my office makes us cook and eat lunch together every day

A reader writes:

I am a frequent long-term contractor at a very small company. There are two owners, two full-time employees, and a handful of freelancers and interns at any one time. The owners are wonderful people whom I enjoy spending time with, but they have a practice that some coworkers and I feel conflicted about: they expect us to eat lunch with them in the office every day. And pay (and shop) for it.

They send a tin around every week to collect our lunch payments, which supposedly are based on how much we are paid (my expected weekly contribution is $40). We take turns shopping for the lunch and assembling it. The owners think this is wonderful “family” time and feel it’s an added benefit for those who work there. On your first day, they say, “This is what we do for lunch” and after that, you’re locked in.

The problem is that sometimes we don’t want to all eat lunch together and feel pressure or worry about appearances if we decline. I’ve only known one freelancer who didn’t participate, and they said things like “Does he not like us?” “Is he anti-social?” So you pretty much have to participate or you’re sort of an outsider.

I’d be happy to do it sometimes, even more than once a week, just not always. What’s troubling is the expectation that everyone participate every day. Is there any kind way to inform the owners that something that they clearly love isn’t working for everyone? They would be hurt if they knew that some employees just want to get away for an hour.

They think this is “family time”? Are you perhaps all related?

If not, this isn’t family time, and it’s bizarre that they’re calling it that.

For the record: Workplaces aren’t families. They can be places where people have close, supportive relationships and genuinely care about each other, but unless they’re using a dramatically different business model than most employers in the U.S., they’re not families. They’re paying people to be there, and those people would not show up otherwise. Workplaces don’t typically inspire (or warrant) the sort of loyalty that families do, and families don’t typically fire people or lay them off.

This is more than semantics. It can have real ramifications for employees, because it generally means that boundaries get violated and people end up feeling like they’re supposed to display inappropriate amounts of commitment and loyalty, even when that’s very much against their self-interest. And it’s usually the employees who bear the burden a lot more than the company. Turn this around, and try to imagine an employee saying “but we’re like a family!” when her boss gives her critical feedback.

Anyway, that rant aside, the best thing here is to be straightforward and matter-of-fact. You can do that on a case-by-case basis, or you can do it big-picture.

If you do it case-by-case, then on days you don’t feel like eating with everyone else, just say, “I’ve got some errands I’m going to run today so I won’t be joining you in the kitchen. See you in about an hour!” Say it cheerfully and like of course it’s no big deal, and hope that they’ll respond with some degree of reasonableness. (I know they were all weird and sad about the freelancer who didn’t eat with them, but it sounds like that was every day, so maybe they’ll pull it together and get through the shock of you doing it less frequently? If not, you’d need to decide to just be okay with the fact that they’re baffled by your absences.)

But I think you’d be better off addressing it big-picture. That’s potentially more awkward, but it’s more likely to get you a clearer resolution. Ideally you’d get a group of coworkers to say this with you so that you’re not out on a limb by yourself, but if you can’t, it’s reasonable to say it on your own too. You’d say something like this: “It’s nice of you to set up these group lunches, but can we do them less often? Sometimes I/we need to use my/our lunch time for other things — running errands or even just taking a walk — and it feels like a big deal to not attend. What if we switched to doing them once a week instead so that people can use their lunch break in different ways if they want or need to?”

Of course, that’s not even getting into the (seemingly required?) lunch payments. If you succeed in getting these lunches cut back to weekly or less, you may not need to. But if would be entirely reasonable for you and your coworkers to say, “You know, we don’t want to be locked into spending $40 on lunches every week. Can we switch to a system where we fend for ourselves so that people have more control of their lunch budgets? We could still do group lunches occasionally — maybe weekly or monthly? — but it would be easier on us if we brought our own food rather than shopping for the group and preparing it together.” That’s not really addressing the issue head-on (although certainly the money/shopping/prep part of this is a weirdness in its own right), but it’s an option if your sense is that it’ll go over better.

{ 473 comments… read them below }

  1. AnonAndOn*

    If I learned that I had to have lunch every day at a job I’d lose my mind. I’m someone who needs her time to be alone, take a break, and recover. And paying $40 weekly is $160 a month. You’re giving money back to the job in that case!

    I hope you do push back on this. Having lunch with people in the office once or twice a month seems decent, but this need to have lunch together daily is overkill.

    1. Antilles*

      And paying $40 weekly is $160 a month. You’re giving money back to the job in that case!
      This is true, but I think OP shouldn’t mention the cost here. First off, it’s likely to confuse the issue, so they think “oh well, maybe if we make it like $35, that’s better” while the real goal is zero. Secondly, they would likely respond with “well you’d be paying for lunch anyways and this is certainly healthier than spending $10 on fast food”.

      1. Ol' Crow*

        I eat left-overs for lunch nearly every day. I eat out for lunch maybe once every couple of months. So cost is a factor. The reality is that this would greatly upset my weekly and monthly budgets and would greatly affect where I can spend in other areas. So I’d have to cut out, what my doggie daycare, so I could afford to eat a mandatory lunch at the office? That’s not ok.
        This doesn’t take into account those that don’t have anything to cut. I’m blessed that I can afford daycare for my dog. But I have been in the position where I did not have the money for unexpected food costs. To illustrate – shortly after moving states after losing my home to a natural disaster, I was employed by a team that was very into “voluntary” contribution potlucks, which they seemed to have every other week (not to mention the monthly drinks and appetizers that we paid for individually, the communal gifts we contributed money towards…and all were voluntary except they weren’t because much like this company you were talked and wondered about if you didn’t participate). I couldn’t afford to contribute in this manner and my boss seemed to understand and let me out very nicely. But there I was, the only person not participating in the potluck because I couldn’t afford it. Can I tell you how humiliating it was – humiliating to be the one standing out due to finances, humiliating because I had to explain my finances to my boss and be questioned about what I could change within finances to be able to afford it.
        So I argue that, yes, cost is a huge factor here and should be mentioned. We NEVER know what’s going on in someone’s world – we may think they make a huge salary and can afford whatever. But you don’t know what private things are taking place in their life that eat huge chunks of their money. And we have no right to know.

        1. Mookie*

          $40 for a single serving from 5 “home”-cooked communal meals is also not a bargain. That’s… for someone who can feed herself, her cats & two rats, and her well-nourished middle-aged parents three-ish times a day on about $110 / week, that’s just looks like nightmarishly bad budgeting.

          1. Anon for This One*

            My husband and I spend about $65 to $75 per week on enough groceries to feed us BOTH three times per day. So $40 for one meal, for one person, is ridiculous.

                1. Pomona Sprout*

                  Exactly! It’ll be my decision, as will what it consists of and whether I make it myself or pay someone else to cook and serve it (i.e., go to a restaurant). MY money = MY choice.

                  What these bosses are doing is absolutely ridiculous and outrageous, especially their attitude toward those who decide to op out. Not wanting to cook and eat with the whole offi does NOT mean a person is “antisocial.” As an introvert who would lose my marbles if I was never allowed to eat what i want for lunch and/or use my lunch break as I choose, I find comments like that insulting and pretty darned offensive!

        2. Artemesia*

          I agree. I always took leftovers for lunch; my husband bought lunch out and it was very expensive — but then I consider 40 a week a hefty amount. I would feel deeply cheated if I was being expected to pay my boss 160 a month to have lunch on site when I normally pretty much pay 0 for lunch as it is food that would otherwise go to waste.

          This is a huge boundary violation both for time and money. But it is pretty baked into this business so it will take everyone resisting to turn it around if that is even possible.

        3. LavaLamp*

          They wouldn’t let you participate?! I wasn’t able to afford the office Christmas lunch last year and I sat down with my boss in private and said “I can’t afford this” and she covered my share with no one else knowing about it. O.o

          1. Ol' Crow*

            The offer to join in despite not contributing was extended, and I did once. But it’s not a good look to not contribute and join in time after time, and these potlucks took place pretty much every other week. That’s pretty humiliating in it’s own right.
            Everyone knew my situation and that I was literally rebuilding my life piece by piece, so there was some sympathy as well as contributions such as some cooking ware, which I gratefully accepted. But you can only accept so much charity (particularly from co-workers) without THAT becoming humiliating. My preference would have been to quietly disappear during these lunches, but that wasn’t acceptable because as my boss explained, it made it look to my team as if I didn’t want to be a part of them.
            I felt there was no way to win with this and so I moved to a different team that didn’t have all these “family celebrations” as soon as I could.

            1. Liz2*

              People are so dense, the obvious answer is that you would contribute by doing the clean up each time.

              But as someone who finds $5 for lunch out to be a splurge AND prefers to eat alone, this is awful. Good luck on getting free, OP!

        1. JessaB*

          This, and I have had weeks where my budget was $20. I would never spend that much on lunch ever. And I have dietary issues, things I cannot eat and things I will not eat. I’m an extremely picky eater. It has to do with mouth feel and other body issues.

          How does this play into religion and other problems. What about vegetarians vs carnivores especially carnivores who eat only a limited amount of veg type things (again I’m extremely unreasonably picky. I even make sure before I go to a restaurant that there is something I’m willing to eat there.)

          Our current budget is such that without help from my sister, due to medical bills, I would not have a place to live. Where the heck would I get $40 a week and why should I have to explain ANY of the above to anyone to get out of something like this.

          1. Gadfly*

            My first thought was my extended family and why we didn’t try to have a ‘real’ meal at my wedding. There is no way the picky vegan (he has restrictions other than just vegan) and the meat and maybe potatoes but those are maybe too close to being vegetables cousins could share a meal more than maybe twice in a lifetime. Daily? Forget it.

          2. Ol' Crow*

            “Where the heck would I get $40 a week and why should I have to explain ANY of the above to anyone to get out of something like this.”

            More than anything, this is my greatest sticking point. I say that as someone who rarely ever eats with those I work with as I need that time to be alone, walk my dog on the days he’s home, and simply decompress. You shouldn’t have to explain your finances to anyone; very personal business and not open to discussion. As I mentioned above, my boss during that time actually questioned where I could cut personal expenses in order to be able to afford participating in the potlucks. Thing was, at that time, I was replacing literally everything I owned piece by piece – clothes, bedding, furniture, pots and pans, dishes, etc. But it wasn’t her business and it was a humiliating place to be in. Just as your bosses have no reason to know about the help you’re getting from family and that you have medical bills to pay.
            I don’t agree with mandatory lunches, at least not every day, but if there is going to be such a thing then the company needs to pay for it.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      $40 !!! My grocery budget for the week is $80, I couldn’t imagine drumming up $40 for lunches! Just wow.

      1. Normally A Lurker*

        This though. $40 maybe cheaper than lunch out everyday, but I can also eat left-overs and cut my weekly food budget to $100 for 3 meals a day. I can’t do that if I”m being forced to take almost half of that for a single meal.

        1. Jesca*

          LOL I too keep a tight food budget and this would cut into half of what I spend!

          But what makes this even odder to me is that the “contribution” is based on pay. Like its a tax the company imposes on all employees who they hire it like a mandatory benefits program they offer where everyone has to contribute based off of their annual income. Just no.

          In any event, the biggest lesson I have learned about myself reading AAM is that i would likely not do well working for very small family owned business!

          1. Infinity Anon*

            Also, the OP is a contractor, so wouldn’t the same amount of pay actually be less because they don’t have benefits? Is that taken into account for the lunch tax?

            1. Still Here*

              Worse yet: Since attendance is mandatory, doesn’t that count as treating the OP as an employee? Which has all sorts of legal ramifications.

            2. LUNCH OP*

              Hi – I actually contribute MORE than the staffers because I am paid more, so there is some kind of sliding scale. And the owners kick in too. I will say that these are big lunches – nice ingredients, very healthy, always a variety to choose from, and always a sweet treat if you wanted. I’m not defending the practice, but the lunches are actually pretty yummy and better than a lot of what I’d get in the area (and cheaper).

              1. Violet Fox*

                Aren’t contractors typically paid more though because they have to cover expenses that fixed employees do not?

                1. designbot*

                  Correct–usually you’re paid more as a contractor to account for your own costs like increased taxes, healthcare, etc. that the company would be covering if you were full-time.

              2. Ted Mosby*

                wait… so you are REQUIRED to subsidize your coworker’s lunches? As basically a condition of your employment? This is so far beyond insane. I hope you all band together and say something as an entire office so they can’t retaliate at any one person.

              3. Misquoted*

                I am a pretty picky eater. It sounds like the lunches themselves are lovely and not part of the issue, but I can’t imagine someone else choosing what I’ll be eating on a given day. My stress level would skyrocket. And even with a guarantee of only “Misquoted-friendly” options, I never know what I feel like eating until lunchtime (I’ve never been a lunch-bringer — carry out or cafeteria for me).

          2. NorthernSoutherner*

            OMG, the memories! I worked for a small family-owned business. They all ate lunch together and expected the rest of us to as well. Every day. At least there wasn’t this goofy chipping in thing, but still. It was a small office, so we were in each other’s faces all the time, and then at lunch, too? And frequently the non-family members would sit quietly while the family squabbled about their own personal stuff.

            Finally, I thought, you know what? No more. I started leaving at lunch time. Sure enough, my boss asked me, ‘why do you hate us?’

          3. eplawyer*

            It’s a wonderful benefit offered by the company — pay for your own lunch – at a price we set.

            If the company is family, then Mom and Dad (the owners) should be buying the groceries. Now that would make it a real benefit.

          4. JessaB*

            Yes and just because someone makes more, they may have more obligations, higher student loans, more family, medical issues, etc. I have lived in times where people who make less than I do are fortunate enough to have more disposable income than I do. Just because I make x and you make x-y doesn’t mean at the end of the week you’re not + 100 and I’m not +5 in the bank.

        2. Here we go again*

          I don’t think it’s cheaper than lunch out each day though… That’s $8 per day! Maybe if you are going to a fancy sit-down place, where meals are more than that, but many fast food places can be under that. Heck, finding large pizza slices for around $3 is feasible in most cities.

          1. Koko*

            Where I work in downtown DC $8 is the cheapest lunch I could possibly get within a mile of my office. It’s the cost of a salad at Chipotle with no sides or drinks. That’s the closest thing we have to fast food around here. At BGR or Bareburger I could get a burger and a drink for $13-14.

            I can’t eat pizza due to a bread allergy, but even the by-the-slice seller around here charges $4 for a small slice (not one of those big-as-your-head oversized slices, so it’s not going to fill most people up for lunch without a second slice or a side or something).

            A sit-down place, lunch would be closer to $15-20 or more.

            1. BPT*

              Same – I can get Subway for about $5 but other than that here in DC, $8-$10 is about the cheapest you can get. Of course, I have more control over what I buy than OP does because it’s not a “family meal.” Requiring money be given back to the company at all is the bad thing, no matter if it’s more or less than they’d usually spend.

            2. AMPG*

              Tangent – I hear the burrito cart on 15th and K shut down. That was an excellent cheap lunch – $5 for an enormous rice and bean burrito.

            3. Susana*

              I’m in DC and just paid $4 for a falafel bowl from the place in Georgetown. And last month, I was on a diet with prepared foods (STILL a lot less than $8 a meal). How on earth are they going to come up with a lunch menu that works for everyone – vegetarian, on a diet or not, gluten, you name it? This is a shake-down.

            4. Breda*

              Yeah, this is VERY location dependent. In NYC, $8 is the low side – I can get a $4 falafel at a halal cart, but sandwiches start at around $7-8. And a deep-fried lunch every day is not the healthiest plan! So this cost wouldn’t be outrageous for what the OP describes as a healthy, varied, tasty lunch. But compared to preparing a meal at home or taking leftovers (which I do, because I have to pay rent in NYC), it is.

              1. Alli525*

                I’ve lived in NYC for more than seven years now and still can’t believe people pay $10-12, EVERY DAY, for a salad. I have a relatively small appetite, thank goodness, so I’ll usually just grab a cup of soup and some crackers or a small container from the hot-food buffet at the cafeteria next door for a grand total of like $4-6. Sure, sometimes I splurge and get a big hot lunch somewhere, but I can’t imagine being commanded to fork over $10/day No Matter What.

            5. Cercis*

              Sucks that you’re allergic to bread (I assume wheat) because we found this great chinese noodle place that had the biggest plate of noodles with HUGE pieces of succulent duck on it for $8. It was enough for 2 meals for me. We were there a week and ate there twice because it was so yummy.

              When I worked in downtown San Antonio I always took my lunch. The restaurants downtown cater to tourists and were more expensive than I could afford on a regular basis. There was a pretty good fried chicken place that I could eat at for about $5, but most of the places were pretty high.

          2. Mallory Janis Ian*

            Even if it is cheaper than eating out every day — I can’t afford to eat out every day! I bring leftovers from home most days because I try to be frugal in my lunch budget. I eat out maybe once per week, but this set-up is like being forced to eat out every day. My budget would be dead!

            1. Former Hoosier*

              I don’t eat out every day either but this arrangement takes away that choice. Yesterday I wanted to treat myself because I had had to work late Sunday night and I bought lunch. Today I brought a salami sandwich, chips and an apple. It was delicious and cost just a couple of dollars. But the point is that I have a choice of options because no one at work is dictating what, how, or when I eat.

              1. Karen D*

                Yep. I can make a variety of tasty lunches for $1 a day, and when I’m feeling super-frugal I make, bottle and bring iced tea to drink which adds about 10 cents.

            2. Lln*

              yeah, the point is choice. I should be able to bring a $1 sandwich from home if I want, whether I can afford the $8 work lunches or not.

          3. Esme Squalor*

            Where I work in Atlanta, there are many lunches under $8 within walking distance of my office. Hell, there’s an excellent $5.99 lunch special (soup and sandwich) at an excellent independent cafe about a 2-minute walk away from me.

        3. Say what, now?*

          Yep, yep, yep! And to have everyone put in $40, even if there are only 3 employees and the boss couple, that’s still $200 per week or $40 per day… what are you cooking for a group of five that merits that input? Salmon steaks? This is unrealistic.

          And a thought just occurred to me, are the owners putting money in too? It doesn’t seem like they are from the sound of it. If that’s the case, not only are they hijacking your time, forcing you to spend a set amount on lunch each week, but also forcing you to feed them on the cheap. In which case, I can see why they’d be adverse to having people opt out.

        4. Bolt*

          When I do eat out for lunch it is never even over $8… so for me (even if I ate out everyday) it would still be cheaper than this arrangement!

        5. ellen*

          You spend *16* dollars a day? on food where you don’t even get to pick what it is? For just lunches?
          Around here, that is a LOT of money – I spend less than that on my daily groceries for my family for a day.

          1. Karen D*

            The “not getting to pick what it is” is another big deal for me. OP said in a comment that there’s usually a variety to choose from which is great … but even so, I’m a picky eater, and there are several common ingredients/seasonings I don’t like that can’t even be gracefully removed from a finished dish.

            1. JessaB*

              I’m with you. I admit to being an extremely picky eater and that I also have an issue with spices because of my stomach. Now here’s the problem. Plain ordinary black pepper is too spicy for me. Seriously, not joking. So 99% of stuff people put in things are a no go. I am trying to figure out what I’d eat in a circumstance like this and how many meals I’d have to skip because 40 bucks is often my entire shopping budget.

      2. WellRed*

        Mine is actually around $40 or less for the week. I can’ imagine what they are eating. And do people that make more have to contribute more to subsidize those who make less? What if they eat less?

      3. Starbuck*

        Yeah, I bring my lunches from home and they’re usually pretty basic- noodles or rice with vegetables, chili, whatever. I buy in bulk so the cost for would probably be $2, tops. $40 is ridiculous to me, especially for cooking from scratch. I could get lunch at the cafe here every day and it would cost less than $40 a wee.

        1. PB*

          I also bring my lunch from home, and favor inexpensive foods. The lunches I’ve been packing this week, for example, run probably $2-3 per meal. Putting in $40/week would be quadrupling my lunch budget. Yes, it’s less than paying to eat out everyday, but I hardly know anyone who eats out everyday. Those who do made that choice, not some bizarre office culture.

          1. Detective Amy Santiago*

            Yeah, I generally spend between $40 and $60 a week at the grocery store for all of my meals/snacks. This is pretty crazy.

            1. Koko*

              Same. I do a big shop at the organic grocer once a month to get all my meat and dairy for the month at 10% off, which is usually just over $100. Then I spend around $25/week at the conventional grocery store for dry goods, produce, and household items. So on average about $50/week, and I’m eating all organic meat and dairy, in an expensive city.

          2. AnonAndOn*

            I did too. I’d bring in a sandwich, a snack, and a fruit daily for my lunches. I rarely went out for lunch.

          3. JessaB*

            When I brought lunch to work, I brought two plain sliced chicken sandwiches, and a can of pop. I’m talking about the cheap packaged chicken from the deli shelves with mayonnaise on white bread. That was it. Maybe some pretzels in a baggie or something for breaks. I split the sandwiches and ate one at lunch and one at my later break. A package of that chicken can be a couple of pounds for 5 bucks. I don’t eat all the fancy stuff people are mentioning here.

        1. Yorick*

          The reaction was to a forced expense by one’s workplace, not a judgment about spending $40 for lunches.

          1. Infinity Anon*

            Yep. There is nothing wrong with choosing to spend $40 a week for lunch. There is something wrong with mandating it.

            1. JessaB*

              There’s nothing wrong with it if you can afford it go for it. I’m all for eating whatever you want, whenever you want. It’s just that by any metric I can come up with, most people if given 40 bucks a week for lunch can probably come up with something they like better than this, and have leftovers or other choices or snacks for later out of it. I’m not dissing anyone who wants to spend.

              Heck I don’t care if you go out and eat at a mid casual place where a good meal plus tip and drink is near to 40 bucks a DAY. As long as nobody is guilting anyone else for balking at it.

              I just hate for instance this idea that it’s necessarily cheaper than doing it yourself. It’s like those shows on food network that are all about eat for 30 bucks a day and that’s cheap. I’m like I’ve eaten on 30 bucks a week. And that’s not just lunch. And that’s two people and a cat.

              1. Liz2*

                I like the food shows because I assume it’s appealing to someone as a tourist, who wants the local food experience- which always costs more than just putting a basic pasta dish together at home.

                But yeah, I’ve had weeks where leftover crunchy noodles from Chinese were the best lunch I could come up with.

          2. Super Anon*

            Exactly. Food costs can vary wildly. Some people are foodies, and they will happily spend significant sums on dining out or great ingredients. Other people have other priorities. Neither one is wrong or right, but most people have the freedom to make the decision that best fits into their needs, wants, and budget.

        2. AnonAndOn*

          I disagree. Yes, people’s budgets are different, but choosing to pay $40 for lunch and being mandated to do so by one’s employer are two different things.

          1. JessaB*

            Exactly. And having an employer do this either forces some people to explain medical/psychological/religious reasons for not eating x things, or forces them to explain their personal finances, or be looked at as Not. A. Team. Player.

        3. MashaKasha*

          Well that’s why we want to be on our own budgets and not on other people’s. I’d be pretty unhappy if I was required to spend $40/week on mandatory work food all of a sudden.

          1. Bwmn*

            The mandatory $40 probably does contribute to some of the discord. While losing the private lunch time would be irritating, if I was only be asked to contribute $10 a week for 5 lunches – that could impact how I would feel about it. I used to work in a hospital, where with the employee discount I was spending about $4-5 for lunch a day. If I did leftovers and planned, I probably could have cut my lunch costs some but the mix of convenience, variety and cost made it work for me. The fact that it was average hospital cafeteria food didn’t bother me so much.

            If I basically lost a private lunch hour, but got a reasonable lunch every day and was paying only $10 a week – my complaints would be much smaller. But for more money, that’s when the math of I could get abc for $X starts to factor in.

        4. MommyMD*

          There is when you are being forced into it. I can easily afford 40 a week but many cannot and I find it a waste of money. Every day is not a celebration so I don’t need to eat lunch out or have a big fancy in office meal.

          1. JessaB*

            It’s not just the being forced, it’s the not being told at the interview stage and then being basically guilted into having to do this. If you opt out it seems that you don’t get treated well and you’ve not been able to self select out because now you have no job if you quit. It’s the trapped thing that bugs me the very most about this.

        5. aebhel*

          The key word here is ‘budget’. People get to make their own choices about how to spend their money, but foisting a $40/week expense on people and expecting it not to be a problem because it would probably cost more to eat out is beyond clueless. For some people, $40/week on lunch is no big deal. For some people, that means not being able to pay their electric bill. And frankly, even plenty of people who can afford it wouldn’t want to. I could certainly come up with the money, but I would really resent having to do so.

          (And that does, frankly, seem extreme to me. My weekly grocery budget for a family of four is around $100, and I’m not especially thrifty about how I buy.)

          1. eplawyer*

            Also, you budget based on your take home pay. This company is saying, we’ve taken taxes out of your gross pay, now we are taking $40 back each week, or $2000 less a year than we promised we would pay you.

            1. nonegiven*

              They’re not taking taxes out. OP still has to pay taxes and probably health insurance and retirement on top of that.

      4. President Porpoise*

        How are people paying so little for groceries?! I’m spending way more than $80 a week, to feed two adults and a toddler! And we frequently eat out!

        Maybe its just because I like food shipping, cooking, and eating fun things…

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Buying what’s on sale and stocking up on staples when they are cheaper.

          I also tend to eat the same things all the time so there isn’t a lot of variety.

        2. Fifty Foot Commute*

          I moved several thousand miles four years ago, from a place with notoriously high cost of living to a more average place, and after four years I’m still not over how expensive groceries are here. I had no idea there could be so much variation by region.

        3. ThatGirl*

          I spend anywhere from $50-80 a week for two adults, I’m sure I could spend less if I tried but I like to stockpile a little when things are on sale (so chicken in bulk, canned goods when on sale, that kind of thing). But we don’t eat a ton of meat or buy a lot of prepared foods (that is not a judgment on those who do).

        4. Marillenbaum*

          I live alone: one quiche is a week of breakfasts, then two four-person recipes gets me through most of the week, plus eating out sometimes because grad school and needing to commiserate over the amount of readings.

        5. Rainy*

          Grocery costs vary *widely* depending on where you are, and there are a lot of people who just haven’t lived in a variety of places and so have a very rigid idea of “what things cost” that isn’t always right. :)

        6. JessaB*

          Sometimes you live on buck bologna and outlet store bread. I’ve had to. Or noodles, and hot dogs. And supplement that with the food pantry. Other times you do sales and you take your time and plan and maybe go to four different stores, because you have a car and you’re lucky like that and can get things in bulk.

          Also one of the things we bought back in the day off the local pennysaver flyer was a standing freezer so we could buy things in bulk. When we were lucky to have enough money we replaced it with a newer more energy efficient and frost free (omg I was so happy not to have to defrost anymore,) unit.

          Now buck bologna is only an occasional thing (during “have you paid your deductible,” season,) and Mr B won’t go near it (too many years of being lean like that,) but I can take one of those packages of flavoured noodles ($0.60 – $1,) pick a cheap protein (diced ham, tinned tuna,) and get me 2-4 meals out of it depending on how hungry I am.

        7. Arjay*

          There are other things that impact the cost of groceries too. I’m not in a food desert, but I’m in a one bedroom apartment with a cheap refrigerator/freezer and not a lot of storage space. I can’t buy a lot in bulk just due to storage issues.
          One year about 10 days before Thanksgiving, a coworker was shocked to learn that I hadn’t bought a turkey yet. If I put a turkey in my freezer, there’d be no room for anything else!

        8. Liz2*

          Treats do add up, but honestly it’s the old tricks which work for me- I shop at low crowd times, only after I’ve reviewed the sales ad from my computer at home and honed my list. I only buy the meat that’s on sale/marked down and then I buy a lot so I can freeze and have a bunch for the next few weeks as needed. Over time you track which things go on sale when and can prep for that. For example, we just had a buy 2, get 3 ice cream cartons free deal which I knew was coming cause it was end of summer. So now I know don’t buy any desserts until November.

          I’m not happy unless I’ve saved at least 30% on a bill (our receipt shows). I don’t do coupons unless they are in the ad directly. I’m also only brand conscious on a few things- so whichever juice is half price that week, that’s what I get!

      5. MashaKasha*

        Right? I have two guys in their 20s living in my house, so my grocery expenses are huge. Last thing I need is a mandatory $160/month on top of that. Admittedly, I pack my lunches, but mine probably cost a fraction of that price.

        1. Red Reader*

          I feed two bottomless pits of nonstop metabolism (I’m pretty sure my brother could lose weight from the calories he expended chewing an entire large pizza) and a dude who works in a warehouse aside from myself, so I feel you. I think I’m around $600/month for the four of us, though that includes things like laundry soap, TP, trash bags, dog food, and similar household staples.

          1. Justme*

            Yes, I have one of those bottomless pits of nonstop metabolism. On nights when she does dance she will eat dinner twice. Luckily she’s still in the single digits so it’s not *that much* food.

          1. Samata*

            My 20 year old sister lived with us last summer. Our grocery order more than doubled. I don’t know how people afford to feed more than one kid at a time.


          2. Robbenmel*

            Once upon a time, about a decade ago, I was feeding 4 teenagers, 4 dogs, a cat, a husband, and me. We spent, no kidding, $800 – $1,000 a month on groceries. Bottomless pits, indeed.

          3. SusanIvanova*

            Watching a tall skinny teenage boy at an all-you-can-eat buffet was quite an experience – 5 plates of food, 2 of salad, and he only stopped because his jaw was tired.

      6. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        I’m single, frugal and love to cook. With my pantry stocked with rice, noodles, spices and oils, I’m good for 3-4 months paying $50-$60 a month (!) for groceries, especially with sales and coupons.
        If you want to play happy families, then you dish out $160 per month, per person.
        How many freaking people work there? $8 a meal? What the h3ll are they getting? Grilled chicken, potato and vegetable and salad would not be $8 a person. What about pasta? $8 a person for pasta that you make in the office?

        1. Mischa*

          Hey, me too! Grad student and my current budget is about $10-$15 a week. It’s extremely tight, so whenever there’s free food on campus, I am so there. But I do love to cook — I’m just becoming creative in different ways (like all the ways one can cook beans).

      7. caryatis*

        Yeah…I only spend $50 a week on all food. Some people go as low as $25. People should be allowed to decide for themselves how much to spend, without employers forcing a certain diet or spending level on us.

    3. DaniCalifornia*

      Agree so much! Our whole grocery budget for me and my husband is sometimes $160 for the month. There is no way we would spend that much just on one meal for a 2/3 of a month. I would have said from the beginning, “Oh sorry that’s not in my budget. I’ll be happy to chip in $5-10 every once in a while to join you.”

        1. Hamilton Reference*

          One of the meals I made last week was curry with eggplant, squash, and serrano pepper. The veggies were on markdown, curry paste was a couple bucks, and rice is cheap! I probably spent like $6-7 to make 12 servings of curry.

          1. JessaB*

            Rice is probably one of the cheapest things ever. You can get a giant bag for nearly nothing and if you don’t get it wet or let it get bugs in, it lasts nearly forever. It’s one of the most shelf stable things around. At least white rice is, brown rices have more oils and don’t last as long, so use those first.

        2. Lynxa*

          Go to! We use it all the time, and it’s really cut my grocery bills. Plus there’s some GREAT stuff on there.

        3. DaniCalifornia*

          We eat a lot of chicken fried rice in our house. Rice, eggs, chicken, (and veggies if you want) It goes a long way and is very filling and easy to make. That and coupons/rewards points/grocery apps like iBotta or Walmart Savings catcher.

        4. Liz2*

          My fave is turkey tacos, presuming you get most things on sale/at standard stores, you can get ground turkey, onions, can of diced peppers, can of diced tomatoes, pack of soft tortillas, shredded cheese and taco seasoning which comes out to about $1.25 per serving.

          And then you’ve got tons of cheese, likely some onions and tortillas left over for breakfast tacos on the weekend.

    4. Former Hoosier*

      I used to work somewhere where it was expected that we eat lunch together every day and we were not supposed to leave to run personal errands or anything although a business lunch was acceptable. We each brought our own lunch but we were expected to eat together. It isn’t against the law if the state doesn’t require a specific break and our state didn’t.

        1. Former Hoosier*

          I was exempt and correctly categorized as so. My coworkers were not and I continually pointed out to our boss that they had to be paid for lunch and overtime by LAW and she just didn’t care. I considered reporting the company to the Department of Labor frequently. Small town and so even when I left, I thought it wouldn’t be wise.

    5. Lauren*

      $40 a week is a lot. I don’t spend $40 on my lunches and I bring my lunch from home. This week was roast beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, vegetables. It did not cost $40 to make!

    6. Tara R.*

      My entire weekly food budget is $50 (just me, one small-ish university student who doesn’t eat a ton). I would be pretty ticked off if I had to put together 7 breakfasts and dinners for $10 because my workplace decided to do this…

      1. Justme*

        And weekend lunches! So that’s 16 meals for $10 – pretty sure Top Ramen is more expensive than that for the week.

    7. meagain*

      My husband and I have a budget of $250 a month for food. We work hard to keep it minimum and we eat local/organic. I’d go ape-shit for $160 a month FOR LUNCH. FOR ONE PERSON.

    8. Fafaflunkie*

      My thoughts exactly. If the bosses insist on these daily lunches, let them pay for it. Hire a caterer if need be. As long as you’re not financially responsible for their daily lunches, then I wouldn’t complain too much, unless you need to take the time to be elsewhere.

      1. Rana*

        ^^Agree on the need to pay for it if it’s so important. When I was a grad student the program I taught for had a weekly dinner, but the idea was that it was a way for our bosses to help us underpaid (not their fault) folks get enough to eat as well as a way to touch base with everyone. It was very low key: they’d make a giant pot of beans, provide tortillas and cheese and salsa, and you could eat as much as you wanted. Anything leftover after dinner went into the breakroom fridge, to be eaten by those who wished to do so, until the next week’s pot showed up. It was wonderful, and I still admire them for it.

        This… is not that.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        Yeah, I had a job years ago where we frequently worked through lunch and ate whenever you had time, but the bosses bought the food, and you were perfectly free to bring something else without anyone commenting on it.

    9. Elizabeth West*

      Yeah, this would be a HUGE deal breaker for me. I don’t want to eat lunch with my coworkers every single day, or have to pay for it. I bring lunch from home to save money and sometimes write at lunch so it would be a no-go. I’m sure some of the OP’s coworkers would also like to use that money for something else!

  2. zapateria la bailarina*

    This is so odd. I kinda of think it would be easier to lead with the budget concern – when the tin goes around for collection, just say “I need to cut back on my weekly spending, I’m going to fend for myself for lunch this week.” This is an especially good excuse if you intend to bring your lunch.

    I really cannot imagine how the first collection would look for a new employee… I know it can be hard to speak up in the moment but I think in a case like this I would be unable to hide the “what the actual F” from my face when they asked me for lunch money the first time.

    1. Helpful*

      This could backfire if they offered to cover or reduce the cost, though. Don’t give them any openings to continue this nonsense!

      1. Here we go again*

        While I don’t like the concept of this to begin with, I do think expecting people to pay for this is the most unreasonable piece of it. If they just wanted everyone to eat together everyday, that is the company’s prerogative. Telling people how to spend their hard-earned money is where it crosses the line.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*


          I feel like there have been letters or stories here about companies that provide lunch for their employees which is a wonderful perk.

          1. chocolate lover*

            Free lunches can be great – when employees want them, they’re optional, etc. For years I ate lunch with the same coworker every day, by choice (I invited her to my wedding, she’s one of my favorite people). But some days I was in a bad mood, or really tired, or had errands to run. I would very much object to being told I “had” to eat with coworkers every day, even ones I really liked. Paying for the lunch would be like rubbing salt in the wound.

          2. Former Hoosier*

            But usually free lunches don’t come with expectations-that you eat together, that you have lunch at a specific time, that you can’t leave for personal errands or just a break.

            I have often just left for an hour at work just to have a break from work stress. I would go to library and read or shop (even if I didn’t buy anything or couldn’t afford to), etc.

            1. Amber T*

              Typically, the expectation of a free lunch is that you won’t step out, therefore you’re less likely to be distracted/have more time to work. It’s a perk, but there’s a benefit for the company as well.

              1. MashaKasha*

                But hopefully you don’t have to do it at a set time, around a communal table, with your team?

                Also, are there selections for people to choose from? Like, does everyone have to eat Monte Cristo sandwiches with deep-fried donuts for dessert, because that’s what the owner likes, or can they opt for a salad or veggies? Honest question. I’ve never worked at a company that offered free lunches, I don’t know how that works.

            2. Lurker*

              “There’s no such thing as a free lunch!”

              I worked (briefly) somewhere that bought lunch for the staff every day. At first I thought it was great; but I quickly realized they did it because they didn’t want us to leave our desks. Ever. It was a big production too. Every morning we would have to circulate the take out menus around 10:30 – 11 am in order to have all the orders ready so the receptionist could place it in time for a noon delivery. (I am someone who prefers to take a later lunch so noon was so early to me.) Also, we ended up ordering from the same three places all the time since that was all everyone could agree on. Chinese food was banned because the director hated the smell of it.

              It would be bad enough to have mandatory lunch with co-workers every day, but having to take turns making it, too? Awful.

              1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

                That does suck. Especially having to eat at noon everyday. Unless you are doing some type of work that requires you to be doing a particular task in a particular place at a particular time, noon is too damn early. Or late. Or whatever. We’re not in school. I don’t need a lunchtime set in stone.

          3. aebhel*

            I mean, there’s often food in the breakroom where I work, either because people bring in snacks to share or our employer buys everyone pizza or something, and it’s great–I’ve often raided that when I forgot my own lunch. But I’m not obligated to eat it, and I can still have a lunch break, which forced socializing with my coworkers would not afford me.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I knew a food justice organization that used to do this, and I still think it’s inappropriate. It was kind of a cult-like organization in terms of their org culture.

        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I’m not sure what you mean? Do you want me to name names, or to define what “food justice organization” means?

            1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

              Yes. I don’t know this term. My go-to charity is the Food Bank. If there’s something additional I can do about people getting fed, I’d really like to know.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                No worries! A food justice organization is an organization that addresses structural barriers to accessing food. Those barriers are usually related to race, poverty, and sometimes geography (e.g., it is much harder for rural people to get access to affordable and healthy food than people in certain cities, but declining cities also struggle to provide access to grocery stores, etc.). They often engage in policy advocacy and strategic research, and sometimes they go so far as to create food enterprises (e.g., bodegas, small grocery stores, converting corner shops to green groceries, funding micro-entrepreneurs). These are the folks who are trying to address “environmental and social” determinants of public health, like the existence of food deserts. The “food policy council” movement is an outgrowth of these efforts.

                I think it’s still worth funding food banks—they serve a different (but important) function, and in some areas, the local food bank is also an effective food justice advocate. There are not as many food justice groups as there are food assistance groups, but most states have at least one of each.

                1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

                  Thank you for explaining this. It is really interesting and I’m really excited that there are people doing this. I will definitely keep supporting my food bank, but this is something I am going to investigate more.

  3. Koko*

    This honestly read to my mind like the employees are effectively not getting a lunch break. If your employee is telling you what to do and where to do it, how is that a proper break? It’s just different work than you normally do.

    I’m curious, obviously with contractors/exempt staff there’s no legal issue, but from a comparison standpoint, does anyone know whether a mandatory staff lunch would constitute a legal break for hourly workers who are required to get their 15 minutes per 4 hours? I’m remembering the pizza place I worked at in high school and how we occasionally had to come in for mandatory all-staff meetings on Saturday mornings from time to time. They fed us breakfast while we were there, but they also paid us for the hour and I always presumed they had to pay us because we were working, not just casually voluntarily enjoying breakfast in the workplace together.

    1. fposte*

      There’s no federal requirement for a 15 minute break or lunch break, so it’s not a problem federally on that front; most states don’t require them, either. This is more an issue, as you suggest, with non-exempt employees and whether this is a time that should be paid.

      My suspicion is that because people can opt out, it’s harder to demonstrate that it’s required, but not necessarily impossible.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Yeah—this would be an issue depending on the State, and the fact that people can opt out makes it trickier.

        Koko, the 15 minutes you’re thinking of might be California, which also requires employers to pay for meal breaks if they won’t let the worker leave or opt out of those meals (with some significant caveats specific to the kind of workplace). But that’s definitely the exception in terms of employee protections/laws.

    2. 5 Leaf Clover*

      Regardless of the legality, if you’re even a little bit introverted, spending lunch with coworkers feels like work. This practice sucks.

      1. Geneva*

        Agreed! I worked at a place like this. They cooked lunch on-site twice a week and the entire staff ate together. I enjoyed it at first, but I quickly grew tired of the bland meals and not getting a true break from my coworkers. So I started eating out, but it didn’t take long for my manager to informally reprimand me for leaving the building for the full lunch hour. She even went so far as to suggest taking a lunch was a luxury. I left not long after.

      2. Paul*


        I’ll suck it up sometimes. We’re hourly so it’s paid, and yeah a very occasional working lunch meeting when we’re busy…that happens.

        Daily or weekly? Good lord no. That’d wear me down.

    3. sap*

      Without more information on the state these folks are in and exactly how the lunch works, it’s hard to really say whether this is more likely a legal problem than not, but it’s definitely a potential legal problem. I’m particularly giving side-eye to the fact that the employees are basically required to help cook lunch for their employer–that’s like performing work in a way that goes beyond “do I need to be paid for this cocktail hour/goodbye lunch that I will not enjoy.” The employees aren’t just being served lunch and required to pay for it and eat it as a group–they’re being required to shop for it and prepare it, which is actual work that people get paid to do in restaurants. That’s the kindof thing that people who are being cautious about wage law recognize as a grey area that they probably don’t want to play in, even if after consultation with a laywer/your state’s wage board they would end up being fine.

      1. LUNCH OP*

        Hi there – I am the OP of this letter. This is in NYC. As a contractor, I get paid by the week, not hour, and the full-time employees are salaried. It’s a very unusual situation to be sure.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I’m not an NY lawyer, but I would bet this doesn’t apply to OP because OP is a contractor, not an employee. (It might still be problematic for the employees, and/or OP may be misclassified, but that’s a slightly different issue.)

          2. SSS*

            OMG… I went to that site and it did *3* big popups all at once across the page for the same Live Chat including one that splashed dead center across the page. The only button was “yes” for starting a chat. There’s no ‘close’ or ‘no’ button to get rid of the chat in order to read the page. I couldn’t get to see whatever the information was on the page.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              Run a virus check now. I have no ad blocker and I’m not seeing any of that. There’s an integrated button for live chat in the center left column, an integrated button for live chat in the bottom right column, and one single pop-up for live chat in the middle of the screen once I scrolled down the page (the single pop-up has a button for “yes” and right under that, a button that says “no thanks”). If you’re seeing something else, maybe malware or something.

        1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

          Can employers make contractors eat lunch everyday? Is that getting into employee territory? Wait. Omg. Theory: Someone tried that before. Company talked to lawyers, having people pay makes it a non work event. Like going out together. So they created a loophole.
          Pure guess, but who knows?

        2. Mb13*

          What no you have New York rent to pay you shouldn’t be forced to spend 40 dollars for 5 meals. Like there’s a dollar pizza, halal cart, and bodegas at every corner. There’s constant food deals everywhere to get cheaper options if you wanted. This is not cool of them.

        3. sap*

          You can pretty much do anything to salaried employees and contractors are weird, so I wish you luck in finding a solution that doesn’t get framed as “I want to help you and am really concerned about OUR FAMILY’S LEGAL LIABILITY ;D:D OTHER UNNECESSARY FAKE LOVE.”

    4. INTP*

      It sounds like an unofficially mandatory situation. Like the owners aren’t going to tell you that you *have* to be there or you’re fired, and it’s not going to count against you on paper in an official way, but if you don’t act like you want to be there then the owners are going to think you hate them and may never offer you another contract or a promotion. With only two actual employees it would be difficult to prove any sort of systematic discrimination against people that don’t participate to show that it is being treated as a work requirement.

      1. Jersey's Mom*

        Exactly. This has to come from a majority of employees. Or, and I personally dislike this as it’s passive-aggressive, is to leave a copy of this letter and response on everyone’s chair/mailbox in the dead of night, then it’s a discussion topic the next day.

    5. MyInnerDemonLikesCookies*

      I sometimes eat lunch in the staff area, but sometimes, I want a break from the people I work with, which is why it’s nice to have the option to go for a walk, sit somewhere else, etc etc. Some days, I just want to sit and read my book or magazine and completely re-set my brain, too.

      To me, treating people like adults at work means allowing them to make their own choices about lunch — whether it’s going out to lunch every day if they can afford it, or bringing their lunch and also eating with (or without) their co-workers.

  4. Infinity Anon*

    Is the shopping and food prep time compensated? I would hate this. We do potluck lunches sometimes, but they are not mandatory and you have full control over how much you spend on your dish. I would not be ok spending $40 a week for food I may not even like. I can easily feed myself for $5 or less and love the food I’m eating.

    1. DeskBird*

      Are the owners taking a turn making these lunches? Because if not that sound like not paying your employees to make you lunch every day.

      1. oranges & lemons*

        Yeah, I was also wondering if the owners chip in for the cost or if the employees are forced to pay for and prepare everything. No wonder they love it so much.

        1. LUNCH OP*

          Yes, the owners do chip in (I don’t know how much), and we take turns shopping and preparing the lunch at work (for which we are compensated). The owners take turns with this task too.

            1. LUNCH OP*

              Sorry for the confusion. I just meant that we are still paid during all this time – shopping, prepping, eating.

    2. ZK*

      Having to eat a meal that someone else planned with no say from me would be terrible. A lot of the things that other people like, I either can’t eat or won’t eat. And as an introvert in a front facing job, I need that time away from people and the building to recharge and actually be able to deal with people again for the rest of the day. Plus, yeah, $40 on lunches for the week that I may not be able to eat is crazy to me.

        1. Lln*

          This was my first thought – what if they hired someone with special dietary requirements? How would they handle that? This just doesn’t seem sustainable.

    3. Turquoise Cow*

      Yeah, and what if you have dietary restrictions (allergies, religious concerns, preferences)? If one employee doesn’t like peppers, is the whole company now unable to have them for lunch? What about a vegetarian or vegan or kosher or halal or gluten-free or dairy free employee?

      1. Turquoise Cow*

        And what if they cancel one another out, like one person is abstaining from red meat and another requires the extra protein?

      2. OhNo*

        That was my first thought. I can’t help but wonder if this practice affects who the owners hire as well. After all, if someone mentions in the interview that they’re vegan/gluten-free/keep kosher, are the owners ever-so-conveniently going to think they’re “not a good fit” and decline to hire them?

      3. LJL*

        that’s what I thought of. My husband has some pretty severe preferences and restrictions, so this is his version of hell. He doesn’t mind the company but hates having to say “I can’t eat that.”

        1. Julia*

          I think in this particular case, that’s a real concern, so I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at?

      4. Tuxedo Cat*

        That’s what I was thinking, too.

        Also, my partner has misophonia and can’t stand the sound of most people eating food. Forcing him to eat with other people would be hell.

  5. Midge*

    In addition to having more control over my weekly lunch budget, I’d want to have more control over the food that I eat! Personally, I’m not interested in menu planning being a group exercise. I want to eat things that accommodate my tastes, dietary preferences, and nutrition goals. I don’t want to negotiate that this person doesn’t like spinach, that person is on a fad diet, or that person has actual dietary restrictions/allergies. What a time-consuming pain to deal with!

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        Oh my God, you don’t know the gymnastics I’ve done to get out of eating or drinking things prepared by other people because they don’t wash their hands or rinse dishes. Or maybe you do.

    1. The Other Dawn*

      I’m with you, Midge! I had weight loss surgery and while technically I can eat whatever I want, I don’t. I stay away from bread (90% of the time), pasta, soda, excess spice/heat, and rice. And there are lots of veggies I don’t like that lots of others do, like Brussels sprouts, beets, and other things.

    2. Maude*

      I was part of an evening adult education class where we initially decided to take turns providing dinner for the group. It got to be such as hassle with dietary needs and food preferences that it just worked better for everyone to fend for themselves. I can’t imagine doing this five days a week.

      1. DeskBird*

        I was really surprised the LW didn’t included any complaints of this kind. Once the letter started this is where I thought it was going. I can’t imagine how hard this is to organize.

    3. Brandy*

      I know Im picky and other people aren’t going to necessarily like what I like and vice versa. Id hate to spend that much and not enjoy.

    4. DeskBird*

      +1000 I confess I am a picky eater and I would not enjoy someone else in charge of deciding lunches everyday at all – Plus having to speak up every time I don’t like something. I would feel super self-conscious about it and it would make me miserable over time.

      1. Annie Morgan*


        My picky eating reaches the level of “I am not going to eat that and you can’t make me.” I actually gag if I have to eat certain foods. I would not be happy to be told I have to kick in $40 a week for food that I didn’t like.

        Now, you want to say we all eat together, well, that isn’t quite so bad. If and only if I get to pick my own food. Period. But sometimes I just have errands to do at lunch and that’s that.

    5. Allison*

      Right, my lunch time should be me time, and that includes choosing what I eat – either bringing food I chose to make, or going to a lunch place I like by myself or with people I actually want to eat with, like my boyfriend, or any other friends who might work in the city. My employer is free to provide catered lunches or free pizza for meetings if they like, but generally speaking, they do not get to dictate what I have for lunch, where I eat lunch, or who I eat lunch with.

    6. Beanie*

      This times a million. Let’s ignore the fact that I’m an introvert who needs my lunch to catch my breath (and catch up on emails and maaaaybe pop on AAM for a sec). Let’s ignore the fact that $40 a week is excessive for me considering the cost of leftovers etc. How about the fact that I’ve recently been working through some new food allergies and my new diet is all over the place. I simply wouldn’t give up that autonomy to my coworkers nor would I expect them to cater to my ever-changing needs.
      And I’m not paying $40 a week to “just pick the cheese off the top” or whatever.

  6. Sarah*

    For what it is worth, you could try and approach it with an easy out from a health challenge standpoint aka “I’m dealing with some food issues at the moment and contributing 40$/time to cook food that I’m not sure works for my dietary needs isn’t feasible for me for the foreseeable future. When possible I’d be happy to join for lunch, but I’ll pop in when I can!” Upbeat, still semi-present, but not paying/forcibly eating. Obviously as little detail as possible here works, but if they’re a ‘family’ they may better respond to a health concern.

    How do you all deal with food issues at all? My entire workplace is rampant with GF/V/LF/Halal/etc….. into eternity.

    1. serenity*

      How do you all deal with food issues at all? My entire workplace is rampant with GF/V/LF/Halal/etc….. into eternity.

      Exactly my thoughts. I have specific food allergies and preferences. What the OP is describing would be my own personal nightmare.

    2. LSP*

      Of course, they might also take this as a cue to get all up in OP’s business, and cross even more boundaries.

      Why obfuscate the issue here? OP is better off letting her employers know that this practice is burdensome in terms of time and money and isn’t something employees should feel pressured into.

    3. sap*

      Yeah, this is how I’d frame it, too. I have an intermittent medical issue that involves a very sensitive area of my body, and when it’s going on eating literally nothing but unseasoned white rice and one specific type of beans helps mitigate it (without doing at least 3/5 mitigating actions, I can’t work during flareups). I would be pissed as hell if I had to essentially keep my employer updated on whether my lady parts are feeling good this week by way of telling them what to feed me in the forced meal plan.

  7. Starbuck*

    What a strange set-up… so many potential issues here. Accommodating dietary restrictions, budgetary issues, let alone everyone’s differing tastes and preferences… this would drive me nuts in two weeks, tops. I can imagine this being a fun optional thing once a week for whoever wants to opt in, but mandatory every day all-staff cook-offs is just such a ludicrous concept… unless perhaps you work at a summer camp?

    1. Infinity Anon*

      A compromise might be to bring your own lunch but eat with them, so at least you get control over what you spend and what you eat. You still don’t get the time, but it might be a step towards phasing out the weird lunch ritual.

      1. Starbuck*

        Yeah, that’s not a bad idea, but it would still leave the money issue for OP to bring up when collection time comes around, which is probably going to be an awkward one. Sounds like either they are subsidizing others, or someone else is subsidizing them if the $40 contribution is based on their pay.

        But maybe if other employees starting doing the same thing the whole ritual would just collapse over time without the need for directly telling the owners why this is so awkward and people don’t like it.

        1. Infinity Anon*

          I think that it is easier to opt out of contributing if you are not eating any of the food. Just act surprised to be asked and remind them you are bringing your own food. It would be difficult for the owners to insist that people not eating still pay for the food. Right now they can pretend that everyone would be paying that amount anyway, so everyone comes out ahead! (in their minds) Overtly forcing people to pay money for other people’s lunches is probably farther than they would be willing to go.

          1. OhNo*

            But it sounds like they are also expected to help prepare the food, so I wonder how that would work. It seems like it would be easy enough to opt out or come up with an excuse for not eating. But would it get them out of the shopping and prep, too?

            I can see employers like this saying that it’s okay not to eat, but you still have to participate (and pay) because you have to contribute your part to the shopping and prep.

            1. LUNCH OP*

              Just to clarify – if you are not eating the lunch, you are not expected to pay for it or prep. But since you pay at the beginning of the week, it’s sort of an all-or-nothing decision.

  8. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Funny how “family” never seems to factor in when layoffs are needed.

    Plus these people clearly have no idea that for some of us, “family” isn’t a good thing. If my workplace were like my family, I’d be fielding suicide threats at 1 AM, listening to coworkers come up with elaborate ways to get out of helping, and hearing nonstop complaints about my appearance and life choices.

    My family isn’t that awful, but there’s a reason I don’t hang around them for long periods of time.

    That and I know I wouldn’t want to eat my coworker’s food every day, especially when one of them puts tofu in everything.

    1. Skunklet*

      not just that – this ‘family’ thinks so ‘highly’ [SIC] of the OP that he/she is MERELY contractor, without full benefits, presumably! run, run, run away from this ‘family’!

  9. michelenyc*

    What are they making for lunch? My spend on average $40-$60 a week at the grocery (Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods). There is no way I would be willing to kick in $40/week just for lunch. My last company did the whole office eat lunch together thing and I found it to be really weird too. The dynamics of the office were also horrible and I was thrilled to death to be out of there. I do think that Allison’s suggestion is spot on.

    1. Starbuck*

      I too wonder where that much money could possibly be going. Lots of drinks maybe? It also seems weird that the $40 contribution is based on how much they’re paid… why is OP having to subsidize the lunch of others? Everyone’s share should be the same if they’re all getting the same food.

      1. Infinity Anon*

        That’s what I was thinking too. Except the owners. If they want to do this, they can subsidize the lunch budget.

        1. Starbuck*

          Yeah, and it’s galling that they apparently frame this arrangement as a “benefit.” Nope! Free food provided to you is a benefit, shopping and cooking for others is a chore!

          1. K.*

            Exactly. I used to work somewhere with free fruit and that really was a benefit- I bought less fruit each week because I knew I could eat it at work. What the OP is describing is essentially paying to do more work.

      2. Jesca*

        Ikr. And where does this mentality come from? I mean I REQUIRE a certain salary in order to sustain myself and my family at even a basic limit. When I apply for a job, I require a certain level of income. I do not factor into that income a percentage to go back into the company on a weekly basis for everyone else’s benefit! I need that to live!

        1. Justme*

          I’m peeved enough that I have to pay my employer (a large state university) for a parking pass, but at least I know that my pass is for my benefit only.

          1. Jesca*

            That would irk me, but yes at least I am not paying a parking fee based on how much income I make! That would send me over the edge. Haha I would park so far away and hail a cab from my parking spot everyday rather than pay based on my pay. I can be petty like that.

            1. Former Hoosier*

              At the university where I adjunct teach, the parking pass charge is based on how much you make. It works for me because as an adjunct, I make so little, that I pay about $3/month for parking

            2. Mallory Janis Ian*

              At my university, parking passes are a lower price for employees making under $30,000 and a higher price for employees making $30,000 and up.

              1. Mallory Janis Ian*

                That’s for the basic, non-reserved parking. The faculty/staff reserved parking costs the same exorbitant price for anyone regardless of pay level.

            3. Hey Karma, Over here.*

              I love this. I was going to add that since the LW has to shop for the food, too, well, d@mn, I can be petty, too. If it were me, I’d buy a couple pounds of baloney and let everyone know that I wanted to really highlight the spirit of this family fun time.

          2. chocolate lover*

            Friends have encouraged me to get a car (I hate driving) for commuting, but realistically, I work at a large urban university – an annual parking pass is about $1700 and you’re not even guaranteed a spot! They’ve been closing down parking lots every year due to construction. Imagine paying that much every year and then still driving around for more than half an hour to get a spot?!

            1. Tin Cormorant*

              That is a ridiculous price for a parking pass. When I was going to a university in a crowded downtown area, at least they weren’t charging me more than a few hundred dollars a year to drive around in circles unable to find parking.

            2. Rainy*

              The university where I did my doctoral work, parking passes were iirc $1800/term, which was a massive shock since at the university where I did my master’s degree I paid $210 annually for a reserved spot. (I could have had a “hunting permit” there for much less, but I commuted ~50 highway miles each way and I wanted A. Spot. Dammit.) Luckily in doctoral!town I didn’t need my car and ended up selling it.

  10. Dawn*

    In effect, you’re taking a $2,080 pay cut per year because of this practice ($40 per week x 52 weeks… although IDK if they don’t take your money if you’re going to be out on vacation). Above and beyond anything else, the monetary impact of this is very real and might be even more significant for other people in your office.

    1. Noah*

      Well, you have to calculate what OP would have spent on lunch. If she just brings a salad from home, that’s still about $2-$4/day. Let’s say $3, so it’s a cut of $25/week or $1300/52 weeks (but I also assume she takes a vacation). If she’s eating out two or more days per week, this is probably a wash.

      It’s still a ridiculous policy, though.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        You really don’t. Lots of people only eat 2 meals/day. That would be $0 vs. ~$2000/yr.

        I could easily get by on a single PBJ/day for less than $1/day. . .and have done that as a college. That would be $250 per year ($5×52 vs $2000 per year ($40×50).

        In my actual life, my lunches are super cheap even though I could afford much more, and I may eat out twice a month, never twice per week. Don’t underestimate how cheap some people can be!

        1. Morning Glory*

          Yeah, I bring a meal-replacement shake for lunch because I can drink it easily while working – total cost about $1.50/day and I could reduce that if I needed to by cutting out fresh spinach.

          Beans and rice, lentils, soups, cheap cuts of meat, hard boiled eggs and vegetables – lots of lunch options can keep the price under $1 a meal.

          Of course, it sounds like the OP’s main concern is the time and forced socialization every single day, with the budget being a back burner issue.

      2. Super Anon for This*

        My grocery budget is a little less than 40$ for the whole week. So for me each meal costs about $1.90. So I would be losing $1,586 every year!

    2. LCL*

      The price per meal doesn’t sound excessive for the area where I live. I would cheerfully pay 8 bucks a day to have a decent hot lunch and not leave the site. For me lunch is my preferred largest meal of the day, and I want hot food not sad sandwiches or other fridge food. As long as I can take the lunch to eat in my car while I read the newspaper and listen to the radio! It’s the mandatory part that I have trouble with. OTOH, I’m trying to imagine the food handling practices of some of the people I work with, and, maybe I’ll skip lunch instead.

  11. shep*

    Oh-so-many things that absolutely chafe about this. Aside from contributing money (ahahaha no way), I am VERY weird about my food. I’ve had some disordered eating habits in the past and a few years later I’m STILL very wary of falling into old patterns of thought and eating. A lot of that is feeling like I have control over my food. With a setup like this, no. Just no. I couldn’t.

    I’m normally conflict-averse, perhaps to a fault, but the sheer expense of the lunches, coupled with my own mental and physical health issues, would get a fat “No and I will even provide a doctor’s note” from me. (I don’t have a therapist and haven’t received treatment for any disordered eating, but I’m sure my PCP would be happy to write me one if I asked her.)

  12. Hamilton Reference*

    It is ridiculous for the employers to force this on their employees. And $40 a week?! I’m not sure how expensive food is in your area, but $50 gets me food for two weeks.

    I also think it’s weird that your contribution amount is based on your salary. Does the owner pay like $200/week? And how fancy are these meals?

    Honestly, I’m just blown away by this whole situation. Really hope the OP gives us some more details.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        getting more terrible the lower you are in the hierarchy. Do you get served a plate of food? Is it family style? A buffet? Are there leftovers? Are people who eat big midday meals cleaning up while people who don’t get less?
        How/when do you cook? So many questions.
        Of course my first question, had I been informed of this would be, “are you joking?”

        1. LUNCH OP*

          Hi! I know – this practice is crazy! We eat family style, and there is a lot of food. I don’t think anyone goes hungry. As I said, it’s a small office so everyone knows everyone’s food preferences and there seems to be a number of “menus” that we mostly agree on. We all sit around a big table and help ourselves. I think the owners (who I do like) are so unfamiliar with typical office practices that it doesn’t occur to them that this is questionable. And they would defend themselves by saying, “We don’t force anyone to do it!”

          1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

            They sound like pre revolutionary French royalty. Smiling from on high, completely out of touch. See, we are a family, everyone is eating therefore everyone is happy.

          2. Perse's Mom*

            “We don’t force anyone to do it!” is a very familial and willfully oblivious thing for them to say. My family doesn’t “force” me to drive up for certain holidays, but if I don’t, I can hear my mother’s Lip Quiver of Sadness and Rejection through texts now.

            So no, they don’t ‘force’ anyone to do it. They just treat it like it’s an expectation and a done deal and then try to guilt trip/gaslight anyone who doesn’t want to participate. This all smacks of the kind of family that expects you to be there for them but will never reciprocate (after all, you’re a contractor, not an employee with benefits).

    1. nonegiven*

      The money would be a hard stop, no thank you that’s not in my budget. Wow, I paid $40 and there is nothing here I will eat.

      Cooking in my job description, even once a week? oh hell no.

  13. Keli*

    Ugh…I can barely summon the energy to cook a fresh meal for my own family every night, much less a bunch of adults at work.

    1. Justme*

      Same. I generally have energy to bulk prep lunches on Sunday afternoons, but I would hate to have to make a hot lunch for my co-workers on a regular basis.

      1. michelenyc*

        That is how I spend my Sunday’s too! Given that most of what I make for my weekly lunches is GF & vegan I can promise you that no one in my office wants to eat what I eat every day. I sure as hell would not cook for any of my co-workers. I am more than happy to pop into a bodega on my way in to pick up something but no way I am cooking for anyone I work with!

        1. Justme*

          I would gladly eat vegan food. And I’m with you on buying something for the office too. I do love to cook, when I have the time. I would much rather do it for my family than workmates.

    2. AnonAndOn*

      I was thinking about that too. What if some people aren’t cooks and just want to pop something in the microwave and call it a day? The OP’s situation is weird all the way around.

      1. Collarbone High*

        I don’t cook, at all, ever, and this would be a nightmare. If I wanted to cook for other people, I would get a job as a cook.

          1. shep*

            I don’t know about Collarbone High, but when I keep my cooking minimal (I’ve been cooking more often lately), I go with things like boiled eggs, packaged tuna, salad mixes, and foods that require minimal prep (avocado, fruits, fresh veggies, etc.).

            I also know some people who just eat out all the time (which I certainly cannot afford!). My ex was like this. I totally don’t begrudge those who eat out rather than cook their meals, but on top of being a whole lot of entitled and spoiled, the fact that he was so blase about eating out all the time and spending exorbitant amounts of money on food and alcohol really infuriated me.

            (I realize this is a total BEC reaction, because fine dining is something that a person can totally chose to spend their money on; I know I have some spending habits that would probably make others shake their heads. But he was terrible.)

            1. Lissa*

              Yeah when I never cooked and lived alone I did a mix of your first paragraph and eating “out”, though not fine dining – more like Subway/Tim Hortons :)

              I’m getting better at cooking more now but it’s still not my favourite thing to do so I tend to only cook on my days off and have leftovers/partner cooks the rest of the time.

          2. Collarbone High*

            Greek yogurt, sandwiches and rotisserie chickens, mostly. And avocado toast is my new saving grace. I live by myself and just don’t enjoy cooking — to me the time I spend prepping, cooking and cleaning far outweighs the time I spend eating the result.

          3. Rainy*

            After my first husband died I didn’t have the attention span to cook for several months, and I ate mostly yogurt and almond butter or random stuff I could grab at the grocery store that didn’t need to be heated. It’s very possible to live without cooking. :)

            1. ThatGirl*

              I’m sure it is – but I never have, so I was just genuinely curious what a person who literally never cooks, eats.

              1. Anastasia Beaverhausen*

                I haven’t cooked in over three years for a couple of valid reasons. Workdays I eat a hot lunch from the cafeteria. Weekends I may or may not get a takeout hamburger or a platter from local taco place. Otherwise I eat cheese and crackers, store-bought hard boiled eggs, beans from a can, occasional Chunky soup heated in microwave, convenience store sandwiches, salami, fruit, nuts, olives, sometimes pastries. It’s expensive and in my case not healthy. But for now it’s what I can do.

  14. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

    Cooking for people is my nightmare. I realize that assembling lunch isn’t exactly cooking, but this would create a serious anxiety issue for me. Not to mention the cost and expectation of eating lunch together every day.

    1. Ramona Flowers*

      Me too. I have serious anxiety about cooking even for myself (which stems from being neglected as a child).

      This is my idea of hell.

    2. Lissa*

      Same here! I am only willing now to cook for myself, my partner and one friend who I know is non-picky, has no restrictions and isn’t germophobic. I am paranoid about grossing people out or making them sick. :(

  15. Antilles*

    Thanks for the rant on “workplace family” Alison. That’s always been one of my pet peeves. We’re a family!
    Um, no, we’re not. You want me here because you need a specific job done on a regular basis. I show up here because money can be exchanged for goods and services. If either of those things changes, this ‘family’ relationship would dissolve in approximately two weeks.

    1. PB*

      Yes, so much this. Also, when I go to a family member’s house for dinner, they don’t expect me to kick in $40.

    2. The Vulture*

      I like the mental image of the two-week notice period once money is no longer able to be exchanged for goods and services. “welp, society is falling apart and hyper inflation has made money nigh-unusable, but I’m not going to burn this bridge. Once the zombie apocalypse is back under control, I’m going to need this reference.”

      Later: “Oh yeah, she’s super reliable. Gave two weeks notice after the Night of Unrelenting Terror even though the Barter Economy immediately became standard. Gave us time to wrap up her work here, gave her time to start gearing her garden production up.”

        1. Dee-Nice*

          Right, right. They both inhabit fairly large portions of my subconscious. For some reason I went to Anya first.

  16. many bells down*

    This seems like a liability nightmare from a food allergy standpoint. I mean, half my family are celiacs, and those allergens are hidden in SO MANY things. My husband would be sick constantly if he was eating communal meals – people who don’t have it don’t have to think about all the ways wheat or barley can be hidden in food.

    1. Bryce*

      Yeah, between my food allergies and religious dietary restrictions this would be a complete deal-breaker for me. I already have to deal with people who bring communal food getting nosy about why I don’t take a free donut or whatever.

    2. GreenDoor*

      This! And not just the allergic/religious person having to fight for their needs, but also the flip side – if a non-allergic/religious person was forced to conform to someone else’s diet because, well, we eat like a group and so and so is allergic/gluten free/paleo/has texture issues/doesn’t do dairy so we all need to eat that way…boy, that would make me resentful, pretty quick.

      I vote for the gentle pushback here and there where you simply have other things to do. Maybe others will follow. Once enough people are skipping it regularly, you can push for a once-a-week thing or some other less mandatory plan.

  17. I'd Rather not Say*

    Having that little control over what I eat would be anxiety inducing. Are there other areas where the bosses are over-stepping boundaries?

    1. JulieBulie*

      In my opinion, the bosses are overstepping not only in terms of diet, but also in budget, time, and sociability. And that’s just during “lunch”! OP seems to like the bosses generally, so maybe it stops there… but that’s crossing way too many lines for me already. Especially if I’m a contractor – not even an employee (though I’d find this intolerable as an employee as well).

      1. LUNCH OP*

        Yes!! This is my issue! I am not very picky about what I eat, and sometimes I’m grateful there is good food right outside my office when I am really busy, but what chafes me is the expectation that we all need to do this together, every day. I want more independence. And also sometimes the lunch conversations get verrrrrrry personal, and that makes me uncomfortable.

        1. Karen D*

          It does seem like folks are focusing on issues that aren’t really the problems you have (you’re more or less OK with the food choices and expense, just not so crazy about the forced camaraderie and the Every!Single!Day! aspect of this, correct?) I confess that would drive me insane as well.

          It seems as if the best solution is to just keep doing this … but scale it back to once a week or so. There’d be nothing stopping employees from sourcing their own lunches on other days and eating around the Big Table (at least, as many as want to) but that would be less obligatory.

          We used to have a cafeteria and I ate lunch every day with the same group of co-workers, a group that did include our Big Boss, but it was by choice and routine, and nobody blinked an eye if someone skipped out a day or three.

  18. Helpful*

    I think your best bet is to approach this as a group. Go together to your bosses and mention that you’d like to scale the lunches down. That way, you won’t be singled out as the pot-stirrer (pun intended).

  19. Nana*

    No…just no…just always no! I worked with four women who each took one day a week to prepare lunch for each other (usually dinner ‘planned overs’). But I brought cottage cheese-and-something to work for 20+ years (various offices) and don’t think it cost $5/week. Single mom; then empty-nester. I don’t want to shop for / cook for a group; and I certainly don’t want to have a daily lunch with all co-workers.

  20. Where's the Le-Toose?*

    This is just soooo weird and odd that I’m at a loss of what to say.

    At first I thought it was going to be a letter about an employer paying for lunch and expecting you to eat with them every day. But nope! They expect you to pay for it, you to prepare it, and then, for the person who doesn’t go to the lunch, chastise that person behind their back.

    OP, I’m afraid to ask, but are there other things your employer does that comes off as this out of touch? If this is the only thing they do and otherwise it’s an awesome place to work, I like the advice of just making up errands to run at lunch. On the other hand, this is just … bizarre. Mind blown!

    1. LUNCH OP*

      It is an AWESOME place to work… I don’t want to get into more details because I don’t want to be exposed, but it’s the kind of job that will be impressive on a resume. The only other way I’d say it’s unprofessional is just that it’s such a small office and some people are very open about sharing personal stuff.

      In fact, the fact that it is such a great place to work is what made me confused about whether this was a really weird practice or not. I am glad to see that my intuition was correct.

      1. Where's the Le-Toose?*

        The oversharing in a small office seems to be the norm I’m afraid.

        Thanks for the feedback and what are you all doing for lunch next week? I might be hungry!

      2. misspiggy*

        I wonder whether the owners feel they want to be extra awesome in every way? Like, some companies eat together regularly, so we will not only eat together every day, but cook together! We foster awesomeness at every level, all the time!

        If that’s the case, you might want to present this as an opportunity to be even more awesome by encouraging everyone to skip out whenever they like, arent’t they great to be so flexible and aware of diverse needs?

  21. Naruto*

    I like the idea of using the budget issue. “$40 a week for lunches isn’t in my budget at this time, so I’m going to bring lunches from home in the future.”

    That doesn’t really resolve all of the aspects of this situation, but I think it might let you out of it while avoiding a bigger picture confrontation, if you’re so inclined.

    1. Infinity Anon*

      That may result in the owners just changing the amount that they expect the OP to pay or they might ask intrusive questions about why it isn’t in OP’s budget. They already seem to have boundary issues. I think coming at it from the standpoint of wanting more control over what they eat might be a more defensible position to get out of the lunches completely.

  22. CBH*

    A potluck would be easiest.

    I am kind of under the impression that the owners literally started this as a family run company, having lunch with “cousin Joe, Aunt Sue” was the norm. Since the company has grown the owners seem to think that this is the norm and everyone (non family) is onboard for the daily family gathering.

    I think this is a case where the owners don’t realize that not everyone is related. In addition expecting your employees who are working there to earn money to live a life they desire should not be paying for family dinners.

    Mentally I would also think that the employees need that time to themselves.

    1. chocolate lover*

      I can’t imagine eating lunch with family every day, either. I think I’d prefer my coworkers.

  23. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

    They’re being emotionally manipulative. The comments about being anti-social and ‘why don’t like us’- these are classic techniques of emotional manipulation. “How can reject what we are doing for you, we are being so nice, why are you like this?” etc etc. And they don’t even give you a choice about participating! And you have to pay $40 a week!

    I will freely admit that my response is coloured by my own experiences. I hope that they will listen, I really do. It’s entirely possible that when presented with facts and alternatives, they will look at themselves and change things. Just be prepared for them to refuse to budge, or double down on their position. If that happens, you might see an uglier side of them than you’d like.

    I actually do know of a place where everyone eats together. But it’s a care farm, and the people are volunteers or people recovering from illness and addiction. Everyone takes turns cooking and then lunch and smaller breaks are taken together. But that’s a very different situation, and people don’t have to pay large sums of money to join in (or pay any money at all).

    1. Naomi*

      To be fair to the owners, it doesn’t sound like they’re intentionally trying to manipulate people into participating. They’ve just bought into “we’re all a family here!” so deeply that they’re genuinely baffled when someone doesn’t want to do Family Bonding with them.

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        That’s true. The problem is the outcome is still the same. They’re still being manipulative and pressuring people into doing things they don’t want to do. I’ve known people who would literally give you the shirt off their back if you needed help, but they could not handle being told ‘no’.

      2. ByLetters*

        The trouble with saying “they don’t mean to do it” is that very, very rarely do people deliberately intend to cause harm. The fact that they didn’t intend to cause harm doesn’t absolve them of responsibility.

      3. MissDissplaced*

        I think that’s why I chafed at this, something gave me the creeps in a way, aside from the cost factor. I hate being forced to be a “joiner” and I’m also a picky eater.
        Perhaps it’s true they’re trying to make this a fun thing, but it feels like too much. Maybe once a week is something that could be reasonably suggested?

    2. INTP*

      I think they’re trying to manipulate too. Maybe intentionally, maybe subconsciously. But if they really think this is a benefit that everyone enjoys, why aren’t they talking about it during the recruiting process instead of surprising people with it on their first day (when they may not have cash with them to pay)? Every company I’ve worked for that offered free snacks or Friday team lunches or other food-related benefits mentioned it during the interview/offer conversations.

      1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

        That’s right. If it is so great, surely they’d be using it to attract people to their company. My assumption is that they don’t want to be told ‘no’, so they arrange things in a way that people don’t have a chance to reject them. And again, that’s my own experience with that kind of thing talking, there could well be other reasons. Either way, there’s definitely manipulation going on.

  24. Detective Amy Santiago*

    I think this is also one of those situations where Alison generally points out that pushing back as a group is likely to get you better results. If you know for certain that at least some of your colleagues are not interested in continuing this, you should speak with them so you can all present a united front.

    Maybe suggest doing the group lunches once a week (on Fridays?) and doing your own thing the rest of the time to cut back on expenses and so you all have more time to focus on doing your jobs instead of grocery shopping and cooking (or assembling).

    I am curious to know what kind of meals you generally prepare though. Like, is there a full kitchen? Or are you basically buying lunch meat and bread?

    1. Myrin*

      I was just about to say this – this seems like a prime opportunity case to push back as a group since it seems like you’ve actually commiserated with others in your situation who feel exactly the same way. So even if you decided to go with Alison’s first route of no-big-picture-talk, you still wouldn’t be singled out because it would be several of you, so it’s not like you have to fear literally everyone else looking at you weirdly. (I’d still favour a clear and direct approach, though.)

    2. LUNCH OP*

      I think Alison is spot-on in her advice and I’m going to talk to some of my colleagues about pushing back as a group. I think it will make the owners feel defensive and attacked, but I also know that some people don’t want to do this, but feel they must.

      FWIW, the lunches are generally salads, sandwiches, fruit, sweets – make your own plate.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Good luck! Please update us and let us know how it goes.

        And seriously, you’re paying $8 per day for that??? That’s absolutely ridiculous.

      2. nonegiven*

        That shouldn’t be $8/day. Maybe they should consider spending their entire weekly budget for this on Friday and pay a caterer, free for the employees.

      3. Super Anon for This*

        Okay the $8 a day expectation for this type of food is way too much! Who collects and keeps the money every week? Receipts are turned in, right? Because I am a little concerned that the bosses are keeping the extra money. Perfectly nice people can and do steal, and they might justify themselves by saying it is for gas or something.

        1. Rainy*

          OP says there’s lots of food but I wonder if “family lunch at work” is subsidizing the owners’ personal dinners at home.

          1. Lln*

            Yep, I saw someone else asking what happens to the leftovers but OP hasn’t addressed that, at least that I’ve seen. I really do have to wonder.

            1. Chocolate Teapot*

              A weekly communal lunch would be ok, but for me, lunchtimes are for getting some fresh air, or going to the bank/Post Office.

              I receive luncheon vouchers each month (it’s a standard benefit here) and whilst I sometimes use them to pay in a restaurant or takeaway, normally I pay for my groceries in the supermarket with them.

          2. nonegiven*

            Plus I hope the prep doesn’t include making the sandwiches and salad. At least let me wrap a fistful of meat in a lettuce leaf. Still not paying $8 for that.

      4. LCL*

        8$ a day for cold lunch? That would be the breaking point for me. I can understand the cost if good quality food is being purchased, but it’s still all fridge food. If I’m paying it will be for cooked hot food.

  25. bookartist*

    Setting aside the voluntold nature of the lunches, does anyone on staff have their food prep card? There is a reason for health regulations!

    1. no one, who are you?*

      I was thinking the same thing – what happens when someone inevitably gets food poisoning?

  26. Chriama*

    Quite frankly any employer-sanctioned activity that is “strongly encouraged” but requires you to pay your own money to participate rubs me the wrong way. Team lunch at a restaurant where you have to buy your own meal? No thanks. The only one I find moderately acceptable is a bar where you can drink water or get a very cheap soft drink, but even that would not be ok with me on a regular basis, because I don’t want to feel pressured to give up my evenings off to “socialize” with coworkers in an environment I don’t normally participate in (I don’t drink). All team building should be paid for by the employer – both the cost of the activity, and the cost of time to do the activity. Otherwise just focus on building a healthy environment by being good managers, not “gimmicky” activities like this.

    1. Shadow*

      It’s interesting to me how many people like to keep this bright line between work and their personal life . Because most of the most successful people I know really blur the lines. They take advtanage of their personal connections at work and use work to gain more personal connections. Work and fun get really blurred and blended.

      1. SarahTheEntwife*

        Different people have different definitions of “success”. I prioritize a life where I don’t need to worry about getting ahead and have a lot of time to myself or with a few close friends.

        1. ByLetters*

          Agreed — and I disagree with the assumption that “all successful people do it this way,” in any case. There are a great many people in my industry who are certainly successful who see no need to insert themselves into the lives of their employees, or demand that others be involved in their lives. In fact, professional boundaries are VERY much the norm in most departments across the industry.

      2. LCL*

        That’s totally dependent on the culture of the industry and the niche you are working in. Here, the more successful keep the bright line. We have a contract that allows us to keep those boundaries clear. But ours is a highly technical industry.

        When the restaurant industry started playing games with making their managers salaried, even though they were expected to work the floor and have the same duties as non-management employees, the exploitation of workers got worse. But the restaurant industry got away with it, so various white collar jobs tried it and got away with it, and, well, here we are today.

      3. Rainy*

        Being out of grad school means I *can* have a work life and a personal life that aren’t the same life, and I am just so freaking happy about it. I leave work at work every night, with few exceptions, and it is GLORIOUS.

  27. Granny K*

    Beware of companies who describe the company culture ‘like a family’ (because alot of families are a hot mess). Personally, I’d have a problem with this because I have allergies and there are so many things that disagree with me. It’s easier for me to bring my own food…and it would certainly be cheaper than $40 a week.

  28. Bend & Snap*

    OMG my lunch is when I either eat alone to recharge or run errands. Being held captive, forced to cook and pay more than I would if I made my lunch? F that.

    1. Mazzy*

      Yup, lunch isn’t so much about eating for me, as about getting up, walking around, and getting fresh air. I’m not splitting rails or plowing all day, where I’d need to cook up a big meal every lunch, I’m sitting in an office.

  29. Althea*

    I’m suspicious. Group meals, non-catered, should be cheaper than restaurant meals or catered meals. How can people be asked to contribute so much? What are they buying that costs $8/person/day when labor is free??

    1. sap*

      Seriously! Like, these people could bring in a frozen dinner every day and they would *still* be saving more than 20 bucks a week (dietary desirableness aside). I’m just really hoping that OP is maybe one of the highest paid individuals at the company, so their $40 subsidizes a lot of $10 contributors. I know some people aren’t okay with this from a best practices, but that would at least make the $40 price tag make sense as far as how it is possible to be preparing group meals in bulk and come out pricier than if you bought individually from the sandwich shop.

  30. nnn*

    My first thought was how much productivity they’re losing if someone is spending time preparing lunch for the whole office every day!

    Also, for $8 a day, I can buy food prepared by someone else without having to do the work myself!

    Also, preparing food for a large group of people is simply not in my skill set. If I were given this assignment, I’d waste huge amounts of time and food trying to get it right, and probably end up serving about half a dozen terrible meals before I mastered something I can scale up.

    And even for people I know who did eventually develop the skill of preparing food for large groups of people, very few of them had that skill when they were intern aged!

  31. Justme*

    I hate eating in front of people. With my family is fine, because they’re family. Restaurants are okay (if I’m with family) because people are generally engrossed in their own meals or conversations. But I would hate to have to eat in front of co-workers every day.

  32. Observer*

    It’s ironic that a question where the OP didn’t ask about legalities actually has some significant legal implications.

    Firstly, and the least likely from a purely legal pov, is ADA. If someone has a food issue that’s considered a disability under ADA standards, then it’s going to be very, very hard for the company to argue that these lunches are an “essential part of the job”.

    Second, religion. There is no way an Orthodox Jew is going to be able to join these lunches. But, there are other religions with food restrictions, and this could get very difficult, very quickly.

    Wage laws – deducting money for almost anything for someone’s paycheck is highly problematic, even when it’s for a direct cost for the particular worker. When it’s based on costs? I can just see the filed day the DOL (or a state equivalent) would have with this.

    OP, is it possible that the contractor who wouldn’t join the meals abstained because of food restrictions, whether religious or medical?

    1. Infinity Anon*

      It sounds like it is technically optional since someone opted out before (with all the comments that came with). I don’t know if strongly encouraged participation would actually be illegal. It is icky though.

    2. Rusty Shackelford*

      It’s not being deducted from their checks, though. They’re coming around to collect cash. Which still doesn’t make it okay, but it’s a different variety of not-okay.

    3. Shadow*

      The op doesn’t mention anything about religion or special diets, just that she/they don’t like doing it. And unless someone Brings up an issue there is nothing that needs accommodating legally.

      And you’re wrong about wage deductions. there are no problems with most wage deductions as long as they don’t go below min wage.

      It’s just a weird thing to do plain and simple.

      1. Observer*

        The fact that OP doesn’t have an issue doesn’t mean that others don’t or won’t in the future. It’s a practice that really is asking for a challenge.

        As for the deductions, going below minimum wage is not the only issue. There are a number of other issues, and I’d be willing to bet that no one thought about it for one minute.

          1. Observer*

            There are prohibitions on taking money out of people’s checks without court orders (liens, garnishments) outside of very limited circumstances such as employee “contribution” to their insurance etc.

            1. Shadow*

              Not in the US. You can pretty much deduct for whatever. But it doesn’t matter either way bc the ops check doesn’t have a a lunch fund deduction on it

              1. HR is fun*

                Actually, Observer is right – in the US, you can’t take money out of people’s checks without the employee’s signature (other than liens, garnishments, etc.) .

    4. Lurker*

      I was also just thinking about whether, depending on the number of employees, if this would fall under health department regulations. What if someone got sick from eating food improperly stored or prepared?

  33. kc89*

    It’s great when employees provide lunch for their employees (I have a friend who works at a car garage and the owner’s wife makes all the employees lunch every day) but expecting the employees to contribute to the fund is nottttt okay. Either provider the food for free to your employees or do what the vast majority of businesses do and let the employees fend for themselves.

  34. a girl has no name*

    There are very few jobs where this should be acceptable. My husband is a firefighter so this is their set-up since they are at the station for 24 hours, but a small family business? no way! I love taking my lunches to myself. It gives me some time to unwind a refocus when I get back. I agree with the errand approach, and I do think you should suck it up and do it every once in awhile to keep them on your good side.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      It makes perfect sense for firefighters and EMTs to do this kind of thing. I have a friend who is a firefighter spouse and occasionally drops by the station to cook for everyone.

      But, yeah, this set up doesn’t really work in any other industry I can think of.

    2. Firefighter fan*

      When my girlfriends and I were single and hung out at a bar near a firehouse, we’d always joke about the cute firefighters being a bonus catch because you knew they could cook too! I bought a firefighters cookbook they did as a fundraiser once, it was really great – I tried to get them to do a recipe blog too but I guess the chief nixed that idea.

  35. nnn*

    Possible practical solution to the weird shopping and cooking thing: cost out catering/take-out/delivery. Find multiple options that fit your budget. Then, when it’s your turn to provide lunch, simply order something. (Possible messaging: “Today I got us a treat! Pizza!”)

    Make the results of your research available to your colleagues, perhaps tacitly. (A pile of take-out menus in your office?) That way, anyone else who isn’t into the cooking thing can also get out of it.

    This would help normalize not cooking, alongside with Alison’s scripts for normalizing not eating with everyone.

  36. Lora*

    I LOVE cooking for groups and regularly host holiday meals and parties, but every day would drive me over the edge. The food restrictions alone are nightmare fuel.

    Another who doesn’t pay $40/week for food. My cooking pretty much revolves around what my garden has an abundance of, so I hope my colleagues looooooove green beans, kale, pumpkin, cherry tomatoes, weird radishes and mesclun greens.

  37. Katy*

    If you’re a contractor and your employer is telling you where and when to do your job (down to telling you how and when to take your lunch break) that is misclassification.

  38. LBK*

    I can’t imagine this is the only way in which the owners are emotionally needy/manipulative, insecure or otherwise overly personal. I just can’t picture someone who otherwise conducts business in an appropriate way with professional boundaries actually openly wondering if an employee doesn’t like them, least of all because they don’t want to join a group lunch-making session (!???!!!???!).

    All this to say: I would be getting the hell out of there. 99.9% of the working world seems to have figured out that lunch is a thing adults decide about on their own. I would be so uncomfortable working for someone that I had to explain that to.

  39. N.J.*

    Thus reminds me of a horrible place I worked within the past few years. They expected the first line supervisors, who were making in some cases less than the people they were supervising, to subsidize everything from team treats (candy, pizza, Christmas gifts) to a “potluck” out of their own money. I was one of these first line supervisors. For example, I was expected to shop for, cook, store and transport enough food to feed 80+ people for a potluck style themed lunch/dinner. I realize that potlucks are a thing, and I don’t necessarily mind, but they basically wanted five or six of us to spend enough money on our own to feed all these folks. And then tried to use that goodwill built up with the rank-and-file workers, to state that they were a fun, team-oriented culture. Bull crap.

    1. Everything Bagel Fan*

      My previous work threw a full bridal shower; food and gifts galore. I found it burdensome to not only furnish finger foods, but spendy gift registry items. Yeah and I’m a vegan living in BBQ country…

  40. Friday*

    BAH, family. If the employees are truly part of the family then where is their cut of the owner’s equity.

  41. Allison*

    I like cooking for family and significant others – whether I do the cooking and cleanup as a gift to them or we work together to produce an awesome meal, either is fine with me, and I do it because I care about these people and want to make them happy. The only time I’m okay with prepping a meal with my coworkers is if we’re at Action Kitchen on a team building event, and that’s because it’s after work and they keep serving us all the beer and wine we want, plus if I don’t like the dinner I can nibble on the bits I can eat, then go eat something else later.

    I would really resent being required to prepare meals for coworkers, especially if it happened five days a week.

    As I said upthread, my lunchtime is me time. Let me choose what to eat, where to eat, and who to eat it with, and I’ll be a happy camper. Every now and then I’ll accept a catered lunch as part of an all-day meeting and I’ll make it work even if every sandwich available has something yucky on it (why all the mayo? why?), but that’s fine as long as it only happens a few times a year.

    1. Friday*

      I always take a ton of napkins and scrape the excess mayo off my bread. Don’t care that it makes me look like a child; that stuff is gross.

    2. LadyKelvin*

      Add me to that group. I’m a fairly picky eater and I’m not ashamed of it. I like salads but I don’t like salads on my sandwiches, I like many things but not together. I do not want any kind of sauces or condiments on my sandwiches, which I will begrudgingly eat if they are provided but I’d never make one for myself. You had better believe if I have to contribute such a large part of my food budget for lunches I am going to make sure that those lunches are made to my standards and satisfaction. It is entirely possible that I would get kicked out of the lunch group.

      1. JessaB*

        Totally I get your point. I also hate pre condimented stuff because I’m allergic to mustard, raw tomatoes give me a rash (not a big deal, I can take them off, but still,) and omg pre condimented stuff is always soggy. Put the stuff on the side and let people pick or not pick. But I can’t stand soggy drippy bread.

  42. Michelle*

    So the company is collecting a set amount of dollars each week, but the cost of the food itself is obviously not going to total that exact amount time and again. Who pockets the theoretical extra dollars at the end of each weekly purchase? (I mean, there could potentially be a deficit as well, depending upon what is being purchased, and if so, who chips in the extra dollars if things go over budget?)

    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

      That’s a really good point. Something tells me that as the ‘parents’ of this ‘happy’ family, the owners keep it. The more I read people’s comments around money and salary/unpaid lunch times, the more creeped out I am. And I was already pretty creeped out.

      1. Lln*

        Another great point. There’s either going to be extra food or extra money, based on the OP’s description of the meals. Even if it’s only a few cents worth every day, multiply that by every week, month, year – is there transparency on this? Has everyone participating agreed to whatever happens to the excess?

        1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather*

          OP posted in another thread that the leftovers are put into the fridge for everyone to eat. Which is something, but there’s bound to be spoilage and excess. As you pointed out, it might only be a few cents/items every day, but it all adds up.

          (OP has posted as ‘Lunch OP’, if you’re interested in reading their comments.)

  43. Shadow*

    Oh Alison, you know when employers say family at work they don’t really mean “family” like you’re on the same level as real family. They mean family like when your favorite sports team calls its fans family- that is, “as long as you’re helping to keep us successful we like you too”.

    1. SacredGround*

      But here you’re expected to participate in a group meal every day, including buying and preparing the food, served “family style”, and they will talk about you in disparaging terms behind your back if you’re not there. Sounds like family to me.

      I’ve had an employer use “we’re family” as you say, a platitude and an especially inaccurate one as it was a large company in an industry with high turnover generally. This company rarely had new hires stay more than a year. So at that place it was just an insulting lie. But still, pretty normal usage of the word.

      I’ve also had an employer who used “we’re family!” against his employees. It was a way of emotionally manipulating me and others into doing more work than he was paying for, accepting below-market wages, tolerating an unsafe workplace and other conditions that would never be tolerated if not for this allegedly close, personal friendship. Like the OP, this was a small business with only 5-6 employees. He also tried to improperly classify an employee as a contractor and gave her some emotional grief when she refused to go along.

      And I bought into it for a few years because I was lonely and hated myself so anything resembling friendship was just too strong a draw. And he was a friend for real, but he was also my boss. The friendship part kept me from standing up to my boss for my rights as a worker. Oddly, our friendship never stopped him from acting like a boss when he needed to.

      Oh, and at one point he started doing a meal prepared in our kitchen and asked us to join together for lunch in the office. But it wasn’t a daily thing and he did the shopping and cooking and paid for it. That was all right, but it didn’t last long because it turned out most of us did in fact want to get out of the building for a bit during the day. Now that I think on it, we often ended up talking about current and future projects pretty often so even these lunches were really more like informal staff meetings with food. But no pay. So I can’t even give full credit for that as it ended up being yet another way to smilingly get a bit more unpaid work from us. Yeah, even if these lunch meetings could be fun, that fun doesn’t pay my rent, you know?

      The next time a boss says, “we’re family here!” like it’s a good thing, I’m going to ask: if I call you at 3 am on a weeknight to bail me out of jail, will you do it and will I still have a job? How about if I call you several times a week to talk me down from suicide? Or just to chat for an hour or three? If I’m evicted from my home, can I stay with you? With my kids and dog? Will you take my kids and dog into your home if something happens to me? Will you attend my daughter’s graduation in another state, or my son’s wedding? Am I invited to yours? If so, should I tell you what I REALLY think about your fiancée? If you die, am I in your will? Can I borrow your car this weekend? I mean, it’s nicer than mine and I have a date.

      Key point: If I’m costing you more money than I’m earning for you, will you keep me on indefinitely anyway? Because family? No? Then let’s not blur boundaries here. We can be friends, but our primary relationship will always be worker and boss until one of us leaves.

      I know, this isn’t so much of a direct reply to your point, except the first part.

  44. Viola Dace*

    I worked at a place like this in the early 2000’s. Also family owned but ruled by a dictatorial boss who had taken the place of the owner’s deceased brother. However, in our situation, it was only the female employees who were required to stay on site and eat in the kitchen. The male employees were welcome to eat with us, but were free to go elsewhere. I once begged off for lunch in the kitchen and stayed in my office. That afternoon, I was called into the boss’s office for a talking to. This was just the tip of the iceberg at this place. It was like the 1950’s there and I could tell so many stories. I lasted 3 years.

  45. Kathlynn*

    Yeah, this is horrible. Like I’m allergic to dairy. Not lactose intolerant, actually allergic. And I can just imagine the weekly conversations “no, lactose free isn’t enough”, “yeah, I can’t eat that, unless you want to pay me to sleep in my office/cubical/at my desk” (I can barely keep awake working in a busy gas station with an energy drink after eating too much dairy. If I were sitting, I’m sure I’d fall asleep like I do at home). Added to that? I’m a picky eater, and trying to eat food I don’t like makes me loose my appetite, and if I continue to try and eat I literally start gagging. So no eggs, no salads, no beans, for example.
    I don’t mind the $40 so much, because the local burger joint I like is $13 (and fills me up for like 5 hours), and if it was just as good/filling, it would be worth it. But I doubt it would be.

  46. Naomi*

    Have they never hired an employee who’s just… not a good cook? Or is part of the “coworkers are your family” package “you must grit your teeth and eat Jane’s quiche even though it tastes like wallpaper paste”?

  47. AVP*

    There’s a book about this! It’s a great cookbook but when I read it I did wonder if some of the employees absolutely hated the idea. Will post the link in a 2nd comment.

  48. SheLoo*

    My co-workers and I like each other – honest, we do dinners and Happy Hours and other non-business related gatherings. But damn, Skippy, we need a break from each other! A daily lunch seems like too much professional togetherness.

    Also, thanks to a thyroid condition, some food issues thanks to my parents, and my own mercurial nature, I don’t like rigid schedules and menus – I prefer to wing it. One day I might want soup and a sandwich from Panera, and hey, a scone for my afternoon coffee sounds good, too. The next day I might want a few saltines and iced tea, and that’s my intake for the whole day. I know it’s not healthy, but it’s how I roll. So I would really resent being forced into a daily ‘family style’ lunch, no matter who’s sitting at the table.

  49. AKchic*

    $40/week on lunches, plus the HOUR of time you’re not getting paid for, but required to be there. So – 5 hours of unpaid, unspoken non-optional attendance. Let’s say you’re getting paid $20/hr. (I don’t know how much you get paid, so I’m going with a round number for a contractor). That’s $100 a week in lost wages, plus the $40 out of pocket for these lunches. $140 per week, $560 per month of lost wages/revenue just for this lunch idea.

    Making your own lunch should only cost about $2-5 a day depending on what you eat and how you purchase your food (buying in bulk, what you buy, how you portion food, leftovers, etc.).

    And sorry, but if the money chipped in is based on salary, then essentially you are also paying for some of the lower-paid staff’s food. What the hell is everyone eating that each person could possibly be costing $8+ per day for a meal if it’s being prepped on site? Even if an office of 10 chips in $40 each (on average), that’s $400/week. That is a LOT of food just for lunches for 10 people. And I know some are chipping in more, some chipping in less. Still – the averages are mind-boggling. Over $1000 a month on lunches for a small office? Plus the lost wages because this is non-optional (by social pressure, if not by written policy).

    This needs to stop.

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      And sorry, but if the money chipped in is based on salary, then essentially you are also paying for some of the lower-paid staff’s food.

      Yeah, that’s disturbing too.

    2. Boggled*

      Don’t forget when it’s the LW’s turn to make lunch, and they’ve got to shop and prepare (presumably unpaid) as well.

      1. Former Hoosier*

        We don’t really know if it is unpaid or not. I have worked many places where most staff were legitimately categorized as exempt and so it isn’t unpaid. Or the employees could be paid for the time. The OP letter doesn’t make this clear.

  50. Kelly*

    No no no no. Just, no. I need lunch time to not talk, to walk the campus or read or basically do anything that makes me feel like I’ve had a break. I don’t cook in general, or grocery shop (thank goodness for InstaCart delivery) so this forced lunch chef-ing is way outside my wheelhouse.

  51. Just me,Vee*

    If the company were in California, the employees would be entitled to an extra hour of pay for not truly being free to do what they want with their meal break.

  52. Dust Bunny*

    $40 a week is a lot of money. That’s $8 a lunch, and I know I can make myself lunch out of my own food for less than that. Either they’re cooking some serious lunches or they’re making money off of this.

    My department is very chummy but there is no way we’d do this. This is just weird.

    1. MissDissplaced*

      Even though I make good money, I still often eat a PBJ or simple (cheap) sandwich or leftovers. I don’t have to, but this is just not an area I choose to spend my money on.
      Plus, eating too much at lunch makes me sleepy!

  53. stitchinthyme*

    If the company owners want to insist that everyone eat together, they should be paying for it — both in terms of time and for the actual food. I bring my lunch a lot of the time, and I’d definitely resent it if someone insisted that I must chip in for a company lunch every day. I’d probably decline to participate in the buying/prepping, bring my lunch, and eat with the group (unless I have something else to do).

  54. LS*

    I read through a lot of comments and am surprised no one (including OP) mentioned allergies or food restrictions. Here in LA, this kind of setup would be impossible to enforce in an office with half the people on a juice cleanse or doing paleo or gluten-free or vegan, etc.

    1. Morning Glory*

      A few people have, actually – if you ctl+F the words allergies and restrictions, you’ll see they show up in quite a few comments. I agree though; it sounds like a nightmare to accommodate.

      1. a1*

        It’s a very small office, there probably aren’t that many. Plus since it’s build your own sandwich and/or salad, plus fruit and sweet, you can still omit what you want.

  55. Shadow*

    I’d totally be tempted to do something really really make you cry spicy and say this is the type of food I like to cook

  56. Shadow*

    I wonder if the person designated to cook that week gets to do whatever with the money as long as they feed everyone who pitched in

  57. Lisa*

    Ugh so you have to eat what someone else decided for you most of the time. Just no. Even taking out the money and inconvenience what if people are sucky cooks or love something you hate. Or cooks really unhealthy when you’d prefer healthy food. So much nope nope nopity nope

  58. Middle Name Jane*

    Are you kidding me? I don’t even cook for myself every day. I’m sure as hell not interested in cooking for a group every day. Not to mention that my average weekly grocery bill runs around $75 (I live alone). No way would I blow over half my grocery budget just on lunches and for feeding other people. This place is nuts.

  59. MassMatt*

    I can’t think of ever hearing a variation of “we’re like a family here” that HASN’T been a cringe-worthy boundary-trampling mess.

    Being told how to spend your money, and your time? And you think this is a cool perk? No!

  60. MommyMD*

    I get one hour for lunch out of a very busy day. This hour gets me through my career. I spend it eating alone in my car. I bring my own lunch and there is no way in he!! I’m spending hundreds of dollars a month to cook and forcibily eat with boss and staff. No.

  61. JulieBulie*

    OP actually speaks of “assembling” the lunches rather than cooking them, so I’m thinking these are sandwiches and veggie plates, and not French Chef cook-alongs.

    Not that it makes this any better, in terms of encroaching on a contractor’s time, budget, diet, and sociability. But it does resolve my additional concern about someone burning a casserole, undercooking chicken, generally being a lousy cook, etc.

    1. nonegiven*

      Are the ‘cooks’ making the sandwiches and salads and everyone eats the same thing? I’ve seen a number of different ‘family styles.’ You could have a sandwich and salad bar and put together your own plate with only what you want on it, like a buffet. You could have a big bowl of tossed, dressed salad and plates of already made up sandwiches passed around the table. You could sit and be served a plate with the sandwich and salad already on it. I’ve seen all of that as a family’s style. Only the buffet would be acceptable, I still wouldn’t pay $8/day for it.

  62. Lynn*

    How do they every get a new employee or contractor to agree? If my boss came around telling me I was going to pay $40 A WEEK!!! to spend my lunch break eating with my co-workers, plus shopping and preparing the food, I don’t think I could stop the incredulous “Not a chance!” from spilling out of my mouth.

    I don’t even eat lunch every day, I’m on a special diet, I have serious food allergies, I either work during lunch or run errands, and I don’t spend much more than $40 per week on all my food. Throw in that it’s a sliding scale and some people are subsidizing their co-worker’s lunches out of their take-home pay and I’d have been standing there laughing at the “joke” of thinking that’s ok.

    Not a single part of this is ok, and I’d push back.

    1. a1*

      Not that it makes a difference to the overall situation, but the shopping and preparing is rotated. It’s not just the LW doing every day of every week of every month. They take turns.

  63. Serin*

    Holy crap, that’s a lot of money.

    I see people saying that having your company dictating how the lunch hour is used is a bigger deal for them than the money, and I respect that — it would be a big deal for me too — but holy crap, that’s a lot of money.

    I’m on a super-tight budget right now. (Kid in college, among other things.) If my boss looked at my pay, he might very well think $40 a week would be reasonable to ask — but if I had to spend that amount of money on work lunches, I literally would have to quit my job because my income would not be enough to cover my expenses.

    And I’m sure I wouldn’t be the only one on the staff, either. For the company to dictate this use of money and time is breathtakingly arrogant. The reddest of red flags.

    1. Super Anon for This*

      Yes, that’s the other thing that makes this ridiculous. You can’t just look at someone’s salary and assume what they can afford! There are lots of expenses people can have that really eat up a budget. And who wants to get that personal with your boss? I’d just tell the bosses in this story that I can’t afford that. And then repeat “It isn’t in my budget” over and over again until they quit asking. Because like nosy “family” members, I bet they will ask why.

      1. kapers*

        The whole thing is messed up. But the sliding-scale contribution is REALLY messed up. Your employer should not dictate how you use your take-home pay, nor should they be making decisions about who can afford to pay more based on salary.

        Someone’s take-home pay might be higher but then they might be paying medical expenses, tuition, and supporting their elderly parents, whereas another employee might make less but have a trust fund and no expenses.

  64. GarlicMicrowaver*

    This is so beyond unreasonable, it’s not even funny. $40 per employee per week is INSANE. Suggest a healthy food pantry instead of a mandatory, “family-bonding” lunch. Everyone can contribute (IF they wish) an anonymous amount in a jar and the office admin can go out and buy items to stock the pantry and maybe have a fruit bowl.

  65. Tau*

    So I was in a similar situation if not so extreme a few months ago and managed to weasel out of it. Not sure how much this will help as my employers are relatively reasonable, but…

    Starting NewJob, I discovered that the firm team tradition was that the whole team goes out for lunch every day, rotating between some nearby cafeterias and restaurant. I, used to bringing my own food, took this fact, added my planned meal budget, multiplied by some dietary changes I’d been planning on, and came up with a result of “nope.”

    OK then.

    For the first two weeks or so, I went with it, doing my best to order light, cheap meals like soups or salads if I could (a real sacrifice, I hate salad-as-a-meal). I talked a bit how I liked bringing in sandwiches and how I found big meals at lunch difficult, then let people know I was planning to bring in food, then did so. At the start I’d often bring sandwiches or something I could eat cold, which I could bring along to the cafeteria and eat with the others. I now duck out entirely via staying back to microwave my food more often, but I make sure to eat lunch with the rest in one way or another at least twice a week, including every Friday*, and also take part in tea breaks and the like. It’s my hope this cuts down on the “antisocial” thing, especially because there are a few team members who join me.

    * if you get some other coworkers on your side, you may be able to shift “every day is sacred team lunch day” to “X weekday is sacred team lunch day”. This may go better than just skipping lunch randomly as it shows you respect the Lunch Tradition.

    1. SacredGround*

      Yes, none of this, except the employee-paid part, would be a problem if it weren’t a daily chore but a weekly treat.

  66. Em*

    Having someone prepare lunches for me is a nightmare. Do they have a food prep certification? Did they pick up veggies that look really good and wash them really well? Is the prep area clean? DO THEY HAVE INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH CLEANERS FOR THE PREP AREA? Are the food preppers maybe sometimes gonna be making my food when they’re kinda sick but not sick enough to take a day off?

    That’s a total nope from me.

  67. Kate*

    I did an internship in a place that had an in-house chef who prepared lunch for us every day. It was completely free, and the food was often amazing and complex (or occasionally wonderful leftovers from an elaborate banquet the night before.) I hated it. I need time away from people during the day or I lose my mind. And while it was a great experience to be hanging out on the patio of the governor’s residence eating baklava, it wasn’t something I could handle doing every day.

  68. Allison*

    A thought occurred to me. OP doesn’t really touch on this, but for most workplaces, it would be very tough to achieve an equal breakdown of labor in the lunch prep and cleanup. It wouldn’t surprise me if some people didn’t do their share while others had to do a great deal more, and it really wouldn’t surprise me if gender and/or seniority played a role in how the tasks were divided. I could see myself ending up saddled with more than my share of the work for food I didn’t even want to eat, because I’m “just better at that stuff.”

    1. Allison*

      (ah, just re-read, they do take turns, but I am still wondering if it’s individuals or if they take turns in small groups)

  69. Puggles*

    I’m worried about who is the one cooking and the cleanliness of their kitchen. Are the owners cooking? Are they cooking at their house? Is their kitchen clean? Did they wash their hands before cooking? Restaurants have standards that they must follow to be in compliance with food prep laws but homes don’t.

  70. Meg*

    I worked at a small business where the owners would buy groceries, but the expectation was that we would eat lunch together every day. Not having to spend money doesn’t make it better.

    I ended up just slowly saying “oh, I’m busy here” and ghosting out of lunches, or slipping out after a few minutes. It was worth the discomfort of knowing that they were judging me, and I know that they were judging me.

  71. Lynn Whitehat*

    I’m surprised so few people mentioned the fact that your TIME is not your own under this system. Between work, family, and volunteer obligations, my lunch break is basically the only time that is mine, other than very early in the morning or late at night. I need it, NEED it, both logistically and emotionally. So you can never go to the gym? Never mail a package? Never meet a friend for coffee? Never go to a parent-teacher conference? Nope nope nope nope nope.

    Honestly, at this point in my career, I would resign effective immediately if I accidentally accepted a job like this. I need a break during the day in order to get my personal business done and also to not go insane.

    1. Mrs. Fenris*

      I worked for longer than I care to admit for a tiny family-run company. We were not allowed to leave for lunch, and eating lunch together every single day was…well, maybe not required, but a heavily ingrained custom (which, at this company, was pretty much the same thing). Every day at noon, everyone would head to the break room together. The company owners would turn on the TV and watch the news followed by whatever cheesy show came on next. They kept up a running commentary the whole time, mostly on the subject of how much smarter they were than whoever was on TV. Eating at a different time, or at one’s desk, was unusual enough that they would act like you had skipped out on a social engagement. I had to draw the line on days a certain extended family member dropped by to join the party, though. He brought a whole new level of obnoxiousness to these daily fun-fests.

    1. nnn*

      I was wondering that too! Also, what if there are leftover ingredients, like a half a head of lettuce or a quarter of a brick of cheese?

  72. MissDisplaced*

    “My expected weekly contribution is $40”
    Holy crap on a stick! That’s more than I spend on lunches for myself for 2 weeks!
    No, no, no and just no.

  73. Laura*

    This is *extremely* expensive for people cooking in bulk. $8 per person per day? What on earth kind of expensive protein are they using?

    LW, you have allergies. Develop them now. I have a serious one myself and in this situation you are entirely authorised to make up as many as you need to.

  74. Nathaniel*

    I don’t think you will win. Just say you need the lunch time for your own use from now on and start looking for other jobs. No need to explain. No need to go into details. If your value exceeds their need, you’ll be alright. But, presumably they are terrible people and you will need a new home.

  75. no one, who are you?*

    I get irritated when we have mandatory staff lunches ahead of our staff meetings, and those happen once a month at most (and are paid by the employer). I couldn’t imagine not being able to leave the office at lunch on a daily basis. What a nightmare.

  76. RB*

    When I saw the headline I went immediately to the comments to say I am SO glad I don’t work there — I would not fit in AT ALL.

    This reminds me of a place I once applied (didn’t get the job) and found out later from a friend who once worked there that at 10:30 and 2:30 every day, the entire office stops what it’s doing so that people take a 10-15 minute break. Like if you kept working, you were reprimanded and forced to get up and leave your desk. I think there was even a bell or something to signal the breaks. This was an office, not a warehouse or production line where it makes sense for everyone to take their break at the same time.

    1. Ninja*

      I worked in an academic department where we had mandatory tea/coffee breaks (UK). Unless you were on a call, you were expected to attend. Why? Because it was the only way the admin staff could guarantee getting to see the academics and discuss work with them. It worked really well – plus, free tea and biscuits – but then Brits love their tea breaks! (This was also the department where the head of it would buy you a cycle helmet, but you had to pay him back if he ever saw you riding your bike without it.)

  77. Leslie Knope*

    OP, you have my sympathies! I got sucked into a “mandatory” lunch group for the first two years of working at my current job. Seats were assigned, the topics at lunch made me uncomfortable (way too much over sharing), and even the time of day was dictated by other people.

    Thankfully one day I realized I didn’t have to do it! I just stopped doing it. I had appointments, errands, meeting a friend for lunch, wanting food from a certain restaurant, or I wanted to go on a walk.

    Stuff got said about me and I know people were offended. But, I made it a point to be super pleasant and nice to everyone and now I feel like I have my sanity back! Whenever I was asked I just said that I needed to do something else during lunch and I hope they enjoyed their meal (in a completely non snarky tone).

    My lunches are me time. And I think it’s totally fair for you to push back on this! I suspect the owners like it, and haven’t even considered that other people have problems with it.

  78. RB*

    There are so many things you can say to get out of this.
    If you want to stay at your computer and goof off while they’re at lunch:
    Getting caught up on personal e-mails
    Researching a home repair or xyz issue online
    Making some personal calls
    If you want to leave the office:
    Returning a library book
    Meeting a friend
    Have an app’t
    Going for a walk
    Meeting a repair person at your house
    Picking up supplies for xyz house/yard project
    Looking at paint samples

    I realize that doesn’t solve the longer term issue of this being a thing they like to do.

  79. Essie*

    My desperation to get out of this situation would be truly epic. Sorry, I’m allergic to carbon and on a special diet. Sorry, I can’t do food prep today, this scaly spot might be leprosy. Sorry, I joined a new religion that prohibits hand washing.

  80. RB*

    Nearly every day lately, there’s been a post on AAM that makes me appreciate my workplace so much more. I can eat lunch whenever and wherever I want and no one has stolen my apparel yet (and I have some great coats).

  81. Obi-wan's wife*

    I feel for you OP. My husband got an email today from the director of marketing at his job today. It was a reminder about the company picnic on Friday. It’s a must attend event and here’s a list of you obligated food donations to the picnic. And remember no company funds are to be used or expensed for this.

    This is how companies lose good employees.

  82. Hiring Mgr*

    Can you simply pretend to have just converted to Orthodox Judaism? That seems like the easiest way to get out of this..And in the process, you might learn something about different cultures and how we’re all really alike.

    1. Armchair Analyst*

      “that seems like the easiest way to get out of this”
      I love it!! You are super conflict-avoidant! You’d fit right in with us! :) L’shanah tovah! (Happy New Year!)

  83. designbot*

    Told my husband about this post, he claims he has a foolproof method to break the system: when it’s your week, be super passive aggressive about it. Take the money, make pb&j. Start a race for the bottom.
    I suspect he doesn’t get the idea of trying to not offend people…

    1. Anastasia Beaverhausen*

      You made me laugh out loud. On my day to cook I would make: Cylindrical Pasta Tubes boiled with sea salt and dusted with aromatic Parmesan shavings and Baked Legume a la Splodge topped with aroma of bacon, accompanied by Wedge du Pain avec essence of margerine; followed by Spring Water l’Crushed Ice over jam smudge.

  84. Panda Bandit*

    *runs away screaming*

    I wanted to comment about that last line. So the owners would be hurt if they knew employees wanted to get away for an hour, but they certainly have no problem steamrolling over the employee’s feelings.

  85. Sarah*

    Can you imagine what would happen if everyone got food poisoning simultaneously due to these meals? There would be no one left at the office!!!!

  86. CanCan*

    That’s ridiculous! The OP didn’t even mention dietary preferences/restrictions. At various times in my life, I’ve gone from eating a plain boring homemade sandwich and an apple, to a vegetarian meal, to paleo gluten-free organic. I would only agree to someone else planning and cooking my lunches if they followed my shopping and cooking standards (such as no vegetable oil thank you very much). And that’s only if I lived alone. Since I have a family, we prepare everybody’s lunches the night before; I would not want to be the only one eating work-prepared food while my family enjoyed home-cooked meals – which I cooked!

    Food is so personal!

    (Oh and what about people who count their calories and prepare meals with specific calorie/nutrient counts? Or people who do intermittent fasting and would either not eat lunch at all or eat much more than you’d expect?)

    OP – if you bring your own lunches, you could say that you’ve decided to watch more carefully what you eat / experiment with your diet, and would rather not participate (as in, ever). You don’t have to elaborate on the type of diet. This might not work if you buy your food – but then you could say you don’t want to make a big deal out of lunch and will just grab a quick bite while you run your errands.

    1. Yikes*

      +1. I commented this elsewhere on the thread, but as someone who previously dealt with an eating disorder, being forced to give up control over what I eat for lunch *every day* would pretty quickly put me on the road back to my disorder.

  87. LoiraSafada*

    This is so bad, and the expectation that everyone pay in an excessive amount is even worse. Those had better be some amazing lunches for $40 per person per week. I would never be able to tolerate this arrangement.

  88. Rachael*

    This is my nightmare. I already rush around for MY family and I wouldn’t be happy if my work added onto my household activities. Plus, as much as I love my coworkers I like to have lunch by myself quite frequently just to get my energy back for the rest of the day. I think it’s pretty crappy that they don’t mention it until you are hired. If I was interviewing that would be a deal breaker for me.

  89. Goya*

    Oofta…Thank the powers that our office has staggered lunch breaks! I don’t think my introverted self could take all that peopleing. I need my lunch time to be away from others. I generally run home and spend the time with my dog…but just to get out of the office is mandatory for me. Every once in a GREAT while, our boss will buy lunch and we do all eat together – I’m able to force myself through those days since they are so infrequent, everyday (or even once a week for me) would be a nightmare.

  90. Julia*

    A lot of people are addressing the money aspect, very cool.
    I’m grateful for Allison’s rant about “family” attitude in employers.
    All my life, employers who think/try to make their teams “families” are the worst.
    Even my current boss brought on post-traumatic stress that nearly killed me with his “family” attitude. Luckily he has enough respect to respect my boundaries!
    Employers/managers who think they’re teams are like families are pretending it’s something it’s not, which is toxic.
    They’re trying to fill their unmet emotional needs for family at work, which is inappropriate and very unlikely to work well. :p
    Please God, just once, can I go to work without someone projecting their emotional needs on me? Please?
    Actually my current job is very close to this. Yay!

  91. Janice in Accounting*

    Do they tell potential new hires about this lunch nightmare situation in the interview, or it is just a surprise on the first day? Because if I found this out on my first day at a new job there would be a Janice-sized hole in the door after I ran out, Kool-Aid Man style.

  92. DJ*

    Yes I’d be aiming for say 1 communal lunch a week. Having to eat a common lunch everyday can also wrack havoc for those on special diets or trying to keep their weight down.

  93. ST*

    40/week? I don’t spend 40/month on lunch.

    I think that I’d suddenly develop some weird common food allergy. I’m sure that there are local acting classes that could help. . .

  94. Chickaletta*

    Aside from the shock among the comments at spending $40/week on groceries that cover only five meals (not restaurants, but groceries, which is what makes this insane. Are you guys buying premium organic european brands and scallops from the seafood counter every day?), I would be most uncomfortable with the expectation of eating with my coworkers and bosses every freaking day. For realsies? What life experience on god’s green earth made the owners think this was a good idea? Their upbringing is probably a sociology professor’s wet dream.

  95. Yikes*

    As someone who used to have a significant eating disorder, the idea that I would be *required* to eat a meal that someone else chooses and cooks for me *every day*… well it stresses me out to even think about it. Not having control over my what I was eating for 1/3 of my meals every week would pretty quickly send me back to a bad mental state.

    Not to mention, there are plenty of other reasonable explanations for why someone would want control over their lunches. E.g. medical issues, religious requirements, managing weight, training for a sports event.

  96. Lance Magillicuddy*

    I couldn’t work at this office. I work at a two person-office. Maybe once a month we will both go out together for lunch. Occasionally we will both get carryout from somewhere, but then we will both grab ours and go back into each respective office, close the door and eat alone. I like to read news, surf the internet and decompress while I eat and the co-worker is the same. I need my “me time”!

  97. Nola 70129*

    These people sound like nuts and I hope you can get another job and not have to work with these weirdos. How dare they tell you what you are going to eat. Personally, I never ate in the school cafeteria in my entire life and find the odor of any cafeteria repulsive. I can imagine having to smell these meals that you are paying for and may not want. Furthermore, I don’t eat from anyone’s home unless I see how they live. I’ve seen people whose cats walk on countertops and I’ll be d***ed if I’m going to eat ANYTHING from their kitchens. Good luck to you!

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