should you bring your lunch on your first day of work?

A reader writes:

I start my new job tomorrow and I don’t know if I should bring a lunch or not. I usually do pack a lunch but part of me feels it’s “dorky” to do so. The job is in the city and I think my new coworkers would take me out to lunch (two of them did during the interview). It would be relatively easy to buy a lunch if they don’t, and I know it’s not a huge deal either way, but what would you suggest?

I think you’re fine either way.

But if I must pick one course of action, I’d say don’t bring your lunch, especially since you know you’ll easily be able to buy yourself something if no one has lunch plans for you. It’s just too hard to know how first days will go and people taking you out for your first day is pretty common.

That said, plenty of people do bring their lunch on their first day, and it’s not a big deal if you’d rather do that. Just make sure it’s something that you won’t mind skipping if it does turn out that people suggest taking you out. You shouldn’t turn down that invitation even if you have really delicious pad thai from last night’s dinner waiting for you at your desk.

{ 143 comments… read them below }

  1. Tin Cormorant*

    Ha, my husband just had his first day at a new job yesterday, and after working for years at tech companies that provide catered lunches every day, he brought his own lunch with him. Sure enough, his coworkers took him out to lunch. Oh well, it was just as delicious eaten for dinner.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Yep, I would at least bring something just in case there aren’t any options, but I’ve had my lunch for dinner plenty of times when coworkers brought something yummy to share or decided we were all going out.

  2. Sick of Lunches*

    I really wish there were ways to introduce the new person and show your appreciation without having to go out for lunch. I am so sick of eating out – the portion sizes are always so big, restaurants are crowded and noisy, and it’s expensive. Anyone have any suggestions for non-food related first-day socialization?

    1. Antilles*

      Hm. That’s a tough one. The reason that lunch is so standard is because it’s super easy to coordinate – after all, everybody is going to be eating lunch and most people will do it in the same general timeframe. And the problem is, if your concern is the cost, crowd, and noise, a lot of obvious replacements (e.g., drinks after work, grabbing coffee on the way in, etc) don’t seem to be in your ballpark.

      1. Sick of Lunches*

        Well, for me, I’m just sick of the food and our restaurants. I’m on a pretty strict diet & I’m just so tired of how everything is about food. Plus the “good” restaurants are usually crowded and noisy, so hard to get to know a new employee, not to mention the wasted time waiting for a table, waiting for food, waiting for a check.

        1. Here we go again*

          Maybe I am reading too much into your comments, but I feel like this isn’t about the restaurants. Are you unhappy with other things at your job and this just adds to it? I’ve never heard of anyone complain about having to eat out as a part of their work environment.

          1. Sick of Lunches*

            Probably. It’s rather dysfunctional. The current drama is that the e.d. has installed cameras that send alerts every time there is movement in the lobby/kitchen area. This has the added effect of her knowing when we are coming and going, how long our bathroom breaks are, if we are talking to the administrative assistant, etc. But it’s also about food, food waste, and just general annoyance.

            When I started we did the “meet each other lunch” and it turned out that the person who hired me actually quit and her replacement was so confused as to why someone scheduled this lunch. He then proceeded to talk over me constantly and complain about the lunch; I think I said maybe 4 words. Worst lunch ever. I still can’t believe I didn’t just immediately quit.

            He’s gone now and things have improved, but it’s still a small office and I feel like I spend enough time with these people. Between the expense of the non-forced lunches ($10 minimum, usually more like $15-$20), the fact that it means I go off my diet, and the horrible stilted conversation, I just don’t want to bother.

            1. BF50*

              Well, I do think a lot of these issues aren’t going to apply to most people’s first day.

              They haven’t seen their new coworkers enough to not want to spend time with them. Frequently these are lunches that managers expense so you’re not out $15-20. HOpefully the LW’s new boss isn’t as terrible as your old one.

              That said, I do feel your pain. I had a job where my bathroom breaks were monitored and it was awful.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Wow—that sounds really toxic. I don’t want to go too far off topic, but you may want to check to see if that surveillance is permissible. In some states, it is not lawful to continuously record employees both while at work and when they’re on break.

              I suspect if your workplace were more sensitive or less toxic, the lunches would not be as big of a deal (e.g., you could eat at more affordable restaurants or places where you have more options). But it’s also possible to get to know someone during lunch by ordering in or grabbing takeaway and then eating in the office instead of going out.

              It’s hard, because sharing a meal is such a common cultural practice. And all the other “getting to know you” events I’m used to seeing also involve food, even if they don’t require going out.

        2. WellRed*

          FWIW, I totally agree about portion sizes—they overwhelm me. But, I do enjoy lunch with coworkers, so I eat half (or less), reservations can be made in advance, pick a quieter place. Again, no easier answer and I do feel your pain.

        3. Sally*

          I would think the would go to a fast casual place like Chop’t or Chipotle or Noodles & Co. or the like, not to a sit-down restaurant.

          1. CoveredInBees*

            This is what I thought of too. I also most recently worked in an area where your options were lunch places like that (both chain and local) or really fancy steakhouses, so we always went to the lunch spots.

        4. Amy*

          Usually all that down time and the yes you list waiting is where we have gone around the table, introduced ourselves and talked about what we do if they need us for anything and things like that. I also don’t really get excited about going because it can be awkward and I also don’t like anyone at my office. LOL. currently interviewing. Our company is downsizing major cuts, I can’t wait to do something new!

      1. Sick of Lunches*

        We do that sometimes – hey, anyone want to go for a walk to overpriced coffee chain? I like it, but it seems like it’s not enough for new person day.

    2. Parcae*

      I agree that non-food solutions are tough. There are ways to mediate some of your concerns: picking up food to eat at the office rather than going out would be less noisy, assuming you have a good space to host everyone, and substituting breakfast or snacks would be less expensive and less filling. But if you’re just sick of the whole group-food-situation, I’m stumped.

      Sometimes our whole team pitches in on a clerical project– stuffing envelopes, assembling conference packets, etc. Those are surprisingly fun and social. But it might be a little strange for a “welcome to the office” event.

    3. Lisa B*

      You could do a short meet-and-greet in the office, but I would probably still tie it with food! Maybe “please join us for a short bagel/cupcake introduction to new teammate Fergus!” People who don’t want the food for whatever reason can still come for the socialization. The downside of things like this is it puts the new person more “in the spotlight,” but you could work to make it casual.

      1. Here we go again*

        Yeah… If I had started somewhere and they did something that didn’t involve food, I would be put off…. It would seem cheap/ like they didn’t care enough. It doesn’t have to be major, but still SOMETHING is necessary.

        1. JessaB*

          I got a promotion and moved to a totally different team, they took me to lunch and also without warning expected me to PAY for mine. Awkward much. I was flat broke at the time. If I’d been warned I could have put aside the money but bad idea. If the taking someone new out is important please make it very very clear who is paying for what.

      2. WellRed*

        Especially if they don’t eat either. How awkward to stand there with my coffee politely declining cupcakes or bagels and getting “The Reputation” on day 1.

        1. Bureaucrat with a Side of Coffee*

          That’s a shame. I’m with Sick of Lunches – I’m trying really hard to watch what I eat and the relationship between food and socialization often brings me down. If a restaurant doesn’t have calories, I’m flying in the dark. If it does and all the options have a lot of calories, I have to eat barely anything for dinner to make up for it and that makes me grumpy. Getting a “reputation” for being careful with my diet choices for health reasons is so frustrating.

    4. Rebecca in Dallas*

      I work for the corporate office of a retail chain, I like to take the new person to one or two of our local stores on their first day (or maybe sometime during their first week). But we also go out to lunch, I’m not a big fan of eating out either but I just think of it as an opportunity to chat in a more relaxed environment.

  3. AnotherAlison*

    For an office job, I would not bring my lunch, but I would bring a protein bar or something else I could carry easily in a purse or work bag in case there was no lunch provided. My work has you in onboarding for your entire first day (lunch provided), but you wouldn’t have anywhere to store a lunch bag, and you might feel weird carrying it around all day.

    OTOH, I worked in a plant as a production worker 20 years ago, and you didn’t have time to leave for lunch. You came in for a couple hours to fill out paper work before your first day, and they showed you the lunch room and explained the lunch clock in/out logistics so you knew that you SHOULD bring a lunch.

    1. Elizabeth H.*

      Same, I would plan that either I would go out to lunch w/coworkers or I would go out and find my own place to get some lunch, but would bring a couple of Larabars or something in my bag so that if somehow that opportunity didn’t show up, I wouldn’t be hungry. I’m not a person who minds skipping lunch though (even if I didn’t have an energy bar or anything with me). I’m trying to think what I’ve done . . . I think I have only started a 9-5 job twice before (others were all part time or weird hours) and I think once I had been pointed out the refrigerator and stuff so I brought my lunch, and once I looked up on Yelp a place to go and buy lunch.

      1. Just Another Techie*

        I’ve always planned to buy my lunch on the first day. Usually I’ve been taken out, but sometimes I’ve just tagged along with a group when they hit the cafeteria. This gives me a chance to scope out what the refrigerator situation is like, how many people eat at their desks, what the usual norms are for lunches, etc.

        1. Rebecca in Dallas*

          This. I generally bring my lunch, but I use the first day to see what the office norms are and what the fridge/microwave situation is. I figure either my new team will want to go out to lunch or I’ll need a little break after all the new hire paperwork/computer set-up/etc.

    2. Blue Anne*

      That’s exactly what I try to do on my first day of pretty much anything. (Job, new course, whatever.) Protein bar and a bottle of juice in my purse.

    3. Janonymous*

      Agreed. I would bring something easy to carry and not obtrusive (a granola bar and an apple or something) in case lunch isn’t provided or the going out options aren’t as convenient as you might have thought or you don’t end up getting time. You never know what’s going to happen on a first day, and finding some kind of middle ground is the best.

    4. ThatGirl*

      I just started a new job yesterday and was specifically told not to bring lunch because my new manager would be taking me out. I was grateful for that. I still brought a small snack in case of mid-afternoon grumblies.

      1. zora*

        This is what we do. In the “First Day” email that goes to new hires with important info, we include “Don’t worry about bringing a lunch. Your team will take you out for lunch on your first day.”

        And then part of the tour, etc that I give when the new hires first arrive is showing them the fridge/freezer/microwave situation, as well as pointing out some of the closest food options to the office and basically giving them an idea of lunch culture in our office.

        I fell like everyone should do that in the new hire emails! It’s something everyone needs to know, and it’s much nicer than letting them guess and worry!

    5. DataQueen*

      What I came to say. I don’t actually eat lunch – i’m a grazer, so this would be my default anyway – but I always have an apple, a granola bar, a seltzer, and some nuts in my purse. At all times, not just at work. To the point that if I am walking through the city and finish my drink, I will go buy another one to put in my purse in case I get thirsty later. I hate being unprepared! So this works perfectly for first day of work, full day interviews when you don’t know if there will be lunch provided or taken out or just a break, conferences, meetings you get stuck in traffic coming back from and have to miss lunch. Preparation prevents starvation!

  4. Sarah*

    I always bring a lunch on the first day of a new job. Something easy, like a salad, where I can throw an ice pack in my lunch bag in case it turns out the new place has no space in the fridge or something. I have typically ended up going out to eat with new coworkers instead (saving my packed lunch for dinner or for the next day), but I have had it happen where my new coworkers planned to take me out but had a prior commitment (doctor’s appointment, meeting, etc.) and we did a welcome lunch on my second day. I hate showing up somewhere that most people pack a lunch and being the new kid who has to go out and buy something.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Same. I hate being in that situation where you feel presumptuous for thinking people will want to take you out for lunch (most jobs I’ve been at do take you out, but it’s not always on the first day).

      With a brown bagged lunch, worst case scenario, you can keep it for dinner or the next day’s lunch. But I think my preferences are different because I have food allergies, so finding a place that accommodates those allergies can be more time-intensive than I want. It can also be difficult, depending on where you live. In the Bay Area, I can almost always find a place within walking distance of a normal office. That unfortunately wasn’t the case when I lived in a post-industrial city that’s been undergoing a 30+ year recession and has a hollowed out/abandoned downtown.

      But I also like Data Queen & Another Alison’s grazing suggestions. A protein bar and juice would not do it for me, but I think the overall idea (having access to somewhat satiating snacks) is smart.

      1. DevAssist*

        I’ve never been in a position where I’ve been taken out to lunch on my first day, and on my first day I always bring a lunch because I’m not always super familiar with local places.

  5. K.*

    I always brown-bag it but usually skip doing so on the first day. Even if my new department doesn’t have plans for me, it gets me out of the building and gives me a chance to explore. (I do generally find a way to work in the fact that I brown-bag it almost all the time into first-day conversation to set that expectation. I only skip packing a lunch if I know someone is going to be providing me with lunch – a lunch and learn where food is provided, a team lunch, etc.)

    1. TiffIf*

      When my current company first opened up its new building there weren’t really a lot of options around it for food, now three and a half years later there are a lot more places to eat!

  6. Ramona Flowers*

    If you know you can buy lunch I’d skip it on day one and see what happens. Good luck for your first day.

  7. Lisa*

    Because first days are so hectic I’d probably bring a pb&j or something – that way if it gets hectic during training you have something but if you go out it’s no big deal to take it home later.

    1. Epsilon Delta*

      Yeah, I am squarely in the camp of bring an actual lunch. It doesn’t have to be fancy or large, but definitely more substantial than a single granola bar. I am not going to last more than 4 hours on coffee and granola.

      1. Tricia*

        I’m with you guys. A basic, non-refrigerated lunch in a self contained lunch bag (where it keeps stuff cool or cold as necessary). You never know what the office norms are so better to be prepared with something than nothing.

  8. Antilles*

    I usually do pack a lunch but part of me feels it’s “dorky” to do so.
    I can assure you that nobody in the working world is going to think it’s ‘dorky’ to bring your own lunch. Most professional adults do bring their lunch most of the time, due to some combination of cost, convenience, lack of time, health reasons, or specific food preferences.

    1. LCL*

      Not most of the time. This is totally location specific. It’s not considered dorky, though.

    2. Ktelzbeth*

      If someone had told me when I was a lunch carrying schoolchild that I would still be packing a lunch (almost) every day as a middle aged professional, I would have thought they were crazy. Here I am, though. A middle aged professional brown (actually reusable cloth) bagging it to work every day. I get what I want without having to spend the time going out somewhere.

  9. Ash (the other one)*

    We always take our new hires out to lunch on their first day… You could always email your manager and ask if there’s a plan to do so…

    1. Lisa B*

      That could feel a little awkward though…. it’s essentially asking your new boss “are you taking me to lunch?” You could always frame it as “just checking on first day logistics! What’s the normal dress code, and do people usually eat out or in?” That shows you’re thinking about the day in whole, and gives the manager a chance to say that they or the team will be taking you out, but normally people tend to eat in/out, etc.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        I agree. Or frame it as checking to see what the lunchroom setup is so you can plan what to bring with you. I’d feel really weird emailing to ask if I was being taken out to lunch.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I like this framing and have used it with success. It’s more of an “expectations” email where you don’t suggest you want lunch, but rather, that you’re trying to understand the norms for your first day.

    2. anonymouse*

      Or you could ask people in the office if they have any recommendations about where to get lunch. That creates an opening for someone to offer to take you to lunch, without it looking like you’re asking them to treat you.

      If no one offers, hey, at least it’s a topic of conversation for you and your new co-workers. :) And maybe you’ll find out that there’s a a food truck down the street with amazing tacos, or that the sandwich shop downstairs is kinda grody and to be avoided at all costs.

  10. MG*

    In my welcome email for my current job, along with other general first-day info, the HR woman specifically said not to bring a lunch because I would be taken out. Turns out the standard is for our immediate small teams take out any new additions to the group, but only one of my teammates was working in-office that day so we had a one-on-one first lunch, and it was so great. I felt like he became a mentor to me my first few months, and maybe it would have turned out that way anyway, but I do feel like part of that was because we’d had that chance to sit and talk over lunch and get to know each other- I felt most comfortable going to him with questions, etc.

    But my real point was: while that was a nice touch and I recommend it if feasible, it was ALSO super helpful to have this explicitly mentioned so I didn’t have to wonder about it on my first day! Any HR / hiring managers / etc reading this, if you already do some kind of pre-first-day onboarding email, consider including information about lunch, even if that’s just to confirm that you will not provide. Takes out one piece of what can be a LOT of anxiety about a first day. :)

  11. Dawn*

    Like someone already mentioned, bring a protein bar, or something, that can tide you over just in case.

  12. starfire13*

    I always bring my lunch because of severe allergies. I always explain why I don’t eat out, but people still try to make a big deal of it. I’m the only one at my job who brings a lunch from home.

  13. Moon Elf Tempest Cleric*

    I usually just bring something portable that doesn’t need to be refrigerated, so I have one less thing to think about.

    1. the.kat*

      This is what I do as well. Then, if I end up going out or needing to get out and explore, my lunch isn’t wasted.

    2. Snazzy Hat*

      Yep, a peanut butter & jelly sandwich is my go-to for first days. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated, if going out for lunch with management suddenly happens then tomorrow’s lunch is already made, and it doesn’t require any utensils or other prep work.

      Years ago I had to go without lunch one day of my first week because there were no utensils in the building, and I had brought a microwaveable bowl of something but was used to the ample supply of utensils at my previous job. Oh did I mention we couldn’t leave the building during lunch?

  14. Kiki*

    I didn’t bring my lunch to my first day at CurrentJob because I figured lunch would be provided during orientation. Nope, we were all given 30 minutes to eat at our desk and return to training. My office is in the suburbs and the nearest food option is a 15 minute drive. By the end of the day I could hardly focus! I’m sure my experience is an outlier, though.

    1. Doug Judy*

      I definitely think the answer to this is an area specific. Not every place will have an option B nearby and I would feel more dorky asking “Hey will we be going to lunch the first day?” than just bringing a lunch.

      If you know your new employer doesn’t have lunch options near them, I don’t see why you wouldn’t bring one.

    2. Bureaucrat with a Side of Coffee*

      Yikes! If that’s the case, it seems like something they should have included in a welcome email.

  15. Brandy*

    I have always carried my own lunch. I didn’t think nothing of bringing it in, just didn’t even think of it and if need be, like I decide to buy something, I just save it for the next day.

  16. H.C.*

    I would say pack a lunch that can save well for the day or two after, in case lunch is served during orientation (or your boss/coworkers want to take you out) during that first day.

  17. Hiring Mgr*

    Instead of bringing your own lunch, suggest that everyone on the team go for a brewery run!

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          And not the ones with babies or the ones in their 30s or the ones who own real property.

  18. Girasol*

    I ended up shadowing my new manager on my first day. I hadn’t wanted to tote a brown bag not knowing if there would be anywhere to stow it or if he had other lunch plans, but I did tuck some compact meal bars in my bag. At noon he said we’d be going to a department “brown bag” educational event and pulled out his lunch. That left me no opportunity to buy lunch, so I was glad I had emergency rations on hand.

  19. AvonLady Barksdale*

    When I pack my lunch, I always use an insulated bag and generally pack things that don’t need to be refrigerated anyway (I kind of hate super-cold food, though I also don’t warm anything up). There have been plenty of times that I’ve brought and gone out anyway, especially when I first started at my current job. Just because I don’t eat my lunch that day doesn’t mean I can’t eat it at all; usually my food lasts another day (I do a lot of non-greens-based salads, grains and tofu, yogurt, that kind of thing, and if my avocado goes a little brown-ish it doesn’t bother me).

    Bringing a lunch is not “dorky”, I promise. The people in my office sometimes bring the best-looking stuff for lunch, and even when I worked in a place with tons of close food options, no one blinked an eye at anyone with a lunch bag.

  20. jmm*

    Leftover (cold) pad thai is my favorite!! I usually eat it for breakfast…not enough self-control to wait for lunch.

    1. TiffIf*

      I love leftover cold curry. I’ve never tried cold pad thai, I’ll have to try that next time…

  21. stk*

    I’d definitely bring something – just in case. But making sure it’s something that won’t go off or be gross if you don’t eat it immediately is definitely also part of that plan. I aim for maximum flexibility, so that whatever the actual situation turns out to be (they’ve ordered a buffet! everyone eats out to celebrate! everyone eats silently at their desk!) then I can go along with it, at least for one day. The first day is awkward enough without needing extra worry about that stuff.

  22. The Other Dawn*

    If you knew there was nowhere close to buy lunch, then I’d say to bring lunch just in case they don’t take you out.
    But since you can buy it if necessary, I’d say don’t bring your lunch. They’ll probably take you out. And you have no idea what the kitchen situation is there. There may or may not be a fridge, microwave, etc. Unless, of course, you’ve already had a tour of the place and know what the setup is like. Sure, you could bring your lunch bag if you want to and pack it with cold packs, or bring something that doesn’t need heating up, but it just seems easier to not bring it on the first day.

    That said, I’ve never been taken to lunch on my first day. I guess I’m an outlier.

    1. Elise*

      Heh. I’ve only been taken out once and it was the worst, most dysfunctional workplace I’ve experienced.

      Everywhere else I’ve worked, there is generally a welcome breakfast instead.

  23. Sam Vega*

    I always bring my own food since I have very strict, non-negotiable dietary requirements. There’s literally nowhere in my area that I can go out to eat. What is a good way to decline going out for work meals without providing details I don’t want to discuss *and* without seeming overly standoffish?

    My current employer has actually been very good about respecting my boundaries in this area, but I know I can’t count on that being the case when I change jobs.

    1. Case of the Mondays*

      I think you have to provide some reason otherwise you look really anti-social. You could say “for medical reasons” or “for allergy reasons” or “for religious reasons” and if you get follow up questions just say, “ugh, I really would prefer to not talk about it. What are you doing this weekend?” Just always saying no or saying I don’t eat out comes off weird. (I’m gluten free and dairy free and have other food allergies too so I know all about this).

      1. Lemon Zinger*

        Hello, fellow gluten- and dairy-free eater! I say something like “Oh, I’m intolerant to a bunch of foods so it makes it really difficult to eat out.” I’ve also had success saying “Eating out isn’t in my budget right now.”

        1. Quickstepping Matilda*

          “Eating out isn’t in my budget” is a problematic excuse if there is any possibility that they will offer to take you to lunch, though, and it seems even weirder to fall back to a different excuse in that situation.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yeah, I agree. People are normally willing to accommodate you, and more gracious about you refusing to get lunch, if you’re willing to help them understand why. “Dietary restrictions” or “medical restrictions” or other vague platitudes that signal that it’s not a subject for debate/conversation work with most folks. There’s always a small population of people who pry, but I agree that changing the subject is a good strategy for quashing it.

    2. Lily Rowan*

      Like so many things, I think it’s easier to say no if you’re really appreciative. Like, I think I’d say (if someone invited you to a one-on-one lunch or a lunch in your honor), “Thank you so much! Unfortunately, I have really strict dietary requirements, so I always bring my own lunch. Is there somewhere we could eat together?”

      So it’s not that you’re saying you don’t want to eat with the person, just that you don’t want to eat at a restaurant.

      1. Snazzy Hat*

        A few jobs ago, I was surprisingly successful with explaining to a colleague that I normally spend my lunch hour alone. Your last sentence made me think of how I was trying to say it’s not that I didn’t want to eat with that person, just that I didn’t want to eat with anyone. :-/

    3. Bureaucrat with a Side of Coffee*

      “Thanks so much! Unfortunately I have some dietary restrictions and the options around here don’t have anything I can eat. Maybe we can find somewhere to eat together on a day we both bring something?”

      1. zora*

        I was going to say this. I think the ideal is if you can kind of offer an alternative idea, not that it matters what the alternative is, but it makes it clear that it really is about the food and you aren’t trying to just politely avoid them entirely.

        And hopefully then someone will come up with an alternative, like, “Oh well then let’s meet back here and eat outside together.” Or, “well then let’s walk together to the coffee shop another day”.

    4. Ktelzbeth*

      If I can find out where we’re going enough ahead of time, I call the restaurant. Sometimes they can make something appetizing and filling to fit my needs. This works for me because none of my issues are life threatening, so I don’t have to absolutely positively sure that there is no [whatever] anywhere near my food. If there is nothing to eat and it’s optional, I explain that I have limitations in what I can eat and the chosen restaurant doesn’t suit, so I’ll join next time. I generally don’t go any farther in explaining my limitations, unless there’s a chance of getting the place changed to somewhere I can eat. If it’s required, well, I can eat a plain green salad or some steamed vegetables or a baked potato. Not fun and not filling and I spend some time resenting the whole operation, but for a required meeting over a meal, there’s not much to be done.

  24. Anony Mouse*

    Here’s a related question: how important is it to confirm to the dominant lunch culture in your office?

    For example, I always pack my lunch because it’s cost-saving, it’s easier for me to eat healthy foods, and I enjoy cooking. The other three people in my office always buy their lunch. Sometimes they pick something up from the cafeteria, other times they go out to a local restaurant. To be sociable, I join them every once in awhile, maybe once a month. I’m the newest employee and not very connected to the group, since we don’t have much in common personally. Am I doing myself a disservice by not buying my lunch?

    1. Roz*

      Is there seating in your cafeteria? If so, maybe offer to join them for lunch? I’m one of the only lunch-packers in my small office but we have a common area with a table, so people often get food out and then come eat at the table. I think lunch is a great opportunity to socialize, so if that’s not possible then I suggest continuing to join them every so often.

      1. Anony Mouse*

        That’s a good idea. However, most of them time when they go to the cafeteria they pick something up and eat at their desks.

        1. AnitaJ*

          Can you join them for a cafeteria run sometimes and just buy something small, like a soft drink or a banana? I think you’re right to join them occasionally–it’s a subtle and casual team bond to do things like this. Sometimes someone asks me to go get lunch and I say ‘I brought my lunch but I’d love to tag along; I could use a walk!’ and we have a pleasant outing where we can chat and get to know each other.

        2. Elizabeth H.*

          Can you go with them more often but just buy a drink or a cup of coffee or something to go with your lunch? Then you have the outing, and you don’t have to spend as much as if it were the whole lunch. Or buy a chocolate bar or piece of fruit or something.

        3. kittymommy*

          Are they eating the cafeteria lunch at their individual desks and not really interacting? If that’s the case then I wouldn’t worry about it. Even if they are socializing, there’s Nino reason why that can’t eat their cafeteria lunch and you brown bag and ask eat together. I think going out to a restaurant with them once, maybe twice a month is good. It’s regular enough that your still maintain that relationship but not often enough that it’s too much for you.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      I think it’s okay if you don’t, but just know that if you don’t generally join them they may stop inviting you. Most days I prefer to eat at my desk, but I would like to join people sometimes–but I have already established myself as a person who eats at their desk I guess so I am rarely invited now unless it’s a big official team thing (like to welcome a new member or a baby shower or something).

      1. CM*

        You can always invite them too, if you don’t want to go out to lunch more often. You could say you are planning to have lunch in the cafeteria and ask if anyone wants to join you, or if you’re up for a coffee break, walk, etc., you can ask them to join.

      2. Anony Mouse*

        Yeah, they’ve basically stopped inviting me. I don’t mind–I’m an introvert and like taking lunches alone to recharge. And, honestly, I don’t enjoy spending time with my boss and one of my coworkers. I can be civil and polite in the office, but it’s a strain when I have to make small talk for what turns into a two-hour lunch.

    3. Rebecca in Dallas*

      I personally think it’s fine to do what you’re doing, join once in a while to be sociable. Unless they’re really talking a lot of shop and you’re missing out on crucial info, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the case.

      Haha, that made me think of the episode of Friends when Rachel was missing out on stuff by not taking smoke breaks so she tried to pretend like she’d taken up smoking.

  25. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    I’d bring a ‘just in case’ lunch – typically I’d bring a sandwich, a snack and a banana, which would keep me going all day if there wasn’t a chance to go out and buy anything. Although personally I’d be red-flagged by a company that didn’t offer an opportunity to eat lunch properly on your first day!

    1. CM*

      PBJ, apple, and granola bar is my traditional “first day of work” lunch — it doesn’t require a fridge or cooler, ffits unobtrusively in my bag, and can be eaten later or the next day.

  26. michelenyc*

    I bring my lunch everyday it is not dorky at all. Bring something that travels well and if you don’t eat you’ll have dinner for later or lunch the next day. I can’t stand most of the places to eat around my office and because I am half a block from the Empire State Building I eat at my desk. All the tourist drive me nuts!

  27. Cookie*

    When I started this current job, I wasn’t familiar with the area (although I could have and should have done some research online). As it turns out, the office’s rent is so low because we’re literally in the middle of nowhere and you need to be prepared to drive at least 20 minutes, maybe more with traffic, to pick up food. However it is a very strict one hour lunch break, which means dining in is never an option. It’s fairly disappointing. Anyway, I brought lunch on day one since I wasn’t sure what my options were (and as you can imagine we didn’t eat out as a team as it simply isn’t possible to do during one hour).

  28. TootsNYC*

    And a note for us managers–maybe this is something we can get ahead of, a bit. S

    Lots of options:
    _host ourselves, and alert the new hire in advance
    _ask a staffer to make the invite, and let them expense it, and then alert the new hire in advance
    _deduce how likely a spontaneous invite is from colleagues, and alert the new hire
    _mention lunch places or a fridge before the first workday

    1. zora*

      Agreed, we have thought through what to include in the “Your First Day” email to new hires, and have coordinated with HR, so that it includes things like what documents to bring with them, but also more convenience things like the lunch situation, the dress code, etc.

      I don’t think it takes that much effort to figure out what a new person wouldn’t know and give them the details that will make them comfortable and not have things to worry about!

    2. Chris*

      I agree. I like to email my new hires a schedule of what their first week will be like a few days before they start. I include information about their first day lunch (we always take new people out) and inquire if they have any limitations.

  29. Lisa from Michigan*

    It’s become apparent that I am not working for the right employers. In over twenty years of working, I’ve never been taken to lunch on the first day of a new job. Not once. Nope. It wouldn’t even occur to me to not bring lunch.

    1. LiberryPie*

      I never have either. I was surprised Alison didn’t point out that being taken out to lunch during an interview (which the company usually pays for) has no correlation with whether you’ll be taken out on your first day (presumably a treat from co-workers). I’ve usually gotten some kind of welcome coffee break in the afternoon, which works better than lunch in my opinion because then lots of people can stop by to introduce themselves.

      1. Here we go again*

        Every professional job I have had has taken me out to lunch on my first day, paid for by the employer.

    2. Formica Dinette*


      On my first day I usually bring a lunch that doesn’t need to be refrigerated, like a peanut butter sandwich.

    3. Lemon Zinger*

      I work in higher ed. There is simply no departmental budget for special meals. If staff go out to lunch to welcome a new employee, everyone pays for themselves.

      FWIW, I used to work for a company with fully-stocked kitchens. They catered lunch for the first day of my work group, but didn’t bother to check with anyone about dietary restrictions. The lunch was sandwiches, which I cannot eat! We hadn’t been given explicit permission to use the kitchens yet so I went hungry that day.

      I think it’s naive to assume lunch will be provided on any first day of work. Bring your own! At the very least, a small snack that will keep you going.

    4. T3k*

      Same, though I’ve only had 2 jobs (4 if you count internships). And it’s not like location was a factor: 3 of them were within walking or a short driving distance to multiple restaurants, but I always ended up packing a meal and eating at my desk.

    5. Cassie*

      I’ve never really had a “first day” since I’ve sort of transferred from one group to another within the same dept, but I don’t think our dept has a tradition of taking new employees to lunch on the first day. I guess it’s a nice gesture, but as an introvert, I’d probably want to have the time to decompress a bit. Of course, depending on how well organized your workplace is, you might spend a lot of time on the first day doing nothing but sitting there waiting for your computer/email to be set up.

      Our dept just had a little afternoon tea for a few new employees. We’ve never done anything like this before and it was kind of odd. New faculty don’t get a party either (although in recent years, they do have a new faculty reception for the entire school).

  30. Audiophile*

    I’ve almost always brought a lunch or planned to go out on my first day. As someone who has only ever had one boss, out of all the supervisors over my career, who took me out to lunch and not on my first day, I never assume someone will take me out to lunch.

  31. Allison*

    My boss in my current job took me out to lunch on my first day, but he told me about it way in advance so I knew I didn’t need a lunch. But I may have brought one anyway, in case that plan fell through, and I just ate it the next day. I usually make lunches that’ll keep for a few days in the fridge.

  32. Free Meerkats (formerly Gene)*

    As others have said,bringing your lunch wouldn’t be considered dorky by any normal person. If someone does consider it so, that may be a coworker you want to avoid in the future.

    That said, don’t bring in a sardine and onion sandwich. Or plan on microwaving fish. And unless you want to look really young, don’t do what our new Millennial is doing regularly; bringing in Lunchables and juice boxes.

    1. SL #2*

      Lunchables are currently cheap and on sale at just about every major grocery retailer because it’s back-to-school season. My Target is selling them for $1 each until the end of September. It’s possible that this is what’s convenient and/or affordable for your coworker, regardless of the optics of the situation.

      1. Emi.*

        They may be convenient, but even on sale, lunchables (especially with juice boxes!) are not something you choose for affordability.

        1. SL #2*

          Perhaps, perhaps not, because affordability really depends on access to fresh groceries and healthy items in the area and the general cost of living in whatever region. A $1 Lunchable box may well be more affordable than other lunch options in that area. But my overall point is that we shouldn’t be judging anyone for the contents of their lunch regardless of what the food is or what their age is. Everyone hates the food police but no one seems to realize when they start becoming one.

    2. kc89*

      My co-worker in her thirties sometimes has a lunchable and I don’t think it’s dorky or weird but I could never, I feel like I filled my lunchable quota in elementary school and never want to eat another one again haha.

    3. michelenyc*

      Highly recommend your co-worker watch What the Health on Netflix I bet they would change their mind about every eating a lunchable again.

      1. Nobby Nobbs*

        Or we could try not giving the coworker a reason to write yet another “judgy food police” letter to Alison, as fun as those are!

  33. Dealtwiththis*

    I always bring my lunch on my first day but I make sure that it’s something that doesn’t need to be refrigerated/warmed up and I won’t be too sad missing out on if someone takes me to lunch (pb&J and cheezits usually fits the bill for me here!). That way I don’t have to worry about finding a fridge early upon arrival and don’t have to worry about using an unfamiliar kitchen on my first day. People usually take me to lunch but it’s nice to have something just in case so that I don’t starve!

  34. NicoleK*

    For the first day, I pack something simple like a peanut butter or peanut butter/jelly sandwich along with some snacks. If lunch is not provided, then I have something on hand. If lunch is provided, I can save the sandwich for later.

  35. all aboard the anon train*

    I’ve never worked anywhere where you’re treated out to lunch on your first day, so I’d suggest bringing lunch just in case. Something you can easily eat for dinner or lunch the next day if you do end up going out.

  36. kc89*

    I would pack a small snack just in case so you aren’t starving all day, but besides that I wouldn’t pack a full lunch.

  37. Anon Anon*

    Will your new employer be sending out an orientation schedule? We do that, and specifically indicate on the first day or two that lunch will be with new colleagues, so it’s clear to the new employee that they do not need to bring their lunch on those days.

    Plus, we find it helps reduce the anxiety of the first day/week, if the new person has a general idea of what they will be doing.

  38. Camille*

    I would add, don’t feel bad if your new coworkers or bosses don’t take you out to lunch the first day! I’ve had some that did and then felt insulted when new ones did it, but I’ve learned over time that the ones that don’t are frankly just too busy to do more than send out a nice congratulatory email and introduce me to people door to door, and that’s fine, too.

  39. OP*

    Thanks for all your suggestions! One thing I didn’t mention is that I’m a hardcore weightlifter and I eat a ton, so while normal people might be able to get away with a protein bar for lunch, I would not! I usually bring a 2nd breakfast, lunch, and a very large snack (really a third meal) with me every day! So I think that’s why I feel brining my lunch is dorky (my lunch bag is huge!).

    For my first day, I left my normal food in the car and just took as much snack type food as I could with me in my purse. They did give us lunch at orientation so I didn’t have to go out to my car. Luckily today I was able to bring all of my food with me and feel much better.

    I agree with everyone who said socializing around food is difficult; I’m an average sized woman who eats more than most men and it’s really awkward when I start a new job. I always get stares and jokes about the amount of food I eat; oh well, works for me!

    1. TeacherNerd*

      My thing would be, bring a lunch. You don’t have to eat it until the next day! (N.B.: This is easier to pull off if you have access to a fridge that you could leave your lunch in for the next day.)

  40. cheluzal*

    This is fascinating.
    I would never NOT think to bring a lunch, or find it something that might be considered dorky (husband’s light-up sound effect R2D2 aside).
    But I work in education and you cannot leave for lunch and school food is…yeesch.

    1. Teach*

      Most of my “professional” lunch food for the last decade has been “what can I eat while walking around on lunch duty making sure that middle schoolers don’t act feral” so this whole idea of going out or having adult conversation is a novelty. We had good school food though – small school with lots of homemade items and healthy, fresh food.

  41. Delta Delta*

    I’m a huge proponent of snacks. I always have various snacks with me. Right now I’m sitting outside a courtroom and in my briefcase I can see a Kind Bar, an apple, and a bag of trail mix. Too many times I’ve gotten stuck somewhere without food and ended up hungry and cranky.

    All that having been said, maybe don’t pack a lunch lunch, but make sure you’ve got something with you to help keep the wolves at bay in case the lunch situation isn’t what you expect.

  42. I am not a lawyer but,*

    At a very diverse office (sex/age/national origin) we always did a pot luck lunch and honorees (new employee, new parent, newlywed, etc) didn’t bring a dish. The Mgr would call new hires and ask about dietary restrictions the week before but our foods were SO diverse (and we already had a lot of dietary restrictions in the group) that changes were rarely necessary. I miss working with good cooks, esp since they introduced me to so many new cuisines.

  43. Chocolate Teapot*

    I have had jobs where the boss took me for lunch on the first day, others where I accompanied a new co-worker to find out where the supermarket/bakery/takeaway was, and another where the clock struck noon, and suddenly everyone had vanished.

    I would not have brought lunch to begin with, since it is only during the office tour that you find out about the fridge which was the size of a shoebox or whether a lunch delivery service or foodtruck visits.

  44. Grumpy Mouse*

    At every new job I’ve always covered for every eventuality – I’ll take a packed lunch, but I’ll also be prepared to buy my own lunch or eat out with others if that’s what the culture dictates. Uneaten packed lunch can always be eaten at home for dinner later.

    I learned this the hard way – my first professional job I showed up expecting there to be a local café or sandwich place for lunch, but the closest place was a petrol station 15 minutes walk away along a busy road, which held an uninspiring range of basic (and expensive) sandwiches. I also make sure my packed lunch is easily eaten cold – my partner once took in leftovers to reheat on his first day at a new job, only to find the office didn’t have a microwave and he was stuck eating cold chilli for lunch. Oops.

    1. MashaKasha*

      Came here to recommend a packed lunch, and something that does not need to be reheated (for reasons you stated). You never know what the office would be like and what your first day would be like. I’ve never packed lunch on my first day, until in my current job, on my first day, I walked into a full day of meetings with a 30-minute lunch break. One of my morning meetings was HR orientation, where I was given a link to a short mandatory online training class, and was told that I had to complete it by 5:00 PM that day. So that was what I did on my lunch break. The building did not even have a vending machine for some reason. My lunch that day was a handful of M&Ms from the front desk, that I washed down with a couple of half and half packets from my manager’s office. That’s the saddest work lunch I’ve ever had! Next time I change jobs, I’m bringing a backup sandwich. If my new team takes me out for lunch on my first day, great, but if not and if I have to work through lunch, I’ll have my backup sandwich!

  45. C*

    Chiming in late to share a story for HR departments about what NOT to do.
    On my first day I had to attend an HR orientation in the morning prior to going to my department in the afternoon. The email from HR said that they would provide snacks, but even if they didn’t I checked around and saw that there were several places nearby where I could grab something for lunch. Just in case, I also threw a granola bar and an apple in my bag that morning.
    The HR orientation ran late and went from 9am to 2pm instead of 1pm. There was one break, during which they offered coffee and water. No food. My manager expected me to show up in the office by 2pm, so I ate my granola bar and apple in my car while driving between HR and the office. Since I was already late, I didn’t want to make myself later by stopping to get lunch. By the end of the day I was absolutely starving!

  46. JoAnna*

    I was notified prior to the start of my new job (7/17) that I didn’t need to bring lunches my first *week* because they would be provided by the company. That was a pleasant surprise!

  47. Jake*

    I’ve never been offered to be taken out to lunch on my first day. It must be much more common than I thought because after the first time, I’ve always brought a lunch.

    I would be too paranoid to not bring a lunch, but I also always bring something that will “keep” so that if the offer comes to eat out, I’m not wasting my food.

  48. No Lunch Newbie*

    On the first day of my current job, the induction was so disorganised that I didn’t even get lunch. Also no computer at my desk to be able to undertake my initial training, but the training scheduled proceeded nonetheless. By the time there was a team lunch, I was so far behind on my training that I couldn’t actually go to it and get to know them!

  49. Ethel*

    I always bring my lunch first day. Someone may take you out or you may be so busy that no one notices it’s 2pm and no one has let you leave for lunch yet. Or maybe they tell you you only get 25 minutes for lunch and there’s no time to buy. In uncertain circumstances, pack provisions.

    You can always put it in the fridge and eat it tomorrow, or take it home for dinner.

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