouldn’t want it coming from the whims of an overbearing micromanager. The larger problem is whether he would force everyone to start following whatever other personal rules he had decided to set for himself.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        This may be what kicks off the company receiving a bunch of resignation notices at once (chastity pledge if enacted). :)

  7. Rayner*

    First, don’t allow yourself to be bullied into doing everybody’s lunch run. Just explain why not, and leave it there. Asking to pick up one or two friend’s lunches and being repaid for it immediately is very different to doing the whole office’s lunch routine. If people kick off, just explain that you’re not able to do it. Get stroppy if you have to.

    And I honestly think that while the boss absolutely sucks (all those arbitrary rules sound useless to morale and very very hard to keep on top of), the people in your office, OP, are making a huge fuss over a lot of nothing. Yes, it sucks to no longer be able to run out and get lunch. But packed lunches don’t have to be sandwiches and cold tea, they can be nicer than that. It’s usually less expensive to buy and lay in, than to go out every day, and you know… that’s a part of working there.

    It’s not like the boss is limiting everybody’s lunches to only salads or ‘healthy options’ or going through and insisting on only a certain brand of things. It’s going to be a part of life working there, just as their clothes are limited by the boss’s choice, so is their lunch.

    I really don’t understand why everybody in your office thinks this is the worst thing since ever.

    1. neverjaunty*

      But why can’t he insist on only certain foods or certain brands? How is that different from dictating lunches in other ways?

      I suspect people are flipping out because, as OP describes it, this is a very bad boss who is alread pushing his personal choices inappropriately into the workplace and this is just one more damn thing.

      1. Rayner*

        If a boss said, “no hot fast food” that’s a pretty general rule, and people could do what they liked within the guide line of cold take out or pre bought or packed lunches. If the boss said, “you may only eat salads” or “you can only eat from the Weighing Scales Healthy Food Range” then it would be much much harder to find meals and could affect people in ways beyond price (which is already a huge factor).

        I don’t disagree that it’s a sucktastic rule and I would definitely not be a happy bunny but I just don’t see it as something to be up in arms about, that’s all.

        1. Three Thousand*

          The guy threw a fit over a chicken wrap. Next week he might well decide someone’s packed lunch contains too much trans fat or that they don’t need to be bringing in a bag of chips with their sandwich. If I wanted to spend my time dealing with that kind of all-consuming bullshit, I’d go work for my mother.

        2. Allison*

          He seems to be buying into the idea that “hot fast-food” is inherently unhealthy, and cold fast takeout and homemade lunches are inherently better for you. Kinda black and white thinking, and not really the case. There are plenty of unhealthy things people could bring from home, those frozen lunches people heat up can be full of sodium and other unpleasant things (and are usually gross anyway), and cold cut sandwiches aren’t always that healthy either.

          Also, the boss strikes me as someone who feels he has to manage ALL THE THINGS, rather than just the things that actually matter.

          1. Loose Seal*

            It struck me that he is trying to eat healthier and the smell of hot fast food weakens his willpower, thus the ban. Cold fast food would be easier to ignore. Not that it makes his ban any more reasonable.

            1. JB*

              That is an interesting thought. I assumed that it was because there were clients involved and he didn’t want the office smelling like a greasy spoon for that reason, but I think you may be closer to the truth.

        3. AVP*

          It seems to me that this particular rule is just the straw that broke the camel’s back in terms of their boss being a control freak and micromanaging personal lives. The reaction here is a result of the accumulation of little things, I think.

  8. Stephanie*

    Wait, he’s on a healthy kick but there are mandatory booze spending? This guy just sounds like a control freak. I’m sorry you’re dealing with a nut. :(

    1. Panda Bandit*

      Yeah, this is not the behavior of a well-adjusted adult. The OP sort of alluded to him throwing a tantrum when someone disobeyed his new lunch rule too.

      1. Merry and Bright*

        Easy for me to say, but may be one day the whole office could get takeaways from the dirty chicken place. That would be a tantrum worth seeing.

        1. Heather*

          Especially if it ended with a Bridesmaids-esque scene in the office. There are things that smell worse than hot takeout food ;)

  9. Rayner*

    Also, OP, it does not sound like a healthy environment. As Stephanie pointed out, healthy food mandate plus mandatory booze spending, a boss which inflicts arbitrary rules on a place based on personal taste, and an environment where senior management don’t talk to the boss and go through the HR unofficial person…

    Not good.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      People are so stressed out over the food thing that they are going to give themselves heart attacks. At best, this is short-sighted and narrow thinking. And that is on a good day.

  10. Clever Name*

    Your boss reminds me of people I’ve known over the years who try to either convince or force others to make the same life choices as they have. I see it as a reflection of their own insecurity over their choices. Choices like where to live and like your boss, what food to eat. Be prepared for your boss to take this very personally, as he clearly has problems with the concept of “not his business”.

    1. Adam*

      One of my favorite quotes:

      “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
      ― C.S. Lewis

    2. Lizzy*

      Agreed. I said something similar on the post involving a worker being asked by upper management to lose weight in order to be edgy. Insecure people who force their beliefs onto others need the validation by ensuring others around them buy into it too.

  11. Anonicorn*

    Am I the only who was immediately outraged by the ban on black shirts? I hope he has fun boozing it up in his non-black clothes while eating cold food. This guy sounds like a complete nut as well as an asshole.

    1. Misty*

      You’re not. That would effectively eliminate 3/4 of my work wardrobe, and would definitely be more of an issue for me than the lunch thing.

    2. Muriel Heslop*

      Yes! This! No black shirts? I’d have to buy new clothes. And the mandatory booze parties? There is so much wrong here that it sounds like the food ban is the last straw.

    3. Lizzy*

      That would piss me off if I worked there. I imagine there are more arbitrary policies the OP didn’t mention. Her boss seems ridiculously unreasonable and possibly tyrannical.

      1. Anonicorn*

        I imagine there are more arbitrary policies the OP didn’t mention.

        I certainly hope not for their sake, but I was thinking that too.

      2. voluptuousfire*

        I think “several unspoken rules” pretty much alludes to arbitrary policies.

        I wonder what happens if you don’t drink the appropriate amount at these monthly booze parties. Does that ding you on your annual review? “Astrid and Wakeen only drank 3 glasses of wine instead of the company mandated four at the last company party. They also drank Riesling when the company mandated wine is pinot grigio. Recommendation: demotion.”

        1. Admin Food Mediator*

          These are the rules I can remember off the top of my head:

          * Women must not wear red. This is a competitors colour and we can’t remind people of that place
          * During core hours (8:30 – 12, 2 – 8pm) only fruit to be eaten at your desks
          * If you are attending payday parties you must put money into a company pot for rounds of drinks. Buy your own, and you are not being sociable. I get round this as when I come out of my own accord I like cocktails. More money, so let’s not force people to pay for my bellini!
          * Charity? We only celebrate the company mandated one. Want to do something cute such as make Comic Relief cupcakes to celebrate? NO YOU MUST THROW THEM ALL AWAY (yes I witnessed this)
          * You’re ill? You best call the out of hours doctor as well will make it extremely difficult to get time off and this will be brought up in appraisals
          * You’re single. Hey why don’t I try and set you up with another single worker in your office. What do you mean you don’t want my help? OLD WRINKLY MAID
          * You’ve left the company? Dead to me and you better not talk to these people ever again or I will fire you!!
          * White refined sugar is banned from the office as it’s evil. Brown sugar only
          * One cup of tea a day. You’re not doing work otherwise (this died a death recently)

          There are many more that I can’t really recall right now. And yes…the amount of booze is recalled during progress meetings o__o

          1. Anonsie*

            Oh FFS I know I’m the first person to shout “IT’S NOT THAT EASY” whenever the advice turns around to finding a new job, but like… Really though just get out. Just get everyone together and get the everloving crap out of there before someone burns that place to the ground.

          2. Adam*

            Does he hand these rules out while sitting in a large leather chair while petting a sinister looking cat? It’s like you’re working for the health obsessed version of a Captain Planet villain.

          3. INTP*

            Why is it okay for men to wear red and remind customers of your competitor?

            Why is brown sugar okay when it’s just equally processed white sugar with some molasses added in?

            Why require employees to eat healthy but make it difficult for them to obtain healthcare?

            What is the one cup of tea about? Is it that you aren’t doing work if you are drinking zero cups and therefore no caffeine, or you aren’t drinking work if you have more than one cup of tea because you spend all your time drinking tea?

            Why am I trying to read logic into these rules when I know they were just pulled out the arse of a madman?

            1. Three Thousand*

              No one cares what men wear; their function is not decorative.

              Brown = wheat = healthy.

              If you eat healthy you’ll never get sick and you shouldn’t need healthcare.

              The tea explanation is probably close enough.

          4. JB*


            Sorry for the yelling, that list is just bananas and I cracked.*

            *Unless he means raw sugar.

            1. Melissa*

              Nope, even raw/turbinado sugar is just white sugar with more molasses in it. The biggest difference is that the molasses is naturally occurring instead of being added back later – they refine it less than the white sugar, so it retains more molasses. But it’s just as (un) healthy as refined white sugar. /raw sugar eater

          5. UK Nerd*

            There has got to be something in here that’s illegal. The tea one *should* be illegal. Expecting British people to last a whole day on one cup of tea is just inhumane.

          6. Bunny*

            Wait, he tried to mandate a limit on tea drinking? In every office I’ve worked in that would result in an immediate riot.

            I mean, I know the entire list of stuff you just reeled off is horrifying and insane, but seriously? One cup of tea limit in my working day and I’d be having caffeine-withdrawal headaches.

            Also, fascinating that red is a competitor’s colour but that *only women* are banned from wearing it. So no black OR red? That’s rather limiting, especially if you’re wearing office-wear suits and smart dresses.

          7. Kas*

            Joining the “That is *expletive* RIDICULOUS” chorus.

            I know someone with a bowel disorder that means they need to limit the amount of fruit (and similar foods) that they eat, least they (and everyone around them) suffer the unpleasant intestinal consequences. Chips are, in fact, a healthier choice FOR THEM. Let’s not get into the body policing and fat-shaming that ensues.

          8. DoDah*

            *Drinking tea means “not working”–you must always be working.
            *What do you mean you are a bridesmaid in your cousin’s wedding today? I want you to get on a plane and fly to Vancouver NOW!
            *What do you mean you are sick? You don’t have kids–what do you have to be sick about?
            *How dare you want to be reimbursed for expenses in just 8 weeks! You need to float the company a loan for longer than that

  12. fposte*

    So are there rules on what you can have in the fridge (is there even a fridge)? Is there a microwave, and do limitations apply to that? If I heat up the leftover Chipotle from the night before, will it be confiscated?

    I mean, I bring lunch from home most of the time, so technically I’m probably okay, but the reasoning he’s using suggests that anybody’s lunch is fair game at any time because it crosses his imaginary boundary of “healthy.” Though I guess a fifth of scotch is okay.

    1. Elysian*

      Most important question with your post here: Why would you ever have leftover Chipotle? That stuff is delicious and I can never manage to save any, try as I might.

      1. fposte*

        Self-control and self-defense. A whole burrito (my drug of choice) will make me very, very sorry later, Crohn’s-wise. If I virtuously cut the burrito immediately upon getting it and wrap up half right away, I can generally manage to save it. It is one of my few feats of strength.

          1. Elysian*

            My head knows that is true, but it just can’t stop my mouth my chomping. I usually got a bowl though, so at least I’ve dropped the tortilla calories.

          2. fposte*

            Yeah, that was my historical reasoning, and then physiology enforced it. I really try to order lunches that can be divided in half and made into two meals–it tends to reduce American servings to more appropriate sizes.

              1. Editor*

                I get a bowl with the lettuce on the side. Go home, dump lettuce in soup plate, put half the bowl over it, eat. Refrigerate remaining half of bowl and reheat it the next day (without having to worry about being faced with limp, hot lettuce). Chipotle opened a year or two ago and has been a wonderful alternative to the other stuff I was eating for a while, although lately I’ve started cooking again.

                I’ve been making soup, probably because it’s been getting below freezing most of the time. People here are beginning to complain about needing to see spring arrive, and we’re not even in the northern plains or areas that get beyond freezing to frigid.

          3. Kelly L.*

            I can eat one all at once, but it usually makes me not hungry at the next mealtime. So I’m getting 2 meals, just all at once. ;)

    2. Loose Seal*

      Wasn’t there a letter or comment where someone said their coworker brought frozen meals to work and ate them — while still frozen! — with a plastic fork? We need to hook that coworker up with this boss. Match made in heaven!

      1. L Veen*

        Yup, that was me! I’ve noticed that this coworker is now microwaving her frozen meals about half the time. (I’m not policing her lunches by any means, but she sits right across from me, so it’s easy for me to notice if she goes to the kitchen or just eats meal semi-thawed from sitting in her bag all day.)

        1. Anonsie*

          Oh my god I remember this and I thought it was the weirdest eating habit I’ve ever heard of, but then I remembered that I used to eat Eggo waffles and stuff like that while they were still frozen and it was like starring into the weirdo abyss.

  13. Adam*

    Your boss is a loon who has grossly overestimated where his power should reach to. Congrats to him on getting healthier and all that, but iron fist imposed edicts to illicit similar behavior from his staff are, at best, not going to work and, at worst, inspire a disgruntled uprising with catapults loaded with chicken nuggets.

  14. Xarcady*

    I see several options, but most of them involve some degree of change on the part of the director.

    1. Getting permission to leave the office while the butcher’s/sandwich shop is still open to get a sandwich.
    2. Longer lunch breaks to allow travel time to healthier food places.
    3. The director provides food.
    4. Bringing in smelly food to be reheated (because only hot take-away food has been banned), so that the director will realize that even healthy, home-made food can smell. The resulting ban on bringing in food from home could open a door for discussion about what options employees are limited to for lunch, and the fact that to be healthy most people need to eat lunch, and what options does the director realistically think they still have, after all his banishments?

    I get the impression, perhaps incorrectly, that no one is willing to face the director head on about this? The fact that senior employees are even considering asking the OP to do a daily lunch run for 13 people indicates to me that there is a considerable back-story to this director. My guess is that things have slowly been getting worse and worse, with more and more micro-managing, but this is the straw that broke the camel’s back. Mostly because the staff do not have *any* good, reasonable work-arounds to the fast food ban.

      1. Ineloquent*

        The downside is that presumably, you may have to eat that durian fruit. From experience, I can tell you that it tastes every bit as bad as it smells. Onion bagel with lox, sliced onion and capers, however? So good, and yet so smelly…

        1. Kelly L.*

          LOL! I found it to not taste as bad as it smells, at least to my own taste buds, but it’s getting past the smell that’s hard. My every instinct screams “THIS IS NOT A THING TO EAT.”

        2. Dmented Kitty*

          Durian chips are actually very tasty. It’s the texture of fresh durian that I didn’t go for. Although the chips’ smell is not as potent as the fresh ones, it still stinks.

          Jackfruit stinks too, but it’s that cloying, sickening, sweet smell like overripe fruit. I do like it in desserts, though.

      2. Anonsie*

        My partner used to work in this weird food-policing office where people also often made off-color remarks about his ethnicity and immigration status (he’s from Asia). While he was lining up a new job I repeatedly insisted he had to start eating durian around the office because 1) oh I’m a weird Asian am I? I’ll show you weird Asian and 2) screw those people. I said he should crack one open and then walk around eating it, talking to everyone, quietly throwing the seeds in the trash cans under their desks when they weren’t looking.

        He did not oblige my fantasy.

          1. Anonsie*

            My compromise suggestions was raw shrimp be he didn’t go for that, either. He squanders his opportunities.

    1. Admin Food Mediator*

      You got it! Completely odourless cold food but you best turn up payday and throw £40 towards a group cocktail (one bottle of rum, one bottle of champagne, fruit punch and 15 shots of tequila). Or else you’re not a team player.

      1. esra*

        Man, eff this guy. I hope every single one of you finds an amazing new job. With any luck, on the same day.

  15. AndersonDarling*

    I’d hate to be the HR rep that needs to explain this rule to job candidates. “We are a great company! We don’t allow black shirts or take-out food, and we require employees to buy lots of alcohol. How soon can you start?”

        1. Cat*

          And the healthy food for that matter. Like, I can choose whether to buy those things myself while wearing black at my nice, non-crazy job.

        2. Youthier*

          Yeah, I would give up black shirts for free booze but not for the privilege of paying for it with an insane boss.

    1. INTP*

      Unfortunately places like this usually don’t explain anything until after you’ve started. If then. They might just wait for you to mess up and then reprimand you like you should have known that black shirts are ridiculous.

      1. Admin Food Mediator*

        Yup, spot on! Just had a happy memory of being told off for eating a fruity muesli bar at my desk on my third day. Reason? “Oh well Dante only allows healthy stiff during core sales hours so fruit only OR ELSE”

        1. INTP*

          What if someone has diabetes or blood sugar control issues and it’s unhealthy for them to eat a piece of fruit with no fat or protein to slow the fructose absorption? Ugh I hate Dante.

          1. Kas*

            Or requires a low-residue diet because of a bowel disorder? We’d be back to the “coworker is stinking up the office” complaints :\

        2. fposte*

          The rules of what Dante says you can eat are becoming quite intricate. Perhaps there should be an infographic.

      2. Three Thousand*

        Yeah, you can’t give people the whole list of insane rules at once or you’ll never be able to keep a new employee. You have to ease them in and take advantage of their conditioned helplessness. Plus, the list is almost certainly continually updated as douchebag boss comes across new things that annoy him and remind him how much he hates his life and everything in it.

  16. Lontra Canadensis*

    I do bring my lunch to work most days, and this rule would make me angry. Some mornings I don’t want anything we have at home, or I’m feeling off and want something hot I don’t have to think about. Like the LW, getting to and from the places where decent food can be had (ie: anything other than the gas station on the corner) from our office leaves no time to eat.

    The other thing is, this is is not an isolated odd quirk, this is another step by a boss that already has some unreasonable (IMO) requirements in place. Sounds to me like the employees are getting fed up and pushing back.

    1. esra*

      Right? What about the odd day when you are just rushed and forget lunch on the counter, are you just not supposed to eat?

      1. Admin Food Mediator*

        This is part of the many reasons staff are livid at this. There’s absolutely no leeway, if you forget good then we’ll, you best hope someone takes pity or no food.

        God forbid you’re doing a late night marketing evening. 8am till 8pm with no proper meals…enjoy.

  17. DrPepper Addict*

    Stories like this bother me so much, that I’ll be thinking about this the rest of the day. I can’t get over the audacity of some businesses that think they can run every part of your life just because you work for them. It’s not the business of your employer to tell you how to live your life and what to eat. If someone wants to be unhealthy and eat what they want, that’s their prerogative.

    It reminds me of a story I read last week about a little girl having a note sent home from her from school to the parents saying to pack her more healthy meals. Her father was a doctor and wrote back explaining the nutrition value in what he packed her.

    I said all that to say, it drives me crazy when schools, businesses, or any other organization think they can tell you how to live your life. It’s still a free country and we can eat what we da** well choose to. It’s almost like it’s en vogue to discriminate against the obese and people who don’t feel like eating healthy, as if they’re so oblivious to what is and isn’t healthy, that their food choices have to be made for them.

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      What’s funny is if those people kept their big mouth shut they might find that the behavior they are modeling is just as effective at bringing change. Random observation but I work with people who tend to eat really healthy. We also eat together as a group but don’t discuss our meals much. A new coworker started and the first few days his lunches were more of the unhealthy variety. (I only noticed b/c they contain something I can’t eat so I viewed it with envy). Now, I see that he brings food similar to what my coworkers bring. I’m curious whether it was an unspoken peer pressure. I’m not saying that it is a good thing at all. People should eat what they want. Just an interesting observation.

      1. Cath in Canada*

        Heh, we have the same phenomenon here. We’re very lucky to have a lot of really great lunch options within a couple of blocks of the office, most of them pretty healthy. We joke that only newbies ever come back to the lunchroom with McDonald’s – people who’ve been here for a while have discovered all the less obvious options, most of which are much healthier.

        (I used to work somewhere with no lunch options within walking distance, so I know just how lucky we are here! I still bring a lunch from home 4 days a week, but it’s nice to have options for my Friday treat).

      2. VintageLydia USA*

        My circle of (online) friends have been eating a bit healthier, and generally posting the things they’ve been eating (in a non-preachy “wow this was way better than I was expecting!” way) and I’ve lost 20 pounds since before Thanksgiving. I think I’ve been unconsciously following their lead (shout out to Rebecca here since she’s one of them!)

      3. Katriona*

        I’ve definitely noticed a change in my own behavior when I’ve worked at places where everyone tends to eat healthy and sit together at lunch vs. places where there’s a wide variety in what people eat or we all tend to eat by ourselves. At the former I adapted very quickly to bringing in salads and the occasional leftovers, because I felt self-conscious about being the only one eating junk food. No one ever said a word to me about it either way.

    2. WildLandLover*

      I SO agree with you! Whose business is it, except for your own, what the hell you eat?! I work with a woman who would endlessly nag a male coworker about his diet after he developed diabetes. The man was a saint, I tell you. If she ever says anything to me about my diet, she’s going to get an earful.

      I can certainly understand strong-smelling foods being an issue sometimes, but the director in this case is WAY out of line. The employees definitely need to push back against this.

    3. Not Myself Today*

      Wikipedia has an interesting article on company towns, with a section on Paternalism and some comments on social engineering.

      Unfortunately, there is a long tradition of this type of behavior (and a corresponding tradition of rebelling against it).

      In this case, I have joined the rebels in the fight against the dark side –

  18. Lisa*

    This is one of those points of no return. When something so ridiculous is introduced at a job that you shut off caring. You start thinking of everything collectively that bugs you about the job, and start looking for another job.

  19. Case of the Mondays*

    What I find funny about this is most of the jobs I have had are places where you can’t quickly get take out so I was shocked to see backlash about that. I even worked one place where you weren’t allowed to leave the premises during your shift though you could obviously take a lunch break, you just had to be in the building. (This is common for places where you need people to respond in an emergency and they can get called off break.)

    I would be furious if my boss was dictating what I could eat based on what he/she thought was healthy but it doesn’t strike me as odd to say “no getting take out” but that is probably just because of where I have worked/lived.

    1. Stephanie*

      Yeah, I’m working somewhere now like that. I’d imagine that’s common in manufacturing or plant settings. I can take a meal break, but it has to be on-site (in case an emergency does arise). That requirement pretty much precludes getting takeout, unless I buy it beforehand. I’d guess the difference is that no one explicitly banned takeout, there’s a need to stay on site, and there’s not some pseudo-health reasoning behind the rule.

      OP said she’s in a sales organization, so maybe there’s a need for coverage if this is some Glengarry Glen Ross type sales team but this rule just seems arbitrary and illogical and likely to burn out good sales people.

        1. Elysian*

          I wish that was all that it took to require that people be paid for their meal break, but sadly your employer can require you to stay even if you’re not being paid. –> “It is not necessary that an employee be permitted to leave the premises if he is otherwise completely freed from duties during the meal period” 29 CFR 785.19.

        2. Stephanie*

          Nope, unpaid. :( Although I report my own hours, am not full-time, and usually get interrupted during my meal break anyway…

      1. Zillah*

        Right – I think there being a clear need for even significant restrictions makes them a lot easier to stomach.

  20. Eliza Jane*

    Two suggestions, if you can’t manage to talk him down:

    1. I understand that there’s no time to drive out and get something and come back, but is there a place to sit at the fish&chips place or the chicken place and eat there? I’m not sure how long a walk it is or how much time you have for lunch, but if it were me, I would make a point of staying out absolutely as long as I was allowed. Eating take-out in the office, in my experience, is a way to keep working while you eat — I’ll often grab something and eat it from my desk. If people just take the break, might that be a hit to the company sales/profits that would sway the director?

    2. If senior staff are on your side, could you guys try a variation on “you-stopping-daily-to-get-food”, which would involve someone different each day getting a longer-than-usual lunch to drive somewhere with healthy food and bring back for everyone? Share the burden?

    1. Kas*

      Figuring out the logistics of #2 is pretty daunting to me, to be honest. It would be simpler if it were only one person’s job, but it would need to be part of their work duties.

  21. Cath in Canada*

    Your boss sucks.

    When I used to work in a place that had no food purchasing options within walking distance, we had a man come in from 10:30 – 11 am every day with a selection of sandwiches for sale – he’d set up at a table in the lobby, and got swarmed every single day. Any unsold stock went into a refrigerated vending machine. I think he provided the same lunch delivery service to multiple places in the same area. It might be worth looking around to see if there’s a similar service in your area.

    1. Judy*

      One company that closed the cafeteria offered fairly extensive vending machines, and also had a food truck or caterer come on Thursdays for people to buy from. They had maybe 4 different vendors coming, so there was variety.

  22. Student*

    If someone at work is enterprising, they could sell cold food that meets the boss’s specifications to this captive market.

    Sounds like a loony situation, best of luck with it. Don’t take on this fight for everyone else – either insist they come with you to talk to the boss, or insist that people above you handle it. At best, you’re just going to get fired if you take this on yourself. Your co-workers are using you as the sacrificial lamb.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Echoing- OP, please do not spear head this. They can pass around a petition or ask for a large group meeting or anything else that shows cohesion. I learned a long time ago, do not speak for a group, if the group is not standing there.

      Honestly, it sounds like your boss has more than one plan to kill his biz. If plan A does not work, he will move to plan B. You can’t fix that.

      I can’t see how anyone is getting any work done in light of all these rules.

  23. Daisy*

    Can’t they just eat the food in the chicken place or the chippy? Why do they have to bring it in the building? The smell of fried stuff does linger, I’m on the boss’s side there. ( Also “it looks like you work in a phone shop” is hilarious and factual, black shirts are tacky.)

    1. Zillah*

      Black t-shirts? Maybe – I don’t think “phone shop” every time I see a black t-shirt, but that’s just me. But 1) if you’re allowing t-shirts in the first place, you’re pretty informal and don’t have much of a leg to stand on, and 2) there are many, many black shirts that are dressy, and I’m not clear on how someone could go through life connecting all black shirts to phone shops when they’re literally everywhere.

      1. Daisy*

        I meant shirts, which is what the letter says, not T shirts. are they everywhere? I associate them with uniforms (if not a phone shop then a Wetherspoons), don’t understand who’d wear them optionally. Of course not the boss’s job to teach people dress sense, I’m sure he is a dick, but that opinion’s sound in my book.

    2. fposte*

      Inherently tacky somehow? Or are you just thinking about the historical reference? (Of course brown should be out then as well.)

      1. Mander*


        If I didn’t have black tops of various kinds, I’d be naked from the waist up most days. It’s too cold for that here.

  24. Zahra*

    You know, alcohol is full of empty calories.

    123 calories for a glass of wine
    154 calories for a can of beer
    268 calories for a rum and coke

    That may be a good way to push back on mandatory booze spending. ;)

  25. Marzipan*

    If you continue to receive pressure to do an office-wide lunch run, it may be worth seeing whether there are any local services that deliver, and presenting this as an alternative? I used to work in a very small ‘office’ (actually, a railway signal box) which was not particularly central, and we had a ‘sandwich lady’ who came by during the morning with a basket of sandwiches for sale. There were only five of us working there at a time, and we didn’t always buy anything, but she obviously still considered it worthwhile including us on her rounds, so someone somewhere would probably see your workplace as an opportunity too.

  26. A Reader*

    I’ve heard of this type of thing before. It’s completely ridiculous that, just becasue the boss made a new years resolution to go to the gym and get in better shape, everyone around him has to do the same.

    “The rule was loudly reiterated and a few backhanded comments about rising obesity within the company.”

    Seriously? Everyone can make their own choices about whether or not they want to eat healthy. Some people have no control over their body composition without serious medical help. Unless your company is the poster boy of being fit and healthy and work with clients for the same goals, there is no reason to police what other people look like.

    To accept how you look is hard enough for many people as it is with all the emphasis in the media to be skinny or ripped, a comment like this one can be detrimental. Completely unexcusable enforcement of a ridiculous rule from a boss that sounds like he has little self control over his diet and exercise.

    1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

      Yeah, this is the part of it that makes me the most upset. His fat-shaming is legal but a terrible way to manage an office. I’d want to respond to him with, “Bill, why are you trying to get involved with people’s weight? It doesn’t have anything to do with whether they can do their jobs here.”

  27. so and so*

    I had a boss who got huffy over my healthy eating. It apparently offended her. Wish I could say I had a solution to get your boss off your back, I ended up eating in my car every day to avoid comments :/

  28. Jeanne*

    I think you need to learn to say no. No to bringing lunch. And definitely no to being an unofficial HR person who sort of might have the power to influence a crazy person. Tell everyone that your going to him alone is going to mean bupkus. If they go as a group, the whole office, you will join them but you will not make it your responsibility to do it alone.

    For lunch, pack, don’t pack, eat, go hungry, whatever. But only your lunch is your problem. You cannot give them a longer lunch break or more restaurants. Eat your lunch in peace and let them figure out what to eat.

  29. Kat A.*

    What’s the deal with making employees spend money on alcohol? I don’t drink, so that would be a definite N.O. for me.

    OP, could you please elaborate?

    1. Admin Food Mediator*

      It’s this weird policy they have where everyone works hard and plays hard, feel more like a family and that sort of rubbish. So every payday where most staff based on their commission get a generous payslip we all have to bond as an office and put money into a collective pot to be spent on rounds in the pub/cocktails.

      I’m all for going out as a company for a meal, birthday or a special ‘all four offices meet up in all paid for trip to London as a one off’ but I draw the line at being bullied into mandatory fun, aaaargh!

      1. Purple Jello*

        Is there a designated amount you have to put in the collective pot? Or can you just throw in a dollar and order a soda or tonic water?

  30. Laura the Librarian*

    This boss is an absolute loon.
    That being said, I feel like I need some more info.
    1. Is he banning just take out or all hot food? If I bring in my leftover 5 cheese lasagna, can I eat it or will the fat policing boss confiscate it?
    2. What type of facilities do they have for alternatives? Do they have a fridge, microwave etc. for the employees to use? The letter reads like everyone in the office gets take out for lunch which seems odd to me.

  31. Admin Food Mediator*

    Op here (huge thank you to everyone for your replies, I’m going through all of them as we speak) for a little more clarification and a mini update…

    We very rarely have visitors into our office, if we do its with plenty of warning and staff will arrange their lunches around this. The places we can go to eat have nowhere to sit and we need the phones covered at all times (quite glad they haven’t tried to pull the ‘oh admin girl can do it all’ while they all disappear out for lunch). We do have a tiny fridge which we just about fit everyone’s stuff in equally. Off the top of my head four staff are struggling with this as they live with control freaks/no access to a kitchen.

    For the first few days there was a mix of disgruntled staff and the odd person bringing in chilli and seafood to rock the boat. This has now caused the director (I’ll call him Dante due to his mop of silver hair) to spread this rule to ALL hot food with odours. I thought there would have been a mutiny on our hands but this has pushed a lot of staff. We’re all having appraisals this week and the underlying micromanaging and overall slipping morale has popped up from the majority of people. People are leaving on the dot rather than making sure all work is done and we’ve lost out on serious money.

    From speaking to a lot of the seniors, it’s am interesting situation. Dante is acting like this is still a small company where the three people he’s hired will put up with nonsense as they’ve known him for 20+ years and have accepted that this is how he is. With our company growing and attracting young blood, he still thinks applying odd blanket bans/rules will work and the way he speaks to people is acceptable. The seniors think I will get the point across better as I’m one of the few who have stood up for myself (respectfully of course) when some staff kept making very horrible and sexist comments relating to the Ed Chevans footballer case (please Google and then hate humanity). I have gently pointed out that we need to approach this as an office. With me leading them at this rate…

    Oh, and in regards to the mandatory month ends with copious booze? Yes he still goes on these, makes up for any positive health stuff he’s achieved. It’s also been mentioned that I’m not going on enough of these, despite my not at all generous administrator salary. At this rate I’ll need to hire someone for advice on this job, bar focusing on work and looking elsewhere patiently. Salary will consist of hot, powerful smelling food of course…

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, Dante’s nuts and he’s going to run his business into the ground unless he’s got some kind of genius skills that’ll keep money coming in when the staff goes.

      Can you get marshmallow fluff over there? I’d just always be eating out of a jar when I talked to him. “Cold food with little odor, boss, just like you wanted!” (I was originally thinking lard, but I don’t think even for a point I could just snack on lard.)

      1. Anonsie*

        I was once required to straight up eat chunks of various fats, including lard (long story, it was for a class) and was surprised at how lard didn’t really taste like anything and was pretty pleasant compared to butter or oil or shortening.

        So I guess I’m saying eat lard out of the box, it’ll be funny.

      2. Dmented Kitty*

        I was thinking a couple cans of pork & beans… He didn’t say anything about odours originating from… ahem… bodily sources?

      3. Collarbone High*

        For one semester in high school, when I was kinda dumb but had an amazing metabolism, my lunch every day was a large bottle of Dr Pepper and a package of those mini chocolate donuts. Now the thought makes me gag, but I’d be tempted to start up again if I had to work with this guy. It’s cold and has no odor!

      4. Jean*

        “Snack on lard” just to aggravate this crazy boss? Wouldn’t do this myself, but LOL!
        One could also munch on a stick of butter.
        Or chomp on antacid tablets as though they were after-dinner candy.
        And I’m getting sick just thinking about this.

        1. Calliope*

          Stick of butter dipped into sugar. My husband actually witnessed that one. (Me, I prefer my sugar+butter in cookie format.)

    2. Vladimir*

      I feel for you, this would really make me angry. Whenever I read about crazy bosses like this I just have this dream: All empolees coming to the manager, every single one handing the boss their resignation without notice and leaving the boss alone in the empty office. I know hardy doanle in life, but great image.

      btw. I am sure it was Chad Evans no? And yes you are right some comments on the internet were horrible, especially hounding of his vicitim, sometimes one really despairs over the state of humanity.

      1. Admin Food Mediator*

        What makes me feel better is my very first professional job was extremely horrendous (ongoing bullying which DID result in a mass walkout!) The appraisal next week will be interesting…

        Chad Evans, yes! Those views were voiced by a small group in our office. Considering how backward the director can be, that’s probably the first time I’ve seen him act in the professional manner expected…

    3. Chriama*

      In regards to the company boozing, do you feel comfortable mentioning the cost to your supervisor? You shouldn’t have to, but if s/he’s bugging you about not making every happy hour you could mention that, while you love socializing with the company at these events (whether or not that’s true, haha!), you unfortunately can’t afford to go every week because it’s very expensive. It sounds like you work with some real characters, but it’s possible they never thought about the cost aspect. Of course, it could be that they also resent spending so much money and won’t be willing to cut you any slack because misery loves company… hmm, now I’m not sure what to advise.

  32. Finbar*

    Not being picky here; I’m genuinely curious: Why’d OP spell “odor” without the U, but “favour” with?

    1. Admin Food Mediator*

      Still not quite used to the autocorrect on this new phone. Muktitasking with posting on here and updating my CV means I make the odd mistake now and then, doh.

  33. namelesswordlessworldlesswanderer*

    Someone needs to bring in a nice, healthy, COLD lunch of durian, sardines, and blue cheese.

  34. mel*

    So… an entire office of 13+ people, who are considered “skilled” (compared to us blue-collar “unskilled” people who deserve to live in poverty but let’s not derail myself), are completely incapable of packing a paperbag lunch? To the point where everyone is desperate to come up with a lunch system in which no one has to do anything, the lunch just appears every morning like your mum is there?


    I mean, hell, I for one don’t really blame you. I never had lunches in school and still don’t really know how to make a good one. So my lunch is usually grabbing a can of whatever out of my cupboard five minutes before leaving for work. I get it, I do. But I feel like your workplace is ignoring a pretty obvious solution here.

    1. Kyrielle*

      It’s not a solution that is viable for all people, depending on their circumstances, though. And prepping a lunch that is anything but a tossed-together salad or sandwich (which gets tedious after a while) requires facilities to cook (sounds like four of the employees don’t have good access to such a thing, for one reason or another, from an earlier comment from the OP), and time to cook it in.

      Let me be frank: eating the same thing day after day gets pretty darned boring, especially if it’s a food you don’t really love but are eating just because it is easy (say, sandwiches if you don’t like them).

      Also, some people find a hot meal invigorating – and packing a hot meal from home would also be impacted by this rule, sounds like. So there’s a whole other category out – you’re now restricted to things you can prepare at home, bring in, stuff in the refrigerator (good they have one at least!), but that are not hot.

      I’d get really tired of that, fast, myself. (And I sometimes do take in sandwiches, but not every day.)

  35. Charisma*

    It is really interesting to me that he is encouraging (or “requiring”) alcohol consumption, but has an issue with hot lunches. Did indulgence in alcoholic beverages (aside from theoccasional small glass of red wine) suddenly become “healthy”?

  36. beckythetechie*

    Might be time for a nice, healthy, home-made tuna salad with Italian dressing and capers, a huge dill pickle on the side, and some hard-boiled eggs every day for a month. (Bonus if your boss is right at the end of the heat/air co circulation uptake.) Ooh, or a nice broccoli salad, or 7 bean salad with sardines? ( :) ) Curried shrimp over mixed grains?

    Glad to see you’re updating your vita. I think it might be the best possible move given the rest of the unreasonableness of this position.

  37. CW*

    The director sounds like an unreformed alcoholic, with the mandatory booze parties being a big indicator of this. He has to have people drink with him to not feel “alone” about his problem.
    The health kick is probably his way to deal with it (and includes a good faith effort to not drink as much, but then goes hog-wild at the monthly parties). Seeing someone eating unhealty food probably temps him to drop it all and pick up the daily booze again.
    This is a man who needs help, and he will drag his company down with him.

    1. Loose Seal*

      I’m sure everyone can rest easy knowing that you’ve diagnosed his problem. Even if you’re 100% correct, your answer doesn’t help the OP at all.

      1. CW*

        It helps the OP, because the answer is to get out of that company. Trying to work around the irrational behavior of an alcoholic will only drive her crazy, and enable the alcoholic to continue his destructive behavior.

  38. Volunteer Enforcer*

    Exactly. I’m on a kick of healthy eating and going to the gym, but I let my colleagues eat what they want. The most reasonable food boundary that could be put up is politely refusing if offered.

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