my office-mate just broke up with me, coffee wars, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My coworker just broke up with me, and we share an office

I work in a tight-knit office, with two other people in my room. We are friends inside and outside of work. It’s a part-time office job, always hiring, so people come and go fairly often, and we often recommend friends looking for a temporary, part-time job. However, after four years, I now have a great full-time job there and love my immediate coworkers and all my bosses.

My partner recently ended things with me very unexpectedly. The problem? He sits two feet to my left. Do you have any tips? Only one or two people (out of 50) knew we were dating. I’m not suffering from some devastating heartbreak, and it was a very amicable split. But I’m definitely a little out of step because of it, and I don’t want my work to suffer because of it. I’m working remotely today, but I have to go back at some point. It’s going to be difficult to laugh and joke with him as usual.

Oh, I’m sorry. The last thing you want to do when you’ve just been through a break-up is see the person every day and have to interact in front of other people.

I think you can expect to feel awkward for the first few days, and yeah, it will probably distract you a little at first. But we tend to get used to things pretty quickly, even awkward things, and I think if you just plunge in and are determined to be pleasant and professional, the strangeness will probably lessen faster than you think.

Of course, it’s never a good idea to date someone who works two feet away from you, but that kind of admonition has never stopped anyone in the history of work. So you’ve got plenty of company in this uncomfortable boat.

Read an update to this letter here.

2. Coffee wars

I have an employee who is very particular about his coffee. He has confronted a few people in the lunch room about mixing pots. When the pots are around half-full, many people will mix the two so that they can brew another pot. The coffee is exactly the same except for being brewed at different times. My employee would rather dump out the older pot and then brew a new pot, leaving one half-full pot.

Some of my coworkers have asked that I speak with him about his wasteful practices with coffee. This is somewhat in jest, but also somewhat serious. The guy in question actually complained to me last week about the coffee mixing practices of other people, so I am now hearing it from both sides. I don’t drink the coffee very often, nor do I know much about the quality of coffee, so this battle is pretty foreign territory to me. I am never supportive of wasting money (coffee), but perhaps mixing pots brewed at different times is some type of workplace sin (I am told by my coworkers that it definitely isn’t).

How should I handle this issue? I find it a little silly to dedicate time to this issue, but as with any issue, if you completely ignore it, it can get worse over time.

I’m not a coffee drinker so people who are should correct me if needed, but I can’t figure out why he objects to combining two pots of the exact same coffee. So yeah, it does seem wasteful.

Unless there’s something coffee-specific here that I’m missing, I’d just tell him to stop dumping perfectly good coffee, and that if he wants to be picky about coffee quality, he needs a source other than the office coffee supply — because that’s just intended to cater to the most basic of coffee needs.

3. Mother and daughter applying for the same job

My partner’s aunt has forwarded information about a job opening to both my partner and her mother. Since they’re both in the field, and both looking for work, they’re both going to apply.

My partner’s nervous that it’s going to look very strange to the hiring manager if a mother and daughter both apply for the same role. Is that weird? I’m assuming it’s something that can be explained/laughed off in an interview, but could it actually look strange enough to put a manager off talking to either of them?

(Obviously my mother-in-law has more experience, but for a number of reasons — more flexible schedule and start date — I feel like my partner’s still a competitive option, and it is basically an entry-level role.)

Unless they share a very distinctive last name, the hiring manager may not even realize that they’re related.

If she does realize it … yeah, it’s a little weird, but not prohibitively weird. I’ve had married couples apply for the same job before, and while it was certainly something I took note of (in a “huh, that’s interesting; I wonder what the story is behind this” kind of way), it’s not something that would prevent me from interviewing or hiring either of them if they were strong candidates.

That said, there’s no reason that either of them needs to bring it up proactively. It’s the sort of thing they should disclose if they were going to be working together, but not if they’re just competing for the same job.

4. Random strangers stop in our office and ask me to look up information for them

I work in a front office as an administrative assistant for a nonprofit (my job entails a lot more than just handling front office inquiries, and I never have any free time as my work load is pretty heavy). We are in a high-volume walking and public transit traffic location where a lot of people with no association with our organization find themselves in our office needing help with one thing or another. (We’re talking probably 10-15 people per day, in addition to people who are associated with us).

I of course assist when I can, but a large percentage of people coming in are asking things I have no knowledge of and I find myself acting as a personal online researcher to find addresses, phone numbers (restaurant locations, concert ticket sales in the area, places to park, etc.). What’s more frustrating is many of these people come walking in with their smart phones in hand but don’t think to search on their own.

I’ve spoken about this with my boss and she completely supports me putting some boundaries with people not associated with our organization, but I still meet resistance. A woman came in the other day looking for a phone number and address for an organization down the street from us (with her smart phone in hand) and I tried to deflect her request by suggesting she could get that information on their website. She replied, “Yeah, but I don’t want to look it up on my phone, can’t you look it up on your computer?”

Am I alone in thinking that people should be doing their own online searching if they’re capable? I understand if it’s a person who’s not as comfortable with technology, or does not have a smart phone, but I’m talking people who seem confident with it, and have a smart phone but are weirdly triggered by seeing me at a front desk and immediately forget they have a computer in their hand capable of all the things that I would be able to do for them.

Nope, you’re being perfectly reasonable. It’s ridiculous that people are expecting a business they have no connection to function as their personal search engine.

You just need to be firmer and stick with it. When a stranger asks you to look something up for them, say, “I’m sorry, I’m right in the middle of a project and not able to help you with that.” If someone pushes, say, “I can’t stop what I’m doing, but we have good cell phone coverage here if you want to try looking it up on your phone.”

5. Do I include overtime when stating my salary?

I make a decent wage for my area. But as a single woman with student loan payments, I have tough times. Luckily, my company encourages overtime when necessary (which is often) and the past few years I have managed to make an additional $10,000 through overtime. When I begin looking for work and the question of my current salary comes up, do I tell them my total compensation (with overtime) or my base annual salary?

You can give them the total as long as you explain that part of it is overtime. For example: “With overtime, my annual pay is $X.”

But I’d rethink whether to share it at all; it’s no one’s business.

{ 538 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Lots of comments on the coffee question! Before adding a new one, please read the existing comments to see if your point has already been made. (And if you want to chime in anyway, please add it to an already-existing thread on that question.) Thanks!

    1. Just Another HR Pro*

      LOL – I came here to read the comments!! Curious non-coffee drinker here! :)

      1. paul*

        same. it all taste like burned sleep deprivation to me. I’ll take my caffeine fix cold.

    2. Karen D*

      This is why I love the “collapse all replies” button. :) Makes it very easy to get past the coffee discussion.

  2. Leah*

    I think the coffee pot guy is afraid that if you pour the old one into the new one old coffee grounds will get mixed in as well.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      He might be objecting because the older coffee—if it’s been on the percolator/hot pad for longer—is going to taste worse than the new pot, and it’s also going to increase the number of grounds floating around. I know I don’t like the taste of old coffee (it’s bitter, like oversteeped tea). That said, I don’t think his reaction/solution is reasonable. Frankly, he could opt for pour-over if he wants a fresh cup each time.

      But I am a little curious about why folks are brewing two pots when they’re only using the equivalent of one pot of coffee. Why not just brew one put at a time, or start the new pot when the coffee drops below the halfway point? Who pays for the beans/supplies—is it a shared pot (no pun intended), or something the office provides?

      1. Casuan*

        PCBH, I was wondering about the two pots as well.
        Mixing pots can make a difference with coffee because pots often brew a bit differently. There can definitely be an off taste to an older brew.

        That said!!
        Assuming the company is paying for the coffee, everyone should be good stewards with this beverage perk. Mr Pots is the odd man out & he doesn’t have much grounds to demand his colleagues to cater to his coffee requirements.
        Mr Pots should bring in a French press or bring his friend Mr Coffee to serve his needs, at his expense. Keurig is a good option although if everyone else is good with the current system then there’s no reason to switch coffee makers.

        :::cringing at the puns yet proud I resisted even more puns:::

        1. Casuan*

          ps: OP2 might also have a behaviour issue to deal with here. If Mr Pots is “confronting” his colleagues about the coffee pots & instigating coffee wars… And how much work is being ignored when everyone is discussing the Great Coffee Debate?

          OP, it’s good that you want to address this now so the situation doesn’t escalate!

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I think calling it a behavioral issue is going too far based on the information we’ve been given.

            It doesn’t sound like he’s “confronting” people in a Maury Povich way, but rather, in a “hey! stop mixing the sludge with the new coffee!” way. And it sounds like it really bothers him, if he’s complaining to OP. But that doesn’t mean he’s haranguing people to such an extent that it’s impeding on the amount of time spent working or on productivity.

            Again, his “please don’t mix the pots!” request is not unreasonable, although being wasteful is not a reasonable solution. I just think it’s weird that his coworkers refuse to talk to him directly about it if it actually bothers them. My advice to OP would be to get both “sides” into a room to talk about it, not to serve as an interlocutor.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I just think they should brew one pot instead of combining an old (gross) pot with a new one. If he’s rational, his problem isn’t that the pots have a differential brewing pattern, but rather, that old coffee becomes disgusting sludge, and he doesn’t want sludge adulterating the new coffee. His request isn’t that absurd, although they way he’s currently handling it isn’t particularly reasonable.

          I’m not a huge fan of Keurig for a long list of reasons. But I think OP should deal with this (or encourage the coworkers to deal with it) before investing in a new way of brewing just so that the players involved can continue to ignore talking about the things that annoy them. It’s like the coffee version of adopting a new policy when there’s a correctable problem that could be resolved by direct communication.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Sorry to keep commenting on this. But the other option, if people are concerned with the sludge effect, is to brew a half pot in the morning instead of a full pot, and to set another half pot to brew afterward based on demand.

            1. Mookie*

              Yep. This problem has been solved long ago, when tea and coffee carts were introduced to office-y (rather than physical labor-y) environments. You brew according to the number of people you expect to be serving and you stagger subsequent brews according to expected need. This is not complicated.

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              Commenting as a non-coffee drinker–why don’t they pour the coffee into their cup? Why are they brewing a new pot, but preserving the dregs of two old pots?

              On a culinary level, I believe PCBH is correct that coffee is not one of those foods that benefits from adding some well-seasoned older batches to the fresh young batches.

                1. Naruto*

                  Yeah, that practice is really unnecessary. You can avoid the coffee quality problems AND avoid wastefulness if you have everyone finish the first pot and only after that’s done brew the second pot!

                2. MindoverMoneyChick*

                  So nobody wants to drink the old coffee? Sounds like throwing it out is the right move then (or brew less to begin with as somebody mentioned upthread) I guess I sort of get why you might have one half-drunk pot of old coffee, but I’m really baffled with how you wind up with two half pots. And why some people think it’s fine to combine the old coffee to free up a pot brew more, rather than just drink what’s there. But have a problem with throwing out thatold coffe to free up a pot. As a non-coffee drinker this is just very confusing to me.

            3. Whats In A Name*

              In theory I agree with this most, but if OPs office is like ours a 1/2 pot isn’t actually possible. The bulk pot is hooked directly into the water line and when you push the brew button you get a full pots worth of water, regardless of the amount of grinds you put in.

            1. Bea*

              My last office had the nastiest Keurig with mold in the reservoir so I’ve developed a distrust for them as a shared device :(

              1. Liifi*

                At my husband’s office, they once took the Keurig apart to clean it because no one could remember the last time it had been cleaned. In between the chamber where you put in the K-Cup and the spout where the coffee comes out, they found a dead cockroach.

                1. EddieSherbert*

                  AHHHHH. That’s horrifying. But reminds me a (horribly gross) personal coffee story…

                  During college, I lived in a gross old “college house” for awhile – and I would brew a pot of coffee, and if I didn’t finish it, just reheat it the next day.

                  One morning, I got up and went to pour my old coffee… a mouse had gotten into the coffee pot. And drowned in my coffee.

                  Despite cleaning it like five times, running it through the dishwasher, and using a small amount of bleach… I could never use that coffee pot again. *shudder*

                2. LSP*

                  I generally don’t like Keurigs due to the waste and the weakness of the coffee. And due to the problems with mold, etc, the only Keurig I trust is the one at my SILs house, because she and her husband are SUPER CLEAN! I could eat off their kitchen floor and not worry about it.

                3. Spoonie*

                  And this is why I only use the Keurig machine I was gifted that sits on my kitchen counter that has one of this fill-it-yourself K-pod things. Gross.

                4. Zombii*

                  @EddieSherbert | You’re a better wo/man than I—I would have never been able to use that dishwasher again. O_o

              2. Swimmergurl*

                Periodically, you have to clean them by running vinegar through the system instead of water. My coworker used to do it once a quarter on a late afternoon. Some Keurigs also have the ability to brew larger pots.

                1. Bea*

                  I started cleaning that thing every week. My bosses, I adore them but they’re filthy and didn’t care either way. I didn’t even use the thing but cleaned it because I’d cringe when they used it otherwise

                2. Venus Supreme*

                  That reminds me of when my boyfriend and I got violently sick (emphasis on violent) because someone accidentally served us coffee tainted with coffee urn cleaner… Apparently you’re supposed to make a few brews and toss them out before serving (to make sure the cleaner is totally out) and this one… wasn’t. I can still taste the cleaner.

                  I don’t trust any coffee other than the cups I brew at home now.

          2. Leah*

            I think the best way to handle this is to brew a smaller amount each time and institute a rule saying that they can’t brew a new pot until the old one’s finished.

            Off topic, but why don’t you like Keurig? I was just about to get one and I’m curious why you’re not a fan.

            1. MillersSpring*

              Google Keurig pros and cons. The K-cups are expensive and create waste. I’ve been thinking about getting one, too, but the cons are notable.

              1. Casuan*

                disclaimer: I’ve used a Keurig many times at different places although I don’t own a Keurig myself.

                I prefer a strong black coffee & most k-cup coffees I’ve tried just weren’t that good. One can buy a filter & use one’s own coffee or tea although I’ve never had coffee prepared this way.

                Probably the best thing to do is to by the Keurig you want & ensure that you can return it if you really don’t like it.

                For what it’s worth, a friend had a problem with an older Keurig & called customer service. She was impressed with the rep who helped her. They couldn’t sort out the problem & the rep sent a new machine!

                1. Honeybee*

                  I own a Keurig myself and this is generally true. The coffee that is brewed with it is decent but not the most delicious, especially if you like strong coffee. Even the “dark roast” coffees made for Keurigs are pretty medium-bodied. And they do create a lot of waste with the k-cups.

                2. Chloe Silverado*

                  Just seconding (thirding?) the Keurig comments. It’s an amazing concept but the cups are pricey, it isn’t super environmentally friendly and the coffee isn’t very strong. My Keurig and I have had a great run, but I’m replacing it next week.

                3. Keurig Connoisseur*

                  You can buy reusable K-cups for like $5-$10, both in the regular size and the carafe, if you have a Keurig that does those. You put regular ground coffee in it, so it’s a lot less expensive and less wasteful than buying the plastic cups. It’s no harder to clean up than drip coffee. In fact, it’s probably easier, since you just have to dump the grounds from the cup. I have one in each size, and I use it every single day. It’s probably saved me a few hundred bucks in the last 6 months.

                4. SimonTheGreyWarden*

                  Also, they’re really manufactured to only last two years. I had one and I liked it, but it leaked water occasionally and crapped out right at the two year mark. I would use my own k-cup pod and fill it with the coffee I liked, but I went back to my french press and started cold-brewing instead and it is much less bitter.

                5. Leenie*

                  World Market makes a good k-cup type coffee. They aren’t completely encased in plastic, so the coffee essentially brews through a mini-filter, which results in a slightly stronger, better tasting brew. Also, much less plastic, so a bit better on landfills. But I understand that the very newest Keurigs won’t accept unauthorized k-cups. If anyone has an older Keurig I’d definitely recommend the World Market cups. I buy them for work from time to time.

                6. Renee*

                  @Leenie, this is true. The World Market coffee is enormously better than regular k-cups. Unfortunately, my home machine won’t accept them, but my work one will. Both were purchased about the same time, so I’m not sure why one will and one won’t. Weirdly enough, my home one will accept a different coffee brand with the same filter/pod set up as World Market’s. It is a mystery.

              2. mrs__peel*

                We have Keurig machines at my office, although they stopped providing the actual cups because they generated so much waste. (People bring in their own, if they want to, and they also have drip machines).

                I bought a reusable plastic thingie at Target that comes with teeny paper filters, and you can put your own coffee into it and use it with the Keurig machine. I hate the regular work coffee, so it’s been a godsend!

                1. Callie*

                  Boyds Coffee makes a great K-cup that isn’t really a cup. It’s a foil top, a little filter/bag, and a slim plastic ring (about the size of the ring that comes off a milk jug top when you open it) to hold the two together. No plastic cup. And Boyds coffee is pretty tasty :) I can only find it in the Pacific Northwest, though.

            2. Editor*

              The last office I was in had a Keurig, and every few months there would be admonitory signs reminding people to remove their old cups or to otherwise clean up and make nice. So in some offices, individual coffee cup brewing isn’t a perfect solution.

              I have a Keurig in my home for guests — I don’t drink coffee — and I have to say that even though it is convenient, there’s a lot of waste. The containers don’t seem to be refillable nor do the makers take the components back for recycling as far as I know.

              1. Honeybee*

                You can buy a small refillable filter for the Keurig that you can add actual coffee grounds to.

                1. AvonLady Barksdale*

                  I recently started doing this for the Keurig at work (I hate the coffee and the waste), but I have yet to figure out how to optimize the grind and the amount for reallllly good coffee. Right now I’m going with less water. I never thought I would miss the Flavia machine at one of my old offices, but dammit, I do.

                2. kittymommy*

                  I love my reusable k cup. I fill it two thirds of the way full with the coffee, but I also don’t like my coffee super strong.

              2. Getaway Girl*

                We have an older Keurig at home. I didn’t like the Keurig brand reusable filter, because I ended up with sludge in the bottom of my cup every time. But I did find success with another brand of reusable cup that works with tiny paper filters. It’s still not as economical as brewing a whole pot but it costs significantly less than the K-cups, and the paper filters are biodegradable. So it’s a win/win for us, given that the two adults in our household have vastly different preferences on the strength of their coffee.

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Hopefully this isn’t too off-topic (if it is, please delete it, Alison!).

              I don’t like Keurigs because (1) the individual cups are extremely environmentally wasteful, and (2) like all coffee makers, there’s a high risk of mold/yeast growth, or scale problems, if the machine isn’t cleaned regularly and properly. There are some reusable pods on the market, although they still require replacement. And Keurig now makes recyclable pods, but their recyclable pods still generate a tremendous amount of plastic waste and require a lot of energy to be recycled. Regarding #2, It’s possible to clean a Keurig—it just takes a little more effort than other coffee makers, although it’s sometimes impossible on commercial models. If you’re using it at home for your own use, you’re more likely to be able to monitor and clean your device. But offices often lack a reliable system for ensuring coffee machines are thoroughly and regularly cleaned.

              1. Emac*

                Yeah, even the inventor of the Keurig regrets inventing it now, because of all the waste.

                1. Lily in NYC*

                  There are so many brands that make biodegradable pods for the Keurig. And it’s possible to use a reusable one and use your own coffee (which is what I do). I am tired of getting crap for owning a “wasteful” Keurig from people who own cars, a washer;/dryer, have a yard that they water, etc. I have none of those things and I’m the one being called wasteful?? (I don’t mean you, emac, I’m referring to people in my real life.

                2. Less single-use plastic*

                  Modern landfills are capped to keep water out, and garbage is packed in so tight that there is very little oxygen. This makes it nearly impossible for even the most biodegradable items to biodegrade (except over very long timescales). Biodgradable sounds good but it’s really a catch phrase that doesn’t cut down on waste. I would stick with the reusable pod, Lily!

                3. Aurion*

                  Yeah, biodegradeable simply means it’s able to degrade, but says nothing about how quickly the process occurs, which depends heavily on the environment. Some things that would degrade in nature or in a compost heap (which has lots of light, bacteria, and oxygen) may not do so well in a tightly-packed landfill. And if it takes 150 years to degrade, it’s not replenishing the resources it used with much efficiency at all.

                  “Biodegradeable” is a contested marketing term, and some places (such as California) are limiting the use of the term for plastic items for this reason.

                4. Loons with Gumption*

                  If you mean “biodegradable” in the sense of compostable, a lot of cities now collect industrially compostable packaging separately from trash — so the biodegradable pods wouldn’t be going in a landfill at all.

                5. Martin Crane*

                  I suspect that the fact that he sold it for a measly $50,000 dollars may also contribute to his regret. :)

              2. shep*

                Yeah, I’m not a fan of Keurigs either. My mom loves hers, though, and has a reusable mesh K-Cup pod that she can put her regular ground coffee in and use with the machine. She usually prepares her coffee this way, which cuts down on the waste quite a bit.

              3. Mookie*

                I mostly object to them in principle for the reasons you’ve given, but I do think k-cup coffee-flavored water is easier on some people’s stomachs, especially if access to real dairy, as a buffer to digestion, is limited. The same is true for coffee vending machines and instant and powdered stuff, however. I have no real nose or palate for judging coffee — I love the smell and generic taste of it — but these are the only ways I can drink it when tea or the appropriate apparatus for making a decent cup aren’t available. The comparatively weaker tannins are just as gnarly on my stomach, but I could never forgo a daily, very milky builder’s.

                1. mrs__peel*

                  Have you tried cold-brew coffee? I make it in the summer, and it’s considerably less acidic and easier on the stomach than drip coffee. (It also tastes better and is less bitter).

                  There are various proprietary cold-brew systems (I got a Japanese one off Amazon), but you can also just stick coffee grounds and cold water in a Mason jar in the fridge overnight and filter it out the next day.

                2. Mookie*

                  I have, mrs_peel! Cold brewed coffee and tea taste pretty good to me, as well, but in a psychosomatic way I don’t feel The Rush, particularly in the morning when I want a caffeine jolt. Tried to gently heat some one time and, as expected, it were vile.

              4. BananaPants*

                Around a dozen of us have had a shared office Keurig for close to 10 years (more than one machine in that timeframe). We use the biodegradable pods or reusable cups made of stainless steel. It’s regularly cleaned and de-scaled and we haven’t had issues with mold.

            4. NJ Anon*

              I grind my own coffee and put it in one of those reusable thingees for the keurig. Also, coffe pods can be purchased on Amazon for a lot less than the stores.

            5. Falling Diphthong*

              I am a tea drinker, have had Keurig tea twice, and had awful stomach cramps both times. (I assume I am sensitive to a preservative they use?) I now avoid it. In a culinary sense, hot water and tea bags (or loose tea in a diffuser) is a much better approach to tea even if you don’t have my particular match issues.

              1. Parenthetically*

                Fellow tea drinker here, and Keurig tea is everything bad about tea and nothing good about it. It’s simply the wrong method for tea making (and I suspect, from what I’ve read about Keurig coffee, that it’s not a good method for coffee making either).

                1. Naruto*

                  It’s bland and not very good for coffee, but it’s not really bad. It sort of guarantees a level of mediocrity. It’s much, much worse for tea — I’d even say it’s flat-out bad.

                2. SignalLost*

                  I know the one time I had Keurig coffee, I found it weak and tasteless. I also drink coffee basically by the bucket (no, my Type-A addictive personality and love of 24/7 jobs doesn’t show through in my habits at all, why do you say that?) and I was bemused to be holding a 12 or 16 oz cup that was half full.

              2. Beancounter Eric*

                Horrible tea, Keurig….just horrible.

                I can count the servings of tea I’ve had from Keurig machines on one hand and have digits left over, but my understanding is the water temp is far too low for proper tea….Royal Society of Chemistry calls for BOILING (212F) water for good steeping. As I understand, Keurig machines run in the mid-180’s. Also, how fast does the water go past the tea leaves….they need to STEEP, not have water run past them.

                That’s putting aside the waste, cost, iffy quality of tea, etc.

                Give me my PG Tips, Typhoo, Lifeboat….

              3. Kate*

                I read a fascinating article about tea brewing a while back. The thing I remember most is learning that the oxygen content of the water changes the flavor of the tea.

                That is why it is so important for your water to get to a certain temperature, and not only that, to heat the water the old-fashioned way, on the stove top, because the bubbling as the water boils apparently increases the oxygen levels of the water, which other methods don’t. As I recall they heated water a few ways and tested the oxygen content of each to prove this.

            6. Erin*

              Kuerigs are too hard to clean. You almost have to disassemble the whole thing. If you’re a big coffee drinker or there are multiple coffee drinkers it’s more convenient to brew a pot and share. Assuming you drink regular, and aren’t a deviant decaf drinker.
              I totally side with the guy against mixing pots. 1 you may be mixing decaf and regular which, decaf is a sin and tastes nasty. 2 if the pot of coffee is around 45 minutes old and it’s sitting on a burner constantly it becomes scorched and tastes bad. You can smell when coffee is old. Decaf smells like old burnt coffee. Maybe it’s because decaf is always old because no one drinks it.

            7. Dweali*

              I like mine but like someone else said, it’s more cost effective if you get the reusable pods, with the added bonus of being able to tweak the strength of the coffee (and you don’t have to worry about whether that particular type/brand of coffee is made in the kpods)

            8. Gov Worker*

              You will have to pry my Keurig out of my cold, dead hands. I love that thing. I don’t know what people are talking about with mold, I’ve never had any bit I use mine every day. I don’t think they are more wasteful either, as a single person I was always throwing out excess coffee. Plus, the flavor is consistent and there are several brew strength options. Not to mention the Keurig is neater, and makes things other than coffee. I got many years of service out of my first Keurig, on my second now. It’s a quality product. I heart Keurig.

          3. Czhorat*

            Agreed. Old coffee is – at best – unpleasantly bland. It starts losing its flavor about 20 minutes after brewing. If it’s the kind of pot that keeps it warm, you’re also burning it.

            A better solution is to start brewing half-pots of coffee if a full pot isn’t consumed fast enough. But yes, the weird behavior here – to me – is pouring old, stale coffee into the new pot. I don’t think that the worker involved sounds very particular to me; he seems to be asking for normal coffee brewing procedures.

            1. sstabeler*

              I think it’s more combining two old half-pots, then using the now-empty pot to brew a new pot- not combining an old half-pot with freshly-brewed coffee.

              However, I would suggest that it sounds like the issue is that you don’t actually need two pots- either tell people not to brew a new pot until both are empty, or get rid of one of the pots. That way, there’s neither waste of coffee, or two pots being mixed.

              1. Zombii*

                >> it sounds like the issue is that you don’t actually need two pots

                Does this office have one of those double-pot setups some restaurants have that has one pot for regular and one for decaf, but no one makes/drinks decaf? The only way two pots makes sense to me is if the original intent was to have two different kinds of coffee, or to stagger the brewing better than has been done in practice.

                1. Bobbin Ufgood*

                  Agreed — one pot is clearly enough unless we are all missing something here (and I am really struggling to imagine what it could be)

            2. Midge*

              And if it’s not the kind of pot that keeps it warm, then you have to microwave it. I’m not personally bothered by microwaved coffee, but I’m told it’s terrible for the coffee by people who know more than I do.

              +1 for brewing half pots.

            3. Aurion*

              My office uses insulated carafes–no scorched coffee from a burner, and no microwaved coffee. I believe the carafes are supplied by the company that we buy coffee from. Best of both worlds?

          4. Whats In A Name*

            I think timing is an issue, too. Like if everyone gets coffee first thing and they are combining one coffee pot that is 20 minutes old with a coffee pot that is 5 minutes old then that is ok. If coffee pot one has been sitting on the burner for 2 hours, that’ s a different story!

        3. Desdemona*

          A French press or Aeropress could solve this. Inexpensive, tiny footprint, cleans up fast, he can store it at his own desk, and he’ll get far better coffee than anything coming out of the community vessel, even before it’s blended.

          1. Security SemiPro*

            My office has a bulk coffee machine, for the people who don’t care so much, and the Aeropress, for the people who do. It’s a great little thing -I don’t drink coffee and I have one at home for visitors.

            I think everyone would be happier if CoffeeMan has an Aeropress.

          2. Purplesaurus*

            I don’t know about Aeropress, but French press requires a different grind than what offices usually stock for the drip brewers. So he might also have to bring in his own coffee, though it’s still a good solution and I agree – way better coffee!

          3. Erin*

            They have the 4 cup mr coffee pots. Brews 2 mugs at a time. They’re under $20.

            1. Michele*

              I had one on my desk in grad school, and a couple people that I work with have them on their desks. It is an easy solution.

              1. napkin seal*

                Our safety team disagrees. No hot items (electric kettles, coffee pots, hot plates, candle warmers) should be stored in work spaces. They’re a fire risk.

                1. mrs__peel*

                  We have the same kind of strict rules where I work.

                  Maybe he can buy his own coffee maker, but keep it in a cupboard in the break room? (I used to do that with my tea kettle, before I became a coffee addict).

          4. Trig*

            I keep a pourover Melita cone, some filters, and my own coffee at my desk. The office coffee is gross, and even though the carafes get rinsed out regularly, they just impart a certain flavour that I am not fond of. That way I get a fresh cup whenever I want it, and my used filter/grinds go in the compost.

            If I was trying to save money, sure, I’d go for the free office coffee. But at the moment, I’d rather spring for good coffee for myself (still cheaper than going down to the local Starbucks equivalent every day!)

          5. afiendishthingy*

            I love my Aeropress. Makes such a good cup of coffee, and it’s a conversation starter besides :)

        4. Jessesgirl72*

          This is where I think Alison’s answer addresses the problem, even though she is inexperienced in the problems with old coffee. (I don’t drink coffee, but I have spent many hours at work listening to the complaints)

          And because they are making two pots, and then combining, it does show that everyone else does know there is a difference- they are making fresh pots rather than drinking the old coffee.

          Since everyone except this guy is fine with the combined pots, then he needs a Keurig on his desk for his own personal coffee.

          Or the other solution is some kind of sticker or magnet or way to designate which pot has fresh coffee and which pot has the old coffee.

        5. Elizabeth West*

          I agree–at Exjob, we had a coffee connoisseur who brewed his own coffee. If he had thrown a fit about pouring one pot into another, he would have been eviscerated. Also, the coffee rarely sat around that long–too many people drank it.

          The only time I’ve ever seen it sit was maybe late in the day, when it got down to less than a cup’s worth, and THEN I think it’s okay to toss it before making a fresh pot.

      2. all aboard the anon train*

        Yeah, I was wondering why the coworkers weren’t finishing up a half empty pot of coffee before brewing a new one. That seems kind of strange to me. Why combine two half empty pots instead of just finishing them?

        It’s one thing if the coffee been’s sitting out for hours, but if it’s still good, it’s kind of bizarre to combine them just to brew a new one.

        1. Mae*

          I’m trying to work out the maths, and I think some of the coffee must be really old. If they really keep combining two pots and never let them run out, there’s a tiny bit that always gets transferred to the combined pot. I’m not sure I would want to drink that, if only for hygiene reasons.

        2. Trout 'Waver*

          Exactly this. The people being wasteful are the people brewing a new pot while there are still 2 pots of coffee out. If the coffee is good enough to combine, it’s good enough to drink. So drink that old coffee instead of making a new pot.

          1. Newby*

            It sounds like they are more wasteful than he is because he would still drink the newer of the old coffee if it weren’t mixed with sludge. The only reason I can think of to mix them is if someone wanted decaf and both pots were regular.

        3. Jessesgirl72*

          They are brewing a new pot because they don’t want to drink the old stale coffee either.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            But that suggests they should stop brewing two pots, or brew a smaller pot in the AM. I’m not saying a single-cup amount—that’s often too little for an office-sized percolator—but certainly a half pot is a reasonable compromise.

            I’d be really curious to know how many people are drinking from the old, combined pot. I suspect it’s fewer people than the number of people drinking from fresh pots.

            1. Jessesgirl72*

              You are suggesting that people be reasonable and actually stop the waste, not just the obvious appearance of waste. ;)

              And the OP doesn’t drink the coffee, so it’s all just noise to her.

          2. First comment*

            Right! No one wants the yucky old coffee. But instead of just throwing it out, they are mixing it with medium-old coffee so that they can brew and drink the fresh yummy coffee. Who is going to choose to drink the mixed coffee with a fresh, tasty new pot available? Everyone in the office is at fault here, because no one is drinking the yucky old coffee!

      3. Scotty Smalls*

        Yes! The whole office is wasting coffee whether they want to admit it or not. He’s just the one throwing it out.

        1. Ramona Flowers*


          I am so glad all coffee tastes identical to me and I’m therefore happy with instant.

          1. Casuan*

            If one adds enough creamer then coffee will taste more the same. This is what I do when I want the caffeine tho I don’t like the coffee, or if my host gives me a coffee that I don’t like- that way I don’t offend the host. What’s funny is that my coffee palate isn’t even that sophisticated, although perhaps it is a bit more than I thought?
            For coffee at home, my best ever older [circa 1991] B&D cup-at-a-time was awesome: it was small, simple, did coffee, tea or just hot water [tho I just did coffee, I do tea separately]… when it finally broke down I had a machine Quest. Nothing like my machine existed any longer, something Keurig had just come out & I couldn’t find a machine that made a consistently good coffee.
            Sometimes now I use a French press. And… to really ‘fess up— there’s a good strong coffee I like & it’s, um… instant.
            Please don’t judge me, at least not until you try it!!

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Eh, I don’t know. I drink my coffee with a significant amount of “milk,” and no amount of cream and sugar has been able to revive a pot that’s been on a hot plate for 2+ hours. I can drink it, but I hate the flavor and it destroys my stomach when it’s old and burnt.

              But, I am also a rabid coffee drinker, so I suspect for folks for whom the flavor isn’t a big deal that this would work well.

              1. Casuan*

                Nescafé Taster’s Choice French Roast

                Upon further reflection, I think PCBH is right. Not even milk can mask bad coffee.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            I can tell differences, but instant is fine because first thing in the morning, ALL I want is caffeine. I don’t care how it’s delivered (as long as it’s hot–I can’t stand to drink cold anything in the morning, even in summer).

      4. Hey Nonnie*

        Concur: the longer a pot is left on a hot plate, the more it will scorch and taste burnt.

        However: if he’s THAT fussy about his coffee, what’s he doing drinking the office supply anyway? I’ve NEVER known an office that provided what a coffee snob would consider good coffee. They buy it cheap, pre-ground, and in bulk, which means it’s stale before it’s ever brewed. At best it’s a bland but inoffensive one-note flavor; at worst that one-note is bitter all the way through.

        I AM a coffee snob, and I wouldn’t concern myself with “mixing” because I wouldn’t drink the office coffee in the first place. I bring my own from home. If I’m lucky, the office will have a one-cup brewer with a reusable basket, where I can use my own coffee again for that mid-morning cup. Which might actually be a reasonable “everybody’s happy” solution, if you can get one. Just don’t buy the disposable K-cups — the coffee in them is terrible anyway and the cups are a huge landfill problem. But you can get a few reusable mesh baskets for such a coffee brewer, plus a small coffee grinder if you’re feeling generous.

        1. Hey Nonnie*

          Or, instead of a Keurig, they also have mini-French presses that will make 12 oz of coffee instead of 36. Would be easier to clean, too.

          1. AvonLady Barksdale*

            I really want to do this– our office has a Keurig that I hate– but my office is so small, I fear looking like the Coffee Snob who isn’t on board with company culture. Yes, seriously. Coffee is so complicated!!!

            At least this is a step up from my last office, which didn’t even provide coffee.

            1. Persephone Mulberry*

              Eh, “doesn’t drink the office coffee” isn’t something I’d be too worried about being known for, even in a small office. I work in an office of seven and have been bringing my own coffee every day for a year and nobody’s been offended yet. :) You could always frame it as the Keurig doesn’t brew as strongly as you like.

              1. AvonLady Barksdale*

                You’re probably right. We make cold brew at home and drink it hot. At my old place, I used to bring in an insulated bottle of concentrate and use that for my coffee. I might start doing that again, if I could convince my boyfriend to step up his cold brew production (he is the real coffee connoisseur in our house and therefore in charge of the Toddy).

            2. Life is Good*

              I admit to being a coffee snob! And, I too, hate the Keurig! Even the pods you can reuse with your own grounds doesn’t make good coffee. Once you start drinking really good coffee, you never go back to the stuff the office provides. I bring mine from home in a really good thermos. The whole being a team player issue used to concern me, but I got over it. I bring mine from home in a really good thermos,I have never made it a big deal and people don’t seem to care one way or another that I do.

              1. the gold digger*

                I didn’t start drinking coffee until a few years ago. It took almost no time (I was surprised by this) to become a coffee snob. Not because I am super picky, but because it soon became very easy to taste the difference between good coffee and bad coffee.

                I started, as one does, with the gateway mocha and soon worked my way to latte. I used instant coffee to make lattes at home, but soon realized that they didn’t taste as good as coffee shop lattes.

                We had a Mr Coffee at home (for guests, as neither of us were coffee drinkers), but now, a few years later, as we have both succumbed to the habit, we grind our own beans as the water is heating and then pour over into that glass carafe thingy. SMH

              2. Zombii*

                >> Once you start drinking really good coffee, you never go back to the stuff the office provides.

                I’ve had good coffee and I don’t like good coffee, I like strong coffee. I don’t drink the office coffee because the office coffee is weak. ;P

        2. Another Amy*

          Exactly what I was going to say (hello, fellow coffee snob!). The coffee they’re using is probably pre-ground and of commodity standard, ergo something I won’t touch unless I’m desperate (and honestly, that’s what Diet Coke is for). And the kind of communal pots that get used pretty much burn the coffee by definition.
          I have a small stash of beans, an Aeropress, and a hand grinder. My snobbery/ hobby, my problem. The only office resource I’ll use is the kettle/ hot water.

        3. Czhorat*

          There’s a lot of space between “coffee snob” and “willing to drink hours-old dregs mixed with a recent pot”.

          1. LBK*

            Yeah, especially if you drink your coffee black it’s pretty noticeably gross once it’s been sitting for a while. That’s not about snobbery; no matter whether it’s the fanciest brew or the cheapest, all coffee tastes bad when it’s been sitting out and/or getting burned if there’s a warming plate.

        4. The Cosmic Avenger*

          Are you me? I’m probably lazier than you, as I’ve stopped grinding my coffee at work.

          Also, an easier alternative to French press or Aeropress is a pour-over brewer, which is basically just a cone-shaped piece of plastic that holds a #2 cone filter and sits on top of your mug.

          1. HisGirlFriday*

            This is what I have. Our office coffee is ordered by a woman who proudly proclaims, ‘I splurge and get the good stuff,’ and it’s truly terrible. I have a pour-over brewer, I bring in my own filters and coffee, and I use hot water from the hot water line. Problem solved.

            1. Zombii*

              Ugh, seriously. Folgers instead of Staples Store Brand isn’t really “the good stuff,” no matter how generously that value is defined.

          2. Skullclutter*

            I used one of these at OldJob, since I didn’t like the stuff the Flavia brewer made. It was a good opportunity to chat with several co-workers at that place that preferred loose-leaf tea.

            NewJob has an industrial grind-and-brew fresh single cup coffeemaker which is still not as good as the pour-over brewer, but better than the flavia. I’ve been willing to put up with it so far.

        5. Gabriel Conroy*

          I don’t consider myself a coffee snob (but maybe I am more than I like to admit), but I agree with Hey Nonnie here. Workplace coffee just has never done it for me….and that’s okay. When I was hired, I don’t recall being promised free access to excellent coffee.

          1. EddieSherbert*


            I happen to really dislike the brand we use at work. Sooooo I don’t drink the work coffee and just make my own at home.

          2. Elizabeth West*

            We had Folgers at Exjob, which I grew up drinking, and I don’t hate it. It’s not the best. But the coffee at OldExJob was like drinking a cup of hot water in which someone had stirred a brown Sharpie. >_<

            Once, OldBosses brought back some Kona coffee from their annual trip to Hawaii (la de dah, LOL), and they shared it with us. OMG WE WERE DYING. That was so good! When it ran out, it was right back to old Sharpie water. :P

            I drink tea at the office now. I only drink office coffee when I'm super sleepy in the afternoon.

        6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Our office coffee is solidly average, but we’re aggressive about making sure it’s a fresh pot. We brew enough for everyone’s first cup (and it’s all distributed within 30-45 minutes), and we only brew additional pots if there’s enough takers. And if there’s not enough takers, the 1-2 of us who want more coffee will brew our own via French Press or pour over (the former is harder to do well if you’re using the same kind of grounds as a percolator, whereas the latter is pretty forgiving).

          So I don’t think his complaint is inherently more fussy than any other frequent coffee drinker—I just think it’s a complete departure from his officemates’ preferences. And in light of that, he should probably make his own coffee.

        7. Chinook*

          “Concur: the longer a pot is left on a hot plate, the more it will scorch and taste burnt.”

          I agree and know an entire coffee chain that backs me up. Tim Horton’s is known for writing the “throw out” time on each of their pots, which is 20 minutes from the time it is brewed. When I worked there, they were diligent about enforcing this, even if it meant throwing out a full pot or brewing a new pot for the person who wants decaf at 10 in the morning. And it does make a difference because the hot plates the coffee sits on cooks the coffee while it sits. But, if it is in a carafe (so no hot plate), there is definitely a longer shelf life.

          What convinced me of this is when we brewed tea in a separate “tea machine” which had hotter water and never touched the coffee. Dedicated tea drinkers knew to ask how long the pot had been on because the longer the pot sat on the hot plate, the stronger the tea got (which is what most of them wanted). And for those tea drinkers who are groaning at a “tea machine,” I need to point out that this is infinitely better than handing someone a glass of hot water and a tea bag – this stuff actually brewed the tea in a way that made most Maritimers (who are hard core tea drinkers) happy.

          1. Cath in Canada*

            I can confirm that Timmy’s tea is much better than the swill you get in most other non-specialist places in North America!

            I’m so happy that the coffee shop right next to my office now knows how to make my tea the way I like it. Any new barista who’s working when I come in gets told by the staff who know me “tea bag first, then water, for this one!”

          2. Tempest*

            I miss Tim’s so much! I’m from the Atlantic provinces originally and I think Tim’s is the one thing I miss more than my family since I moved to the UK. Starting my day with an XL double double is the first thing I go back to when I’m home to visit. Tim’s is supposed to be opening here (there’s one in Glasgow Scotland now apparently but that’s way too far away from me but a nationwide roll-out is planned) and I hope it ends up near my work when it gets to my city. Getting an irregular heart rhythm from too many XL coffees in one morning is like a Maritime right of passage!

            1. Elfie*

              I saw something on LinkedIn the other day about a Tim Horton’s opening in London (I think). I go to London once a week – I’d happily trawl all around London to find a Timmy’s! Timbits FTW!

              1. Tempest*

                I’m in Yorkshire so I’ll likely have a long wait but knowing it’s not indefinite helps!

        8. Judge Crater*

          Hey Nonnie is exactly right:

          Coffee is at it’s best immediately after brewing.

          The longer it is on a burner, the more the aromatic oils turn to acid.

          However any coffee brewed for an office is going to be more of a caffeine delivery mechanism and less of an A E S T H E T I C experience.

          So I would direct the employee to drop the issue. If the coffee isn’t to his taste, he doesn’t have to drink it.

      5. Vin Packer*

        Every sentence of this comment I was like “yes….yes!….YES EXACTLY.”

        Ditto-est of dittos.

      6. Karanda Baywood*

        They probably never brew a half pot because of the prepackaged coffee. One bag = one pot.

        Also, for those who don’t think coffee pods have body/flavor, three words: Starbucks French Roast.

      7. Observer*

        I’m pretty much with you.

        The bottom line is that the taste can’t be THAT off if everyone else is fine with doing it this way. And, a pour over is cheap and easy to use.

      8. Cafe au Lait*

        My first thought was a pour over. Dedicate a single pot to hot water. That way the coffee drinker can make it as strong or as weak as they want.

        I’m on the side as coffee pot dumper. I really dislike the taste of old coffee. Mixing a new pot and a half pot would be “ick.”

    2. pinky*

      1 – get a thermal coffee carafe, not very expensive at all
      2 – put the half pot of coffee in the carafe
      3 – then brew a new pot
      No waste, no mixing

      1. GreenAnole*

        I am way too invested in this thread! Mm coffee.

        Agree with pinky- at the coffee shop where I work, when an urn gets low we fill a pour pot with coffee so we don’t run out while brewing a fresh batch. Use the pour pot til it’s empty, rinse, repeat. If there’s still drama at the office, seconding whoever suggested a pour-over for the guy who likes it really fresh.

        Also I’ve gotta say… even as someone who spends a lot of time thinking about brewing methods/grind/flavor profiles, if someone’s giving you free coffee that is a glorious thing. We end up drinking the coffee that’s too old to serve but still drinkable. But I haven’t had office coffee in awhile so maybe it’s worse than I remember…

      2. JB*

        Not a coffee snob, but don’t like burned coffee. We use a carafe at my office. We brew two pots of coffee and put them in a large thermal carafe. The added benefit besides very little waste is that the burner on the coffee pot doesn’t stay on for hours.

        A side note, I used to just brew the coffee and then turn off the burner. Even if you have to reheat in a microwave, it’s not as bad as wasting the burned coffee.

    3. JS*

      I’m curious as to why people think its wasteful? Some foods/drinks just don’t save/keep well long after you initially make them. Reheated fries, re-frozen ice cream (ex. if you leave it out, it melts then you put it back), melted cheese, but there are lots of things that you would throw out rather than try to reheat or combine into new dishes again. Coffee is one of those things. Sure it might not matter to a lot of people who add creamers, sugar or other flavor to their coffee but people who enjoy the taste of the actual brew and prefer black will notice.

      Also curious why there are two pots going on. Only things that would make sense is if one was regular and one was decaf which if that’s the case definitely do not mix for obvious reasons OR if you are making a different flavor roast in each pot. Otherwise like others have suggested run one in the morning and one in the afternoon. But I am agreeing with the employee who is for not mixing pots, if you need to be that thrifty just make one pot at a time.

      1. TL -*

        It’s wasteful because it sounds like they’re consistently making more than they need and then throwing it out. That’s consistently wasting both coffee and water (and energy from the coffee pot) which is all going to add up if it’s a recurring, frequent thing.
        If you won’t eat leftovers of something (pizza leftovers for me!), then it’s better to just make smaller quantities or save it for when you can share in terms of not wasting.

        Also, melted/frozen ice cream just needs to be mixed with a little milk…yum… :)

        1. JS*

          I agree its wasteful in the sense of, “this can be prevented” by implementing x,y,z, which is why I said just make one pot at a time. But I don’t see how its wasteful to throw out something that has gone bad, especially when it seems no one in the office wants to drink it anyway which is why they are making a new pot and not drinking the old one first.

          (I know some people don’t mind melted ice cream but it ruins the texture for me which imo is the best part lol :P).

    4. C in the Hood*

      The mommy in me wants to do this: if you can’t resolve your coffee differences peacefully, the coffee pot is going away.

      1. Zombii*

        “If you can’t resolve this dispute yourselves, I refuse to do my job as a manager and make a decision” isn’t really a relevant option here, and implying that someone’s subordinates should be treated like bickering children is just all kinds of shitty management advice.

        (If this was meant as a joke, criticism withdrawn, but the biggest red flag I know is a manager who says “Being a manager is just like having kids! :D” Nope, that’s only if you want to be really inept at management.)

    5. Zaralynda*

      I may be able to explain how the office is ending up with two half-empty coffee pots.

      My workplace has a commercial style coffee pot. It’s like a big home unit, but there’s also a burner on top that operates independently of the lower ‘regular’ burner. So, first pot of the morning gets made and sits on the lower burner. After awhile, that pot is close to empty (but not empty enough that it can entirely fit into someone’s cup), so a conscientious person moves it to the top burner and starts a new pot (on the lower burner). Once it’s set up, the person leaves the break room (while new pot is still ‘making’).

      Next couple of people to the coffee machine don’t notice the pot on the top burner, and take coffee from the bottom burner. Eventually, bottom burner (new coffee) gets low and again, conscientious person goes to move the coffee from the lower burner to the top burner (and start a new pot), but there’s coffee up there! Okay, just pour lower burner coffee into upper burner coffee and start a new pot.

      I say the pot rearranger is conscientious because they are trying to prevent a situation where someone comes into the break room and doesn’t have enough coffee in the pot to get a full cup (and thus has to WAIT for a new pot to brew). In my office, this person eventually gave up and now everyone just complains about SOMEONE who won’t brew a new pot.

      1. Thinking Outside the Boss*

        We have the same office coffee contraption and the same issue. But our issue is caused by having an early morning crew come in at 7 am with not enough coffee drinkers so only half the pot is consumed, and then the 8:30 am crew comes in and won’t touch the earlier pot, so they brew the second.

        I’ve opted to avoid the coffee wars altogether and the local coffee shop will give you high quality drip coffee for $1 if you bring in your own mug.

    6. Julie Noted*

      From the land of coffee snobs–why is anyone who is fussy about the quality of their coffee drinking brewed? Yuck.

  3. KarenT*

    #3 It sounds like the coworkers are being wasteful too, or at least that no one wants the old coffee. If they’re combing pots to brew a fresh pot, shouldn’t they also be drinking from one of the existing pots?

    1. Kyrielle*

      This. Unless both pots are nearly-empty when combined, I’m not sure why the second pot was actually brewed. (And, that said, coffee pot snob can just wait for the third (non-combined) pot to finish brewing and have that, and it won’t be mixed….)

      Way more normal for what I’m used to is this pattern:
      Brew one pot of coffee
      When the first pot gets too low (generally below half unless you have a LOT of coffee drinkers), brew a second, but everyone serves from the first pot
      When the first pot gets below one cup, someone pours that into their mug and adds from the second
      Continue serving from the second, not brewing a third until it gets too low….

      Mixture occurs only at the tail end of one pot, and if someone is a prima donna, they can take just from the new one, and the next person will probably happily take the last of the old instead.

      1. Bolt*

        I am assuming that they mix it, start using the fresh pot, and everyone else gambles on which pot is the fresh pot.

        Why can’t THEY finish the pots by combining them into their cup and only starting a new pot when both are empty? I suspect because even they do not like the crappy coffee!

        I really don’t think he is being a coffee snob – I worked in a coffee shop and VERY FEW could tolerate and old cup of coffee. We ended up making a policy to stop mixing pots because we were getting so many complaints of bitterness or a burnt taste.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Good to know! Still, it doesn’t make sense to me that there are *two* “old” pots being combined. If there are two old pots, either (1) one of them is sufficiently old that it should have already been poured out (in which case do so!), or (2) one of them was brewed sooner than necessary (and if it gets worse as it ages, why would you do that?).

          Either way, combining them to make a new pot makes no sense to me. In case (1), pitch the oldest, and check how much is in the other. It may not be time to brew a new one yet, unless the one still containing coffee is really low. And in case (2) change when you brew the second one so the first actually gets drunk….

    2. RAM*

      Right – the coworkers seem a bit hypocritical.. finish up the pot and THEN brew a new one. No need to combine the two just so YOU can have a fresh pot of coffee.. and then turn around and get angry at someone else for being picky about his coffee drinking habits.

      1. KarenT*

        Agreed. I suspect the guy in the OPS question is being unfairly singled out. He’s complaining about mixing pots but must be following the no wasting coffee rule because if it bothers him so much he must be drinking it. The real villains are those brewing new pots for themselves and expecting others to drink old coffee.

    3. katamia*

      Yep, I came here to ask this. I don’t drink coffee either, but if it’s the same, there shouldn’t really be two half-full pots at one time. If one is decaf and one is caffeinated or something, that’s different, but it sounds like he’s not the only one in the office whose coffee habits need adjusting even though he’s not behaving well by confronting people about it either.

    4. MommyMD*

      Why are so many pots being brewed of the same coffee? Brew one. Finish that. Brew another. Fresh coffee tastes so much better.

      1. Grey*

        You answered your own question. New pots keep getting brewed because it tastes better than the one that’s been sitting for awhile.

    5. Rebecca*

      Oh, mixing pots of coffee. Years ago, I walked out to the coffee area to find one of the few decaf drinkers pouring the remainder of the decaf coffee into the regular coffee pot. I asked her what she was doing, and she said she wanted fresh coffee. I asked her not to pour the decaf coffee into the regular coffee pot, but to dump it down the sink. She literally said “why, it doesn’t make any difference”.

      I told her OK, the next time I wanted fresh coffee, I’d just dump the leftover regular coffee into the decaf pot, because, as you say, it doesn’t make any difference.

      Point made, point taken, and no more mixing.

      1. the gold digger*

        I ordered a decaf latte late one night at a festival. It was taking forever, so I asked the barista about it. She said she had already given my coffee to someone and gave me the coffee the other person was supposed to get. Which was fully caffeinated. At least I was warned, but that poor woman who wanted caffeine at 10 p.m. and got decaf instead. Bless her heart.

        1. aebhel*

          I’m just baffled that people wouldn’t be able to tell the difference! I’ve never tasted decaf that even remotely tasted like full-caffeine coffee.

          (then again, I drink coffee black and unsweetened, so there’s that)

    6. IT Kat*

      Honestly, we had a similar issue where I work. What fixed it?

      Took away one pot. Suddenly, people were actually finishing pots before they got ‘old’.

      Considering it seems like there’s a lot of waste going on, with two pots brewed but only half-drank, seems like only one pot is needed? I don’t know what type of coffee machine the OP has, but ours only takes 5min to brew another pot so no one is waiting too long, and the pots get finished.

      1. Kvothe*

        Yeah this is what we did at my office (actually I think one of the pots broke) and it completely solved the two pot dilemma. Everyone was guessing which was the fresh pot anyways.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          We had three regular and one decaf pots at Exjob but like I said, they rarely sat around very long. People were in and out of the break room all day. Of course in a small office, this wouldn’t be the case. So the one-pot solution might work better.

    7. JS*

      This! +1 Although then couldn’t the “no mixing coffee guy” just drink out of the new one too and ignore the older one? Although its probably not clear which one is which tbh.

      Only other thing I can think of that would make sense is if they are brewing one regular or one decaf or two different roasts which doesn’t appear to be the case (but OP said they werent a coffee drinker so they may just think its all the same).

      1. Sarah*

        But in that case they REALLY shouldn’t be combining pots…while there are a few people out there who like doing half-caf cups of coffee, no one wants a surprise half-caf when they were expecting either a normal amount of caffeine or a decaf cup…

    8. Kimberlee, Esq*

      I don’t think anyone else has said it here (surprising!) but I am surprised so many people are up in arms about it being wasteful to toss half a pot of coffee. Coffee (especially lowest-common-denominator office coffee) is dirt cheap! Life is hard enough; I don’t see any reason why anyone should feel the need to choke down coffee they think is gross just to save 5 cents on coffee grounds. I assure you, there are places in your office that are wasting much more time, money and water than a half a coffee pot once or twice a day.

      Life is short. Drink (marginally) better coffee.

      1. Can't Sit Still*

        This! Honestly, if the cost for “extra” coffee is affecting the bottom line, the company has more serious problems than mixing coffee. And in that case, that might actually be what all the fighting is actually about.

      2. JS*

        Yes! In the grand scheme of things I am sure there are tons and tons more inefficient spending policies than the cheap office coffee they are getting.

  4. Jessica*

    Yeah, good point KarenT, why aren’t they finishing either of the two half pots? I’m not a coffee drinker, but have observed some of them caring a lot about how old vs. how freshly brewed it was, so the way this struck me was that the guy didn’t like the older, less desirable coffee being mixed with the newer, more desirable coffee. Maybe everyone in this workplace needs to start brewing smaller quantities whenever they make coffee.

  5. Magenta Sky*

    I don’t drink coffee either, but I am given to understand that if one leaves coffee on the hot plate to keep it warm there is a time threshold where it goes from being delicious nectar of the gods to being disgusting toxic bean waste. (For me, that threshold is “it has coffee in it,” but apparently, others feel differently.)

    So maybe his objection is that he doesn’t want to drink old coffee mixed with older coffee. If so, a policy to always pour pot #1 into pot #2, so that pot #1 is always the fresher (and unmixed) for the picky coffee aficionado. If his objection is just that other people are mixing old and older coffee, whether he ends up drinking it or not, then perhaps he would benefit from some therapy.

    But the real point, I suppose, is, as someone else mentioned, why are people making new coffee when there’s coffee already made, in two pots.

    And if no one is going to drink that old coffee, it’s going to get thrown out anyway, so why are they objecting to it being thrown out before it’s mixed? The picky guy isn’t the only one I don’t understand.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes, it absolutely becomes disgusting toxic bean waste. Different people have different points at which it becomes gross to them (and different beans/brewing methods that get them to that point), but speaking for my own picky self, I don’t love the taste of coffee that’s been warming for 3+ hours. I’m just really confused by this whole set-up. At first I thought that the pots might be caf/de-caf until OP said they’re identical… in which case I don’t understand why folks are brewing two pots. Most of the offices I’ve been in follow the pattern Kyrielle describes.

      1. ElaineS*

        +1 Coffee stays fresh tasting once brewed 20 tops. The difference is huge. Combining pots likely results in gross coffee.

        If I were fresh coffee guy, I’d bring my own grinds and do pour over cups. They taste good and the start up costs are minimal.

        I’d be dumping the old coffee too & brewing fresh. It’s got a taste expiration for sure. But if everyone contributes $ I could see the issue. Also confused about why two pots, and why the need to combine.

      2. Gadfly*

        Part of why I still don’t like most coffee is my Dad and his family prefer ‘trucker’ coffee. He’d intentionally make some before work to have ready when he got home. And they drink it black. So the smell of coffee connects to that in my head.

        1. PizzaDog*

          My mom does that. She’s normally a coffee snob (she rarely drinks coffee at restaurants, let’s say) but she’ll drink a carafe of coffee that was made at 6am when she gets home in the evening. She also drinks it black, which is already gross to me.

      3. Is It Performance Art*

        Coffee that’s been sitting can also cause GI problems for some people. I worked with someone who had no problem with freshly brewed coffee, but if it had been sitting too long, they’d get a stomach ached or even spend most of the next couple hours in the bathroom. If the coffee pot (or even worse, urn) isn’t getting cleaned often, the oils and burnt gunk from the last 200 pots of coffee can leach in and contribute to making it even more disgusting toxic waste.

        1. Relosa*


          OP for the coffee dude, I’m curious as to whether the guy was a barista or worked in food service in the past. I’m not particular about stale coffee for myself at home but the reality is that fresh coffee goes bad very quickly, so in a communal environment I can definitely understand his ire, especially if he’s used to adhering to food control policy about it. A solution might be to only make half-pots at the outset (unless your office is literally dozens of people and none of them drink their own coffee, honestly you’re already wasting coffee is there’s half a pot to marry with another one). This will resolve the coffee freshness issue, a likely hygiene/food safety issue, and everyone still gets coffee. Yay!

      4. Ricky Sanchez*

        As a former barista I agree with you PCBH. At my store we often pouree out coffee that had been sitting in the urns longer then 30 minutes and brewed new urns right after.

        And we were not the only stores that did that. All coffee places worth their grounds knows that it doesn’t take long for brewed coffee to go stale. I used to serve a customer who wouldn’t get a cup unless the coffee had just been brewed. Even if it was fifteen minutes old they’d ask for something fresh.

        I think doing the coffee snob should do a pour-over for best freshness.

        1. Oryx*

          Former barista as well. I still remember those timers we had on the coffee pots so we knew when to dump them out.

        2. Relosa*

          dangit! I literally did not even see this thread before I commented. ah well. Just another vote for the coffee control freak in #2 :)

        3. Skye*

          Current barista, and true that it doesn’t take long for coffee to go stale, but it does take more than a few minutes. We used to have a customer who was, quote, “not very particular about coffee” but would refuse to get a cup from the larger batch coffee, not even five minutes old, in favor of a pour over of the very same thing. The guy would always get a huge attitude if you pointed out that the dark roast was just brewed – one time it was literally still in the process of brewing and even that was too ‘old’ for them.

      5. Ann O'Nemity*


        The taste noticeably degrades 20 minutes after brewing. “Disgusting toxic bean waste” is probably 1-2 hours. So I’m definitely on the side of the coffee-dumping coworker who doesn’t want to contaminate a newer pot with an older pot.

    2. Stellaaaaa*

      I can understand having two pots of coffee if there’s a morning rush – it might make sense to have two pots’ worth available as everyone is arriving and getting settled. It could be helpful to come up with a thorough system, like dumping both pots after 9:30 and unplugging the second pot at the same time. It sounds to me like people know that the older coffee is gross so they’re brewing new pots when they want it and just leaving their excess on the percolator because they don’t want to toss it. However, no one else is going to want it so they should be dumping it anyway. Depending on the type of coffee maker you can’t always make enough for just one cup. You need to fill the machine with a fair amount of water to create enough steam and volume to get good flavor. The first few ounces of a new pot of coffee aren’t as good or strong as the coffee that’s been brewing longer and drips out toward the end of a new full batch, which makes sense. There’s no point in trying to make smaller brews because no one wants a cup of coffee that’s just the first 8 ounces of a new pot.

      tl;dr – Dump both pots once everyone has gotten their first morning cup and then get into a routine of dumping and then remaking one pot every 30 minutes for the rest of the workday. It’s not more wasteful than what’s already going on and it’s not worth acting as if the cost of Folger’s is going to create a budget issue.

    3. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

      As someone who when working midnights at a convenience store got officially reprimanded for not making a new pot of coffee often enough (it never ran out between midnight and 4a), I can only assume it gets gross enough for someone to bother to make a complaint later when management was in the store. It didn’t seem to matter how often I through away entire pots of coffee and brewed fresh, I still got in trouble for the “old” coffee!

    4. Leenie*

      The picky guy is the only one I do understand. The other people are pretending they’re being thrifty while he’s being wasteful, but they’re actually creating waste by mixing potentially drinkable and undrinkable coffee together and brewing a fresh pot. They were never going to drink the old coffee anyway, so just let the dude throw it out. They remind me of people who like to donate or give away broken or stained stuff, so that it becomes someone else’s job to dispose of it and they can feel virtuous.

      1. Celeste*

        Exactly this, all of it.

        The virtuous non-wasters should have their own carafe that holds all of the leftover bits, if it makes them feel better. There is no need to push their value system onto someone else’s tastebuds.

  6. tink*

    #2: Older coffee gets more bitter over time, so it does change the taste slightly, but anyone expecting office pots of coffee to be super quality brew are drinking from the wrong pot. If they’re that particular about coffee, they can bring their own french press + grind and make it two cups at a time like other picky drinkers.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I think it depends on your office, tbh. All of the offices I’ve worked in, save one, have had fantastic coffee because (a) there were a lot of snobby coffee drinkers who (b) were willing to pay for better beans, brewing methods, etc.

      But yes, I think the normal solution for picky drinkers is to brew their own or bring their own coffee and opt out of the cost and use of the shared office pot.

      1. tink*

        Yeah, I’ve only had hot plate style coffee–my partner’s office has a k-cup machine because they’re a small business, but even then they’ve got someone that brings their own french press because they’re very particular about the coffee. At my last office there was a decaf pot, a regular pot, and a 2nd regular pot first thing in the morning, but people were pretty firm about drinking the old coffee first.

    2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Slightly? SLIGHTLY???!!????

      Old coffee tastes bad – I’m fussy, I know – but I do not like old coffee. New coffee can taste great.
      Mixing old (bad tasting) coffee with new (good tasting) coffee = you get bad tasting coffee.

      Most coffee shops, diners, etc. will toss out coffee that’s been sitting in the pot for an indefinite period of time.
      Ever wonder why coffee tastes better at a diner, or restaurant, or Dunkin’ Donuts, or Tim Horton’s – or Starbucks? That’s ONE of the reasons why.

      1. Al Lo*

        And most of those places toss after 20 minutes — 30 max. Tim Horton’s is 20. Starbucks is no longer than 30, depending on the time of day.

        1. Cas*

          This thread explains so much to a non-North American. I understand having a pot of coffee at the office, but coffee from restaurants/cafes in the US always tasted average to terrible to me. Everywhere else I’ve been, if you are buying coffee, it is always made fresh just for your cup!

          1. Serendipity*

            Agreed. I am fussy about my coffee – The milk has to be the right temperature with just the right amount of head on it (not too much please!), the coffee ground to the right size and perfectly tamped, and the water passed through quickly under the right pressure so as not to extract any bitterness from the beans. I can tell you from taste alone if the coffee machine hasn’t been cleaned that day or the beans are too coarse/ too fine etc.
            The concept of percolated coffee with *shudder* fake milk (creamer isn’t actually dairy?) is both mystifying and horrifying.
            But then, I am a person who brews my green tea and black teas in different teapots, and have a tea-box that doubles as a coffee table. I might be a bit OTT :-)

            1. StudentBarista*

              But now it sounds like you’re talking latte/ espresso-based drinks – and that’s a whole other kettle of fish! (Says the sheepish cashier who replaces coffee every 1 1/2 hr)

          2. Violet Fox*

            Also non-North American. Around here automatic machine where you feed the machine whole beans and water where the coffee comes out fresh at the press of a button are normal for offices.

          3. Jennifer Thneed*

            It isn’t just the age of the brewed coffee. Method of brewing affects flavor as well. Also how the coffee is stored and whether it gets ground freshly or ahead of time. (And this is setting aside quality of bean or location of growing.)

            It’s complex, which is part of the fun, in the same way that beers and breads can be.

    3. Whats In A Name*

      I agree with this – some places I’ve worked had great coffee…some not so much. I expect mediocre and adjust as necessary to accommodate my taste – I don’t expect an office full of people to change when I am the only one dissatisfied with the current coffee politics.

  7. ThatLibraryChick*

    And this is why I’m glad my office has a Keurig maker. Everyone gets their own cup. No pots to worry about.

    1. Chinook*

      My office found the happy medium – they have this machine that grinds the beans on demand for each cup. So, the only waste is the ground coffee AND there is no hours old coffee or (worse) exploding coffee urns from being left on the hot plate almost empty.

  8. Bea*

    The coffee drinkers post just reminded me how fickle and childish people get in an office sometimes. Is there really nothing else going on there that this is a thing that they’re bringing to the supervisor?!

    When coffee sits there, yeah it can get a nasty sludge going on after it’s been on the hot plate for awhile. I think that they need to not be making two pots at a time if everyone wants fresh coffee so frequently.

    I think everyone needs to leave each other alone and deal with it that sometimes things will be combined and sometimes the dude is going to dump a half a pot. Unless your budget is that tight that you’re going through coffee at rapid speed, it’s not enough to give either party the win here.

  9. Mom*

    Could it be something similar to how you shouldn’t mix old with new infant formula?

    1. Wildlife Rehabber*

      My experience with infant formula [although, full disclosure, have only worked with formula for animals, not humans], is that you shouldn’t mix old with new because it expires after ~24 hours, and if you’ve mixed old in, the expiration gets weird, and also there are issues with reheating it?
      I think coffee is more of a flavor thing than a health/safety thing?

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      If you’re a black tea drinker, imagine how your tea tastes if your teabag steeps for 30+ minutes (instead of the advised 4-6 minutes). Now pour that super-steeped brew into a properly brewed cup of tea. It would be pretty gross, no?

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          Neither does my grandboss.

          Chortling at the idea of an advised brewing time for teabags but I’m getting off topic here.

          1. Xay*

            Lol. My thought was why would I mess up a nice strong cup of black tea by mixing it with weak tea?

            1. dappertea*

              That’s bitter tea, not strong tea. If you want strong tea, just use more bags.

              1. Cath in Canada*

                Semantics! It might not be stronger in terms of higher caffeine content, but it has a stronger taste ;)

                Anyway, I like it like that. I like high IBU beer and high cocoa content dark chocolate, too. Bitter is not always bad (depending on personal taste, obvs).

            2. Cath in Canada*

              Same, LOL! My tea bag stays in the mug until every last drop of deliciously strong tea is gone. One of the profs I work with always comments on how I’m the only person he’s ever met who drinks tea that looks like strong coffee. What can I say, I like my tea to taste like tea, not milk!

          2. a different Vicki*

            Most of the teas I buy (bagged and loose) have advised brewing times on the package.

            The odd part is that a lot of people, including baristas, seem surprised when I grab my phone to start a timer for when the tea will be ready.

            1. PizzaDog*

              David’s Tea has recommended brewing times AND temperatures on their bags. Wild.

          3. vpc*

            …the tea I buy (loose, not bagged) comes with instructions on the package: x amount, steep y minutes at z temperature. for example, 1/2 tsp per cup, steep 2 minutes at 204 degrees.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          If you drink white tea, that won’t work. It really does transform after a couple of minutes to something bitter and only vaguely related to the original concept.

          1. Naruto*

            Ugh, yeah, that’s the worst! It may be fine for “herbal tea” or something that doesn’t actually contain tea. And it’s less noticeable for black tea, but a greener or whiter tea? Nope.

      1. Amadeo*

        I prefer tea to coffee and this depends on if I’m being a snob that day and going for Adagio loose leaf or a cheapo teabag from the grocery store. I never remove the grocery store tea bags because they never seem to be strong enough! But yes, the loose leaf tea gets incredibly bitter if allowed to steep past a few minutes.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          But it IS sitting there cooking, which is what transforms it into an extremely bitter sludge.

          Steeping your tea for longer only makes it stronger within a certain time period. After that point, it just becomes bitter and is no stronger than if you’d just put a second teabag in there from get. The same general principles apply to coffee, particularly coffee that’s made using a percolator/plate.

    3. Hankie Enlightenment (formerly Sarahnova)*

      That’s more about the growth of bacteria and infants’ vulnerability to same (cows’ milk is very good at growing bacteria), whereas the coffee thing is mostly just about taste.

    4. hbc*

      Kind of, in that there’s not really a problem with combining old and new–it’s not like 2 hour plus 4 hour gives you the equivalent of 6 hour coffee or formula. It’s just that if it’s your habit, there’s some of the 7am coffee still in your coffee at 5pm if you continuously add new to old and never quite finish it.

  10. Casuan*

    OP1: If you were as discreet as you say then any awkwardness is probably self-imposed. Your office-mate will probably feel the same way. As Alison said this should pass within several days.

    if you’re concerned that others will guess the situation:
    For the first week or two, be reserved with everyone in the office don’t engage in small talk [only exchange pleasantries & keep convos work-related] & if anyone comments that you don’t seem yourself just reply that you’ve been quite busy with family obligations & you’ve been focused on that.
    [no comment as to why I know this will probably work…]

    Good luck!!

  11. katamia*

    OP4, any chance you could switch to buzzing people in (therefore not letting in the information moochers), or would that be too much effort or discourage the people you actually want to come in from coming in if you get a lot of appropriate walk-ins too?

    1. EddieSherbert*

      I was thinking this too – this is when having a buzzer would probably be helpful (you can ask what their business is before letting them in, and not let them in if they’re not there for your company).

      Plus, I think a buzzer would discourage them from even bothering you. Too much effort? They’d probably just walk to the next business and bother them :)

  12. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#4, it’s 1000% ok not to be the living smartphone for people. You should not have to spend your time looking up addresses or phone numbers (!) for people, particularly people with smartphones (I’m also assuming the places they’re looking for are not places they need to be for some emergency reason).

    So I would be polite but very firm. Note that you’re the receptionist for your nonprofit, that you don’t have the information they seek, and that you wish them luck in finding wherever they’re going. If there’s a local directory at the nearest public transit station, recommend it to them. Resist the urge to be helpful, even though you’ll want to be. And don’t apologize for not doing a look-up—it just invites comments like the woman who for some reason thought it was reasonable to have you do a Google search on your computer instead of using her phone to do the same.

    1. Leah*

      Yeah, I think the key part is that this is a PRIVATE nonprofit, not a public information desk. OP should say that very sternly- some people just don’t get the hint otherwise.

    2. Editor*

      Each of the people coming through the door thinks that they’re the only one who’s asking for help. Frankly, if I were running the nonprofit, I might put a sign up saying that tourist assistance can only be provided to people who make a cash donation of $100 and allow the office to photocopy a drivers license or other photo ID with name and address (so the nonprofit can send an acknowledgment). But that could easily backfire.

      Why not try a sign saying “Due to the volume of requests, management has directed the office staff to work on assigned tasks only. We are sorry, but budget constraints do not allow us to assist visitors with personal questions. Employees have been instructed not to make any exceptions to this rule.”

      1. Leah*

        Eh, I wouldn’t word it like that. If they think that the volume of requests has gone down then they’ll think they’re an exception. I think it’s best to have an unequivocal “this is a private nonprofit go away” type of sign.

        Source: I worked at a reception desk in the middle of campus when I was in college, and was plagued by random tourists (not even prospective students/parents or alums) just walking in and demanding information about random things in our city.

        1. katamia*

          That’s so weird. I’d never just walk into a random office and ask the person there for information, even before smartphones.

          1. SarahKay*

            I might have, if I was really lost, and it was a reception-type front. But it would start with an apology for bothering them, and end with a sincere thank you. And it wouldn’t be “can you give me directions to” it would be “could you tell me if I’m heading in roughly the right direction for x”.

              1. Annonymouse*

                I’ve done something similar when my phone was dead and I couldn’t find my husband.

                But I was apologetic, offered to pay the business for the phone call to my husband and clearly upset.

                If it was something I could have done myself I would. The entitlement here is staggering.

                The tone you need to take is

                “I’m sorry, are you here for non profit business?”


                “Then I am unable to help you but you can easily find the information on your smartphone or if you don’t have one there is a public information booth nearby.”

                “Can’t you look it up for me?”

                “I could if you are willing to pay me $50 consulting fee to compensate for lost work time.”

              2. Justanotherthought*

                This! I know we still get a stupid, big-butt phone book delivered to our home every year. Could the OP keep something like this handy and just hand it over and let people look up a phone number or address? Then you can be “helpful” but also get your point across that people need to be able to help themselves.

                OP – how annoying for you!! My sympathy – ugh!!!

                1. Temperance*

                  It would be even better if she could just put it out on a table not near her desk, so people aren’t using her handing the book over as a signal that she’s there to help. In my experience, these people will always keep talking and don’t get hints.

            1. Anion*

              Yes, if I’m lost or looking for a specific address I can’t find, I might stop into an office and ask the receptionist if she happens to know where X or Y is, or if she can tell me if I’m headed in the right direction (going by the not-unreasonable assumption that someone who works in the area is familiar with it). My thinking is that Google Maps or whatever can’t tell me that the road I’m looking for is actually unmarked or looks like a driveway, or the office I’m looking for is in an unmarked building or one I have to go through a courtyard to reach, or whatever it is that locals might know but a website doesn’t. Not to mention that I might simply not want to ask some random man hanging out on a street corner for directions or help. A person at work in an office is probably a lot safer to ask.

              I used to be a receptionist myself and occasionally had people stop in for those reasons. It was never a problem–which isn’t to say the LW is wrong to consider it one, of course, because I can see it being a problem if it happened constantly or if people won’t accept “I don’t know” as an answer.

              When I do ask I always ask apologetically, and if s/he doesn’t know or can’t answer, I accept it. I usually start these requests with an apology and a “I tried to find it on my phone but it’s just not very clear,” or whatever. LW, when you get the “I don’t want to look it up on my phone, can’t you just look it up on your computer?” things, just say, “I’m sorry, I can’t.” If they press, you can say something like, “My computer is running a program right now that I can’t interrupt/log out of,” or “I don’t have internet access at the moment/my computer is for work only,” or something like that. Asking for directions or help is one thing; if you’d ask a stranger on the street, you can ask a receptionist. Asking said receptionist or stranger to look things up for you because you *don’t want to do it* (good lord!) is another thing entirely.

            2. Emily*

              Yeah, I could see myself doing something like this if I were really desperate. But I don’t have a smartphone, and I would probably try other things first (like calling a friend with internet access).

          2. Allison*

            I did once. I was on my way to an interview, got on the right road, but realized I forgot the building number! So I tried to look it up with my phone, but due to a battery issue I admit I should have fixed weeks before, the phone died. And I tried driving slowly enough to read the company names outside each building but that just angered the other drivers on the road. So I popped into a veterinary clinic and asked the receptionist if I could look up the building number for me. She did, I got there in time, and got the job. But it was a last resort solution and I felt really silly asking for that kind of help.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            Well I’ve done it (apologetically, of course), but it was a council office in Bermondsey and the receptionist not only had directions, but a map. The street I was trying to find literally doubled back on itself. Love you, London, but you’re like a plate of spaghetti. :P

          4. Backroads*

            I had it happen all the time when I worked at a non-profit. And both offices were rather out of the way, certainly not on the street front.

            Yet people still sought us out…

        2. roflmouse*

          I can definitely sympathize. I work hospitality, and while I’m happy to find information for my guests (I am not a concierge), I do get irritated when people that are not guests of the hotel demand I help them with whatever random thing they think of. I had a coworker at a previous place I worked who would respond to those types of questions with “I’ll google that for you.” Usually people would suddenly look sheepish and mutter that they could’ve done that themselves. Exactly.

          1. Ann Furthermore*

            I know, the cluelessness of this blows me away. The most I would ever do is ask for directions if I was lost, or ask if the receptionist knew where an office was in the building if there wasn’t a directory, or if I’d been unable to find what I was looking for on it, and then thank the person for helping me. And at a hotel, I certainly wouldn’t expect anyone to accommodate me if I wasn’t a paying guest.

            I was in Vegas for a conference last month that was held at Mandalay Bay. I was staying at the Luxor next door (which by the way…perfectly serviceable hotel that I’m sure was quite elegant 20 years ago…it’s a little rough around the edges these days…LOL), but when I arrived I went straight to the conference to help my co-worker set up our vendor booth. I wasn’t sure where to go once I got there, and a concierge asked if he could help me. I explained what I was trying to find, and he gave me directions and then asked if I wanted them to hold onto my suitcase. I told him I wasn’t a guest at the hotel, and he said that was fine, I could leave it with them and then come back later, and he gave me a claim ticket. It was a little thing, but a very nice convenience and I really appreciated him helping me out even though I wasn’t staying there, and told him so.

          2. Casuan*

            When I worked in hotels [circa 1990], guests would drive me bonkers for ringing with questions, the answers to which were in in the Guest Directoryin their room.
            And they’d call Reception for everything. My colleagues & I would try to “train” them by responding “Oh, this is in the Guest Directory on the desk in your room. The answer is 3pm. If your directory is missing I’ll send one for your convenience!” or “Let me transfer you to Housekeeping, they’ll be glad to help you.”
            Of course we didn’t & couldn’t always do this & we used discretion.

            1. Joe X*

              Of course the difference is that these people were paying guests of the hotel, not random people walking in off the street.

        3. Whats In A Name*

          I once worked at a university where this was a problem for our welcome center staff and because your recruiting face had to be on at all time there was basically nothing you could do about it.

        4. Ted Mosby*

          I worked at a very well known/prestigious university and that would happen all. the. time. Also just walking into my closed office without knocking and asking for my stapler.

          I would always say no. It’s right there, but you’re not allowed to just open my office door unannounced. It would be so disruptive to my work flow to have people busting in all day. There was a real attitude of “you’re the secretary, it’s your job to help.” Uh, sure, maybe my faculty member, not random graduate students or people off the street.

          Honestly, if you help people, you have no one to blame but yourself. You don’t need some long note explaining why you won’t google things for people while you’re at work. You’re not violating some expected norm of “if a stranger finds you at a computer you have to do their bidding.”

          Just say “Sorry, I’m busy right now and can’t stop to look anything up” and put your head back down. If they feel like sharing with you that they prefer not to google things themselves, that’s not your concern.

      2. Kerr*

        +1 on the sign, so it’s clear that a) you’re not being “rude”, and b) management has your back. I’m guessing that part of your helpfulness is spurred by not wanting the nonprofit to look bad, and a sign would address that issue.
        Is it possible to put the sign outside the front door, so tourists don’t even make it inside? “We are sorry, but our front desk staff are unable to assist visitors with tourism questions or directions.”
        Alison is right, just stick to your script. A smiling “I’m so sorry, but that won’t be possible/I’m not able to” is very effective. You just have to repeat it…and repeat it again. Eventually they get the idea, but I know it’s uncomfortable at first, especially if you’re trained to be helpful. If there’s a city tourist line or website (maybe a brochure?) available, print out a stack of slips to hand out and send them on their way, but I’d even hesitate to do that since people might have questions about “Do they answer this question? Or this one? Do they know…?” etc.
        Also, literally stating “I don’t want to look it up on my phone”?! Chutzpah.

        1. Annonymouse*

          And my bosses of this non profit don’t want me to stop this vital task to look up your information request.

          If you have a problem with this would you like to bring it up directly to our CEO or board of directors?

          Just feeling snarky.

      3. Sadsack*

        That sign is way to wordy and no one will read it. I’d just say no and look at the person like why would you even ask me to do that?

        1. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

          Agreed. In my experience, people who are willing to ask someone to do something for them because they don’t feel like it (like the person with the smart phone) will certainly not be deterred by a sign of any kind.
          When I had to deal with a similar type situation, I just made like an RPG NPC with one line. “I’m sorry, but we’re not affiliated with that [place/person/whatever], so I don’t have that information.”

      4. Former Retail Manager*

        Came here to also mention the possibility of a sign. I think that either your wording or Leah’s would work. The goal is just to convey that you aren’t there to provide general public assistance. Regardless of which wording is chosen, I’d get the message and not request assistance from the person at the desk.

        1. Zombii*

          Signs don’t work. The majority of people don’t read signs anymore—hell, the majority of people will go out of their way to ignore signs now (based on my time working at a Borders and watching people literally crawl over/under hazard tape with a CAUTION: FALLING ICE sign posted in the middle of one of our walkways; the other walkway was 5ft away and not under the slant of the roof where the ice fell, but the hazardous walkway was closer, so).

    3. Cupcake*

      Maybe even saying something like “my computer is for work purposes only, I cannot look up anything not related to *NONPROFIT*”? There’s probably a better way to say this but it might dissuade the really stubborn (rude) people…

      1. KR*

        “I’m sorry, our firewall only gives me access to work related sites. Good luck!”

        1. DEB*

          I’ve worked at busy non-profits and I appreciate how even a brief interruption can wreck one’s train of thought, especially on project-based work. Question: How important is it that your non-profit have a true front desk? i.e. how often do you actually receive unexpected visitors? Because if all of your visitors are expected, the need for a “visible” front desk isn’t there. You could just as easily be behind a door or partition, and there could be an intercom for the non-profit specifically. Please do mention to your director that the constant interruptions reduce your ability to provide your best work, and see if there is a different physical desk set-up that would work just as well, if not better. Even a partition that reduces your visibility to the outside world creates less of a “concierge” trigger for passersby. There are folks who are just more verbal, and they prefer to ask a person questions. I can’t blame them – we often email when a phone call would be quicker or more efficient. It’s just that it’s not your job! Your workplace should help you set up your workspace in a way that does not trigger the “front desk/concierge” frame for folks walking by. Also, does the owner of the building know that they have what appears to be an information problem? Signage etc should not be your problem. Your non-profit is paying rent, yes? They can certainly request that the landlord provide needed signage, esp. if it can be framed as helpful to them in the long run.

          1. LW*

            For my position, the front desk facilitates visitors, donors and volunteers so unfortunately making it too closed off isn’t an option. I think a large part of the stranger traffic is due to that we are right in front of a major public transit stop (4 bus and 2 train lines) and we are in a central downtown location. I tend to lean on the side of over helping, but lately the stranger traffic seems to be increasing. A few days ago I missed a major deadline because just kept getting interrupted to the point where I couldn’t focus. My office is separated from the front entrance area and behind a glass door that’s normally closed but when people walk in, they can see it and go straight for it. As I’m reading through these comments I’m seeing a lot of phrases and ideas that I can try to deter people (as gently as possible).

            1. ZTwo*

              That makes me think the idea of putting some frosted contact paper on that glass door would be the best plan. It doesn’t prevent you from existing to people who need to be in touch with you, but it does prevent random members of the public from seeing you as easily accessible.

              And if this is affecting your work to the point of missing deadlines, I would definitely start tracking how much time you spend on these interactions. A harder no is good, but you shouldn’t be put in this situation as often as you are.

            2. Annonymouse*

              Or a simple sign next to a check in sheet with “guests of non profit please sign in here”

              People who then go to your office door afterwards become super rude for ignoring the fact THIS IS A PRIVATE BUSINESS OFFICE.

              “Can you help me find X?”

              “Are you a guest here to see someone at non profit?”


              “I’m sorry, but you’ve entered a private business office. You need to find an information desk or library to assist you. Have a nice day.”

              *get up and close door*

    4. Casuan*

      OP4: The Chamber of Commerce or a merchants’ association might have brochures & maps of the local area that you can put by the front door.
      Or if many requests are for the same place it might be worth the time to create a list with relevant infos.

      I wish I had better advice for you. It’s one thing for all of us to say that you should assert that you’re unable to help someone yet it’s another to be looking into someone’s eyes & telling them you’re unable to help…

      1. lokilaufeysanon*

        I don’t think the brochures are a good idea.

        1) Someone has to go and get them and make sure the brochure stand is always stocked.

        2) The brochures will be seen as an invitation by some of these people to make ridiculous requests they can do themselves. They will see the brochures and then probably still ask LW for help. And if LW declines, they’ll bring up the brochures.

        The people who are doing this know they’re being glass bowls. They already have a smart phone on them to do their own searching, but are still trying to get LW to do it for them. I don’t think the brochures are going to help.

        1. Casuan*

          I understand your point. It’s a trade-off. Whatever association produces the brochures might also distribute them, although as you said it’s extra work to check inventory. And people will still ignore them & just walk in & ask.

          As for the people asking help, there could be valid reasons why they can’t use their smartphone, eg: data usage or one doesn’t know how to properly use the device.
          Still, none of this makes it right for the interruptions.

          As someone correctly said, each person thinks they’re the only one who is asking so no one realises that the OP’s time is being disrupted many times that day.

          The OP’s challenge is to minimise the non-work disruptions whilst preserving the public image of the Non-Profit. I like the idea of pointing someone towards a map or transportation sideboard that shows the area. If one doesn’t exist or is too far away, Non-Profit could campaign for one closer to the busy sector where the OP works.

          Another solution- about which I have mixed feelings, I can’t decide if I like it or not- is for a note at the entrance, perhaps even with a little You Are Here map:
          eg: “Welcome to Non-Profit. If you’re here to support our mission, please see OP for help. If you have a question about the local area, please support us by looking at the area map at [location] or visit localarea-dot-com so we can continue the work that benefits our community [or whatever].”

          Any idea if other businesses have the same problem? You could then ask how they deal with it.
          [& the reply better not be “We just send them over to you.”]

          OP, please update us with the methods you tried & if you have success!

          1. SarahKay*

            Casuan, I like your solution. It’s polite, helpful, and makes it clear that OP is not, in fact, the local tourist office.

          2. LW*

            There are a few a business close by that was sending people over to is, though they thought our business was the right location. Our non profit partners with a lot of homeless shelters to raise money for them, and businesses close by would send people looking for shelter to our office but we don’t actually facilitate the shelters ourselves so I’d have to redirect them to the shelter offices. That’s something though that’s kind of part of my position so I’m always happy to help people with that, as we have packets of resources for those people to give out with all the information they need to get in contact with the shelters we partner with.

          3. Ted Mosby*

            I would respectfully disagree with SarahKay. Putting out brochures is basically indicating that your office is a good place to get information about the city. I think it would have a negative effect if anything. People are going to ask questions about the city and then think “but you gave out the brochures advertising x place, why won’t you help me find it.”

            I don’t feel like using my data isn’t a valid reason for not looking something up yourself in advance.
            Thinking you are the only special snowflake who would ever do a thing is not a valid reason to do it and ignore how it would effect other people.

        2. Antilles*

          “The brochures will be seen as an invitation by some of these people to make ridiculous requests they can do themselves. They will see the brochures and then probably still ask LW for help. And if LW declines, they’ll bring up the brochures.”
          I’d go further and say that the brochures are likely to make the problem *worse* if anything.
          1.) If people can see from the outside you’ve got a stand of brochures, people will see that and you’ll have even more people coming in to grab one. Given that the receptionist presumably greets everybody who comes in the door, this is a distraction and time-waster in and of itself.
          2.) People who get a brochure will usually then ask you a couple questions about it. Anybody who’s ever worked at a hotel can relate, because somehow the mere presence of 45 brochures makes you an expert on all of them.
          3.) Some people will see the brochures, then ignore them, assuming you’re a better source.

      2. Temperance*

        Quite honestly, it’s a “if you give a mouse a cookie” problem. Having those maps and brochures just shows the Lazy McLazybutts that LW does have information, and that she could help them.

        I’m sort of aggressive about guarding my time and setting boundaries, so I have no problem telling rude people that I can’t help them. I do this regularly, FWIW.

    5. Fresmom*

      OP#4: here’s your chance to raise money for the nonprofit! Put up a sign that says “All inquiries answered for donation only. Suggested donation $5 per question.”

            1. Adonday Veeah*

              $40 if you didn’t pay attention the first time and I have to repeat myself.

              1. Fafaflunkie*

                $50 if you have a phone in your hand and I used a similar phone to find the answer with voice assistant (“OK Google…” or “Siri…”)

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        I know you’re kinda sorta joking here, but this would be a breach of fundraising regulations.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            If they’re getting something of value in return for the money, it’s not a charitable donation; it’s a sale, and those are regulated differently.

            1. Ramona Flowers*

              Yup, exactly this. A lot of people don’t realise this but you can’t call it a donation if it’s in return for goods or services.

              1. CMT*

                Does that make public radio fundraisers where you get a mug or a tote bag not a donation? Does it depend on the value of the good or service?

            2. Fafaflunkie*

              So you value the service they stupidly asked for as $0.01 and let them know what they’ll get for their $50–a $49.99 tax receipt and their answer for $50. Otherwise find it out for yourself!

        1. Natalie*

          Ah, but only the fair market value of the service has to be deducted from the donation! So if the FMV is low enough, and they give a receipt, this would probably be fine tax-wise in the US.

          1. Ramona Flowers*

            It’s not a tax issue. It’s about what you can and can’t do while fundraising. If you’re charging for a service, you can’t say it’s a donation.

            1. Anna*

              That is interesting. Back in the way back time, one of the small non-profits I worked with were told they could not actually sell at an event because they were being given free space, unlike a vendor who had to pay. They were told (and this is obviously incorrect) that they could ask for ‘donations’ and as a thank you, the person making the ‘donation’ would get a bumper sticker or badge or something. They didn’t issue receipts for the donations, though.

      2. Cheesehead*

        I was thinking of two possibilities along those lines.

        One, putting up a sign that says “Welcome to [Nonprofit]. We regret that we are not able to provide concierge services to the general public. Please see/call XYZ at [location/telephone number] for these types of questions.” I think ‘concierge services’ might not get through to some people, but you could always put a short explanation in parentheses, like (directions, address or telephone lookups, etc). I just thought it was the best way to describe it and if you call it that, it has the air of being ‘more’ of a request than ‘just look up my little-bitty telephone number’. And then direct them to the local chamber of commerce or other place where they can ask a question, either by address or phone number.

        Second, if it’s okay with your bosses, put up a sign that says something like “Welcome to [Nonprofit]. We provide (your mission). Please see the receptionist to check in/be directed to the appropriate employee. For all other concierge type of inquiries not related to our organization, we charge $25 per 15 minutes.” Then just point at the sign when people ask you something. If you have to break your focus, then a minimum charge/time allotment is a good idea.

        If other establishments can put up signs that say ‘no public restrooms’ or ‘restrooms for customers only’, then I think you can certainly put up a sign about this.

        1. Dot Warner*

          I doubt anyone oblivious enough to wander into a stranger’s office and ask for information they could easily Google is going to read those signs.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      This. I usually avoid looking things up on my smart phone because for me it’s slow and small–certainly it doesn’t work as the constant distraction phone-net seems to be for a lot of people. (The rest of my family have fully integrated with their technology.) But “not having my own laptop”* is the point where I go ahead and look up the address etc myself.

      *Okay, not having a teenager to whom I can say “hey look up X on your phone” is also the standard. But usually I don’t have a convenient teenager attached.

    7. AndersonDarling*

      We have an office on the first floor of a medical building and people used to constantly walk into the office thinking it was a concierge desk. We already had a buzzer for the door, but people would still ask to be buzzed in. So we put up big signs to make it clear that we are a business. That didn’t work. We would direct people to use the phone in the public lobby, but that still took up time. But then we frosted the top of the glass doors so wandering people couldn’t see someone sitting inside…that is what solved it.

      1. ZTwo*

        Oooh, frosted glass is a good solution. It’s definitely costlier than some other options, but if it’s really 10-15 people a day, this is taking up so much of the LW’s time (even if she does give a firm no) that it may ultimately be worth it. Especially because people truly won’t read things, they need obvious physical barriers / cues that it’s not ok.

        1. Whats In A Name*

          I like this idea – I wonder if OP can just buy the frosted glass contact paper and put it up. I did that in my bathroom once and it worked wonderfully and looked good. It was painfully time consuming but worth it..and $30. Might be in a non-profit budget as a discretionary expense if nominal.

          1. afiendishthingy*

            This is a great idea. LW is too visible to the outside world. Assuming name of non-profit is clearly visible, affiliated people will know where to go, and people who just don’t feel like googling probably won’t walk in HOPING someone will be there to google for them.

        2. Al Lo*

          You can get rolls of frosted film on Amazon for about $15/roll, which would be a less expensive, less permanent way to frost your windows. I have it on my living room windows — I really dislike the feeling of keeping all my curtains drawn for privacy, and I like having the natural light, but neither my neighbors nor I need a clear view into my apartment. It works great.

    8. LadyL*

      I feel for #4. I used to work the front desk at a state building that housed a variety of public services, including archives. People would come in, ask incredibly random questions, then belittle us and act rude while we tried to help them (usually “Can’t believe you morons are getting rich off my tax dollars, you’re incompetent and a thief and should be ashamed of yourself” type stuff).

      Once though a couple came in, approached my desk, and the woman barked at me, “Vital statistics!”
      Me: Huh?
      Me: I- I don’t-
      Her: Vital statistics! I need a birth certificate, so where do I get vital statistics? (All with an eye roll and a nasty tone)
      Me: Oh! Well the archives here do have some birth records, but only historical ones, so-
      Her: (another annoyed eye roll): I *know* that, I’m asking where is the office that has recent birth certificates located?
      Me: Oh! Ok, let me google that. Um, it looks like the building is downtown, near the capital-
      Her: WE KNOW THAT ALREADY! (turns to her male friend, rolls her eyes, and gestures to me in an annoyed way). IM ASKING WHAT IS THE ADDRESS
      Afterwards I think I had to go into the back and scream for a bit. People are awful, and especially so when you work in a position they perceive as meant to serve them.

      If your boss is backing you up on the “I’m not google” campaign then you are already incredibly lucky! And good for you, for sticking up for yourself.

      1. Ramona Flowers*

        What. The. Hell.

        If someone barked ‘vital statistics’ at me I’d probably assume they were asking for my bra size.

          1. afiendishthingy*

            I was pretty sure obnoxious information seeker was totally misusing that term, but google says vital statistics is indeed “official records of birth, death, fetal death, marriage, and dissolution of marriage.” And I googled that all by myself, without wandering into the Boost Mobile place on the corner and making them do it for me.

            I bet you’ve got some stories, LadyL.

    9. ReneeB*

      I wonder if it’s possible to include a desk sign along the lines of “Not a public information desk.”

      There is general sentiment against leaving notes for others to read. But I think that only applied to when we actually know the people and should be Having The Conversation rather than avoiding it with written missives.

      Members of the public are expected to read public information signage all the time. From “Keep Right” to “Don’t Forget Your Reusable Bags.”

      She is not a public information desk, and that deserves polite but direct public signage.

      1. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

        They’re expected to read signage, but in my experience they never do. The people that /do/ pay attention to signs aren’t part of the problem population.

        I have a sign on my door that says “DELIVERIES ONLY” in huge red letters (plus additional information after for said deliveries should I not be there to open the door) and I still have people rattle and hang off the door trying to get in.
        (We keep all our doors locked at my lab to prevent people from just blundering in due to problems like OP4 has. We don’t serve the public, nor have to worry about random walk-ins related to our business though, so we’re fortunate in having that solution.)

      2. paul*

        That only works if people bother to frigging read the signage. I’m not optimistic about that. But maybe I’m jaded

    10. Rebecca in Dallas*

      Honestly, I would start telling people that the internet is blocked on your computer. A little white lie, but one people won’t argue with!

        1. Backroads*

          A different scenario, but my folks’ home phone number was for the better part of two years a Chase Bank. People were always calling up. Most accepted the “wrong number” explanation.

          But not all did.

          One lady insisted the website said this number (it did, it was mistaken, and the site manager refused to change it without Chase Bank’s permission) and therefore we had to help her “even if it is a wrong number.”

          Great, just give us your bank account number and pin…

          1. Anna*

            Well, you didn’t HAVE to, but you did.

            For years and years, the only difference between my phone and the phone number for a well-known golf course in our state was the area code. People in the city where I live would accidentally dial the wrong area code and call me to set up tee times. Usually I let them know there was a mistake (Oh, you probably dialed 555 instead of 556), but one guy left a message and I did call him back and leave him a message letting him know because I didn’t want him to assume his tee time was ready to go and show up and not have it and someone get yelled at.

      1. stapleface*

        Along this line, I would go with the ever feasible “our internet is down right now”.

    11. Fafaflunkie*

      If I were in OP4’s position and saw the person asking me for basic information whilst holding a smartphone, I would turn this into theatre. I would grab my own phone, say “OK Google,” then repeat the words being asked of me verbatim. Once the answer was read to him/her, I would roll my eyes and say “there you go.”

    12. Gina*

      This happens a lot to me at my job. Random people just walk in looking for directions or a phone number. The one that pisses me off the most is when they are looking for the insurance company. It’s right across the damn street! I’ve had people come in asking where the bus stop is. What time the bus comes. I always reply, “Down the street.” I never tell them which way down the street. Only because either way you go within one block is bus stop. But seriously I don’t work for NJTransit. Or we get the phone calls. People looking for a finance company, pet groomers. They call I answer. They try to give me their credit card info to make a car payment!! I repeat the name of our company and they say oh I want to make a car payment. It’s gotten to the point where I say, “You should probably call your finance company then. This is the ABC Company.” Then they actually have the nerve to ask me for the phone number of the finance company! I always reply, “I have no idea.” Then I hang up. Do I look like I work for 411 (in my state that’s the number for operator information)? Granted I am nicer to the elderly who stop in the office. It’s just the attitude. I’ll just stop in this random office and try to get these people to stop working to help me. If you are sincerely lost, no phone, medical emergency ok. But if you are just too lazy to look things up for yourself…

  13. Bea*

    For the wayward strangers, you have to respond to them and then be prepared to ignore them if they don’t leave you alone after the reasonable exchange. I know it feels harsh and we’re conditioned while at a front desk not to turn people away but this is like if you deal with solicitors as well. You have to learn how to cold shoulder someone out of the room.

    The standard response to remember to “Can you google this for me?” or whatever they’re saying is “I’m sorry, that isn’t possible.”

    The people with a smartphone in hand remind me of the sales reps who will come into your office and ask you for a wifi password so they can try to sell you their services (giant pet peeve of mine). They’re probably worried about their precious data and would rather waste your resources than theirs, so they keep pushing. Unless someone is truly lost or in danger, you have to teach yourself that it’s okay to not let others abuse your kindness.

    1. Gandalf the Nude*

      I think the data thing is important. Not because it should affect how OP handles the randos, but because it could help lower her blood pressure about the whole thing. Right now she’s frustrated at what she sees at folks’ entitled laziness, but in all likelihood, their kid sisters and teenage sons are hogging the data.

      1. George Willard*

        That’s amusing. The thought that someone would be rationalizing that they need to save their data, instead of just hurriedly seeing a kind-looking human and thinking “they look helpful!”, is far more blood pressure-heightening to me.

        1. Gandalf the Nude*

          It’s not so much, “I need to save my data” as it is “Kiddo went over the limit again, and I literally cannot afford to put us even more over. Oh, jeez, maybe this receptionist?” I mean, it’s still not the height of politeness, but it’s less blood-boiling, at least to me.

          1. Jessica*

            I have no sympathy for this. To me that’s like standing next to a pay phone with a quarter in your hand, asking random passersby to deposit a quarter so you can make a call, because you don’t want to spend your quarter. These people with smartphones HAVE access to the resource they need; it just is not free. Well, the OP’s salary is not free either, and I don’t know what her nonprofit’s mission is but apparently it’s not being a public information booth.

            1. pope suburban*

              As I heard often growing up, failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine. People treating random employees like a cheaper (!) Siri or a free personal assistant is rude, full stop. It is not on those employees to do those people’s free work, or the emotional labor of smiling through constant interruptions and the feeling of being thought of as a machine. If people have data concerns, well, there’s wifi to be had in every Starbucks these days, for starters.

              1. Happy Lurker*

                +100 “failure to plan on your part does not constitute an emergency on mine. ”
                I am all for telling these random strangers “my internet is down right now” or My computer isn’t working – I’m not logged int – keyboard battery died – whatever. It’s hard because the receptionist position is supposed to be a pleasant greeter (in many places) but it gets old quick in poor OP’s situation. My old bosses never liked if I used RBF, but it has become a useful tool in the last few years.
                I really like the idea of a buzz in, especially if 10-15 people are randomly walking in daily, but management has to be on board for that one.
                Good Luck OP

                1. pope suburban*

                  This turned out to be a timely letter for me. For context, I work for a specialty construction company, and that is all we do. We are not a retailer, nor do we have a showroom; these things are pretty darn clear on our website. But lo and behold, someone called this morning wanting to know if we know where she could buy wine crates! Which, well, we don’t sell or buy, because we build our own! Even with the scripts here, she was really huffy that I didn’t open Google for her. There’s going to be a certain amount of needing to let it be awkward in OP’s future, because once someone has crossed that line, they may well not take kindly to someone not going with it.

            2. Kate*

              Yes, thank you! This is why my blood boils when people ask for directions without trying to figure it out themselves first. It is on you, Driver and Passengers, to know where you want to go and how to get there. Buy a map if you can’t afford the data! Just don’t ask me “Where is the grocery store? Where is there a good place to eat around here?”, etc, especially when I know you come to this area fairly often.

          2. Anna*

            This is not something the OP should have to consider. It’s just as likely they just don’t wanna and her desire not to stop what she’s doing to assist a capable human being with something they can do on their own does not have to be undermined with what ifs.

      2. Allison*

        Right, we have that issue in my family. I share a data plan with my mom and sister, and we often get texts warning us that the data plan is being used up, but my own usage is within my “share” of the plan and my mom hardly uses any, but she often chides both of us for using data. “Why are you always using data?” Well, I like checking Facebook and being able to look stuff up, maybe listen to a song or two on YouTube. That’s what it’s for! I still wouldn’t expect random receptionists to look up information for me. If I need to conserve data, there are other things I could do.

        That said, we’re going to Europe in June, and as I’ve told my mom, we should get some sort of international plan so we have data if we need it. Using data outside your home country without a plan with your provider costs a ton of money – like hundreds per day. In OP’s case, it’s possible these people are from outside the country and can’t use data.

        1. Need a New Name*

          FYI it’s pretty easy to get a cheap-ish pay as you go phone in Europe. In the past when I’ve had family visit the UK from the US we bought a couple of cheap phones and put credit on them; these days you can even get a smart phone for £40 (or buy one from eBay etc.) and get a SIM card for temporary use.

      3. LavaLamp*

        Is limited data still a thing? I’ve got unlimited. Thank god because my mum managed to use over a terabyte of data a few months ago.

          1. LavaLamp*

            Falling asleep with YouTube. She got kicked off my wifi for that because an unexpected 200$ bill was not welcome. . Come to find out residential internet does have limits.

        1. Ramona Flowers*

          Mine is limited but I get so much that I’d have to try really hard to run out.

        2. Bea*

          It’s a thing. There was bitterness when we had our public wifi go down, you would have thought the world was ending. I’m over here with my unlimited data not noticing a thing.

    2. Tuckerman*

      “I’m sorry, that isn’t possible.”
      I like the idea, but I might tweak that a little. “I’m sorry, but that isn’t possible. This computer is for business use only.”

    3. We're not your receptionist!*

      Yep. I’ve been there, done that. It got so bad that we eventually put in a wall. Killed our view but bought us a little less interruption.

      I do worry, since it’s a non profit, that someone will snark at a board member or CEO and they’ll push back though. That used to happen to us until our manager actually stood there with a clicky counter one shift and counted how many interruptions happened (shortly after, the wall went up).

      There’s still some issues–we’ve had people actually bang on our locked door hard enough to damage it– but we’re moving soon. And the walls did help!

      1. Anna*

        Eh, not something to really worry about. It’s unlikely the people bothering the OP even know she’s working for a non-profit. And most people don’t even realize that all non-profits have a board to complain to. They probably just assume she’s sitting there with nothing better to do than to assist them with their question.

  14. Casuan*

    OP3: This is unusual although it isn’t too weird. Advise your partner that if by chance the interviewer were to ask if she is related to Jane X, she should reply “Yes, we’re related & work in the same field. To answer your question about…/I’ve a few questions about this role.”

    Really the interviewer shouldn’t even ask, although if she does your partner should just keep to the basics. This goes both ways: Saying that the other candidate is indeed a relation could inadvertently bias the interviewer in regards to age &or experience.

    1. Gandalf the Nude*

      Yeah, I would say something lighthearted about “the family business” or “we have a rule about talking shop at Thanksgiving.”

  15. Dot Warner*

    OP1, I’m sure you’ve thought of this, but is there a way that you can trade desks with someone else?

    1. Sadsack*

      I think that would make things even more awkward and cause everyone to ask why OP moved. Just live through the awkwardness until it is awkward no longer!

      1. Karen D*

        I have plenty of experience in this area, lol. My goal is always to roll back to the point where we were friends.

        Usually I handled it by showing up with some kind of treat that says “I know you,” (a latte just the way they like it, their favorite panini without the tomatoes, etc.) and handing it over while saying something like “We were buds before we were dating. I wanna be buds again cause I like you. So here’s a bribe to be my bud again” said with my cheesiest grin. Then I went back to treating them exactly the way I treated them before (minus the steadily increasing flirtation, of course).

        This has worked beautifully for me … I’m not looking to become BFFs and hang out outside of work. Just to re-establish the Work Buddy dynamic.

        1. KD OP1*

          Karen, thanks for your response. This will be my strategy, I think. We were friends once and will be friends again and that’s the way I want it to be. It’s nice to hear from someone who has similar situations.

          Also, Dot Warner, coincidentally, some of changing role and responsibilities means I will be moving desks in the next couple weeks. So, some of my problems may already be solved!

          1. Karen D*

            The only caveat is that you have to make it clear (in a friendly way) that there’s no underlying motive of (or interest in) getting back together. And oddly enough, I learned early on to avoid using the word “friend.” It’s a dog whistle, it seems. So it’s always “bud” or something like that.

            I’m realizing as I type this that it’s coming across as if I start treating them as if I were one of their dudebros, and honestly, that’s not too far off! It’s always a little awkward at first but I just don’t acknowledge that, and things seem to move along fine.

            1. KD OP1*

              Okay, good, so that means I shouldn’t answer any of his texts he’s sent me at 1 am the last couple of days…?

              Thanks for the advice, Karen. It’s nice to simply hear that someone knows what I’m going through (as trivial as it may seem!) :)

  16. Emac*

    #5 – I second Alison’s suggestion to not give your salary history at all, especially if you’re in the US where a federal court just ruled that employers can pay women less than men for the same job based on their past salary. Link below.

    1. Zombii*

      That’s a really click-bait-y way to frame it. Basing current salary on past salaries is problematic for all kinds of reasons, including institutionalized sexism, but that ruling just makes it even more important for women to research market rates and negotiate hard for the salary they deserve based on their experience.

      Also, the employer in that case was a school, and everyone seems to be all about underpaying teachers whenever possible, so I wonder how the ruling may have changed if it was related to a different industry.

  17. nnn*

    For #4, I wonder if people don’t want to look it up on their phone because they have a limited data plan. And while that isn’t OP’s problem at all, they could, if they choose to address it, tell people where the nearest public wifi is. Or the nearest library if they prefer to research on a computer rather than a phone.

    In the tradition of engineering solutions, you could also look at the layout of your entry and lobby and front desk. Is it perhaps too easy for someone to drift in? Are there boundaries between your office and whatever is outside your office (especially if your office is in a public building)? Is there any signage suggesting that your office is an information desk? If you can figure out a way to carry it off politely (or, at a minimum, politely enough to get a real answer) you could even ask the next few random information-seekers what led them to ask here.

      1. Sarjo*

        Er, as a librarian who faced constant desk interruptions as well taking my away from my many tasks, I’d say Chamber of Commerce type places are a better bet. That said, you’re probably right that no public librarian would ever not answer a question. I used to joke that despite a Master’s degree, my most commonly uttered phrases were “The restrooms are over there” and “Here is the stapler.”

        1. nnn*

          OMG, and all this time I thought that was what the librarians at the desk were there for! I never realized you had many other tasks, I thought answering questions at the desk was your whole job (at least during shifts where you’re sitting at the desk.) My apologies!

          1. Monorail*

            I’m a librarian, and while I may be working on other tasks at the public facing desk, that’s so I’m not bored/unproductive while waiting for people to approach with questions. Whenever I’m on the desk, my most important and highest priority job is to answer people’s questions, so don’t ever feel like you’re interrupting someone at a public facing desk in the library. That’s what we’re there for!

            1. Collie*


              I came here to suggest LW talk to their local library and see about a pop-up situation (which could turn permanent based on the available space for rent/purchase nearby). Librarians are primarily there to answer questions, though we may fill time between questions working on other tasks (such as planning programs, building resource lists, researching grant opportunities, or tasks that are standard administrative tasks you’d find in any other field).

              Growing up, my public library had a sign that said, “Please interrupt me. Your question is more interesting than whatever I’m working on!” (And most of the time I’ve found in my own experience, it’s true!)

            2. Karen D*

              I’m also in an industry (newspapers) where people expect you to provide them with random information.

              This is how I look at it. The best solution would be to shut the interruptions down altogether, and there are some good suggestions here that OP might try. But the reality of my situation is that I cannot stop people from calling me. It may very well be that OP can’t stop people from coming in the front door either. So the interruptions are going to persist no matter what.

              It then boils down to what option is the least trouble. Sometimes just giving in is the fastest way to get through it and move on.

              It seems to me, though, that the OP’s real problem is the sheer volume of the requests. That suggests this is an access issue; the OP is just too easy to get to. Without some change in that, probably a physical barrier of some sort, nothing OP does with the person standing in front of the desk is going to stop the next person, or the next, or the next.

            3. Marian the Librarian*

              Agreed! Also a librarian, and please interrupt us if we’re working at a public-facing desk! We’re there to answer your questions.

        2. public librarian*

          When you are working on a public desk in a library, your main task is to provide customer service and answer any questions that come your way, as long as they do not violate any library policies. When it is slow you might have time to work on other things, but providing good customer service is always the main task you should have at a public desk.

        3. Rivakonneva*

          Computer printouts are 10 cents per page.
          We close at 11:00 PM.
          No, we do not have a public fax machine. (Or one at all!)
          Yes, you can borrow a pen.
          And my all time favorite: No, we do not have tax forms. (Glory Hallelujah! I am SOOOOOOOOOOO glad everything is electronic these days!)

    1. DivineMissL*

      I agree with finding a solution to the office setup – telling 15 random questioners you can’t help them today does not stop tomorrow’s 15 from coming in, or the next day’s. You need to figure out what is giving the impression to the public that you can provide these answers and then change that, to stop the flow of traffic.

      My direct number is the first one that pops up in a Google search of our (government) office, so I get random phone calls asking for all sorts of weird information related to not only our government agency but other agencies. I take the 30 -60 seconds to look it up for them to be helpful; but I get these calls only 4-5 times per week, and I’d sure be upset at 15 visitors/day !

      1. Sarah*

        I agree, you can’t “train” people to do something different since it is likely a different 10-15 people every day. I like the options of putting frosted paper over the window or adding a buzzer system — your legitimate volunteers, etc. will still be able to have access, but a random person is much less likely to buzz in to ask directions (and if they do, when you say “Who are you here to see?” you’ll find out and can let them know you aren’t able to help without letting them in.

        FWIW, I volunteer with a local NARAL chapter — for those who don’t know, this is an abortion rights group, and so they obviously need to keep out the randos who would otherwise happily disrupt things because they oppose the mission. Obviously the interrupters in your case aren’t doing it because they hate your cause, but it sounds like their impact on your ability to do your job is just as great! NARAL does a buzzer system where you have to buzz in and say who you are to get let in, which works very well and doesn’t seem to create issues with volunteers, donors, or others gaining access to the office as needed.

  18. amy*

    Re Keurig and waste: just get the reusable pods. I use them at home and work, they’re fine, and then you’re free to use whatever nice coffee you want. If you don’t like dealing with the grounds, the Nespresso pods are recyclable if you live near a recycling center, and given that I live in the middle of nowhere and there’s a Nespresso pod drop-off point in town, you probably have one too.

    If you do tell him to get his own machine, though, don’t fuss when he wants it in a protected spot so it’s not mobbed by other people who want to drink decent coffee.

    Busy front-desk person: yeah, just smile and say, “We’re pretty busy up here, but you can etc.”

    1. JessaB*

      Unless they changed this the new Keurigs have to be hacked to use the pods. They tried (and the consumers hated them for it,) to bring out a new one that has scan things on every legit pod. The idea was corporate greed that you could not use generic pods. There are hacks listed everywhere, but if you have a gen 2 Keurig in an office, pods are a problem. Especially if you have one of those rules lawyer employees who tries to un hack it because well “You should only use branded pods, and you’re stealing from them.” What you get away with in your house, you can’t always get away with at an office.

      1. Mike C.*

        Wait, there are folks who get mad at the idea of using generic pods because “you’re stealing”?

        That sort of sycophantic adhesion to fake rules should be punishable. What a stunningly stupid stand to take.

        1. Naruto*

          Technically you’re not stealing, but you’re breaching your contract or something along those lines (or you were, if that design rule is no longer in effect). Of course, the contract may be an anticompetitive attempt to monopolize the market for k-cups, so… I don’t know, the whole thing is weird.

      2. The Cosmic Avenger*

        Keurig walked that back after the 2.0 got a lot of bad publicity. I still got a free “Freedom Clip” that fools those models into using any brand of cup, just in case I ever need it, but I still don’t like the concept of the Keurig, and I don’t trust them after that incident.

    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Just bears mention: the Keurigs and Nespresso pods are both incredibly wasteful, even with the drop-off points, just in terms of embodied energy. The fillable mesh pods are a great solution, but disposable pods are pretty bad.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      And I’m glad I drink instant coffee and can’t taste the difference…

  19. Oscar Madisoy*

    In response to 4. Random strangers stop in our office and ask me to look up information for them

    Specifically this: “We are in a high-volume walking and public transit traffic location where a lot of people with no association with our organization find themselves in our office needing help with one thing or another.”

    How do people “find themselves in [your] office?” For some reason I’m envisioning an open area with no doors.

    1. Michele*

      I am envisioning a visible lobby with a receptionist at a front desk that everyone can see.

  20. SusanM*

    OP #4 Set the yellow pages out and direct people to that. I would refuse to do more than that.

    1. boop the first*

      This is a good one! I remember when I was a cashier people would come in and ask to use the phonebook all of the time. Now I’m not sure if anyone would ask for a phonebook anytime. It would be amusing to see the reaction!

      1. the gold digger*

        The only people I know who actually have a phone book are my mother. Is my mother. (And Primo’s mom and dad, who never threw anything away, but they are dead and don’t count.)

    2. saby*

      Rando off the street: “Can you get me the phone number for X organization?”
      OP: “I can’t but you’re welcome to check this…”
      *drops yellow pages on the desk with a loud thump*

      I like it.

      1. Happy Lurker*

        It would be so much more satisfying if it were the yellow pages of yester-year. Those babies were big! Now they are tiny.

  21. Menacia*

    OP 4 – We lock down Internet access for our users. When someone asks you to look up information not related to the NP, just say you have very limited Internet acccess so cannot look up general information. Put up a sign to that effect.

    1. Violet Fox*

      OP 4, you could also just say that is the case even though it is not if people are insistent with their inquiries. Maybe you could also put up a sign pointing people to the local information desk?

  22. Danielle*

    I’m very particular about tea. It’s an office joke, but I really like the tea to be prepared a certain way. The solution? I make the tea, and if anyone wants tea, all they have to do is ask, and I’ll make it. Since the tea I make is awesome, everyone is happy!

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Yep, this is why they have french presses. My husband is particular about his coffee, so instead of coming off as jerky, he travels with his french press and makes his own coffee. It’s as easy as making a cup of tea and you don’t have to share.

      1. BBBizAnalyst*

        Same. I keep an Aeropress and a bag of my preferred ground coffee at my desk. I just make my cup in the kitchen.

        My office has a bootleg industrial Keurig so imagine the grossness of Keurig times two.

  23. Katie the Fed*

    #4 – people are just the worst. Seriously. I would definitely not assist with something like that, and you’re not out of line at all. You can also give yourself an air of incomptence, or business, or even slight rudeness.

    I used to go to a physical therapy clinic with one PT and no receptionist that was right in front of a bunch of metered spaces. Almost every appointment, some rando would come in with questions about the parking, or ask her to make change for a dollar, even though they could have just downloaded the app that also covers parking. What particularly galled me is that my physical therapist would take time away from me to have conversations with these people about it – she’d look in her purse for change, or give them advice on where to find free parking, or tell them that yes she thinks the police do ticket (do you even DC, bro?). I really wanted her to just tell them “no, this is a physical therapy clinic and I’m with a patient.”

    Ugh. People.

    1. Fish Microwaver*

      Oh that would irk me too. So much so that I would say something to the therapist or her boss. That behaviour is very unprofessional.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        She was a one-woman show. Very good physical therapist but really bad on the business management side. I was there so much I ended up giving her lots of advice on hiring an assistant :)

    2. Indoor Cat*

      That’s awful. I’m sympathetic to your PT; there are a lot of people who don’t realize until too late that being “too nice” is actually a problem. But, ughhh, as a person who has to go to a lot of doctor-type places, I so intensely value my privacy and uninterrupted sessions, whether it’s PT or just an exam. That’d piss me off for the rest of the session honestly, although I wouldn’t be mad at the professional.

      I genuinely do not get the whole phenomena in #4, honestly. I would never do that. It’s embarrassing enough to, like, ask for directions at a gas station when the GPS goes out, and I always buy something to make up for it. Asking someone you don’t know to Google something for you, seriously?

  24. Mookie*

    Re the potential predicament LW3’s partner and partner’s mother face — especially if they happen to be dealing with an unreasonable hiring manager — I have a set of acquaintances who are one another’s blood relatives and a few years ago they, too, applied for the same position with the same company. After the second was interviewed, the first was contacted by the hiring manager’s manager to accuse the two of “cheating” by assisting the second with tips from the first’s interview. (Erm, obviously neither moved forward with the hiring process after the phone call ended and the laughter ceased.) I think the company genuinely believed they’d patented interviewing techniques and that my two acquaintances were committing fraud in an academic dishonesty-like sense. Like, the first had given the second “answers” and a crib sheet. No one had ever asked about an applicant’s strengths and weaknesses before these people invented it. I work in the same industry and continue to find this reaction so professionally embarrassing for the company — because word got around — that these acquaintances are no longer allowed to talk about it to others when I’m in the same room or I’ll get a mini panic attack.

    1. OP #3*

      Yeesh, I think that’s about the worst-case scenario I can imagine. I’m sorry your acquaintances went through that. I don’t think my partner’s situation will go that badly, but that story’s certainly why she’s nervous.

      1. Mookie*

        Thank you, OP #3, they dodged a double-pronged bullet there, I think.

        If your partner and her mother (and her aunt, for that matter) are familiar with the company and it has a good reputation, I should think it very unlikely to happen to them but, as Alison and other commenters have suggested, it’s probably not necessary to address the relationship unless directly asked and there are a number of other, more pertinent reasons (including its irrelevance) for not doing so beyond avoiding accusations of conspiracy. Best of luck to both of them!

    2. fuzzytrees*

      My sister and her friend actually sort of did this (though not in the same round of interviews). My sister managed to quit her job for Extremely Strange and Irrational boss. Her friend, meanwhile, was pretty desperate for a job. He had heard her talk about the weirdness of the boss and company enough that when the boss advertised my sister’s former position, the friend aced the interview by pandering to the boss’s weird beliefs. He stuck with the job for a while before finding something better.

      (None of us feel bad about this because the boss was not very nice.)

  25. Markie Mark*

    You do not need to engage trivial issues like this! Tell them you don’t care and to work it out like adults. Also tell them that you will only engage if the dispute affects work or stinks up the office, and this might even include a ban of coffee makers!

    1. Michele*

      I agree. This is a really trivial matter (that obviously gets people talking) and people should be able to handle it themselves. If someone is yelling at someone else about the coffee, that is an issue of coworkers not respecting each other and needs to be addressed. Otherwise, people need to stop making drama and just accept that not everyone views the coffee the same way they do.

    2. Ramona Flowers*

      I’m not sure I agree. You spend a lot of time at work and things like your chair and your cup of coffee can make a huge difference to your happiness.

  26. Minister of Snark*

    Dear LW #2

    I see you’re working with my dad. I’m so sorry. I swear, he’s retiring soon.

  27. Ramona Flowers*

    #4 Don’t make alternative suggestions. Just say no, kindly, and turn back to your computer. Because you are evidently dealing with a slew of people who need kindly but firmly shutting down.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I’d open the conversation with something connected to the mission. “Are you here to make a donation to the kids fight cancer fund?” or “If you are here for the research project with Dr. Smith, you will need to fill out these forms and wait.”
      Then I would act/look really puzzled when the individual asks their non related question. Then I’d shut them down.

      1. Purplesaurus*

        I like this approach. I imagine some people are just cluelessly wandering by and would respond reasonably when they realize where they actually are.

  28. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

    OP4. “I’m sorry but right now I’m busy, if you don’t mind waiting 10-15 minutes then I’ll be glad to help you.” That should take care of most of them.

    1. Audiophile*

      I’m now envisioning a line forming as people wait for OP to answer their questions.

      I think firmly stating they can’t help is OP’s best bet.

      1. Sheworkshardforthemoney*

        That could happen! I worked in a public facing job and that line actually works when I had people who had questions that had nothing to do with us. My priority was serving our clients. When I did have a free moment I can help but whenever one of our clients came to the counter, my attention had to go to them.

    2. MuseumChick*

      Oh I would take it further than that, lol.

      “Sorry, I’m working right now. My lunch break is in two hours. I might be able to help you then.” Or,

      “Sorry, I’m working right now. My shift ends in three hours. I might be able to help you then.”

      1. Agnes*

        The problem is that it’s not the same people asking over and over (right?) – it’s new people. So there are just as many interruptions.

        1. paul*

          Yeah. My focus would be more along the lines of making it look less inviting; even if you get good at shutting it down you’re going to be dealing with X number of people a day and it’s a pain in the butt. Figuring out a way to reduce X number would be better.

  29. BrownEyedGirl*

    #3 This happened to my cousin and my aunt. My cousin got the job and my aunt was awful about it… but she was awful in general. In this market you can never let someone else’s desire for a job get in the way of you applying.

    1. OP #3*

      My partner and her mother are close enough that it won’t be awful, but since they both do need work, there could certainly be some awkward feelings if my partner is chosen over her mother. Hopefully if that happens she’d be able to find something else fast enough that no bad feelings can simmer.

      I’m sorry for your cousin; it’s a tricky situation to be sure.

  30. Jess*

    #4: “Nooo . . .” In a tone of voice that suggests you were going to say “no, sorry, I don’t have time” but you realized as you made the “n” sound that you have nothing to apologize for and they are being presumptuous by not accepting you don’t know where their crap is at.

  31. bunniferous*

    One solution to the coffee dilemma might be to buy an inexpensive carafe for the leftover coffee. But I agree with those that say just brew one pot at a time. What we used to do in a former office is fill one pot with water, so that when it was time to make a fresh pot (i.e. when the other pot was empty) you could just make more with that pot while rinsing out the previous pot. Also, used to work Waffle House back in the day, and it is absolutely true that old coffee is bad. I seem to recall we dumped and made fresh after an hour (I worked third shift so occasionally coffee did have time to sit.)
    In any case, no one should be confronting anybody regarding something as trivial as coffee. That is why French presses and electric kettles were invented.

    1. KR*

      For another data point, the coffee can sit for no longer than 18 minutes at a Dunkin Donuts without being tossed and rebrewed. In a Keurig brew system (not the one most people have at home but the one you might find in an hotel breakfast bar or a gas station) it could stay for roughly 3 hours.

      1. fposte*

        I do think it’s not entirely reasonable for people to have the same expectations for free coffee that they do for coffee they buy from places that make it for a living, though.

        But then my office doesn’t provide coffee at all, so that influences my perspective.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Yeah, where I work, we have basic coffee provided. If you’re fussy, you provide your own. We only make one pot at a time, though, and we got one of those coffeemakers that shuts off when you take the carafe out so we don’t have to wait for the entire pot to fill.

  32. Lady Blerd*

    Reading the header, I assumed LW1 was going to be about the office mate no longer wanting to be work friends.

  33. The Cosmic Avenger*

    OP #5, if you don’t have time to read the post that Alison linked to…make time, it’s really worth it. But for now, think about this: would you go into a car dealership and say “OK, I’ve been pre-approved for a $20,000 car loan, so what can I get for that?” I hope not! You pick out the car you want and you try to get the best price you can. And making a mistake buying a car is a one-time thing, you overpay by $1,000, then it costs you $1,000. If you get lowballed on salary by $1,000 because you negotiated poorly, you will not only lose $1,000 every year, but your future raises will be a tiny bit less, assuming you get percentage raises like most companies. In 10, 20, 30 years that percentage can compound and make a huge difference!

    tl;dr version: treat salary as a negotiation, don’t give anything away, and don’t paint yourself into a corner.

  34. MuseumChick*

    OP#4, could you put some kind of sign on your desk indicating that you can, and will, only answer questions regarding the business you work for?

    I agree that you should be firm with people,

    “Hi, can you look up the phone number for XYZ restaurant?”

    “Sorry, I cannot look that up. If you have questions about (the non-profit) I can answer them.”

    “I just need XYZ restaurant’s phone number!”

    “Sorry, I can’t help you.”

    “But you have a computer! Just look it up!”

    “I’m sorry I can’t.”


    “Do you have any questions about (non-profit) I can answer?”

    And just stay firm.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Pretty much this. I have no idea why people are so resistant to using their phones, but it’s ridiculously inappropriate to walk into a business and demand that the receptionist be your personal Siri.

    2. Emmie*

      Her response to me depends upon how much the reputation of her non-profit / business matters. If it does, I recommend her saying “I’m sorry, but I’ve never heard of that restaurant. Good luck!” Or, “I can’t look that up. Our net access is restricted, but good luck finding it!” Good luck ends the conversation and then go back to doing your work. Answer the phone. Start typing on the computer. If your phone line is busy, make them wait for your attention. Some will leave. Turn to file a document. Pretend to make an internal call “Your document is ready.”

  35. Temperance*

    LW4: ” I can’t help you with that. ”
    Repeat as necessary. I think you need to shut down all of these requests, even the easy ones, because word of mouth is a powerful thing.

    1. CMT*

      Yeah, people are suggesting some pretty convoluted scripts, but I think this is the best one. No unnecessary apologizing, no ways to try to argue with it.

  36. Librariana*

    #4 Sometimes at the library, people will ask for things even we don’t help with. We have a sign posted with the most frequent requests (where to find a notary public, an electric car charge point, office supplies, stamps, etc), and if pressed beyond that, our go-to answer is “I’m sorry, that’s not a service we provide.”

    1. Michele*

      Do people bother to read the sign? I have noticed that somehow, those things become invisible after someone has decided to ask the front desk.

      1. Librariana*

        We point them to it. It just saves a lot of explaining to have oft-requested info handy.

  37. Erin*

    Oh, #4. I sympathize. I didn’t have that problem to the degree you do, but at a former job I was in the same building as a CDL school and at least once a day someone would come into my office asking me where the CDL school was.

    We took to putting a sign on the door with “CDL School that way —->.” Of course, some people missed the sign and came in anyway. But, it might be worth a try. Are there any questions you repeatedly get that you could put on a sign? This could maybe help with SOME of the inquires you get, but of course not all.

    The good news is your boss has your back, so do what you need to do. Play around with signage on the door. Have a few go-to phrases to use when people come in and bother you. You’ll probably feel a little bit rude shutting down people as they come in, but remember they’re the ones being rude. Unless of course, they’re not, and they actually are elderly/without a smartphone/etc, but you can take that on a case-by-case basis.

  38. Stop That Goat*

    On the coffee front, I can’t drink coffee that has been sitting longer than a couple hours. It’s a huge trigger for a skin issue. I can typically tell (through smell) when coffee has been sitting too long for me to drink but mixing it with other coffee may trick my senses.

    So, I’d definitely be anti coffee pot mixing. I think I’d end up having to avoid the company coffee pot completely if it happened here.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      The smell of overcooked coffee makes me gag.

      But I don’t trust others to make my coffee – I make it at home and bring it in. That way it’s always exactly how I want it.

      1. Stop That Goat*

        My first cup of the day is almost always brought from home too. That could largely be because I don’t want to wait until I get to the office though!

    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      ….sorry, but….what? This is a thing? What’s the difference between fresh coffee and stuff that’s been sitting?

      1. LavaLamp*

        I think it has stuff in it that can become stronger if not consumed quickly. I’m not sure what they’re called but it’s a thing.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Huh. Sorry, not intending to throw shade on STG, I just had never heard of a sensitivity like that.

          1. Stop That Goat*

            It sounds weird enough that I’d question it if I didn’t experience it myself. No worries at all.

      2. Stop That Goat*

        Yea, it’s definitely a thing. I don’t know why I react the way I do but I’ve been dealing with the skin condition for over 15 years (and drinking coffee just as long). I’m not sure if it’s some sort of change in the gut from drinking the old coffee (and the skin is just a side effect) but it’s clear as day. I drink a few cups a day without any issue but the moment I drink old coffee, I’m flared up within an hour. I stay far away from gas station coffee for this reason as well.

        I know it sounds odd and I wish I had a better explanation. If I make fresh coffee, no problem at all.

  39. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

    #5 – If you are looking for other employment, please be sure to take your OT into account. I switched jobs last year and while my base pay increased very slightly, the loss of OT has been extremely noticeable. I would think of it this way, when you work regular predictable OT, your employer has decided that your position is worth the higher salary, even if they let that pay out through OT instead of regular salary.

    But I do agree to avoid giving your current salary at all, if at all possible.

  40. Dust Bunny*

    #4: They have their smartphones in hand because searching online often results in inaccurate and/or vague directions.

    My organization is named in part after a major donor. Unfortunately, he also donated to a lot of other organizations and whoever maintains maps and directions online can’t keep them straight, so we regularly get people looking for [other, unrelated institution that also received donations] but were misdirected. The thing is, if they do a new search, they’ll still get sent to us–it’s not that they haven’t tried, it’s that they have but were given unreliable information, and they can’t help that. We finally printed a stack of maps/phone numbers that we keep by the door to hand to these people. “I don’t want to look it up on my phone” doesn’t always mean “I’m too lazy”; it often means that the format of the results, which is frequently different on a phone than it would be on a regular computer, is unintelligible, which is how they ended up in the wrong place to begin with. (I have tested this and it is, in fact, a massive pain in the rear to find my own workplace on a smartphone.)

    We’re also in a building that includes at least two other, unrelated businesses. It seems that a lot of shipping companies don’t include room for suite numbers on their labels so we’re constantly redirecting deliverymen to other suites. (We are the office at the end of the building nearest the main parking lot.)

    If you’re not willing to help, though, tell them you don’t know. I usually help because I work for a non-public library and we just log these as patron interactions, but if you don’t do that, tell them you’re not familiar with [other business] and cannot help. Otherwise, the more you imply you know, the more they’ll try to get out of you.

    1. Michele*

      I do wonder if LW is always getting questions about the same places or if they are random. Like you said, if the questions are all about the same place, that is an issue with the place being too hard to find. I remember recently that someone said they had to send someone out into a field to give directions to their office because the GPS would always send people to the field.
      However, if everyone is looking for different places or information, they are most likely lazy.

    2. Natalie*

      I have been in an office with a similar problem, but I don’t think this is actually the issue LW is having. In my experience the people who were truly lost were confused, rather than hostile as the LW describes. Plus, once you’ve had a few lost people you know exactly what they are looking for and don’t have to search for directions or what have you.

  41. Michelle*

    OP#4- 209 comments already but I hope you see this I work in a museum. One of my duties is to answer the phone. After people ask about the museum they often ask about other places in the area. If it’s a just a question or 2, I usually answer those, but when they basically want me to plan their day, I offer them the number to the local visitor’s center. If they push back and/or try to argue or whine to ask me to do more, I say “I have another call coming through. Would you like that number?” That usually works.

    Now I understand that won’t work exactly for you since you are having people coming in your building. Maybe you can use Allison’s script and have the local visitor’s center number available to give them, perhaps put the name and number on a Word business card template, cut them out and have a stack available to hand out when people need info.

    1. Michele*

      Looking at the phone and pretending to answer it could still work in this situation.

  42. Lora*

    5: I learned how to negotiate salary from a woman who was the sharpest negotiator I’ve ever met. When I saw her on the phone with clients, I begged her to please teach me her skills and help me with salary negotiation at my next job offer, and she kindly obliged.

    Whatever they say, don’t bother telling them what you actually make now. You can just say, “I was hoping for a small increase, so I was looking for $$$$$money.”

    Then be quiet. Don’t worry about the silence being uncomfortable, it is their turn to say something. Just shush and go silent while they contemplate what to say to you.

    I do tend to state my benefits at current job, because the next thing they like to do is say, “we can only afford $$pennies$$ but our benefits are really good,” and then it turns out their benefits are just average. So I tell them all the benefits I enjoy.

    They may say “well that’s a little more than we had budgeted…” The answer to this is, “OK, do you want to get together with your team and get back to me?” If they want you (and they’ve decided they want you, so make the most of it because you will never have a stronger bargaining position), and you’re not asking for anything wildly out of the ballpark, they will make it happen, or do their best to be pretty close.

    That’s the big thing though: say what you want, then be quiet.

    1. Michele*

      I am a lousy negotiator and got a $10k bump in starting salary because of it at my current job. I was unemployed, so I had no leverage. The boss made an offer at the low end of what I would accept, and I wasn’t sure what to say, so I just sat there for a couple of seconds. He increased it $5000, and I was about to jump on it. Then he increased it another $5000 (which research had told me was at the top of the range) and said that he wouldn’t be able to go any higher. I took it. I forget my wording, but I hope that it didn’t seem too eager.

      So yeah, whoever speaks first, loses.

    2. Thinking Outside the Boss*

      This is great advice!

      Early in my legal career, I had one of my client’s tell me that lawyers always want to be the first one to speak and sometimes be the only one to speak. My client’s advice was great–you should act as though you’re not getting paid by the word and you don’t have to fill the silence with the sound of your voice.

      I’ve been practicing law for 22 years now and the “speak then be quiet” technique has worked wonders for me.

  43. Allison*

    #4 – I admitted upthread that I did something like this before, but my phone died and I was having trouble finding where I needed to go for an interview. Sounds to me like the people OP4 is dealing with are people who, for whatever reason, would rather turn to the nearest helpful-looking person and ask for help than try to find the information themselves.

    I’m also wondering, if this is in a popular tourist area, if there’s some weird travel advice making the rounds – “save your phone data by asking local businesses for directions! they’re happy to help!”

  44. bunniferous*

    Regarding #1: I used to work for a business where one of the managers and the receptionist were fairly recently divorced. The manager worked on the second floor, the receptionist on the first. It was weird but cordial. So, it can be done.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Yeah, at some point, everybody’s just got to put on the adult pants and deal. Yeah, it’s awkward, I been there, but…it can be weird, and everybody can still be cordial and do their jobs.

    2. KD OP1*

      Yep, it definitely can. The short period of awkwardness is just a price I will have to pay for being involved with a coworker. (Maybe next time I’ll pick someone who works on a different floor!)

  45. LQ*

    #4 I think that you need something that is a broader deterrent unless these are the same sets of people coming in over and over. Assuming they are different people each time then looking at signage is important. Clearly you’re in a spot that encourages walk up traffic so a lock on the door/buzz in system might make a big difference. Not sure how your office is located, but if there is a physical desk visible from the door that invites a lot of walk in. Could you put a visual barrier up so people who are walking by can’t see the person inside at the desk? I really think some entryway messaging/visual obstruction will be the best here.

    1. Temperance*

      Even a little sign in front of her face, obscuring her from the public would help! It doesn’t even have to say anything, just that physical barrier should deter some people.

    2. Allison*

      If they locked the front doors, I’d imagine a lot of people would just yank on the door, then pound on it going “HELLOOOO? HELLOOOOOO?!?! LET ME IN!” The entitlement won’t go away, it’ll just get louder.

      1. LQ*

        Locking the front doors is actually really effective. We did this for a while. Some people will surely continue to do it, but we went from having a few a day to less than one a week. Most people try the door once and move on. Especially if you physically obscure the person at the front desk from view. And that’s going to be the thing I think makes the biggest difference.

        “Being firm” is only going to continue to eat the OPs time because it’s a new person every time. That sounds great but still takes up to minutes for each person. Stopping it before it starts is a much better tactic to actually eliminate the problem. I’d actually go so far as to suggest moving if it is really that big of a problem because that means they are paying for walk up store front kind of space. There are places that want dozens of walk ins a day, let them pay the premium for that space.

  46. Michele*

    I think we might be missing the point with the coffee letter. Why do people think this is something worthy of taking to management instead of solving themselves? Is the culture in the office one that no one can just let something go?

    1. Allypopx*

      It seems to be a divisive issue – whether that’s silly or not, clearly people have strong opinions. Free coffee is supposed to be one of those small morale boosts, and if it’s leading to arguments that clearly do the opposite, as management I’d want to know that.

      My response depending on the situation might be telling one or both sides to suck it up, or just taking the coffee maker away, but I’d still want to know.

    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      If everybody is contributing to an office coffee pool, and they’ve already tried to address the wastage issue between themselves with no resolution, I think having your money dumped down the drain because Mr. Picky can drink only the freshest Folgers is worth bringing to a manager.

      1. Michele*

        It doesn’t say that the employees are pooling their money for coffee, though. I assume that it is like where I work and it just comes out of the department budget. It sounds like there is a lot of bickering in the office that is being humored by the manager.

        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

          Sure, I just think there could be valid reasons for the bickering that we don’t know about. That said, you’re right, there’s a lot of offices where you get the Guardian of the Rules shaking fingers at everyone who violates even so much as a norm, custom, or personal conviction, so…

    3. Ramona Flowers*

      I don’t think they’re involving management because of the coffee, but because of the conflict it’s causing maybe.

      1. Michele*

        But it shouldn’t be causing conflict unless people feed off the drama. For example, I have seen situations where only a couple people have access to a department head on a regular basis. The only way for most people to get access is to complain about something, so creating drama gets rewarded.

  47. Not Karen*

    #2: Does your office drink iced coffee? Instead of dumping the half-full carafe down the drain, dump it into a pitcher and stick it in the fridge.

    #4: “Sorry, I can’t help you with that.” Rinse and repeat. No need to waste your time with explanations or alternative suggestions. Declining to do someone a favor is not mean.

  48. ZTwo*

    #4, I think the only thing that solves these types of problems is barriers. Ideally you’d have a door people would need to buzz to get in, which helps. If you can’t do that I think the suggestions of signs explaining what you can’t do is good but….people really don’t read things and they’ll just ask you anyways. Besides just being ok with saying no and enforcing it, I think a mandatory guest sign in could be a good false barrier (assuming you’re sitting behind a desk). It’s a bit annoying for actual guests, but if you request that even “I just have one question” people sign it, I’m guessing most people won’t be bothered.

    Also if you’re getting 10-15 people a day (!!!) I’d really recommend tracking how long it takes you to handle them on a weekly basis. That could give your boss leverage with a board/upper management because changing layouts or the way doors work is expensive, but so is losing X hours of your time.

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      That seems really high, yeah. I think the issue that this is a big waste of time could be persuasive to a boss, particularly if the LW gets pushback along the lines of “Well, we don’t want to alienate potential donors or customers, so we should err on the side of pandering to random inquiries.”

      That said, I think she can reply “Sorry, if you’ve got questions about [nonprofit] I can help you, but I can’t assist you with general inquires,” and feel just fine about it.

      1. ZTwo*

        That’s a good script too! It seems like the boss is supportive of her creating boundaries, but in my experience (especially with a rotating group of new people) the best boundary is a physical one unless there’s a reason you need to have an open to the public office. And if you do, investing the money in lots of blatant “this is a business, do not disturb” type signifiers (the non-profits name on the door, a waiting line by the reception desk, etc) might help cut down on the traffic.

      2. MicroManagered*

        I agree. OP#4 needs to get more comfortable with telling people no. That’s the issue here–not that the building layout needs to be changed or that s/he needs to find the right clever lie to stop the inquiries, etc.

        1. ZTwo*

          Eh. I agree that she does need to become more comfortable with saying “no” but the problem is:

          1) Some people will always feel entitled to a yes and will make a stink if they don’t get it, which isn’t a great look for a non-profit.

          2) Even just saying no takes time that the LW shouldn’t have to give. An ounce of prevention of worth a pound of cure and all that. If there are ways to slightly change the set-up/structure/expectations of guests to keep them from having to be given a no to begin with, that’s the best solution.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, totally agreed on the ounce of prevention. And I don’t think signs are the answer; you’re looking for path routing and other signifiers, not text. I think a buzz-in system is probably farther than they need to take it, but I bet they could angle the desk differently, move it farther away from the entrance, put some big plants in key places, in ways that would be perfectly welcoming for people who have business but make it harder for those who feel like they’re just popping their heads in.

            1. ZTwo*

              I agree on the signs, especially if they’re very long text (no one is going to read that). Someone upthread mentioned having a similar problem that was solved by frosting the glass, which may not be practical here and is maybe a step too far, but appeals to me on signifier/potential time saving grounds.

              1. fposte*

                Portable divider wall, even. Most offices can get a hold of something like that without too much trouble; angle it so she can still see stuff that isn’t wall but so that people coming in have to come around awkwardly. Basically, the more vulnerable and intruding you make these people feel, the fewer of them will make it to the OP’s desk. You don’t need a portcullis, but right now I think the position is so accessible it’s accidentally welcoming.

                We have this problem a lot in our space, because we have some public facing roles and some not but we can’t move all the not into private offices, so we’ve done a lot of divider configurations over the years to try to mitigate the problem. The OP has a few more possibilities than we do because these people aren’t just at the wrong desk, they’re straight out not customers/clients, so straight out making them feel out of place is fine.

                1. ZTwo*

                  I love those ideas. Because ultimately if we’re talking 50-75 people a week coming into the office the issue isn’t that the LW needs to say a stronger no–the environment needs to say the no for her.

        2. paul*

          No. If you get nonstop interruptions from different people day after day, it’s still a major time suck. Make it less inviting.

      3. Temperance*

        I honestly think if she changed her computer setup, and/or put up a little sign sort of blocking the public’s view, it might deter some of these people. Rather than very expensive changes to the building.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, this too–I initially was thinking she was the receptionist because of her positioning, but she’s not, so she’d have more leeway in blocking her face. Basically, make her less accessible. (Her current position may even look like a receptionist, which would contribute to the problem.)

    2. Emmie*

      And if the requests are so frequent, it might be helpful to see if there are any patterns. If people are asking for the same business all the time, you may wish to let that company know or say “go out the door, to the right.”

    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist*

      Hard disagree here. These people are out of line. They should be treated politely and civilly, but not as if their request is reasonable. “I can’t help with that” would be just fine. So would “I can’t help with general inquiries, but if you’re here for [nonprofit] I can answer any questions.”

  49. EvanMax*

    #2: A very important detail is missing; who drinks the old coffee?

    Presumably, the employee in question is brewing a new pot because he doesn’t want to drink the old coffee, no? Even if we assume that he needs a cup immediately when he sets it to brew, and that the office uses the world’s slowest coffee makers, he could pour himself a cup from the other pot, pre-mixing, and then mix after, so that his coworkers are satisfied, but he still gets his unadulterated cup of joe.

    Set up a system where it is always clear which pot was brewed more recently, and which pot contains the diminishing half-remnants of all the pots before it (new pot always on the left, or some token that gets moved between them, or some other system, etc.) That way the employee who hates mixed coffee can always drink from the pure pot. Problem solved.

    Also, if it turns out that no one actually drinks from the mixed pot, they just thnk it’s wasteful to pour it out, well, they are being even more wasteful by leaving it because they are still wasting the coffee, but they are alo wasting space. f tht’s the case it may be worth considering brewing less coffee over all (if there is cost to be saved on suppies) or at least telling them that you are okaying pouring it out, since no one is drinking it anyway.

  50. ArtK*

    OP1: My deepest sympathies. Been there, done that. We didn’t sit two feet away, but our cubicles had a common wall. I had to listen to her a lot on the phone. What made it worse was that I was a “rebound” guy and she went back to her old BF and so would talk to *him* on the phone. It was painful for about a month.

    OP4: Remember that it’s not your job to make these random people happy. I realize you want to seem helpful and all, but it really isn’t your problem. Just because someone is upset (i.e. the woman who would rather you look something up on your computer than use her phone), it doesn’t mean that you have done anything wrong. *She* was the one who was wrong, at least in pushing the issue. “I’m afraid that won’t be possible” is a good response.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      Her problem is that she has random people standing in front of her, not taking her “I’m afraid that won’t be possible” as an answer, yelling at her and preventing her from doing her job.

      1. fposte*

        It doesn’t look like she’s actually said it won’t be possible or been yelled at, though.

    2. KD OP1*

      Sorry to hear that. We had a somewhat friendly split, but that situation would really drive me nuts/hurt my feelings. Thanks for your kind words.

  51. Woosicle*

    OP #4 – I feel your pain, I am in a very similar situation myself! It sounds like I am not interrupted as often as you but I do have strangers ask me multiple times throughout the day where the bathroom is, or where another business is located. My desk is behind a pair of glass doors that we keep locked all day, so when people try to open the door and realize they can’t walk right in that is a little bit of a deterrent. We are also looking into having the doors more heavily frosted for privacy so that people can’t see me as easily.

    It’s not clear to me what your exact setup is like. Is the area where your desk is completely open, or are you separated from the main walkway by glass doors or any kind of barrier? Does your building have any kind of security desk or general information desk that is located elsewhere?

  52. mf*

    #4: I had this problem at several of my jobs. One thing that helps is to play dumb: “Sorry, but I really have no idea.” You can even tell a white lie: “Oh, I’m new here. I don’t know anything about other businesses in the area. Maybe try googling it?”

    When all else fails, blame your boss: “I’d love to help but my boss has got me working on something that has to be done ASAP. Hope you find what you’re looking for!”

  53. Chatterby*

    The coffee thing calls to mind the “toilet paper effect”.

    Basically, in public bathrooms where there are two rolls of toilet paper, they found that humans instinctively prefer to reach for the one that is “best”, or in this instance, the bigger roll. The effect of this is that the two rolls are used at the same rate. The bigger roll is used until it becomes the smaller roll, at which point people switch to using the opposite roll until it becomes the smaller roll and switch back.

    Why this is important: Because the rolls are used at the same rate, they run out at the same time. People are left with the choice of either wasting paper by replacing one roll before it is fully used, or waiting until both rolls run out to replace them, but people will be left without toilet paper if the changeover is not completed immediately.

    If this bias did not exist, or if the people involved actively fought against it, they could use one roll until it is gone, and then fully replace that roll while using the back up. There is less waste since each roll is fully used before being replaced, and the overlap ensures no one is caught without paper.

    With the coffee thing: By making two pots of coffee, they are being consumed at the same rate. When the two half-pots are then combined and a new one made, the new pot is now the “better” option and everyone will choose to drink that one and leave the old one, so the coffee will be wasted anyway even if the office mate doesn’t toss them.

    It would work out best and with the least amount of waste if one pot of coffee is made and must be consumed before a second one is started.

    1. fposte*

      Oh, this is one of those fascinating behavioral things, and when you put it like this I totally get it, too.

      1. Happy Lurker*

        I feel smarter for reading that! Thanks.
        Now, the coffee person…just misplace the second coffee pot and force everyone to use one.
        I have a coffee war with my in-laws. They brew an entire (12 cup) pot of coffee every single time, even for one cup. When no one drinks it in 2-3 hours and you can smell the burnt coffee I throw it away and clean the machine, 30 minutes later there is 12 more cups of coffee sitting there, because they wanted a cup.

    2. Allison*

      I’ve probably been doing this for years, and it’s never occurred to me that I shouldn’t do it.

      I’ll use the smaller roll from now on.

    3. Natalie*

      I now feel really proud of myself because I make a point to use the smaller roll, so it will get used up first. Not out of any altruistic reason, it’s just own of those small things that drives me bananas.

    4. Clever Name*

      This. I don’t get why there are 2 pots if there is this much left over.

  54. Sarah from Long Island*

    #2 – Oh, wow… Look at the coffee commentary! As I am on break, I admittedly skipped the chatter… But I will definitely check in later to read this thread. I too came in to chime in as this reminded me of my first job at a bakery…. and a lady customer that was NUTS about her coffee being fresh….

    WARNING!!! If you are having lunch or are squeamish… STOP READING RIGHT NOW! This is the ONE AND ONLY reason I can think of that mixing coffee pots might be an issue. Well, at least for this one lady…

    As a sixteen-year-old, I was employed as a sales person at a bakery. This woman was a regular and INSISTED on having THEE freshest coffee. She was a little cray-cray about it and it actually got to the point where we would all duck her when we saw her coming. She would press everyone at the counter on **exactly** how fresh the coffee was. Other clerks would give her the standard “just brewed” reply. She would then wait for me to rear my head and ask again. She came to me because I would reply with approximate (but close) time it was brewed.

    If you told her you just brewed it five minutes ago, she somehow expected you to prove it. She would literally sniff the air to see if she could tell if you were telling the truth. Often, she would demand we pour out the nearly full pot and re-brew a new one in her presence. Because ….. (This is the icky part)….

    Because any coffee older than five minutes old would give her explosive diarrhea. In her own words. She even would go into gross detail. Of course, the initial mention of her bathroom problem was “TMI”… Especially in a food setting, HAHA! We would occasionally brew a new pot to “cater to her”…. But really it was because the other pot was already low/nearly empty and we needed a fresh pot anyway. If we couldn’t brew a pot in her presence, it was always a production. It took the store owner to tell her take the coffee or leave it and to get the coffee else where if brew time was a problem.

    Some people! HA!

    1. Whats In A Name*

      OK I feel for the lady, and actually more for you and your co-workers, but if coffee affects her this badly she really should make her own. I mean, I know Everybody Poops but c’mon man.

      1. Temperance*

        I just honestly don’t even see how that’s an actual thing that happens. Like the coffee turns 6 minutes old and BAM she’s pooping up a storm?

  55. Callie30*

    OP #2 – I’m sorry, but I’m with your particular employee about the coffee and here’s why:
    At the age of 30 minutes, the coffee cools and loses flavor. After about four hours, the oils go bad and the coffee becomes more acidic. Mixing old and new coffee seems disgusting to me as someone who appreciates good coffee. It isn’t ‘dangerous’ healthwise to drink day-old coffee or hours old coffee, but there is an affect on the taste – which is one of the main points for drinking coffee for many people. Therefore, I think his/her point is very valid. If I were that person, I probably would have broken down and brought my own personal coffeemaker to the office, but that’s me.

    Perhaps have one pot for fresh coffee and another for those that don’t mind mixing and problem solved.
    Good luck!

    1. Callie30*

      I should also add that that’s why most coffee shops brew fresh every 30 minutes. That’s not always reasonable in an office setting though.

      Another option is having a coffee maker that makes a single cup. That way those that want fresh can use that and bypass the half or full pot.

  56. Soup is my Nickname*

    LW4: I completely understand where you are coming from. At my last job, I was an admin and I was handling the front. The office was located right off of the feeder/freeway so we often get a lot of people walking into our office asking for directions because they couldn’t find something, wanting to use our computers to use the internet or if they needed to use our restrooms (in which I had to tell them our restrooms are not open to the public). It was so frustrating because it would completely side-track on what I was working on. Be firm and choose your words wisely.

    I will tell you a story that finally got me to be firm about this. When I first started that job and when people approach me, I am soft-spoken and nice. One time, a man came into our office lobby and asked me if he could use our phones. I was hesitant at first but my gut told me to go ahead and let him use our phones. So I let him use our phone in one of our conference room and one of my co-workers was scolding me (in private) for letting that man use the phone. Next thing I know, I overheard the man screaming and yelling into the phone. This is what he said and I quote: “I AM TURNING MYSELF IN TO THE POLICE. FOR MURDER.” Apparently he was getting frustrated with the 911 operator and yelled. It turns out he had murdered his uncle in a different city (like 2 hours away) and he had been driving (and DRINKING!) all night and happened to land upon in our parking lot. It also turns out he had schizophrenia so he basically just snapped. OMG, I felt so awful at that time. From then on, I have been SUPER firm and straight to the point about people coming in to try to use our restrooms or computers. So there’s my story for today! LOL.

    1. fposte*

      That just makes me *want* to let everybody use the phones. That’s a lot more interesting than my calls on them.

      1. paul*

        I’d be afraid of what happened if I *didn’t* let them use the phones. Yikes!

        1. fposte*

          I’d put up a big safety scorecard sign. “[num] days without a murder confession.”

          1. Natalie*

            That’d probably cut down on the number of randos who stop in… or at least increase the number who come in and then immediately turn around and leave.

          2. Soup is my Nickname*

            LMAO!!! After he got arrested, my old office place went into full security mode. When people entered in the lobby, they were greeted at the window. If you were to be let in, you had to be buzzed in and the doors were locked at all times. Ever since then, the only time I helped people who were lost if they needed directions and couldn’t figure it out on their phones.

            Like someone suggested earlier: I would just redirect people to the public library (which the office was a block away from it).

      2. LBK*

        Seriously. I mean, now you have that bananas story to tell! Imagine if you’d told him to leave!

  57. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

    I feel you, OP4. When I manned the front desk at my lab’s old location, we had people wandering in all the time. Like you, I didn’t mind helping when I had nothing pressing going on, but I still didn’t get why we were the go-to directions place.
    I wanted very badly to hang a sign saying that we were not an information booth, but I would usually just respond with something along the variant of “I’m sorry. We’re not affiliated with them, so I don’t have that information.” If they didn’t get the hint, I would broken record the same response until they got it and left.

    Semi-related, we were constantly assumed to be a different lab too, despite our name being clearly printed on our door and not even close to the same. That was easier to handle though. We could just point to the left and say “Eight doors down” before they could start saying they had appointments (we don’t deal with patients at our lab).

    We only had a “front desk” because that was where it happened to sit. We don’t have clients/patients that come to our location, so the front was only supposed to direct deliveries and visiting vendor reps while handling first on phones and non-reception parts of their jobs.

  58. Librarian*

    To OP #4: Why don’t you give the people coming into your office the phone number to the nearest library? Providing information is what libraries are actually for, which could also provide a way of reminding people of what your business is *not*. This way you don’t have to feel like you’re brushing people off, because they can still reach someone who would be happy to help them.

    1. Temperance*

      I think the issue is that once you give a kernel of help, people think you own their problem/issue.

  59. mcfly85*

    LW#4: I really sympathize with you! It’s so frustrating to end up having to do something that’s as definitively not-your-job as this, just because you’re easy to ask. So – is there any way you can be less easy to find or see for those random visitors, while still being able to help the people you need to help?

    This was a big issue for our front desk staff until for security reasons, we installed a camera and buzzer system. The staff are very firm about not buzzing anyone in unless they have an appointment or legitimate reason to enter. It’s harder of course if where your desk is located is a more public place, or if there are big windows or some other type of set up that makes it really easy for people to see you from outside. But if that’s the case, can your desk be somehow less visible (around a corner, or add an obstruction like a single cubicle wall or big potted plant)? Just something that makes you a little less physically obvious, but not straight up hard to find for those that actually need you?

    Beyond that, I’d be politely firm with something like, “I’m sorry, this is [business name] and we don’t have that information here.” In my head it would be a more polite way of saying, “This is [business name] and I’m here to help people with business with my employer. I’m not a public concierge.”

  60. Former Chamber Gal*

    No. 4 sounds like a Chamber of Commerce. Been there. Our front desk in a famous city got asked to perform all sorts of research tasks, especially from tourists. We just did it. People confuse chambers with visitors bureaus, or welcome centers. We solved the problem by not giving our front desk too much else to do. That’s not always possible.

  61. Noah*

    The taste of coffee changes substantially when it cools. There’s science behind this. I’m not that picky, but I think Coffee Guy has a valid point.

  62. Printer's Devil*

    OP2, are all pots brewed equal? Our office has a large coffeemaker, and we have to be careful not to let one of the guys load it, because he tends to brew it stronger. (Somehow. I don’t know how.) Is it possible he knows how to brew it stronger or weaker, and mixing the pots would be the equivalent of crossing the streams?

    Where I am, we provide coffeemakers of all ilks, so we have four different ones in our breakroom, so the coffee wars have mostly been averted, other than “why don’t people empty the fardling bin on the Keurig/the Nespresso?” or “what do you MEAN all we have left is decaf and random flavored nonsense?”

  63. Laura*

    OP4 – Sadly you just can’t fix stupid… I had the same problem working on the front desk for the local Council’s Housing desk, but also when people phoned us up! So Council Housing tenants would actually phone us (essentially their landlords) for the most ridiculous things. Often it would be things like wanting the number for other organisations, like the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, but they would all kinds of random things. The best one was someone asking what temperature setting they should use on their oven to cook their Christmas turkey!

  64. I Like Pie*

    OP #4, I feel your pain! Our office building has multiple companies around it, all clearly marked (except ours, the black letters on the door are hard to see unless you’re right in front of the door) and yet we end up with people stopping us ALL OF THE TIME! Uber has an inspection point here that sets up in different areas in the parking lot, so we get a lot of people asking “Are you Uber?” if we’re outside on a walk or they’ll walk right past the company name on the door “NOT UBER” and ask, “Is this Uber?” multiple times a day. We’ve all taken to just saying, “No” or “Other there” and pointing them in other directions. (We usually don’t know where they’re set up. They come and go.) We’ve also grown used to ID-ing these people, and make a point to avoid them. Even having signs up saying “UBER – THIS WAY” with a large arrow doesn’t help them. Just be firm and say something akin to “I’m sorry I’m unable to assist you.” and if you can, move along. The hard part is just being firm and asserting yourself.

  65. Erik*

    I think it’s very difficult to avoid dating co-workers when you’re a young single professional because work takes up the majority of your life. I mean, you drive an hour to work, spend eight to ten hours there, drive an hour back, make dinner, watch a few shows on the CW and go to bed. Most newly minted professionals don’t belong to a church, and weekends are consumed with sleeping in, grocery shopping, laundry and other housekeeping. Meanwhile, your office is full of people your age with the same life circumstances and interests. I mean, what are you supposed to do? Online dating still feels creepy to me, and ditto for hitting on the check-out girl at Safeway.

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