coworker is picky about restaurants when we eat out, can I bring coffee to a job interview, and more

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

1. How much do we need to accommodate a very picky coworker when we eat out?

I work on a small team (15ish people). Due to the nature of our work, we go to restaurants together often — two to four times a month when we’re local, daily when we travel together. We have a couple of coworkers who are vegetarian or pescatarian, which is easy to accommodate these days. We also have a coworker who has some pretty intense dietary preferences — she only eats a few specific foods. Although I don’t think it truly matters, it might be helpful to know that she would say that this isn’t due to any kind of medical issue (allergy, chronic disease) but it’s because it’s what she feels is best for her and makes her feel her best physically.

My question is, on what level is it reasonable to accommodate this when we eat out together? Sometimes it takes a long time of looking at the map and scouring menus to find a restaurant that has even one thing on it that she can eat—and that’s often not the restaurant that the rest of us would have preferred to eat at. At least 80% are meals that are not mandatory and she could do her own thing. We all typically go out together, but it’s not required. Advice?

For meals that are mandatory, you should try to accommodate her — it’s not really right to require people to attend a business meal that they can’t eat anything at. But for those meals, it would be reasonable to ask her to do some research ahead of time and come up with a list of options that would work for her, which the rest of the group can choose from. For the non-mandatory meals, though, while it would be kind to pick from her list sometimes, you don’t need to do it 100% of the time. Sometimes it would be reasonable to say, “We really want to try out X restaurant — do you want to join us or would you rather skip it?”

2. Can I bring coffee to a job interview?

I have an interview coming up and I was wondering, what is the policy on bringing a drink into the interview? I was thinking that it would be nice to have a cup of tea or something with a bit of caffeine, probably in a Starbucks cup. What I see online suggests that even a bottle of water is pushing it. What are your thoughts?

I wouldn’t bring anything more than a bottle of water. This is another silly interviewing convention that can’t be defended with logic, but there are a lot of interviewers who will think walking in with a Starbucks cup is too casual. (Plus lots of interviewers will offer you a beverage anyway.)

3. Employee keeps joking about being fired

A top executive started regularly joking three months ago about being replaced in her position within the company. As the owner, I asked her why she was doing this, questioning if it stemmed from a place of insecurity or from a place of unhappiness in her position. She said insecurity — that she was not performing well in her role, and was concerned another could be more qualified. This team member has been shown appreciation, respect, and admiration for her stellar performance thus far. I reassured her she was ideal for the position. The uncomfortable jokes have continued regularly, even after further discussions and boundaries have been addressed. I’m not sure how to handle this situation. Advice please!

Try this: “Can I ask you to stop joking about that? It keeps me regularly concerned that there’s something we need to address. If you have real concerns, let’s talk about them — but the jokes are alarming and difficult to respond to.”

4. Do I need to report an incident involving a couple at work?

I’m a mid-level lead at a large financial company and have seven employees who report to me. Recently in our office, there have been some incidents that have prompted the higher level managers at our company to discuss professionalism and respect in the workplace, particularly disrespect from one team to another. The importance of reporting such issues has been emphasized over the past few weeks, and as a manager, I have been encouraged to report any issue that arises.

One woman on my team (we’ll call her Sansa), has a boyfriend (let’s call him Aegon), who works on another team. Both are entry-level employees and have been at the company under a year. Today, Aegon approached Sansa questioning why our team wasn’t following through with something he was working on. His tone became aggressive and I felt like he was taking his frustration out on Sansa, as if she represented the work our whole team does. He was loud enough for me to overhear the conversation and eventually I stepped in to try to resolve the issue. Once I got involved, his demeanor changed completely and he was kind and professional to me.

I am wondering if I need to report his behavior to my manager. I feel like there are some boundary issues because of the fact that they are in a relationship and don’t want to overstep. I should mention that we’re all the same age. What do you think I should do?

I don’t know that you need to report it to your manager — this is something you should have authority to handle on your own — but you do need to tell Aegon’s boss about it. It’s not okay for Aegon to talk to a colleague that way, and that doesn’t change just because he’s dating her (in fact, it adds an additional layer of problematic!).

There’s no exception to courteous/professional behavior just because two people are dating. If anything, the need for professionalism goes up. It’s also not okay for Aegon to spew that kind of aggression into other people’s work space. So yes, tell his manager about it, and ask that she ensure he doesn’t talk to people that way again (and perhaps point out that it might be worth talking to him about professional expectations when you’re dating someone at work).

It also might be worth going back to Sansa and saying, “Aegon’s tone with you was very aggressive, and I’ve asked Jane to talk to him about professionalism with coworkers. Are you doing okay?” (And that’s something you could do whether or not they were dating, but the fact that they are makes me extra inclined to check in.)

5. Why do interviewers ask how I stay organized?

I’ve been asked numerous times what I consider an odd interview question and I wanted your take on it. I’ve been asked by different companies/interviewers, “How do you keep yourself organized?” Why on earth do they care if I use pen to paper, Excel, or a fancy personal time management system to keep track of tasks if I get my work done well and on time? I’m a high performer and have never missed a deadline in my life. Can you shed some light on this, because it always baffles me why they care.

They don’t really care exactly what your system is; they’re asking because they want to hear you talk about organization in general. Do you have a system? Do you put thought into staying organized? Do you take it seriously or are you cavalier about it? Does your system seem thorough and effective or is it full of holes?

This kind of thing is actually behind a lot of interview questions — for some questions, interviewers want to hear how you think and how you approach a particular topic, more than they care about the specifics of your answers. Similarly, if I ask you about the thesis you mentioned on your resume, it’s not because I really care about the mating patterns of migratory mermen (or whatever your thesis topic was); it’s because I want to hear you talk about something you’re deeply familiar with, so I can get insight into how your brain works and how you communicate. With organization, I don’t care whether you use Trello or an old-school Trapper Keeper; I just want to hear how you think about and approach staying organized.

{ 490 comments… read them below }

  1. bookartist*

    LW #1 – That’s a lot of meals with coworkers on a monthly basis. Maybe this is her (and not the best) way of saying she’s unhappy with this much coworker togetherness?

    1. bookartist*

      Oh my gosh – I just re-read your letter. If she has an out and instead makes this fuss over something not required, that’s a bit on her. Maybe the team could try a week or two of everybody making their own lunch plans to just break the current habits?

    2. My Dog Is Asleep*

      I am a bit surprised that ~15 people eat out together so often when it is not mandatory. Once in a while could y’all decide to divide up into smaller groups. For example, Penny and Leonard could be a small subset of the whole. Bernadette, Howard, Halley, and Michael form another group. Then there could be another group of Sheldon and Amy. Raj and Stewart could be a group. Kripke could decide to eat at on his own, especially if he is so picky. You get the idea.

      1. Beth Jacobs*

        I mean, you can’t really talk with 14 people at once anyway. I bet they’re actually breaking up into smaller groups anyways, despite being at the same restaurant and having one table.

      2. Susan K*

        Good idea, if for no other reason than the logistics of getting such a large group together and finding a restaurant that can accommodate a group that size. When I have a meal with a large group, I usually end up talking to only the two or three people sitting near me, anyway, because unless you have a private room, you can’t hear someone at the other end of a big table.

        Going in small groups would also reduce the pressure for people to attend when they would rather not. Even if a group lunch isn’t technically mandatory, most people don’t want to be the only one not going. Maybe the picky eater would feel more free to make her own plans if she weren’t afraid of missing something at a meal that the rest of the team is having together.

      3. MK*

        Frankly, this sounds horrible, if they try to do it on purpose, like kids picking teams for a game. Also, I don’t think it’s helpful to project our own dislike with coworkers so often to try and solve a problem the OP doesn’t seem to have. It’s one think to suggest the OP makes sure no one is being pressured to attend these lunches,but suggesting hat they tempo stop the lunches or breaking up the team? To accommodate people who may (or may not) dislike them?

        1. doreen*

          I travel with a group frequently and after the group reaches a certain size we end up splitting into smaller groups for meals. The trick is, it’s not done on purpose. It’s just a natural consequence of one group going to Denny’s for breakfast, a second group making a Dunkin Donuts run and the third group eating the hotel breakfast. This happens multiple times on each trip , but the breakdown into smaller groups is different each time.

          1. MK*

            Sure, but it doesn’t seem to be happening naturally with the OP’s team, so they would have to introduce it on purpose.

            1. doreen*

              The only thing that has to be introduced on purpose is the idea that they don’t have to travel as a 15 person group. Then one person will say ” I’m going to X” and another will say “I want to go to Y” and people will break into groups based in where they want to eat that meal. It doesn’t have to be fixed teams based on people so that these four always eat together and these other four always eat together and the picky guy always eats alone, even though one person want to try the place he’s going for lunch on Tuesday and two others want to try the place he’s going on Wednesday but they can’t break away from their original group.

              1. Artemesia*

                This. I attended lots of professional conferences during my career and would research restaurants and make a reservation for 6 at good places and then recruit 5 other people. I had colleagues who did similarly — or we would send out an Email to people we were interested in eating with and let them know we were planning on restaurant A, did they want to be on the reservation. With the people from my organization, we would do similarly when traveling on business in larger groups. Someone would pick a restaurant and ask who wanted to join them and someone else might pick something different. 15 is a lot. The OP might have a list of restaurants available and indicate she is going to A and perhaps someone might organize and reserve for B or C — especially if they are quite different e.g. a Thai place, a pizza place, a steak house etc.

            2. Susan K*

              Maybe it would happen naturally if the team let go of the idea that they have to find one restaurant to please everyone. I bet there are times that someone says, “I’d love to try that new steakhouse, but since Bernadette and Leonard are vegetarian, they wouldn’t like it, so I guess we can get Indian again,” or one person is in the mood for Mexican while someone else is craving Italian. Maybe all it would take is someone saying, “Hey, how about some of us go to the Italian place and some of us go to the Mexican place?” and let people choose where they would rather eat.

              1. Washi*

                Exactly! Even if there weren’t the picky eater complication, I would want to do this, since eating in a huge group like that can be such a hassle – listening to 15 people debate the options, everyone looking at menus, finding a place big enough, getting everyone there in multiple cars/a huge slow-walking group, waiting for the tables to be ready… I would much rather split up by food interest!

                1. Genny*

                  Oh my gosh, this reminds me so much of being in undergrad. My friend group always had to do everything together lest feelings get hurt. That was fine until SOs entered the mix and the group almost doubled. Planning things became a nightmare. There were never enough car seats, budgets ranged from “expensive is anything more than $5” to “I’d be fine dropping $30 on dinner”, ideas of “fun” varied wildly, etc.. Based on that experience, I can’t support the idea of breaking up into smaller groups enough. Just make sure that you don’t have little cliques going and you’ll be fine.

        2. Clare*

          Yeah, I’m really over the constant barrage of comments about how awful spending any time at all with coworkers, and how everyone else must secretly hate it too. It’s really not constructive.

          1. Nervous Accountant*

            Omg I thought I was the only one who noticed this!! I get it…I’ve dealt w my fair share of crappy coworkers and I’m sure I’ve been one too. But this general idea that spending time w coworkers is awful is kind of…idk. Not everyone feels that way?

            1. Jesca*

              I think its just more so in this group. Alison has brought it up in the past before how the comments generally skew towards not being overly social with coworkers and says that actually a lot of people do enjoy it. So it is just a current group dynamic, I think. I personally go back and forth. I enjoy Christmas parties sometimes and sometimes I do not. So, as long as a large group is ensuring that no one is feeling pressured, then the lunches can stand.

            2. Cordoba*

              I suspect the comment section here skews towards serious loner/introvert/homebody much more than the population at large; that really comes through on subjects like #1 here.

              The comments around “everybody else must secretly hate social things as much as I do” especially get old.

              1. Specialk9*

                I’m a big time introvert, but also a super social introvert. I totally get the draining aspect of social interactions (especially very protracted ones like dinner and drinks after a full day conference), but also get my social glass topped up through social interactions. (I’m not sure if it’s the same glass of water, or two separate ones.) But I need sociability, and I need time to recharge. This kind of regular workplace lunch sounds wonderful, with the right people.

                1. oldbiddy*

                  I’m also a social introvert. Back when I worked in Silicon Valley, we had a company cafeteria so I ate lunch in a group everyday. It was great. The group varied depending on who was in the cafeteria when I sat down. We also had a lots of work dinners and work parties, which I also enjoyed. It was nice because there were always people I knew, but not always the same ones, and it was a fixed time length.
                  I also enjoy all day conferences that extend into the evening. I’m drained after several days of this, but it’s a good kind of drained.
                  Things that are less enjoyable for me are loud bars with casual acquaintances who all want to make small talk on the same boring subjects, or having my ear talked off all day by someone who never stops talking (e.g. my mom) without getting some quiet decompression time in there. My husband is a big time extrovert and is the exact opposite, and it took him a while to realize that we decompress in very different ways.

                2. Luna*

                  This is me too- I’m definitely an introvert and will be tired at the end of the day after being around lots of people, but it’s a good kind of tired. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t have a good time with them or didn’t enjoy myself. Being an introvert does not mean hating any and all kinds of social interaction. It does get a bit tiring hearing so many people blaming their bad attitudes on introversion, because those are two separate things.

                3. Nervous Accountant*

                  I think I’m the same as you. I like being social, but I need my alone time to recharge.

                4. Falling Diphthong*

                  I think it’s that being an introvert is seen as a “hey, just wired that way” thing, while having social anxiety is something you are supposed to address, and being a misanthrope is not a good bargaining chip for when you later want people to do things for you.

                  Something I’ve oft’ heard from shy introverts is that in their 20s they would force themselves through social gatherings the way you grind out a painful problem set (in school) or not-fun work assignment (in later life)–because the long-term rewards beat the short-term abrasion. They told themselves they could leave after 90 minutes, and they could go home and soak in a tub and be alone. Years later they still needed that introvert down-time to recharge after being social, but they could handle going to a conference where you needed to make small talk, or attending their SO’s friend’s wedding without whining.

              2. Falling Diphthong*

                People who, given a few free minutes in the day, would rather read AAM than socialize with their coworkers.

                1. Michaela Westen*

                  I love socializing with friends and wish I could every day!
                  I’m cautious about socializing with coworkers for a couple of reasons. It looks bad to chat for more than a few minutes – and it can easily go longer.
                  Also I’m very cautious about being personally involved with colleagues.

          2. Photog*

            Lol agreed! I knew this would come up: the complaining about “omg I would never want to go eat with coworkers and I will just sit in my car instead.”

            1. Kathleen_A*

              I do too (well, with most of them, anyway), but I don’t like going out with a large group. I mean, once you’re all there and seated, it can be fine, but figuring out where to go and getting there and finding a table/tables…And even once that’s all settled and everybody’s got their food, there’s the check or checks and the tip or tips and then of course there’s getting back to where you need to be. It’s just such a hassle.

              I have lunch with coworkers most days, actually, but we either eat in the cafeteria, which is plentifully supplied with large tables – because, you know, it’s a cafeteria – or we go out in small groups. I like all that. But eating as a large group tends to be such a production, you know? And I don’t want a production made of my hamburger or omelette or whatever.

          3. Glomarization, Esq.*

            Agreed. LW doesn’t indicate that the frequency of meals together is a problem. And the picky eater hasn’t indicated in words that the frequency of meals together is a problem.

            The problem as stated, and I’ll take LW and the co-workers at their word, is how to handle logistics when one participant is difficult to accommodate.

          4. TL -*

            Yes. My last workplace, we often all ate lunch together and it was lovely. We mostly ate in our department, but it was totally optional and nearly everyone opted in. And in going out to eat together, part of the fun was finding a new place to try, so I can understand why the OP wants to plan together and why they’re frustrated that one person is restricting things so much.

          5. Bea*

            I have raging food and anxiety issues yet still actively enjoy spending time with my coworkers. As long as nobody is rude to each other, I’m happy.

            So yeah the “everyone secretly hates these things, you don’t know they don’t!!” kind of comments are obnoxious.

          6. Indigo a la mode*

            Agreed. Eating out together once every 1-2 weeks, especially when traveling together, doesn’t seem excessive. I work on a small team and I looooove my coworkers – not just my two direct colleagues but also people from other teams around the company. We don’t go out to eat very often, but we do eat lunch together in the kitchen nearly every day. In fact, pretty much my entire social circle is comprised of my work friends. We hike together, I carpool to church with one, my team plans to go to San Francisco for an Eagles concert together…it’s great to get along so well.

            I can sympathize with people who just want to do their work quietly and go home to their real life, but I think there;s a good contingent of us in great workplaces with great coworkers who do enrich our lives, rather than weighing on them.

          7. Millennial Lawyer*

            I’m glad someone is saying this! It really isn’t constructive and not everyone has this problem.

          8. Plague of frogs*

            Agreed. I love hanging out with my coworkers. I’m surprised at how many people don’t.

      4. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        The LW said that it was due to the nature of their work, so I’m assuming that these aren’t social lunches. Like: client lunches, dinners provided by the office when they work 16-hour days, etc.

        1. Fiennes*

          Agreed. I might adore my coworkers, but if I’m *forced* to spend time with all of them together for a really high percentage of my meals, it’s going to get old. And trying to deal with a 15-person table every single time would sour me on dinners with my favorite 14 people on Earth.

          Splitting into smaller groups would probably make everyone happier and actually facilitate warmer/better interactions among coworkers.

          1. Millennial Lawyer*

            I wouldn’t want that at all. It turns into cliques “oh I want to be paired with XYZ” and extra work for whoever is organizing it. Conversations splinter off naturally in a larger group.

    3. JSPA*

      I (sort of) used to be “that person,” and increasingly so, before finding a broad spectrum digestive enzyme pill. Loved going out with the group, didn’t want to put us all in misery for the rest of the day. There’s no good way to ask someone if they might have an undiagnosed FODMAPS and other digestive challenges issue, especially if they’re super careful to eat in a way that never sets it off–they may not think of it as a health issue at all, just a “what digests well for me / what makes me feel better”. And of course, pickiness can also be a strategy for dealing with eating issues, which is another thing they may not want to discuss, and it’d be all sorts of wrong to push the issue. In general, discussing food can be fraught, and you can’t expect people to disclose whether or not there could be medical issues. Still, maybe there’s a way to bring up how helpful enzymes can be, especially if it’s done regarding a type of food that many people find challenging (a place with great garlic greens and beans, for example?). Or even bring a bottle along (all the brands I know of are OTC, not prescription, and some are officially gluten free, dairy free, vegan etc) and offer them around broadly, so Picky Eater isn’t singled out.

      1. Cordoba*

        I’d consider it to be weird AF if a co-worker just offered around a bottle of random pills at lunch.

        1. Denizen*

          Yeah, if a coworker starts handing out “digestive pills” at lunch, I am going to be majorly weirded out. I’d start waiting for them to launch into some MLM scheme spiel to get me to sell them!

          And I don’t want to discuss digestive enzymes over lunch either, thanks!

        2. Heynonniemouse*

          Yeah, I think the only time that’s considered normal at work is if you’re having lunch with Jordan Belfort.

      2. fposte*

        Honestly, I think this falls under the “don’t give people health suggestions” guideline; there’s not a lot of science behind them in the first place, and even if there was, the best you can do is say “I’ve found SuperMagic pills have helped me with similar things” and let it go.

        1. JSPA*

          As a geneticist, I was deeply skeptical as well, to the point of not trying any such thing for years. Did myself some possibly irreversible damage, as well as some that’s reversed since the “eureka” moment. (It’s unhealthy as well as uncomfortable to be eating food that passes through you at a high clip, and comes out looking much as it did when it went in, and you tend to get pretty dehydrated in the process.) Basically, they now have enzymes mixes that include cellulases, lipases, amylases, proteases (etc) with a broad pH range (both for stability and activity). i.e., I’m not talking about Beano. I’m not sure why it should be more acceptable to discuss one’s fibroids or depression than ones intestinal tract, nor why there should be a greater presumption of snake oil salesmanship for the later, but as I’ve shared that attitude (to my detriment), I’m not surprised nor even particularly dismayed to find it in others. It was a startlingly quick fix, and far cheaper and less painful than some of the surgical solutions I was otherwise eventually facing. Anyone else’s mileage may, of course, vary.

      3. Millennial Lawyer*

        >> Still, maybe there’s a way to bring up how helpful enzymes can be

        There is not.

      4. AnonymousInfinity*

        Until I was diagnosed with Celiac, I thought I just had weird digestive issues…every single time I ate. I never would have called it a health problem or thought of it that way. Nowadays, I really hate feeling like I have to disclose it, then answer all the questions, any time I eat out with coworkers (especially those who refuse to acknowledge it’s real). And if I do eat out, I’m usually stuck buying a ten dollar salad and I go hungry the rest of the day… Not super fun, but so glad everyone else voted for pizza. So I mostly agree with you.

        Unsolicited advice and medication recommendations is frustrating, though. A lot of people think it’s an easy fix, whereas I’ve spent thousands and missed plenty of work days to consult with several doctors and get plenty of labs to be as healthy as I am. If a coworker passed around a bottle of enzymes to help my issue, I’d be incredibly PO’d. Sorry.

  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    I agree that you should accommodate her when possible, but OP#1, can you outsource the energy of finding a place back to your coworker? I have dietary restrictions, so I have a list of places where I know I can eat stored in the back of my mind. I suspect your coworker similarly knows which restaurants are capable of accommodating her preferences while meeting everyone else’s restrictions. My experience with people with limited diets is that they usually have a good sense of where they can go (or to eat in advance).

    1. TL -*

      I also have a lot of dietary restrictions and I’m also weirded out by this. Usually I just ask for the name of the restaurant in advance so I can find the menu online or I say things like, “Bakeries and Italian are really hard for me but I can eat beforehand/have a drink/see you next time!”

      1. Glowcat*

        Same here! And, as you said, you just have to name the categories of restaurants that have the right kind of food, so even if they are traveling and don’t know the area it would not be a problem. I’m surprised that she seems to be at an extreme level of picky and then not only clueless on where she can eat but also refusing to eat beforehand or be helpful.

      2. Jady*

        I’m a picky eater, although not as extreme as OP’s person sounds, but regardless this is absolutely true. I know a long list of places that suite me, and all that’s made easier by having some typical chain restaurants in the mix.

      3. Lily in NYC*

        Me too and I feel like the onus is on me to find something I can eat. And if I can’t, oh well. I work on a small team and they like to eat together once in a while so I made it clear that my dietary restrictions should not be taken into consideration when deciding on a location. I probably go with them 25% of the time (and that’s mainly because they eat way too early in the day for me).

      4. Canarian*

        Definitely! I have been in OP’s position before, scouring menus and trying to find places that work when it turned out in retrospect, the person with the restrictive diet could either make a lot of things work at any restaurant or was used to eating beforehand and not dining at the restaurant with other people. Putting the “burden” on the person with the most restrictive diet will almost always have a better result than trying to do all the footwork yourself to try to please them, and getting annoyed in the process. They’ll either know right away what places will work or they’ll politely demur and work something else out (skipping the lunch, eating beforehand, ordering off menu or sticking with a drink or a tiny salad or whatever).

      5. Fiennes*

        I’m a picky eater who *also* has dietary restrictions, but I’ve learned that managing this in group situations is largely on me. There are a couple of cuisines where I can almost always find something, and a few workarounds that are okay in most restaurants—I don’t ask for huge changes, but it’s generally okay to hold the cheese, etc.

        I sympathize with OP1’s coworker, bc it can be so frustrating to be hungry and get towed along to a place where there’s nothing remotely appealing on the menu. But that’s why you have to be proactive. Urging her to take the lead sometimes—and allowing the group to break into two or three for meals—will make everyone so much happier.

      6. DBGNY*


        I have a couple of food allergies (wheat, dairy, egg – yes, I know!), and I finally gave up on trying to find something. I tell the team that I’m good and just ate or will snack on fruit or something. If the person gets pushy about the food, then I tell them I have a couple of food allergies and I just don’t want to inconvenience people but I appreciate the thought. That usually gets them off my case.

        And I say that because is it weird if I go to a business lunch or dinner and then not eat? I don’t want to put a food wrong, but I don’t want to make myself ill either.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      I thought putting the onus of finding local restaurants that work onto the person who won’t eat at most of them was the best part of Alison’s advice–not having to take on the planning effort will remove a good portion of the irritation.

      And yeah, if you have a diet that rules out most restaurants–let’s say she’s on the Subway diet and will eat only at Subways–then it’s polite to bow out of most of the non-required outings and let people eat somewhere else.

      1. Elemeno P.*

        Yes, this. I tried a super restrictive diet for a month and happened to have a business trip during that month. Usually my team eats lunch and dinner together on business trips (I do the expense reports, so it’s often a kindness for me!) but I just ate separately for that trip because I couldn’t subject them to my needs.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        This. I haven’t had to deal with this with coworkers but I’ve had some houseguests who had lengthy dietary restrictions and/or preferences and I’ve learned to just ask them to provide specific recipes they can/will eat because I really don’t think it should be on me to do all the research for something that they already know.

        1. TL -*

          And also, I don’t trust people to find recipes that I can eat. Usually I just say I’ll take care of my own food if they can get me to a grocery store but if you’re going to serve me food you made independently, then I’m going to have to ask for all the ingredients and all the labels and chances are good you missed something somewhere.
          If that’s something you’re okay with before cooking, that’s great and I’ll happily help out. But if you go to all that trouble and you missed something, I’m still not going to eat it and we’re both going to feel bad.

          1. Tuxedo Cat*

            I think that’s smart. I have friends with are gluten-free for health reasons. There’s so much stuff that has gluten in it that I wouldn’t have known.

            1. Jennifer Thneed*

              Wheat is such a *cheap* thickener. Yes, it’s everywhere. My cat is allergic to it also, and it’s the 2nd ingredient in a treat she really loves (but doesn’t get anymore because diarrhea is bad enough, but combine that with a long-hair cat and yeah).

    3. starsaphire*

      This was going to be my suggestion too — the person with the food issues knows their issues best; let them do some advance research.

      We used to travel with a couple who were very strictly vegan, but loved to socialize with us. Their solution was awesome: they would research in advance a place they wanted to eat, pick a night, and make a reservation. Then, if we wanted to eat with them, we would go and have an amazing vegan meal; and if we wanted to split off and hit a steakhouse, that was our choice too. No pressure and no hassle.

      It worked chiefly because they did the research to find what fit their needs, and didn’t leave it until the last minute.

    4. Sophia Brooks*

      I am diabetic on a ketoge ni c diet. I can usually finds something to eat, although it is easier at an American style restaurant where I can have steak salad or a burger on a salad. But I can get it done at most restaurants or catered affairs at work without (hopefully) making people feel uncomfortable, except that I sound like Sally in When Harry Met Sally ordering! I r I can’t get a substitution I eat around things or make sure I eat ahead of time and just have a salad

    1. loslothluin*

      I thought I was hot stuff with my Trapper Keeper in 3rd grade. I loved that thing. It was a Lisa Frank monstrosity, but I thought it was awesome.

      1. Adlib*

        Oh, it absolutely HAD to be Lisa Frank. I had one too, and I think it had unicorns or something on it. It was great!

  3. Sami*

    I LOVED my Trapper Keeper! It was blue and pink with puppies on it.
    If it hadn’t fallen apart, I might still be using it.

    1. Hamburke*

      I was offered a trapper keeper this weekend at a college visit (alums bring your prospective students). I had to explain it to my daughter…

      1. DArcy*

        The modern ones aren’t as good. They abandoned the sideways folders and the reference information and most of the organization, so unfortunately they’re not much more than a standard binder cover with the *looks* of the TK system.

        1. Hamburke*

          That’s really unfortunate bc those were a really good organizational and educational tool even if the Velcro drove teacher mad!

          1. Jennifer Thneed*

            Velcro? Wow, I really AM an old! I never understood the Trapper-Keeper myself, but I know a lot of people in my junior high school used them and I’m pretty sure they didn’t have velcro.

        2. Nonsensical*

          I loved my trapper keeper. I kept everything in it until high school. Bunch of folders are useless.

        3. Emily K*

          I have a product by Five Star that is essentially a canvas-covered trapper keeper. I started using it in grad school over a decade ago and still use it for work today – Five Star isn’t fooling when they talk about the durability of their products. Other than the coffee stain on the front, the canvas and stitching is pretty much in the same condition it was the day I bought it.

    2. eplawyer*

      I still use a version of a trapper keeper. My trial “notebook” is really a bunch of different colored folders for each type of document so I can quickly grab child support guidelines (green) or pleadings (red).

    3. Jesca*

      The trapper keeper had literally defined the entire way I organize myself to this day. I wish I could find some as they used to be as I would use one for every project at work. And +100 if it has Lisa Frank artwork!

      Sigh. My kids come from an entire generarion of no cares towards organizational paraphernalia …

      1. DArcy*

        You can get them on eBay, but the markups are huge for the more popular cover designs, especially Lisa Frank ones.

      2. JessaB*

        Ebay is your friend in this. They have vintage ones for sale. You might have to rig the interior items yourself but that’s not too hard. Some have the insides.

      3. SpaceNovice*

        I’m saddened that I didn’t know exactly what Trapper Keepers were until today. It’s sad they aren’t made like that anymore.

    4. Persimmons*

      I MIGHT hire someone who used a Trapper Keeper. But if they also mentioned their Caboodle, well then…that’s money in the bank.

      1. Moonlight Elantra*

        I still have my Caboodle! It’s my travel toiletry/makeup case now. I will NEVER give it up.

        1. uranus wars*

          One of my biggest regrets in life is getting rid of my caboodle. I have found nothing I like even remotely as much in my entire adult life.

          1. Persimmons*

            They’re basically just girlied-up plastic tackle boxes. Try a sporting goods/hunting store.

            1. Moonlight Elantra*

              Lol, the company that makes them also makes high-quality fishing tackle boxes. They started making Caboodles, if I remember correctly, because they realized people were buying their tackle boxes to store makeup in.

              1. SusanIvanova*

                My mom used a tackle box for sewing supplies storage. The ones at the craft stores prioritized looking “crafty” over being durable.

            2. uranus wars*

              I have tried that and it didn’t seem the compartments were quite the right size. It worked out to be a killer sewing kit organizer, though!

          2. Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way!*

            Pink top with purple bottom. Yep, I still have it 30 years later and keeping it!

            1. Andraste's Knicker Weasels*

              Mine is a turquoise bottom, purple top and pink drawers! It stores my beading/jewelry making stuff.

            2. Lindsay J*

              My mom has like a swirled teal one. She and my aunt got them for Christmas one year and I coveted for ages.

              Until I found a white, black, and fluorescent pink on on eBay. It’s amazing. And the new ones do not measure up to the vintage ones.

          3. 2horseygirls*

            Saw something very similar at Bass Pro Shops last year, and thought fondly of mine.

      2. Rebecca in Dallas*

        I can still hear the jingle in my head. “You’ve got it together, Caboodles!”

      3. Merci Dee*

        Yep. Still have my peach Caboodle. Have had it since I was in junior high school, and such things were cool to buy. So that means it’s survived almost 25 years, and still looks nearly pristine. Even though the color peach is no longer my thing.

    5. Bea*

      Still bitter. We couldn’t afford Trapper Keepers.

      The good news is Lisa Frank is all over the Dollar Stores now, poor kid rejoices!!!

      1. iglwif*

        No joke, I attribute adult me’s tendency to buy nice notebooks and other organizational tools I don’t strictly speaking *need* at least partly to the fact that we could never afford stuff like Trapper Keepers when I was a kid and reeeaaalllly wanted them.

        1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

          omg – I saved up my allowance for (what felt like, but probably wasn’t actually) months for a purple Trapper Keeper. My parents refused to buy one for me because money was tight and they couldn’t justify the expense. Now – stationary/office supplies is one place I allow myself to splurge a bit.

        2. LCL*

          Me too. Except I try to stay out of the store aisles that have those things, because my house is full of clutter as it is. Usually I scratch that itch in August by donating money to a school supply drive. Not last year, though, because I was (wait for it) too disorganized.

        3. Bobbin Ufgood*

          OH! Me too! We couldn’t afford Trapper Keepers when I was a kid and now I buy those Levenger notebooks that are SPENDY — I just understood myself, iglwif! thank you!

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#3, I’d also consider letting her know—in much gentler language than what I’m about to write—that the constant jokes change how folks view her competence/capacity and undermines her success. She’s doing that awful thing where she’s complaining about her self so much that she’s going to manifest her fear (i.e., she’s going to become such a drag or so anxious that it becomes hard to keep her).

    I find a lot of folks who suffer from impostor syndrome engage in this kind of self-deprecation, and it really doesn’t help them. And it’s tiring for everyone around her, who will feel like they either have to reassure her or ignore her. I’ll often take someone aside, explain the context and how good they are at what they’re doing, and let them know that they’re self-sabotaging by drawing attention to what they see as their failings/limitations.

    1. designbot*

      Agreed, I would absolutely address this. I’d be tempted to tell her, if you keep saying it enough, eventually I’ll think you’re right. But really a more productive way to talk about it is that when she does this she’s encouraging people to take time out of their days to reassure her, and somebody at her level in particular is meant to be exercising good judgement about not only their own time but where to direct the energies of others.

    2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

      This one really hit me. I do this all the time! I know I am undermining myself but I really am terribly insecure about my capabilities and speed on the job. It’s a really difficult thing to stop doing because it’s not just a verbal tic, but a symptom of deep – seated and systemic insecurity.

      1. LQ*

        I do this a lot less than I used to. I basically tried to turn my insecurity on itself by every time I was going to say something telling myself “No one cares what you think about your own ability or if you think you’re going to get fired so shut up about it already.” It mostly made me stop saying it, though I still feel it plenty. Your mileage may vary, but it really did help me keep quiet about it.

        I know it can be really grating on the people around you and can feel like a weird kind of grandstanding even when you are really serious about it. When my boss told me that it wasn’t my job to judge my own performance and if I needed to be berated about what I was doing wrong then he’d do that, but until then I needed to knock it off, it was harsh and incredibly kind at the same time.

    3. On Fire*

      This behavior can also affect the entire team’s morale. “If Jane, an executive-level superstar, is worried about getting fired, what about *us,* those who are working hard but aren’t quite at her level?”

      1. Jesca*

        Yes. Good point. This can definitely occur! Bad moral is more contagious than a turn of the century flu.

        I have suffered and still do from imposter syndrome. But, I just keep quiet about it. Having imposter syndrome is pretty wide spread especially among successful women, bit it is so draining and takes down moral of others. OP should nip this pretty quick with her. I would recommend an expression of compassion combined with a very direct “no more of this, though” and can give if they want reasons the first time. But after that, just shut it down.

    4. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Agreed, and considering this is a top executive I’d really go to nip this behavior. She is sending a very bad message to the organization at large. If a lower level employee hears an executive talking about being fired, what is that employee going to think (“If the VP over there is openly worried about being fired then I must really be in trouble since I’m only a Jr. Teapot Maker”)

      This type of behavior from leadership will demoralize the entire organization if they aren’t careful.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        hmm… should have read further before commenting seems that On Fire and Jesca beat me to the thought.

    5. JB (not in Houston)*

      Yes, I noticed this with Ruby in Great British Bake Off. “Welp, here’s the cake I made, but don’t bother eating it because of course it’s total garbage.” I completely understood what she was doing and why, and seeing her do it made me realize how much I did that when I was younger–and how very tiring it is for other people. I’m glad for Ruby that she seems to have moved past that stage. Personally speaking, I never did it because I wanted reassurance, I just wanted to lower people’s expectations so they wouldn’t be disappointed in me. But it’s just exhausting to deal with, and it’s ultimately not helpful to you.

      1. JeanB in NC*

        I’m actually watching that season right now, and I agree about Ruby. It was a little frustrating in the first few shows where she would tell them it was bad before they even tasted it. They were having to manage her feelings as well as their own. (Also, I just wanted to say to her, “Stand up straight! Stop ducking your head!”)

        1. JB (not in Houston)*

          Yes! I completely understood what she was doing and why even while I got annoyed by it. It was a nice reminder to me to keep those same impulses in check.

          1. Lindsay J*

            I felt the same way about one dude on Canada’s Worst Drivers.

            Like, I understood him. And suddenly I understood why my partner gets frustrated with me sometimes because I was getting frustrated with this guy for doing the same things I do.

        2. myswtghst*

          “They were having to manage her feelings as well as their own.”

          This is so key. Even when I completely understand the urge (and have to fight it myself), it’s so exhausting to have to constantly reassure someone that they aren’t terrible.

    6. Dust Bunny*

      Plus, frankly, people who have “signature” humor get tiresome. If my dad is ever murdered, it will probably be because he used his “signature” material on the wrong person one too many times.

      This needs to stop for a lot of reasons. It’s not helping her. It’s not helping her image. It’s probably boring her coworkers.

    7. LV*

      I saw a tweet yesterday that said “Nobody benefits from your self-deprecation” and it really struck a chord with me.

    8. uranus wars*

      I had a boss talk to me about this one. I did the same thing — not the “I’m going to get fired” thing but i’d point out my mistakes first, make jokes about my incompetence, etc. My boss likely saved my career and I can (now) look back and thank her for a lot of my success at work. She modeled a lot of the behavior I now display, even if when she did talk to me about this (and my very inappropriate youthful wardrobe) I was a bit miffed.

    9. Luna*

      I also think it is worth thinking about what else might be going on here. The LW says this only started about 3 months ago. How long has the employee been there? If she has been there for years and only started this recently I think it is not imposter syndrome (or at least not just that).

      I started doing this towards the end of my last job, after having been there for years. The main reason for this change in my attitude was a new manager that I didn’t directly report to, but who had a lot of say over some of the work I did. This new manager treated most of his employees pretty badly and tried to force most of us out, but in a really passive-aggressive way. To the point where I genuinely could not figure out whether I was really bad at my job and no one had told me before because they were too nice, or if it was all in my head and I was imaging things. It really does make one totally paranoid and insecure, even though I hadn’t been like that previously and had always received great performance reviews and lots of appreciation from my direct managers.

    10. Eloise*

      I have a coworker who does this, and even though I know her to be competent, I find this tendency has really affected my view of her. She never voices an opinion without undermining herself in the next breath. It takes more time and energy than I’ve got to figure out whether she’s being self-deprecating or really doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

  5. namelesscommentator*

    #5, Allison nailed it. It’s about knowing how you approach organization… When asked, talk about how your organizational methods help you to meet deadlines, etc.. You’re right, they don’t care if you keep an excel sheet or calendar, or what, but they do care how it interfaces with your work.

    I almost always ask a “Talk about a project that you’ve driven” question for very similar reasons. Chances are I don’t care about the project, but I want to hear about how someone approaches a multistep process and follow-through on deliverables.

    1. TL -*

      And you can tell a lot from how someone talks about their organization systems. Someone who says, “Oh, I’m not good at that stuff and I find things generally work out anyways” depends a whole lot on other people (generally of the female persuasion) doing a bunch of extra work for them.

      Someone who gives an answer along the lines of “I do what I need to to function well; how much I organize depends on the need of the project” is probably not the best for a position that needs a lot of inherent organization. (that’s me! Great at building systems and terrible at maintaining them.)

      Someone whose eyes light up and starts talking about how they organize things based on various needs and are really invested in their system is probably great for a position that needs a lot of organization but not so great for a position where they need to be giving that work to other people.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        I will talk about color coding and organization all day long.

        (Yes, I picked this username for a reason LOL)

      2. Emily K*

        I actually think it’s a poor interview question because I was secretly a disorganized person who struggled with deadlines for years – but I knew how to talk about organization. My problem was never that I didn’t understand organization, it was that (due to what later turned out to be undiagnosed ADHD) I had really poor adherence to all of the many, many systems I tried over the years.

        Personality wise I am the kind of person who loves organizing, making spreadsheets, sorting things – but it was always a sort of one-off activity for me, not something I maintained on an ongoing basis. I relish cleaning out messy drawers in my home, and yet I never seem to run out of messy drawers to clean out because the organization doesn’t last.

        So I could talk an interviewer’s ear off about organization, but it had really no bearing on my ability to stay organized on an ongoing basis. Being organized is different that way than something like asking a candidate to describe a marketing campaign they ran, where if they understand how it’s supposed to be run, chances are there’s nothing stopping them from running it that way in practice. Organization is uniquely so much more about a person’s inherent discipline than it is about their knowledge of how to be organized, and few people are going to tell an interviewer candidly that they frequently lose track of projects and finish most of their assignments at the last minute in a hurry.

        1. Persephoneunderground*

          In case you haven’t come across it, there’s a solid book for us ADHD adults on this, industry standard and well-researched (I looked through a few that were only ok and not backed by real ADHD docs before I found this one). I’ve been using it lately and it’s a big help, especially since it explains why systems designed for neurotypical people just don’t work for ADHD adults. Try out “ADD Friendly Ways To Organize Your Life”. I’m not affiliated with them, it’s just my new favorite book since I’ve been extra frustrated by this lately. The writing style can be a little cheesy but it doesn’t matter because I have a million Aha! moments reading it.

          1. ajaner*

            Oooo, thanks for this recommendation. This is one of my major struggles and I have tried SO MANY THINGS to resolve my organization and follow-through deficits.

        2. TL -*

          But someone who answers this question by talking about all the different organizational systems they’ve used is telling you something, too. Especially if it’s “I’ve tried this and this and this and this” versus “my go to is color coordinating, but for some projects, I find alphabetized tabbed binders to be preferable.”

          My answer, on the other hand, would be “I have a digital calendar for work, a weekly to-do list in a Word document, and I make daily written to-do lists if I’m stressed or particularly busy.” That tells a very different story than the above answers.

          1. Emily K*

            That’s exactly the kind of answer I would give. It was an answer describing the current system I was using – it was never a list of all the systems that failed me.

            1. Emily K*

              (And believe me – I “fooled” several hiring managers and bosses over the years who didn’t start to see through the facade of organization to the chaos underneath that kept me up at night until I’d been on the job for several months to a year. Some of them even bragged to others about how organized I was, because on the surface what they could see is that I had a detailed system I used – it just took a while for them to figure out the system wasn’t working because I was only using it haphazardly, but me using it was more visible than me forgetting to use it.)

              1. TL -*

                Yes, you can spin answers to most any interview question to make you look different than you are. It doesn’t usually end well, because you get hired for qualities you don’t have, but you can. That’s not unique to this question, though.

          2. AG*

            This. Fellow hiring manager here and I actually really care about the details of your answers, and as other readers have pointed out, your ability to maintain the systems you set up.

            Bonus points are given for anything you can front-end as far as maintenance goes: digital, synchronized calendars with your partner’s and all mobile devices; financial software that automatically downloads and reconciles your transactions, plus pushes an update for your monthly budget; assigned days of the week to clean particular parts of your home; password protector that’s cheap, salted and hashed, with TFA and accessible from the internet; Trello/Flow/etc.

            Negative points are given for anything easy to create and hard to maintain: sticky notes or other loose and tiny bits of paper; a library of physical supply catalogs more than a year old when you have at least one newer version; manual data collection, etc.

            Color coding and Trapper Keepers are fine but when the client on the multi-hundred-million dollar project calls for a status, do not tell me you don’t know because you couldn’t find your green index cards.

        3. Aardvark*

          I don’t think that’s necessarily a failure of the question though–an interview isn’t about getting everything right, but finding a person who’s a good fit for a role. If a position requires a high level of independent organization and this is something you struggle with, that may be an indication you wouldn’t be happy in that job.
          Pretty much anyone on my team will have 1 or more mid- to long-term projects going, recurring tasks to complete and processes to monitor, and a constant stream incoming tasks that need to be dealt with, so someone who can’t do this independently may not be a good fit. I focus my organization questions around the particular requirements of the job/team (for example, “This role requires working on multiple longer-term projects and prioritizing and completing incoming tasks. Give me an example of a time you’ve done this, and how you keep yourself organized in these types of situations.”) so that hopefully we both get enough information to make an informed decision about whether or not the candidate will succeed in and be content with the job.

        4. Lindsay J*

          This is me when it comes to personal finance. And exercise. And a lot of things.

          The knowledge is there. The ability to follow through and not be impulsive is not.

      3. FlowersNeverBend*

        LW here. This is great insight! Thank you–I never thought about it this way, but it makes a ton of sense. It’s also making me consider how I answer this question in the future.

    2. Hamburke*

      I’m organized but had trouble talking about it bc it never seemed like something out of the ordinary – I did not stand out as the most organized person in school but I wasn’t missing assignments and I planned ahead for projects and my desk/locker/dorm we’re always fairly tidy. I was finally coached on this question – talk about how you stay organized (or keep others on track) even if it doesn’t sound extraordinary bc not everyone thinks that way. I make lists in a spiral notebook (doesn’t get lost as easily as postits) and love giant desk calendars with colored pens but also use a digital calander so I can access it when not in the office.

      1. 5 Leaf Clover*

        I think that this kind of automaticity is exactly why OP#5 is having trouble understanding the question. For people who are organized, it may not even occur to them that there are people who have no system whatsoever. But I ask this question in interviews and you would not believe how many people just say, “Uh, post-its?”

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          Yeah, I’m not an organized person at all, and yet a coworker was shocked that I had a chart of certain steps in a particular project, and I dated each step as it was completed. “You’re so organized!” No, I do this because I’m NOT organized.

          1. 5 Leaf Clover*

            People who trust their brains to remember everything are highly suspect, or don’t have enough to do.

            1. Lainey*

              Couldn’t agree more! I consider myself fairly organized (because I cannot keep track of all of the things in my brain and need systems and to write things down) and have a newer staff person reporting to me who keeps everything in his head. Which is why he is so all over the place and forgets things! it’s starting to impact his performance.

        2. FlowersNeverBend*

          Yes, this exactly. It never occurred to me that people didn’t have a system that worked for them!

          1. 5 Leaf Clover*

            So what I personally am looking for, as someone who asks this question, is just a literal description of what you physically do. “I keep a task list that I update every morning first thing” or “I use Outlook task manager religiously” or “I keep notes on complex projects in One Note and use a clipboard for simpler tasks”. Just anything to demonstrate that your system is less haphazard than “try to remember everything as it comes to me.”

            1. Kim, aka Ranavain*

              Yep. For a role where I’m asking this question, I know that the person will adapt to the role, but I want to know that they’ve had to manage lots of details before and have an idea of what works well for them. That they’re thoughtful about how they keep track of details and deadlines. There are lots of jobs that don’t particularly require that, but lots that do.

        3. TardyTardis*

          Actually, I knew someone who had the most amazing color-coded Post-its you ever saw–I didn’t know they even *came* in some of those colors (she was also the same person that had an epic spreadsheet to account for all the money she received for raising foster children to make sure she spent the money on them with stuff pro-rated for group items, and there for a while she was Beanie Baby Home).

    3. Washi*

      This is a slight variation on the question, but I worked at a startup (non-tech, but somewhat similar vibe) with a very anti-paper culture, and if we asked candidates about organization and they said things like “I love my paper planner, I could never use a digital calendar” or “I’ve just never gotten the hang of online calendars, I can only use paper” it was a mark against them, since we used shared calendars extensively.

      But interviewing for my current job, I got that question, and I could tell that they just wanted to know that I can plan and have a system for meeting deadlines.

      1. Mary*

        Ugh, I hate this question/your reasoning, because digital calendars or systems only work if the rest of the office is also using it. I’d love to use digital for everything, but my old school colleagues never check their outlook calendars, so I also have to write down meeting times on the board, etc. Same with project management online – I’d buy in completely, but if the boss doesn’t make everyone use it, it’s useless and you get a thousand emails or meetings instead. I find my answer to this question is largely dependent on the company’s own systems, which you don’t know when you’re interviewing.

        1. Washi*

          I mean, if you had said exactly what you said above in your interview with the startup company, that you would love to use digital for everything, that would have been fine! We were more keeping an eye out for people who would point-blank refuse to use digital calendars and make life difficult for everyone else. (Which is what happened in my current job – we only switched completely to digital calendars once a particularly stubborn and anti-computer supervisor retired)

          1. Gloucesterina*

            Interesting discussion! If using digital calendars is key to a particular job and/or office, I could see that it makes sense to list it in the position description and/or to frame the interview question very pointedly, e.g. “In our office we use digital calendars for purposes XYZ. Is this practice something you have experience with or can see yourself adapting to?”

        2. Observer*

          From my perspective as a bit of a tech evangelist, I’d rather have someone like you than someone who is married to a particular system, even if it’s a digital system. I want someone who will be comfortable with a digital system, but not so hung up on THE ONE system that they would have a problem with our organization going with a different system.

      2. Persephoneunderground*

        I don’t know, something about that ends up making it sound like a trick question- plenty of people prefer or rely on paper (often for good reason- I have ADHD and personallt have to write things down physically to really organize my daily tasks) but can keep a parallel electronic calendar with no trouble, or if told it’s important to. Especially if we’re talking about meeting schedules in the calendar versus personal tasks and deadlines on paper. Please don’t phrase it like that! I much prefer Gloucesterina’s suggested phrasing below. Like Alison often says- as much as possible just ask directly for the information you want, instead of another question that you’ll interpret to try to get the answer you really are looking for. (That’s if you’re still doing these particular kinds of interviews, but in future anyway please don’t do that!) I get that the indirectness is trying to get a truthful answer so it isn’t so clear which answer is “wrong” but there are ways to ask G’s version of the question in a softer way like “…or would you have some trouble adjusting to an electronic system or be frustrated by it? How would you handle the transition if you’re less used to electronic calendar systems?” Something like that.

        1. Washi*

          I mean, we didn’t instantly disqualify anyone! We would usually probe a bit more at that point to see if they had any experience with electronic calendars, how that had gone etc. But if someone just kept telling us how much they love paper and don’t like using computers…then yeah, they are not a good fit for a company where it is mandatory to keep meticulous records by computer.

      3. Seattlesunshine*

        We ask this question for that exact reason – physical notes are a negative mark.

    4. Pollygrammer*

      I had an interview (yesterday, actually–fingers crossed!) where they asked this question but with more specificity: how I handle staying organized when I’m frequently pulled away from my work without notice (to cover the front desk, to assist someone else with an immediate matter, etc) and they seemed genuinely impressed with my answer: leave myself a short post-it with exactly where I left off, highlight the last sentence or last excel row I’ve been editing. It’s apparently a pretty big part of the job, and I’m pretty good at pausing and restarting without losing focus, so it was actually a really good thing to have a chance to communicate.

      1. CM*

        This also shows that you have encountered this situation before and you’ve already thought of a good way to handle it. Somebody who had never experienced this would not have such a ready answer.

    5. CM*

      I think this is also an opportunity to tell a “here’s how I overcame a challenge” story — you can explain that you developed your system of organization because there was some problem you need to solve (e.g., it was easy to keep track of work that came in by email, but you would lose items that were mentioned to you in a hallway conversation) and you figured out a way to fix it by creating a system that worked for you, and now the problem doesn’t happen anymore.

  6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    OP#4, that kind of behavior always sends chills up my spine (like, why are you so aggressive with the person you’re dating, but you become a completely different person once I’m involved?). I agree with Alison—mention it to Aegon’s boss, and I would low-key pay attention to other interactions with Sansa. His behavior is not ok, and I suspect if he’s getting loud enough for you to have to step in, he may be slipping when he’s speaking to her in other contexts, too.

    1. Yvette*

      But is the aggression with the girlfriend and not the LW because he is in a relationship with Sansa or because the LW is a mid-level lead? There is not enough information to say for sure. He may be someone who feels respect is only for those above him in the hierarchy. I would mention it to Aegon’s boss but only that he became needlessly aggressive with Sansa, and leave the relationship out of it, but to keep aware of his interactions with all her team members, and Sansa in particular.

      1. Glowcat*

        Aegon’s attitude is a problem regardless of his reasons, but why leave out the relationship part? Even if it happened in the workplace (!) Sansa is still his girlfriend; saying that he doesn’t respect her because she’s his peer doesn’t make it better and one possibility does not exclude the other.

        1. Yvette*

          I don’t know, something about including the relationship aspect puts it in the realm of nosy busybody? (Which is probably just my own weird interpretation.) His behavior is out of line even without bringing their personal life into it. You don’t treat coworkers like that, period. Doesn’t matter if you hate them or supposedly love them.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            I agree. Aegon was inappropriate with a coworker, and that’s all that matters. However, there’s always a risk that Someone Higher Up is going to say “oh, he just felt comfortable showing his true emotions with her since they’re in a relationship, he wouldn’t treat anyone else that way” or “sounds like a lover’s quarrel bled over into work, I’m sure they’re fine” and you need to be prepared for that kind of nonsense.

            1. Persephoneunderground*

              Yuck- those Someone Higher Up thoughts are so uncomfortably close to the old-school “well she’s his wife, it’s not our business if he hit her”. I realize you agree with me, but wanted to point out the nonsense root a lot of these thoughts of staying out of it in our culture really relate to. He’s treating a coworker badly. It’s worse because she’s his girlfriend, not better or somehow private! Yes, I’m preaching to the choir, but this kind of thinking can be so deep-seated culturally that it’s insidious, and that old cultural conditioning read to me as a possible underlying basis of OP’s hesitation in the question. And OP means well and wants to help, which is great, so she wondered if she was thinking clearly about this and asked Alison, which is also great- and Alison’s answer was spot on, so yay! It’s a known problem in the field of Women’s Rights that outsiders (and until relatively recently the law itself) until recently saw the realm abuse of women happens in most often (relationships/ the home) as private. /End soap box, not trying to start a side discussion just *The More You Know Gif Here* since I’ve studied the topic. Sorry that got longer wall-of-text than I planned!

              1. Persephoneunderground*

                And yes, it would be the same problem if we reversed the genders, just slightly different cultural baggage, and the historical context I’m referencing is mostly specific to women’s rights though a problem either way. I don’t want to accidentally summon a derail b/c I brought up feminism, so addressing that question now as a preventive measure.

                1. Michaela Westen*

                  Yes, this is why it’s important for Aegon’s manager to know about the relationship. Maybe he did get aggressive because he felt he could because she’s his girlfriend. That’s important for managing him and if it becomes necessary, protecting Sansa.

                2. Rusty Shackelford*

                  Yep. The bottom line is, it doesn’t matter what their relationship is. They could be parent/child, they could be bestest buddies, they could be identical cousins. You don’t get to write off someone being aggressive against a coworker because of their non-work relationship.

      2. Observer*

        I agree with the second part of your comment.

        But as far as the first part goes – It doesn’t really matter WHY he’s sweetness and light with OP and aggressive with Sansa. The fact is that he is behaving inappropriately and he is clearly capable of reigning it in.

        1. Yvette*

          That is what I was getting at, there could be many reasons, the issue is that he was inappropriate with a co-worker.

    2. cncx*

      yes, i was in an abusive marriage and my ex was sweet as pie to anyone who wasn’t me. this too sent chills up my spine. I’m not saying Aegon is an abuser, but i am saying the way he did a total about face when he wasn’t talking to her is worth a low-key look at the rest of his interactions.

      1. RVA Cat*

        This. I think it’s worthwhile for the OP to have a one-on-one with Sansa to make it clear that she will have her back when she and Aegon break up, including references if this workplace becomes unsafe for her.

    3. Glomarization, Esq.*

      I also see a possible red flag for an abusive relationship. Not a definite thing! But getting noisy and aggressive at the workplace sure does look like a move to humiliate her in front of her co-workers. I really, really like Allison’s advice to check in with Sansa and ask her a little casually if she’s OK.

    4. SpaceNovice*

      Yeah, that part got me. Most people don’t believe the abuser is an abuser because they’re so nice to everyone else that isn’t the one they’re abusing. It’s a potential red flag.

  7. Kj*

    I disagree to the answer in letter #1. Taking the letter writer at face value, this coworker has dietary choices that stem from her opinions about what is “best” for her. I may not think what I eat on my work’s dime is “best” for me, but I eat it anyways. I was at a seminar today that came with a lunch from ‘Red Robin’. Even the healthiest thing on the menu was not healthy, appetizing, or “best” for me. “Best” is an adjective that won’t be the same for every staff member. It sounds like the letter writer is trying to accommodate this employee, but it also sounds like the employee in question has high standards that may be hard to meet. If this was a medical issue I’d agree with trying to accomodate, but according to OP, it is an issue of preference. I would love to eat Taco Bell every day for lunch, but that’s a ridiculous request. My preference should be taken as seriously as OPs coworker.

    1. Jie*

      They don’t have to accommodate her all the time, especially when dining together isn’t mandatory, but whether her restrictions are by choice or for medical reasons is irrelevant. First, OP can’t know if the reasons are medical or not. Even if the coworker said they aren’t medical it’s possible she just doesn’t want to share info on a medical condition with coworkers. Second, assuming the restrictions are 100% voluntary OP mentions other people have restrictions that are plausibly voluntary that they try to accommodate. It wouldn’t be right to set the standard for accommodating her (or at least attempting to) to medical necessity but not require others to meet that same standard.

      1. TL -*

        I’m wondering if it’s a constant change in dietary restrictions? Either that, or the office is really dedicated to trying new places; other than that, I’m struggling to see why it’s hard to pick a restaurant every time.

        1. Thursday Next*

          I think some of it happens when they travel as a team, so they can’t always rely on a familiar set of restaurants.

          I think it makes sense for the coworker with lots of preferences to research places ahead of travel, and give others a chance to see if it aligns with their needs.

          1. TL -*

            Oh, yeah if it’s travelling that makes sense.
            IDK I have a lot of dietary restrictions and I have a good idea of which category of restaurants are easier to eat at then others (Chinese is not good; steakhouses are great). But I also tell people to go eat without me or go and get a salad/drink and eat my real meal later sometimes.

            1. Totally Minnie*

              I do this too. We have a monthly all day meeting, and a lot of people go out to lunch together. If the restaurant they’re going to isn’t ideal for me, sometimes I’ll go somewhere else. But if I really want to socialize with the group, I’ll order an appetizer or something and have a snack later.

              It feels interesting to me that this post came on a day when I’m dealing with an IBS flare up. :)

        2. Willis*

          Could be when they’re traveling. I travel a good bit with non-picky co-workers and it takes some time to find where we’d like to go to eat. I’d imagine it’s a good bit of effort with someone with many restrictions. I agree that she should be responsible for doing the research on that beforehand.

          1. Allison*

            Totally! Any time my mom’s side of the family gets together and tries to figure out the plan for dinner, it can take hours, because the group is huge and everyone has their own idea of what’s good, what’s best for the family, what place has a better atmosphere, etc., and that’s without the dietary restrictions that’ve popped up over the years. It’s a headache, and really frustrating when you’re hungry but the leaderless group is still bickering over where we’re gonna eat.

        3. JamieS*

          I read it as the difficulty mostly occurs when travelling since OP said they eat together daily then but only a few times a month otherwise and also mentions scouring menus which sounds to me like they may not know the local culinary scene. I’m also thinking OP would’ve most likely mentioned it if the problem was constantly changing restrictions.

        4. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

          Maybe they are lunch restaurants that don’t have a fixed menu, just a couple of lunch options that are different each day. With those kind of restaurants you can’t rely on that one place always has suitable food. But, as a person with medical diet issues, I know this and plan for it. Many places put their menu on the internet for the whole week beforehand so I know that on Monday I can go to A or B but on Tuesday only place C is an option. So if someone suggests a lunch together I know immediately what places I can suggest.

        5. Tuxedo Cat*

          There are definitely diets that are consistent that I think are challenging to accommodate. If you eat a raw, gluten-free, vegan diet that excludes like nightshades, I could see that being difficult to accommodate.

          I’ve met a small group of people who have diets like this. This wasn’t health-related but I’ve also known some people who basically eat cheese, pasta, and chicken (plain or lightly seasoned). No vegetables or really fruit. These are adults.

          1. Lily in NYC*

            “These are adults”. What is that supposed to mean? I don’t eat fruit and I’m a grown-ass woman. There is tons of new science that shows vegetables are much less healthy than people assume. There are people who eat nothing but meat and have cured their auto-immune disease with that WOE. Do some research before you judge people who aren’t exactly like you.

            1. Tuxedo Cat*

              I’m sorry that offended you. People have asked me about whether these folks are kids, because I guess eating that way is associated with being a child. I don’t really care what they eat- it doesn’t affect me.

          2. A Nickname for AAM*

            People who are immunocompromised can’t eat raw fruit or vegetables, because of the risk of food poisoning.

            Perhaps they don’t want to disclose to you why they cannot eat certain foods.

          3. Totally Minnie*

            Sometimes those people who eat a bland diet with limited amounts of fruit and vegetables ARE doing it for medical reasons. I would love to have a body that could digest more interesting foods without making me want to cry, but that’s not the body I have. But I don’t always feel like explaining IBS to my coworkers, so I usually end up saying “I’m not in the mood for Indian food today.”

      2. AcademiaNut*

        If I were in the LW’s situation, when it came to non-mandatory meals, I’d be taking advantage of the opt-out ability and going for lunch on my own on a regular basis. For mandatory meals, I’d put it on the picky coworker to provide a list of acceptable options for the area.

        I will admit I have a really low tolerance for drawn out restaurant decision processes and an even lower tolerance for people who have detailed requirements, but refuse to actually come up with suggestions.

        I do think that the difficulty of accommodation is a factor, even for medical/philosophical/religious restrictions. At the extreme end, I’ve known a few people who had food restrictions serious enough or broad enough that they couldn’t really eat out, or eat food that they hadn’t prepared themselves. The LW’s coworker sounds like she’s very close to that level of restriction, if it takes extensive work to find any restaurant that serves anything she can eat.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Maybe, but it also may be that the LW is over-working trying to accommodate it – which is another reason the coworker should be sorting out what options may work. I need no dairy, no tree nuts, and generally low-FODMAP (generally because it’s a challenge diet, and I can indeed tolerate some of the things it would restrict). I can see a lot of restaurants people might reject, but I go and order modified dishes. (Most places that will serve X in a sauce I can’t have will also serve X without the sauce, though possibly with pained expressions. The exception being cheap/fast-food restaurants where it may be flash-frozen with the sauce, in which case I’m out of luck.)

          1. CM*

            I agree, the LW is trying to be too accommodating. It’s OK to sometimes go to a place where the coworker can’t go. It doesn’t sound like the coworker is throwing a fit over it or anything. People with major dietary restrictions (or other lifestyle/physical restrictions like inability to walk long distances) generally accept that other people may enjoy doing things that they can’t do and live with not being included every time.

      3. Janice*

        ‘…whether her restrictions are by choice or for medical reasons is irrelevant..’ This is true, and often when someone keeps to a certain diet, foods that the person usually avoids, even if it is out of preference as opposed to medical or choice (such as vegan, vegetarian etc.), can often lead to problems when eaten. Even back in the day when I did not have weight issues I avoided foods that were fried or otherwise cooked with fats and oils. As a result, when I did eat them I had issues, to put it delicately. So it might no longer be a case of her being fussy.

        That being said, I agree with Allison that mandatory meals should be accommodating, but the optional meals should be just that, optional.

        1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

          Even if she’s just picky it is irrelevant. I know that I have certain foods I don’t like, and though there is no physical or philosophical reason why I can’t eat them, if I accidentally bite into a bit of watermelon or crab I’m going to have a hard time not spitting it out instantly and dramatically.

          1. Mystery Bookworm*

            I don’t agree that it’s totally irrelevant.

            It’s a sticky area, to be sure, but it’s reasonable that people are more willing to accommodate deeply held religious/ethical/medical restrictions over preferences. And the feelings of her co-workers, although not paramount, aren’t entirely irrelevant.

            When it starts to become down to preference, I think we want to be sensitive that we’re not just defautling to the person who’s most willing or comfortable to advocate for their own desires.

            I hear that we shouldn’t force people to eat foods they don’t like (I have that same reaction to mushrooms!) But if her preferences are so extensive that she’s eliminating large swathes of restaurants, it’s reasonable to ask her to make her own accomodations, especially as the meals aren’t mandatory.

            1. Clare*

              Exactly, especially since this one person’s preferences are being given more weight than the preferences of everyone else on the team, who it sounds like are forced to always choose restaurants no one else wants because of this one person.

              1. Oxford Comma*

                Bingo. I have a friend who has an extremely limited range of foods she will eat. Think tuna melts with American cheese on white bread. Think plain pizza with just cheese, but the crust has to be a certain way and the sauce has to be a certain amount. She’ll eat a turkey burger, but it has to be a specific kind of bun. She’ll tell you she loves Italian food, but the sauce has to be a certain kind of sauce and she’ll only eat specific kinds of pasta. Well, you get the idea.

                And that’s fine. Except she always pressures our group to go to places that have the kind of food she wants to eat. Always.

                Taking this back to a work context. I think if these aren’t mandatory gatherings, occasional accommodation is fine. Ask for suggestions of places that suit the co-worker. But otherwise? It’s not really fair to always accommodate the co-worker to the exclusion of everyone else. .

            2. Nye*

              I also draw a distinction between dietary requirements and preferences. I have my own dietary preferences, as does everyone. If your preferences clash with mine, I am not willing to bend over backwards every time so you get what you want just because you’re less willing to be flexible. In contrast, if you have a severe peanut allergy, that is absolutely more important than my preferences, and I’ll happy relax my desires (if needed) to accommodate your medical needs.

              But (for example) if you choose to eat strictly vegan and we’re in the deep South, I’m gonna let you do your own thing for at least a meals so I can get barbecue.

              1. Allison*

                That’s a good point. I’ve been the picky eater in the group so I sympathize with that position, but if I went down south and someone in the group told me we couldn’t go to a BBQ or hot chicken place because so-and-so didn’t eat meat, I’d be pretty cranky and would probably want to go off by myself at some point.

              2. CityMouse*

                I think needs are superior to wants. For instance, I like bread a lot. But I have a good friend with celiac. To avoid risk of cross contamination, when we take a lunch together, I only pack gluten free foods. My want to eat bread is less important than her medical need to avoid gluten.

          2. loslothluin*

            We had a coworker who would ONLY eat French fries when we went out to eat at the office. She was a twig but wouldn’t try anything else. If she had her way, we’d have been eating at McDonald’s for the holiday party.

          3. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

            I just meant that OP shouldn’t get caught up in trying to judge whether the food issues are “real” or “legitimate”.

        2. Persimmons*

          There could also be softening language regarding sensitivities that aren’t “true” (anaphylactic) allergies. When my brother says he doesn’t like mushrooms, he really means “If I eat them, my a$$ will explode in about twenty minutes.”

          1. iglwif*

            This is a thing I was also wondering. If LW’s co-worker has, like … IBS or Crohn’s or something like that, the effects of eating Things Not On The OK List could be both super unpleasant for them and super uncomfortable to talk about with co-workers. (This comment brought to you by many years of working for and with someone with ulcerative colitis.)

          2. President Porpoise*

            Yep – and it’s not always predictable. I have a variety of IBS that makes it so that I can’t eat apples, watermelon, miso, or shitake. If I avoid these, it usually ends up ok. HOWEVER, eating out at new restaurants is like Russian roulette. I could eat something totally innocuous, even something that I’ve had without a problem at another location of the same chain, and I’ll be on the toilet for the rest of the day with extremely painful (not joking, worse than labor) digestive problems.

            I don’t know if it’s the oils, the cleaning chemicals they use, the sanitation practices or the freshness of the food, but if it hits me, it hits me hard and fast. My friends have been known to call me the canary in the coal mine. It can certainly impact the rest of my workday. And, unfortunately, it hits me worst when I’m travelling for business because I haven’t had the opportunity to vet the restaurants.

      4. Mad Baggins*

        The only difference medical vs. preference makes is in the mind of LW and other coworkers who have to accommodate the picky eater. It’s easier to say, “Shuri is allergic to dairy so we can’t go to the Cheese Factory” as opposed to “Shuri only eats chicken nuggets and PB&J because she wasn’t raised to eat like an adult.” It’s whether or not it’s a choice.

        But the problem with this is 1) being vegetarian or pescetarian or on a keto or paleo or other fad diet is just as much a dietary choice and 2) at the end of the day, you’re just as obligated to accommodate it if you’re making food mandatory AND already accommodating other dietary restrictions. I think the only difference is how you rationalize it to yourself.

        (That said I think everyone who has preferences should just shut up and make do, but since you can’t control that maybe the solution is fewer group dinners so you can eat what you want.)

              1. cookie monster*

                I make a big deal whenever I drive past that place (I live in New England, so it is a rare occurrence). My husband, who was born in WI thinks I am insane.

            1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

              You are not kidding. Moved to Wisconsin as an adult. Now always have at least 7 kinds of cheese in my fridge at any given moment. “Melty cheese” (essentially baked camembert) is an actual dinner we serve our children at least once a month. If the maps had said “Cheese Factory” instead of “Wisconsin,” I would have gotten myself here sooner.

              1. Moonlight Elantra*

                Haha, we’re heading up to our cabin in Hayward in a few weeks and I’m already eagerly anticipating my diet being 90% cheese curds and beer the whole week.

          1. Pollygrammer*

            The Tillamook Factory in Oregon has a cafe with pretty excellent (and extremely cheese-based) menu!

        1. Guacamole Bob*

          I think partly this is hinging on what someone means by “preference.” Everyone has preferences, foods they like better, things they don’t really care for, etc. But some preferences are “I’d rather have Thai tonight, but sure I’ll go to the Italian place with you”, some are “meh this food is crummy but I guess I can deal for one meal,” and some are “I have no defined medical reason, but if I try to eat this it will make me gag.” Some “preferences” aren’t really choices.

          In a large group the preferences that should be accommodated are the ones that are strong enough that the person would choose not to eat the available food and instead subsist on granola bars from the convenience store next to the hotel. That could be allergies or other medical reasons, religion, or very strong preferences. Individuals have a duty to be as flexible as possible when dining with groups, but that doesn’t mean that all preferences are just people being high-maintenance.

          (Disclosure: I’m a vegetarian and expect groups to go somewhere where there is literally anything I can eat. I can be pretty flexible and order salads or pastas with the chicken left off. I have eaten many bad veggie lasagne type things at weddings and other catered meals without complaint. I’ve thanked hosts graciously for plenty of bad veggie burgers, or gone for the sad cheese, lettuce and tomato sandwich on a hamburger bun option at cookouts, because my dietary choices are my problem. 95%+ of restaurants are fine, even if they aren’t where I’d eat on my own. But I do expect groups not to go to the remaining 5%, because I will not eat rather than eat meat.)

          1. TL -*

            If it’s mandatory, than yes, they should go somewhere where everyone can eat if possible (some people near-impossible to accommodate.)

            If it’s not mandatory, a simple, “Hey we’re going to Brazilian Steakhouse; would you like to come?” should suffice. Then people can decide whether or not they want to/can eat there. It’s a bit of a jerk move to always go somewhere that a specific person can’t eat, but you’re also not required to make sure that every optional outing suits everyone’s needs.

          2. Allison*

            “I have no defined medical reason, but if I try to eat this it will make me gag.”

            I have this problem. Certain textures, like potatoes (any form of potato that isn’t super thin and crispy ALL the way through) make me gag. Sure, maybe my parents could’ve force-fed me mashed potatoes, and held my mouth closed, and screamed at me when I spit them out and beat the pickiness out of me until I was somehow capable of eating them with a grateful, pleasant smile but it was easier to just make me some plain pasta with butter, so they did that, and I’m grateful for it. I’m pretty sure the hypersensitivity to textures has a neurological cause though.

            This doesn’t mean I expect whole groups of people to work around me though! I look at the menu ahead of time and figure out what’s do-able, even if it means planning to order a thing without a couple of the ingredients. If the restaurant really doesn’t serve anything I can eat, it’s my responsibility to eat beforehand, or find a place near there I can grab a quick bite after.

        2. smoke tree*

          I think there are also logistical differences to keep in mind. If I’m allergic to shellfish, I might not be able to even go into Acres of Clams. If I just don’t like it, I can ask them to leave the clams off my clamburger and I’ll be okay.

      5. A different Kj*

        This. She may have a medical condition that she doesn’t want to share with coworkers.

        1. Luna*

          I don’t think we need to get sidetracked by theories that she might be lying about the reasons why she eats this way. If the employee had only given a vague “I can only eat these foods” without going into the details of why, then yes there is a good chance there are medical reasons for it. But this employee has specifically said her food choices are a preference. Why do we need to think she is lying? Plenty of people might not want to share a medical condition at work, but they usually don’t actively lie like this, because that can be dangerous for them. Most people take allergies/medical conditions way more seriously than simple preferences.

          1. A Nickname for AAM*

            Yes, but “preference” means the person could have lightly said, “Oh I prefer to not eat (foods)” when really she means, “These foods don’t work for my body for whatever reason that I am choosing to not disclose.”

            1. Luna*

              I don’t get the sense that there is anything “light” about this person’s food requests/demands.

    2. Blossom*

      I don’t think it is “on [her] work’s dime”.

      My reading was that these are normal lunch times where they all choose to go and eat together.

    3. Lindsay J*

      I was wondering if it meant something like a paleo or whole 30 diet or something like that where it’s not like she’s individually picking on the individual quality of the food, but that whole swaths are eliminated on the basis of being suboptimal due to being processed, or containing too many simple carbs, or are “not something humans were intended to rely on for energy”.

      It’s easy to eliminate a lot of options pretty quickly with something like that. I have a coworker who is doing keto (and have tried it myself on and off) and that’s usually pretty easy to accommodate. But if you want it to be pretty unprocessed as well, well, seafood places and steak houses usually work, but may not be to everyone’s budget, and might clash with other people’s needs.

      I also wonder if it’s just a case of too many clashing needs.

      It’s relatively easy individually to accommodate someone keeping kosher, or someone with a peanut allergy, or someone who is vegan, or someone doing a low fodmaps diet, or someone who doesn’t eat seafood, or someone who is gluten free, or whatever. But when you need to find one restaurant that can feed all of those people, it gets much much more difficult. The vegan restaurant may not have anything low fodmaps or gluten free, the gluten free person might find something to eat at the steakhouse but then the vegan person is stuck eating a side salad, etc.

  8. Turanga Leela*

    OP #5, I get this question along with “Tell me about your writing process” and “How do you feel about having your work edited?” Since I know those questions are coming, I try to practice them so I know what I’m going to say and don’t ramble. (My writing process involves a lot of picking the right Pandora station, but I don’t think they need to hear that, probably.)

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Someone asked me yesterday what my writing process is, and I realized I had no real answer. I just … sit down and words come out? Maybe this is a good open thread question for Friday, because I’m very curious what other people’s processes are.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        I have a very elaborate answer! But it’s legal writing, so a bunch of it is really talking about how I do research.

        I once worked with someone who was Not Good at this process. He would draft a memo, complete with conclusion, before he started his research. He left blanks for quotes and citations, then filled them in with cases and articles that sounded good. This is a marginally acceptable way to write a college paper. It does not work if people are depending on your legal research.

        Since then, I have interpreted “Tell me about your writing process” as “Please reassure me that you are not that guy.”

        1. TL -*

          :) I used to do research, pull out quotes, write the paper and put in spots where I wanted citations/quotes, and then go back when I was done writing to put them in. I hate stopping my flow to put in citations.
          But I had done the research, and putting the quotes in after I’d written it gave me a chance to reread and make sure the quotes fit in with the points I was making/the citations fit what I was saying.

          1. Turanga Leela*

            If it doesn’t say CITE somewhere, it’s not really a first draft. :)

            (And sometimes it says IS THIS RIGHT? SEEMS WRONG. CHECK AND CITE. I get snarky with myself in the margin notes.)

            1. LQ*

              I’m glad it’s not just me that gets super snarky with myself in drafts! I will occasionally come back to an early draft to steal from myself and laugh and then be really glad no one else ever read it and glad -I- think I’m funny because no one else would.

            2. ArtK*

              I write software and do something similar. While developing there are all sorts of snarky comments to myself: //TODO Why are we doing this this way? Isn’t there something better?

            3. teclatrans*

              My people! My drafts and margin notes are full of this sort of thing. Sometimes even arguments against what I am writing. Before I learned to do this, I was paralyzed with all the voices in my head.

          2. Birch*

            It’s really easy to insert citations in LaTeX without breaking the writing flow! There’s a learning curve for the program, but it’s so worth it in the end for the ease and control in formatting.

            1. TL -*

              Oh, I’ll remember X was a point and even how it was made, but not who made it or what quote supported it. I have a terrible memory for names but a pretty decent one for stories/concepts, so it’s not unusual for me to be able to extensively summarize an entire paper without having any clue as to what the author’s name was.

              So it’s not just inserting the citation (which is Word is really easy once they’re in the system); it’s having to look up which paper it was in and often skimming several until I get to the one I want (or several I want if it’s multiple citations). Or skimming my quotes list until I get to the one I wanted.

          3. Miss Pantalones en Fuego*

            That’s a sensible way of doing a literature review or background research, though. One system I used was to read a paper and either type up quotes or summarise key bits in a spreadsheet or notebook (with all the citation info including page numbers) and then organize it by key words or topics. Makes it easier to both see what the major themes in previous work is and to find that quote or source about llama wool tax when you want it.

        2. Glowcat*

          That’s really scary! Especially since he’s working in law… Not Good at all!
          Anyway, I will be waiting for the open thread then!

      2. Washi*

        I would say that my process is to think A LOT, quickly dump out my thoughts on paper, then edit down to what is most important. I think some of the key components are – what is your thinking to writing to editing ratio? Are there particular environments or times of day that make it easier for you to write? Are there things you do to improve your writing, such as reading a lot, doing exercises, or going to a writer’s group? I’m sure there are more, but I only write for fun so that’s my list :)

      3. Nonsensical*

        That is my writing process for things that aren’t personal but I am in the process of writing a book that needs an outline. For technical writing, I always have a structure and follow the whole 5 paragraph outline.

      4. Persimmons*

        I’m just transcribing the voices in my head. Isn’t that what everyone does?

        *confused look*

        1. Jennifer Thneed*


          The question I always get is “how do you feel about someone editing your work?” and my reaction is along the lines of “I’m not writing a novel here; my ego is not part of it.” And I do kind of wonder what experiences the interviewer has had.

          (And even if I were writing a novel? Everyone needs an editor! I’d rather have a better product than a purer one, if that makes sense.)

  9. Mystery Bookworm*


    when I first started job searching, I complained to my Dad about all the stupid questions that interviewers asked. He told me that for every five people he asks a stupid question to, he gets about four stupid answers.

    A bit cheeky, but I think his point was that there’s no real “right” answer for those queries, but there are some wrong ones!

    1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

      Oh… this reminds me of a former co-worker (and the exact reason I’m asking about organizational systems in some interviews we’ll be conducting soon).

      So my old co-worker refused to use any sort of organizational systems or document anything really, because she just kept track of everything in her head. She did have a very good memory – so good for her. However, she was very vocal about this, to the point that she accused me of insubordination because I created a tracking spreadsheet for a multi-part process that I took over from her. The thing is – the whole function of our jobs/department is to ensure the company follows various rules/regulations and a key aspect is to stand ready for a regulatory audit at any time. If a regulator comes in and says “show me proof that you are following Rule xyz” the answer CAN NOT be “oh I just remember to do what the rules says”.

      So yeah – “I don’t use one/those” or “I just remember everything” are wrong answers in this context (or at least will trigger some serious probing).

      1. Persephoneunderground*

        Also- there comes a time where you’re working with something too complex for even her to keep in her head, but then she tries anyway and everything goes belly-up. See: programmers who don’t document their code. So you’re better prepared for when things get really complicated and a system is needed than she will be. Like the smart kid who never studied in high school and struggles in college versus the kid who had to learn discipline earlier because they didn’t immediately learn everything from lecture in high school who then does great in college because they’re prepared for the challenge.

        1. iglwif*

          Programmers who don’t document their code are BAD PEOPLE WHO SHOULD FEEL BAD.

          Or, at the very least, they are setting themselves and their colleagues up for a lot of annoying, unnecessary, and completely avoidable detective work in a few years’ time.

          1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

            I’m not a programmer, but the sentiment is absolutely the same in my line of work! Fun fact – 6 months after I left that job they got hit with one of those regulatory audits. From what I heard it was a nightmare – there were screaming bouts from the head of the dept, 14+ hour days in the lead up to the due date and that co-worker was in tears in the bathroom multiple times. I was so relieved to have not been caught up in that…

  10. Senior Payroll*


    I am the pickiest eater. When I go out to lunch/dinner with colleagues, I let them pick the place, becuase if it was me picking it would be very, very limited. Generally I can find something, even it is literally a plate of fries! In my case though, those meals are usually more about chatting than eating.

    If it’s not medical, just personal preference, then every once in a while let them pick; or if someone else picks let them check out the menu to decide if they want to opt out. I think that is all you owe them.

    1. Mystery Bookworm*

      Yes. I can also be a little particular, and I don’t let that dictate where I will go with coworkers. I think it would frustrate me if I felt that someone else’s preferences always took precedence over mine.* It’s a hard judgement call, deciding how to weight people’s different likes/dislikes, but I think you have to be wary of letting one person’s willingness to assert their wants always win by default. Over time, that’s likely to make the more flexible people feel a little resentful and put-on, and I have to imagine that will ripple to other things in the working relationship.

      *Again, presuming these are just that, and not medical or religious/ethical requirements.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        Even with medical or religious/ethical requirement it gets frustrating if one person always chooses the restaurant, particularly if the choice of restaurant is very limited. The amount of frustration depends on the frequency with which it happens, and the level of restriction.

        For example – I have work colleagues who will only eat at vegetarian restaurants. I don’t mind going to lunch with them occasionally, but if it’s more than once a week, I start resenting it.

        1. JeanB in NC*

          That’s kind of what happens at my work. We have a number of vegetarians and several people with strong food preferences, and what ends up happening more often than not is that we order lunch from a Mediterranean restaurant, which I don’t like. And then half the time the people that are the pickiest won’t even show up! I would love if even once a year we ordered something from a BBQ restaurant or burgers or something like that – there would still be vegetarian food available but it would be a nice change.

      2. oldbiddy*

        I was a very picky eater as a kid. Once I got to college, my desire to hang out with friends overrode my pickiness, so I started eating a wider range of food.

    2. Project Manager*

      I’m a picky eater also. I wish I weren’t, because it’s a serious cramp in social situations like group lunches (cf. the comment above about someone not having “been raised to eat like an adult” – that attitude definitely exists), but it’s not something I can control. (Please don’t reply to tell me I can magically stop being nauseated by certain food smells. You are incorrect.)

      LW, my suggestion would be for everyone to give up on the idea that lunch MUST be had together. Personally, I would be mortified to learn that my coworkers were expending any thought at all on my personal food preferences, much less at this level of intensity. I’d much rather have lunch alone than be the topic of this kind of discussion or the cause of people missing out on the food they want.

      1. Matilda the Hun*

        “(Please don’t reply to tell me I can magically stop being nauseated by certain food smells. You are incorrect.)”

        YES. I was NINETEEN before I met another adult who experienced the same nausea I get from lettuce, onions, and many other foods. I can smell it in wraps before I even bite in, I can taste if it was added to a plate of food and subsequently removed, and no one believed me until then. It’s the absolute worst.

        1. Washi*

          Interesting! I always assumed that other picky eaters had the same reaction as me, which is an intense anxiety about trying new foods (specifically having something in my mouth that I don’t like.) I never considered a physiological reaction! I was able to overcome most of my pickiness once I started getting treatment for anxiety, but I would imagine the nausea is much more difficult to avoid.

          But anyway, yes, I was always super embarrassed about my pickiness and would just let other people pick the place and I would pretend that I just ate and wasn’t hungry, but would have a cup of tea with everyone. It’s more tricky when travelling, but I think it would be totally normal for a group that size to split up – some people will want Chinese, some people want salad, etc.

          1. Jen S. 2.0*

            Ha, I’m not sure I knew I was a picky eater until this thread, but I don’t have anxiety or nausea. I didn’t realize that was a thing!

            There just are a lot of foods where I hate how those things taste (for example, bacon, among others), how they smell (for example, anything containing fish sauce, among others), or how they feel in my mouth (for example, raw oysters, among others); or I am grossed out by the idea of them (for example, rare meat, among others).

            I’m honestly shocked that someone would put a plate of foods I hate in front of me and snap, “Oh, just eat it, you big baby.” Like, really? I know that I won’t eat those things because I HAVE eaten them, not because I haven’t. I’ll be unobtrusive, and I can find something to eat anywhere except an Asian place, and my preferences aren’t anyone else’s problem, but… you don’t decide what I eat. I decide what I eat. I eat plenty of things, and there are plenty of things that aren’t my favorite but I’ll eat them anyway if they’re what’s available (I would never fix myself peanut butter or tuna fish of my own volition, but if those are the sandwiches that are left, I’ll eat them without complaint), but if I say I don’t eat something, I have no intention of eating it.

            (The lone exception is that I DO get nauseous at the smell of pumpkin guts. )

        2. Aleta*

          I am definitely of the “I will literally throw up if I try to eat this” strain of picky eaters and it’s incredibly frustrating how people will go “oh just eat it you big baby.” I can’t! My body rejects it wholesale! Please leave me to eat the limited and arbitrary things my body will allow in peace!

          1. Sled dog mama*

            Fortunately for me I only react this way to two foods (hard boiled eggs and bananas) but it took 6 years to get my husband to take the banana thing seriously. We used to have smoothies every morning and he could not get it through his head to leave the banana out and rinse out the blender in between, or we’d go months where I made the smoothies and he’d forgot until the day he forgot to rinse the blender between smoothies and I actually puked on him. Turned out I was pregnant but he hasn’t even asked me to put a banana in his smoothies since that day.

            1. Plague of frogs*

              Puking is a great way to win an argument. My mom never gave me cod liver oil after that first time.

        3. JeanB in NC*

          My parents have never really understood that the smell of butter cooking made me nauseated almost to the point of throwing up. They are definitely better about my pickiness now when I visit than they were when I was growing up. Then I had to eat everything on my plate but now my mom will even make a little batch of mashed potatoes with no peels when she makes the potatoes with peels for everyone else, and she’ll cut onions into bigger pieces so I can pick them out easier.

        4. Totally Minnie*

          Corn. The smell of corn makes me feel so sick.

          And yes, I can tell if someone puts onions on my burger before realizing I ordered it without and taking them off again. The taste is still there!

      2. Mad Baggins*

        For what it’s worth your preference sounds as legitimate as any medically-necessary dietary restriction, and I’m sorry if my comment made you feel bad :(

        I was thinking of a friend-of-a-friend who traveled all the way to a foreign country and then refused to eat “weird” food. And we had to scramble to find her Dr. Pepper and chicken nuggets because she’d never had to make do or try new foods or suck it up and get a granola bar later. But we still didn’t put a plate of food in front of her and say “suck it up and eat it” because that would be unimaginably rude!

    3. N/A*

      Yes. When I’d go eat with my parents and other friends/family, my mom or Dad would always say “well she’s picky, so where does she want to go?” I could get “I can make do just about anywhere. Everyone has a kids menu with chicken strips or a quesadilla.” tattooed on my forehead. They’d still ask, though.

    4. DaniCalifornia*

      I do the same. I’ve been called a picky eater my entire life but it’s actually so much more than that. SED/ARFID is becoming more well known and I finally saw a doctor about it. It’s embarrassing to be an adult and have my coworkers even ask me about my preferences when I bring my own lunch. Or the comments “You eat like an 8 year old” because I have a PB sandwich. Like you I can always find something to eat on every menu. But I am working on introducing new foods to my diet. I have no sense of smell though so things with numerous textures are getting harder to eat :(

      1. Decima Dewey*

        I’m diabetic, and consider my dietary needs my own problem. I also don’t want to spend valuable work or social time educating those around me about What Diabetes Means. So if a group wants to go somewhere where I know nothing on the menu will be good for me, I say “Not this time. “

  11. FaintlyMacabre*

    Sadly, I can’t recall ever being offered refreshment in an interview. Must be applying to the wrong places. But I think your best bet would be to caffeinate/hydrate ahead of time.

    1. AsItIs*

      I try to keep a small bottle of water in my bag, in case of coughing fits or the like. It’s very awkward if the interviewer feels they have to scramble around to find something for you to drink.

    2. loslothluin*

      Really? When I interviewed for my current job, I know they offered something to drink (standard procedure for anyone who comes in the office), and I’ve been offered water at every place I’ve interest since I started looking for a new job.

    3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      I can believe it. At one of our company locations they like to bring people in for 4 hours of interviews and not offer anything to drink. I work remotely so am often interviewing via conference call and will always ask if they need a short break and if they’ve been offered something to drink. I’ve had to ask someone via IM before to bring the candidate a bottle of water.

      It’s weird. I guess I’d rather be talking to someone who’s not thinking about the tickle in their throat or having to go to the bathroom. Seems a better way to get to know them.

    4. Sara without an H*

      When I interviewed for my last job, it seemed as though everybody was forcing bottled water on me at every pause in the conversation. This was at a university located in a western state with high altitude and very dry air.

      I took the job and, a year later, I learned the story about a previous candidate who had fainted during an interview. After that, HR took no chances.

      1. FaintlyMacabre*

        Hmmm, I live in a western state with high altitude and dry air! I never leave my hydration to chance because of that.

        1. Sara without an H*

          Yeah, I soon learns to carry a water bottle. You were conspicuous if you DIDN’T have one.

    5. Matilda Jefferies*

      IME, they won’t offer you anything in government interviews. Maybe a glass of water if they happen to have a cooler (and cups!) available, but don’t count on it. Definitely bring a bottle of water – and it’s fine to bring it out of your bag and put it on the table – but I would skip the coffee or anything that could spill.

      1. Luna*

        This reminds me of all the coffee war stories- maybe they buy their own coffee and are too stingy to share! :)

      2. CM*

        Haha, ex-government employee here — we had a cooler but no cups! I forgot and offered an interviewee a drink, then ran around the office looking for somebody with a spare cup. I didn’t want to have to explain that to him!

        I agree, I always bring a bottle of water just in case, but I’ve also nearly always been offered a drink of water and a bathroom break before and between interviews. (It’s a little awkward to constantly be talking about whether you need to use the bathroom, but preferable to feeling like you can’t go!)

      3. Totally Minnie*

        I’m a government employee. We’re not allowed to spend the office budget on bottled water. One of the staff brought in an old water cooler from home that they weren’t using anymore and we have a collecting tin where people contribute to buy water for it, but if I were to offer water to an interviewee I would have to deliver said water in a novelty coffee mug since all of our dishes are a donated hodgepodge.

        Thankfully, we don’t usually hold interviews that last longer than 30 minutes or so.

      4. Jen S. 2.0*

        Yep, fed here. The cooler is paid for by certain employees and they bring their own cups / bottles. No one else touches it. We don’t have communal cups, and we only have a gross water fountain. If I wanted to offer someone a drink, I’d have to go to the drug store across the street and buy it out of my own pocket.

    6. ThatGirl*

      I’ve definitely been offered at least a water bottle at almost every interview I’ve ever gone to. Occasionally coffee.

    7. Sue Donym*

      The last place I went for an in-person interview, the pre-interview information specifically mentioned the coffee place on the first floor as an option for grabbing a quick breakfast/coffee before the all-day interview. So I felt totally comfortable bringing my coffee upstairs to the interview. They provided a water bottle to me as well, but I also had a water bottle as backup in my bag. My throat gets scratchy when I’m nervous and sipping water really helps, I’m not going to leave that to chance!

    8. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I just realized that we’ve never offered our candidates anything!! Yikes!

      I went in for an interview recently for the first time in five years. Was offered a drink, said I’d like water, and was brought a full glass of water. They seemed surprised when I drank it all over the course of the interview, but hey, I’ve got to stay hydrated, or I get headaches.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Interviews are about talking! Of course people should have water. Please give your candidates water, and ideally not in a tippy paper cup.

  12. ClaireB*

    OP #3: I have been this person in the past. And, just like OP, my boss interpreted my comments as insecurity about my performance. The reality was I had high confidence in my abilities, but the company was so dysfunctional I wouldn’t be successful getting them moving in the right direction.

    My advice to OP is to reflect more on how you and your company operate. It’s certainly possible this is purely insecurity on the exec’s part, but consider the possibility that the exec is sending you a different message.

    1. Myrin*

      Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but that seems pretty unusual to me – you were frustrated you couldn’t get your dysfunctional company to move in a more functional direction (totally understandable!), so you started regularly joking about being replaced?

      I don’t know, speaking purely Ockham’s razor-ish, it seems much more likely to me that the exec is indeed just really insecure, especially since she even admitted that to the OP (although she could of course be lying!).

      1. ClaireB*

        I should add that the company I worked for was known for good severance packages.

        It seems a little crazy now, but at the time I was so miserable swimming upstream in the dysfunction, that I would have been happier if either the company fired me (with severance) or dug into why they were dysfunctional and fixed some things.

  13. pleaset*

    Mandatory lunches for 15 people together? In relatively random restaurants while travelling?

    I’m having a hard time seeing that as productive work time – getting enough tables close together, etc for people to hear each other.

    Or is this perhaps for security – you’re traveling in a group in places with known security issues and want the group together. I’m curious.

      1. pleaset*

        Even a few makes me wonder.

        Where I work the few times we’ve required that many people in one place for a meal, it’s been a carefully planned event, such as part of a staff retreat or major event. 15 people at some restaurant you pick that day?

        I’m really curious of the objective of those meeting/meals?

        1. Pollygrammer*

          Sometimes group meals when you’re traveling are put on a company card, even if they’re non-mandatory and you’re not doing anything but eating and chatting. So it could be that anyone who sits them out is paying for their meal out of pocket when nobody else is. (And probably getting reimbursed, but that’s still a lot less convenient). So there’s incentive to go out with the group, even if there isn’t any obligation.

    1. Lora*

      Mostly it’s just easier when you’re traveling, especially overseas. I am typically traveling with a bunch of people who don’t speak the local language at all, not even “hello,” “thank you,” or “where is the bathroom?” and get stuck as the designated translator even if my mastery of the language consists of being able to pronounce 20 phrases I found on a travel website.

      Tip for picky eaters who need to travel: get a hotel room with a mini fridge and find a grocery store on your first day, and stock up on whatever you figure out you can eat from the store. This may mean you’re eating fruit and yogurt and bread with spread the whole trip, but this is very much your personal problem, i.e. not my problem when the rest of the group is getting our usual hot pot and tea in Singapore.

      That said, “I can’t do work travel to (vast array of overseas locations) because of food issues” will indeed limit your career in certain positions and fields. I mean, usually jobs tell you if there’s travel up front, but in certain kinds of engineering, finance, operations positions, you can’t be promoted if you can’t travel.

  14. gawaine42*

    #OP5 – The answer’s spot on. Additional comment: Sometimes the reason you get questions like this is because the person you’re replacing or the last person they hired couldn’t keep a task list straight or otherwise keep themselves organized. That often ends up prompting questions that aren’t otherwise obvious for the position.

  15. drpuma*

    OP1, how are restaurants usually chosen? When you’re traveling, maybe you could rotate between individual team members or functional groups (since there are 15 of you) taking turns picking a restaurant for the team’s optional meals. This puts the onus on folks with food restrictions to do some of the picking, and could also make eating together seem like less of a requirement for folks who either are difficult to accommodate or would just like a break from all the togetherness.

  16. Kate*

    OP#1 Any meals that are mandatory or as we are all going (if everyone is going it might as well be mandatory) should be to places all your co-workers can find something to eat at. If you want to get around that start it as I saw this restaurant I’m going here does anyone want to go with me, that leaves it open to not everyone going. If you are going as a group start in the morning for the picky eater to find 3 options and send the 3 options out and see what everyone thinks. But its not fair to preplan a dinner one person cant eat at, especially when you are traveling.

    1. ReBecCa from TriBeCa*

      A lot of valid points in the above comment; however you used the words “can’t eat” instead of “won’t eat”. Please don’t think I am nitpicking, that one word changes the whole equation.

      1. Kate*

        Yes, it should have been won’t. But it still doesn’t change that if its a group outing that is either mandatory or perceived mandatory then they still should go somewhere she can eat especially when they are out of town. If its a few people or someone saying I am eating here who’s coming or would want to and she wants to tag along then she can fend for herself.

      2. tusky*

        The difference between “can’t” and “won’t” matters in some contexts (like, will you have an anaphylactic reaction or not, are you stranded in the wilderness with only a few food items available), but I think practically it’s a line only the eater can draw–otherwise you get into the muddy waters of trying to judge subjectively what is bad enough or serious enough to count as a legitimate restriction.

      3. Observer*

        The thing is though, that when someone says that “This is what makes me feel best”, it’s actually quite possible – even probable- that it really is pretty much a requirement. There are a number of foods I don’t eat. Technically, I COULD eat hose foods, but I’d be seriously ticked if someone treated it like just being picky, because in most cases, eating those foods leaves me feeling pretty unwell. Nothing dangerous, and often not something that someone else might notice, but I’m going to spend an hour or to feeling a variety of pretty unpleasant symptoms.

  17. Cordoba*

    For OP#1, my standard solution to the whole pick a restaurant runaround is “I am going to (place) for (meal). Anybody who wants to join me is welcome.”

    If I say I’m going to a pizza place and other people feel like enjoying both pizza and my company that’s great – we can eat pizza together. If nobody wants to come along that’s great too – I can eat pizza by myself and read a book.

    If somebody can’t stand pizza or has health/religious/philosophical objections to pizza they’re still free to do whatever they want instead.

    I don’t see why it needs to be more complicated than this.

      1. Cordoba*

        In this case the LW says that 80% of the meals are non-mandatory, so maybe the picky eater could choose the best nearby option for the remaining 20% and everything else the LW can take this approach.

        I’d also recommend that somebody at this organization reconsider whether 20% of the meals actually need to be mandatory. Are they mandatory because a customer is being entertained, or because work is being done at them, or just because Team? If because Team, maybe that’s something that could be scaled back or eliminated.

        I like going out with co-workers but get that many people don’t, so am inclined to err on the side of not making meals an obligation unless there is a compelling reason for everybody to definitely be there.

        1. AnonymousInfinity*

          My overall concern with essentially cutting Coworker out of 80% of the nonmandatory lunches is for Coworker to eventually be thought of as not a team player, which might get back onto an eval. I wish we knew more about the org and nature of the lunches.

      1. curly sue*

        Not all pizza, but if the pizza order contains only pepperoni (because *everyone* eats pepperoni pizza, naturally), hawaiian and meat lover’s, then those of us who don’t eat pork or meat and cheese together are entirely out of luck. Same goes when they kindly order a single veggie pizza in the stack and all the meat-pizza eaters get there first. That’s a catered-event thing and not a restaurant thing, mind you, where one can ideally order one’s own choice of ‘za.

        1. Decima Dewey*

          In one branch where I worked, I regularly had to remind the branch manager that X and Y don’t eat red meat, so ordering the meat lover’s pizza wasn’t the best idea. Also that X was allergic to spinach, so if we ordered the veggie pizza we have to make sure there’s no spinach on.

          I’m spectrumish, and am apparently doomed to remember anything anyone’s said to me, so I end up being the special needs guru.

    1. JSPA*

      That’s our conference default too, but in the sciences (perhaps more so in the harder sciences?) you ideally will have someone who will keep an eye out for people who are newly arrived and/or from other cultures and/or shy or and/or not very good at social interaction and/or fearful of running out of cash and/or lacking transit (so they lunch on a pack of cookies and a coke from the candy machine). In a more regular work setting, I’d consider treating it the way you’d do a pot luck sign up–if there’s a group walking to one place or driving to another or taking the bus to a third, circulate an email specifying departure times and meeting places, so everyone has a chance to connect (and so that the group doesn’t leave without someone who wants to go).

    2. Elena*

      But then the gluten-free, vegans, etc. will be losing valuable face time and networking opportunities with you.

      1. Cordoba*

        Perhaps, but as lunch and dinner are *my* time rather than work time I don’t feel obligated to go much out of my way to make sure everybody has equal access to me.

        This might be different if I were a manager or bigwig with whom a personal relationship could make or break a person’s career and for whom every lunch or dinner came with potential political importance. But I’m not, partially for exactly the reason that I don’t want to bother with that sort of thing and would rather just get pizza when I feel like eating pizza.

      2. CM*

        I read this as a “not everybody can have sandwiches” comment though. It’s true that it would be a problem if the boss goes to a pizza place every day and invites people along and there are certain people who can never eat there. But that’s not the situation. Vegans who never eat pizza but want to hang out with Cordoba can ask to go somewhere else for lunch.

      3. Lora*

        This is one of the numerous reasons why I don’t do networking lunches, frankly. There’s professional organizations that host networking events at which you can sip water or whatever floats your boat, go to one of those. Think of it like your professor’s designated office hours when they will be available for questions, sort of thing.

        The golfing and country club crap that is used by men for networking annoys me to no end too. It’s all crummy.

      4. Nye*

        I would be pretty salty if I traveled extensively for work and was forced to eat largely at restaurants that didn’t suit my preferences, just because a coworker’s preferences were considered more important. Once in a while? Sure. When the meal is mandatory for work? Sure. But on my own time, frequently? No, sorry, if there’s a local Bread Emporium or Meat-A-Teria with great reviews, that’s where you can find me.

    3. Ashloo*

      This is the only way I invite my friends to things also. Otherwise we would do nothing because everyone is supposedly interested in berry picking or kayaking, but a specific time cannot be found. I was on a spring break internship for grad school where it would take 45 minutes to make restaurant choices. One night half the group ended up bailing for a slightly closer alternative on the way to our compromise. I’m still annoyed at those people.

  18. tj*

    I’ve noticed that A LOT of people who send letters work at non-profit organizations.

    Definitely checked that off my list of future opportunities.

    1. LQ*

      And most of the rest of them are for-profit, you should check that off your list of future opportunities too. People rarely write in about “and then this great thing happened and so it’s all cool”. In fact of these 5 letters, 2 of them are clearly for-profit related, the rest are nebulous (one is about job searching)…What are you even talking about?

    2. pleaset*

      Just as a data point, in the US, nonprofit organizations make us about 8 to 10% of the workforce.

      “And most of the rest of them are for-profit,”

      Some are in government, not nonprofit organization or for-profit organizations. Though government is nonprofit, government agencies are not typically called “nonprofit organizations.”

          1. uranus wars*

            There is a lot of legalese that I let our lawyers deal with but basically the way I understand it (I work for a not-for-profit) is that any excess income generated (profit) in a non-profit has to be put back into the organization/cause and cannot be redistributed to members. A not-for-profit can distribute excess income back to its members (bonuses, paid time off, paying for a trip, etc.)

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      People don’t write in and say “I work for a for-profit,” so you don’t notice those. I don’t think nonprofits make up a significantly disproportionate number of letters here; it’s that just people tend to identify themselves that way and for-profit employees tend not to identify themselves as “for-profit” employees.

      1. Not a Mere Device*

        It’s also about what gets divided out. The letter might say “I work for a family business” or “I’m interviewing at a start-up,” and then we readers are likely to think “family businesses are difficult” or “small businesses have different problems.” That will come to mind with the next letter about a start-up, maybe the next letter about Microsoft (if they’re both programming jobs), but we probably won’t think of either of those letters if someone writes in about UPS or Bank of America, even though all four are for-profit businesses.

    4. Funbud*

      I get where you are coming from. Having worked in corporate for-profit my entire life (with one or two unfortunate forays into small, family-owned businesses) I find some of the scenarios and behaviors described by those in the non-profit sector as pretty mind boggling. As in “Really, that’s how someone acts in the workplace? In 2018?” And don’t even start me on the letters from academia. I probably wouldn’t last until lunch in some of those offices. But in all fairness, probably everyone should try to work on the other side of the for-profit/not-for-profit fence at least once. Just as I believe everyone one should work in some aspect of customer service at least once in their working life.

    5. 5 Leaf Clover*

      That’s a pretty big statistical leap. There are all kinds of reasons that many letters could be from non-profits. For example, maybe a disproportionate percentage of AAM readers work at non-profits because Allison has a non-profit background, or because there’s some overlap between interest in advice columns and whatever drives people to work in non-profits, or because one time five years ago an AAM column happened to spread like wildfire in non-profit circles. We really don’t have nearly enough info to draw conclusions like this.

  19. Sara*

    OP #2 – I definitely would NOT bring in anything to an interview. Perhaps a bottle of water if you must… but why risk a bad impression? You want to appear professional, confident and self-sufficient. A while back I had two 20-something salespeople come in for an appointment and they both brought their Starbucks cups and set them on my desk while they pitched their services. I was immediately put off and it would have taken an excellent pitch to get me to consider what they were selling after that. Which didn’t happen, natch.

    1. Moo*

      Why would a bottle of water not be self-sufficient? If I talk for more than seven minutes, my throat gets tickly and I need to drink something or I’ll have a massive embarrassing coughing fit. Seems more professional to me to be prepared for that than to just hack and gag all over the interviewer.

      1. Murphy*

        Yeah, I’m not sure what’s unprofessional about a bottle of water. And isn’t is self-sufficient to be prepared for a situation where you might need water?

    2. Environmental Compliance*

      Add me to the list of people confused on how bringing a bottle of water would be viewed as unprofessional & not self-sufficient.

    3. #coffeeadict*

      For OP #2 it seems like this is something that is very dependent on interviewer preference. I personally cannot imagine even thinking about an interview candidate bringing a beverage. The only time I side-eyed a candidate was one who brought yogurt and asked for a spoon to eat it during the interview. I don’t even really understand what exactly an interviewer finds off-putting about a cup of coffee.

      1. Sue Donym*

        I think not bringing your own spoon is weirder than wanting to have yogurt during the interview. I mean, if you forgot one then just don’t eat the yogurt! It seems really off to ask for a spoon because you can’t wait an hour to eat that yogurt.

    4. Yorick*

      I can’t imagine thinking that even a Starbucks drink was unprofessional, certainly not water. Maybe if they were sloppy with it or left trash on my desk.

      1. Pollygrammer*

        I don’t get it either, but I do feel like I wouldn’t want to do it, even if I can’t pinpoint a reason. Maybe there’s a sense that the time you spent waiting in line at Starbucks could have been spent preparing for the interview? Or there’s something selfish about indulging in “fancy” coffee when nobody else is?

          1. Sue Donym*

            To me, the casualness is setting the cups on the potential customer’s/interviewer’s desk. I think I’d put mine on the floor next to my chair (and probably forget about it). But maybe it’s because I live in Coffee Land (US PNW) where absolutely everyone has a coffee cup or giant water bottle in one hand all the time, that I don’t think a Starbucks or other takeout cup is inherently casual.

            1. Rusty Shackelford*

              I’m willing to accept that there are some cultures where a cup of takeout coffee is so ubiquitous that it wouldn’t raise a single eyebrow. But it’s far from universal. If your job interview is casual enough that at least one person in the room is wearing flipflops, it’s probably okay. ;-)

            2. JS*

              This! I’m originally from Seattle and I can’t imagine anyone there thinking anything of it.

              But even setting it on the persons desk isnt a big deal, like if you offered them coffee or water do you expect them to hold it? Putting coffee on the floor is asking it to get forgot or knocked over.

      2. Lynn Whitehat*

        For me it’s about being prepared. You should have had your coffee and be ready to start your day before the interview begins. I’m not saying it’s strictly fair or rational, but seeing someone come in with a Starbucks cup would feel a little like if they were tying their tie or pulling back their hair in the lobby. Like, did you oversleep, or are you bad at punctuality in general, or what?

        1. Jess*

          That’s my feeling too – this letter set me the wrong way and I was trying to figure out why.

          I don’t think I’d be put off by a bottle of water, particularly if it’s in the candidates bag, but coming in with coffee/tea is either:

          a) you were in a rush, so much so that you couldn’t even finish your beverage off in the car before coming into the office
          b) you’re unable to remain un-caffinated for even an hour
          c) you don’t trust us to offer you an appropriate beverage

          1. JS*

            This is wild to me that people would assume that.

            I always get to interviews 20-30 mins early to account for traffic/accidents/mishaps so I go to a local coffee shop to wait it out. Sometimes I get coffee, sometimes tea or water. I would NOT want to work for any place who would assume all that from me bringing in coffee or a drink.

      3. Millennial Lawyer*

        If I interviewed at a law firm with a Starbucks cup I… I can’t even imagine without being mortified. Some things just come off as really clueless.

      4. Observer*

        Note that Alison did point out that it’s a fairly unreasonable convention. But, a bottle of water is at a level where even where it’s kind of unusual, it’s hardly “unprofessional”.

    5. Turquoisecow*

      I don’t understand why any sort of beverage (aside from a flask of whiskey or one of those single-serve wine bottles) is “unprofessional.”

      I have sinus issues, so my throat gets dried out easily when I’m talking a lot (like in an interview, when making a presentation, or training someone). I think it’s much less professional for me to be constantly clearing my throat or having a coughing fit than to take a few sips of water or coffee or whatever in between. (And yes I know you’re going to say that caffeine is dehydrating, but lots of people drink it anyway, it’s just an example of a beverage.)

      1. McWhadden*

        Agree that if you are going to bring wine to your interview bring enough to share.

      2. BettyD*

        As someone who interviews people frequently, a little part of me now wants to see someone bust out a teeny bottle of Rose. They wouldn’t get the job, but man that would be awesome.

    6. Logan*

      I agree that I don’t understand why it is unprofessional, although I work in a profession which cares more about technical skill. Based on these comments I might choose to bring a travel mug, so that they can’t easily see what is in it, but I have gone to interviews with a drink from a chain (mostly because I find it calming to have a hot drink) and haven’t had any issues (I got an offer).

    7. Sarah*

      I had a candidate who brought in their starbucks cup and and the top was stained in drips and when he drank he made slurpy sounds. He probably got the drips from walking to the interview, and probably sounded much louder due to that it was an interview in a large empty room and was much quieter than normal with only 3 people. In the end when we went over his name all we could remember was how loud he drank and the nasty looking cup. He had previously in phone interviews been our top contender, but after that I couldn’t remember why he was. This is your interview, maybe your one shot for this job whereas your interviewers are seeing multiple people you don’t know what is going to catch their attention and take away from what you need them to hear, why add to the possibilities.

    8. The Original K.*

      I disagree that carrying water in an interview is unprofessional. I’m one of those people who carries a water bottle everywhere I go and drinks it throughout the day, especially in the summer (it’s supposed to be in the 90s later this week, HATE), and no one has ever said a word to me about it – and I find I’m far from unusual.

      If I’m going to be talking a lot, like in an interview or presentation, I’m MORE likely to bring water, not less. (You see comedians, TED Talk presenters, etc. with bottles of water from which they will occasionally sip as they’re talking.) I forgot my water bottle in an interview a few weeks ago and was mentally kicking myself – but they offered me “something to drink? Coffee, tea, water?” right away, so I was able to get some water.

      1. Turquoisecow*

        Yeah, and politicians during debates or town halls or even just speeches. I don’t understand at all how water is unprofessional.

        1. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

          I’m currently contracting with an environmental organisation. There is a jug and glasses in the cupboard and we always offer visitors or interviewees a glass of water! However, given our list of campaigns, anyone turning up to interview with a non-reusable bottle of water or a single-use coffee cup might get the side-eye…

    9. Chazzy*

      I think it’s impolite to bring your own drink because you’re breaking a social contract at that point. The host (in this case the interviewer) supplies drinks. Also, if you bring your own and the interviewer doesn’t have one, it comes across as inconsiderate because you only took care of yourself.

      Not quite rational/logical, but that’s how I’d view this if I were interviewing someone. It’s my duty to provide water, at the very least, and I wouldn’t bat an eye if a candidate asked for that. A candidate who brings her own drink? Not a great impression because it messes with how things are supposed to work, and that leaves a negative gut feeling.

      1. pleaset*

        “I think it’s impolite to bring your own drink because you’re breaking a social contract at that point. The host (in this case the interviewer) supplies drinks.”

        SPOT ON.

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          I have never had an interview where they offer me anything to drink….which is why I always bring my own water bottle.

        2. Courageous cat*

          This actually seems a little strange to me. I’m not sure the transition from “this being a rule in social settings” -> “this being a rule in workplace settings” works as well as it seems like it should. I guess it just rings hollow, like no employer would ever reeeally feel like that way.

          For what it’s worth, I’ve interviewed dozens upon dozens of people at various companies and would never be bothered by this, and also have never thought to offer anyone a drink. Then again, they were 15-30 minute interviews.

      2. blackcat*

        This is so, so strange to me.

        I need a lot of water. Like minum 2 liters a day, 3 if I’m doing anything with even mild exertion. I wouldn’t expect them to constantly offer water to my needs. To me, bringing my own water is like bringing notes to an interview. It’s about being prepared.

        Also, I’d prefer a bottle and don’t want single use plastic bottles. I’ve been given multi-use bottles when hired, but never when interviewing.

        1. Jama*

          I’m really not understanding the need for this much water at an interview. How long do have your interviews lasted for? 2 liters is roughly 66 ounces which is the recommended amount of water for everyone daily so that is really not excessive. You really shouldn’t need more than a few drink to wet your mouth from talking, this shouldn’t be the time to sit and sip away. I can see bringing in a small bottle of water but if someone brought in a liter I would spend the interview wondering if there was a medical issue and then how often would this person be out. Your not going to a team meeting, its an interview to show the best you. and usually there about an hour.

          1. Moo*

            If I am in a situation where I need to talk for more than about 10 minutes total, I need water or I’m going to start coughing. If it’s a situation where I might be a little nervous (i.e., an interview), I need to take a reasonably-sized drink every 10 minutes or so, or I’m going to trigger a coughing fit that is not pretty – either I’ll be talking while trying to suppress the coughs which makes me sound like I don’t understand how to speak, or I’ll just engage in the coughing fit which results in prolonged, deep coughs to the point of gagging. I’ve learned over time what I need to do to mitigate those coughing fits. It’s a lot of water.

      3. Friday*

        Some of us have a medical reason to need water, and don’t want to risk derailing the interview by asking our host for some if she doesn’t offer. I know I’ve had interviews in the past where no water was offered. Can’t risk it.

        That said, I prefer to stick to a water bottle which I keep hidden in my purse until I need a sip, so if the interviewer offers me water, I can take hers instead.

      4. VintageLydia*

        More often than not when I’m offered water it’s in a disposable bottle and my little tree hugger heart isn’t a fan. If someone has an issue with my water bottle, I’m probably not a good fit, anyway. In my mind, providing my own is just being prepared and not having to depend on others for basic needs. If I have a sore throat or something (basically ill enough to be annoyed by it but not ill enough to cancel an interview) I’d bring hot tea (basically a honey delivery device.) Again, I’m coming prepared and I’m not going to inconvenience a potential employer by asking (plus I feel like sipping a hot beverage looks more professional than sucking on a lozenge.)

    10. HS Teacher*

      If a company had a bad impression of me because I always have my water bottle, that’s not a place I’d want to work anyway.
      I live in Arizona, and this time of year it’s especially important to stay hydrated. It was like 105 yesterday! You’re damn right I’m bringing my water to an interview. I can’t remember ever being offered a beverage at an interview.

      1. Stop! It’s panda time*

        Yeah, NM here and people straight up carry around full gallons of water. A small drink? I’d never notice or care.

    11. Office Person*

      I hate the smell of coffee. It makes my stomach roil. Coffee breath is even worse to me. I have not hired people because their coffee breath was too strong and knowing I’d be working closely with that person was a total turn off.

      In my current office set up, I am in the office furthest away from the kitchen, so I do not have to smell the coffee each morning.

      Cigarette smoke is just as bad, but that’s thankfully limited exposure, as most of my coworkers are non-smokers, and would not be allowed to smoke indoors anyways.

    12. Robin Sparkles*

      I think you can always leave the bottle of water in your bag and if the interviewer doesn’t offer water, you can drink from it during a reasonable break in time. I would be surprised if water was a big deal but I have to agree that coffee seems off-putting for all the reasons the others mentioned.

      Anyway, this is one of those things I would just let go for an interview – it is weird and odd that people even care about a water bottle but it’s a one or two-time thing so it’s not worth it. And if you feel strongly about having a water bottle -bring it – a normal employer will not make that a reason to not hire a strong candidate.

    13. Observer*

      If a bottle of water is going to make a difference, then I would say that if you have options, most definitely bring one. Who wants to work for someone who would have an issue with someone bringing water with them for a longer interview?

    14. JS*

      It’s crazy to me that anyone would even think anything of someone bringing in a drink with them. I brought my coffee cups to many interviews I ended up getting the job for from intern to professional. This blows my mind.

  20. Elemeno P.*

    If someone wrote a paper on the mating patterns of migratory mermen, I would 100% want to know every detail.

    1. Geillis D*

      They prefer to mate with mermaids, manatees or miniature narwhals.

      And they never bring bottles of water to interviews.

    2. char*

      Agreed. I absolutely care about this thesis and would like to hear about it at great length.

  21. Jana*

    Alison, I have a question about #5 since that question comes up a lot in interviews and I’ve often wondered how to best go about about answering it. Organization does not come naturally to me at all, but, obviously, it’s important so having a clear and easy-to-use system is necessary for me precisely because I’m not naturally inclined to be very organized and I work on deadline-heavy projects. Is it worth mentioning that backstory to demonstrate an ability to be flexible and self-aware, or is it better to just cut straight to explaining how I stay organized?

    1. Admin of Sys*

      I wouldn’t cop to naturally being disorganized, if that’s what you mean by offering backstory. You can say that you use to avoid without making the direct connection. It’s the difference between ‘I clearly define a timeline because if I don’t, I’m prone to deadline panic’ vs ‘I clearly define a timeline so that as the deadline approaches, I have a good grasp of upcoming due dates and necessary action items.’ One makes a positive and a negative point for you and one just makes the positive point.
      That said, if you think the work at making the systems is worthy of mention, you can still mention it – but do so in the ‘tell me about a time you made a mistake’ section of the interview. Then you can point out that you used to panic about approaching deadlines, but then you built this great system to overcome that issue, which you mentioned earlier in more detail. Then you end up with double points towards the organizational system and the negative point doesn’t count because they /asked/ you for a negative and you showed them you’ve overcome it.

    2. Mockingjay*

      I’ve always related this question back to process – how I track my portion of the work and how that feeds into the whole project. Regardless of your individual tracking method, whether online tool, whiteboard list, or post-its on the monitor, it’s important to demonstrate how you will make project status – work completed, issues encountered, etc. – apparent to other team members and the bosses.

    3. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      I can only speak for me, but I would be impressed with this answer.

      “Organization does not come naturally to me at all, but, obviously, it’s important so having a clear and easy-to-use system is necessary for me precisely because I’m not naturally inclined to be very organized and I work on deadline-heavy projects.”

      This would tell me a lot about you. It would tell me that you understand your weaknesses, and find a way to compensate for it. It would also tell me that you can adapt based on work needs. The answer also lends itself to indicate self-reliance.

      All that being said, I wouldn’t go into details about how you are a disaster and hopeless when it comes to organization (not saying you are), but keeping it high level like what you stated would make me as an interviewer look on you favorably.

  22. Aleta*

    #1 – So, as someone with weird dietary restrictions and intolerances, something I’d like to add is that often when entire groups are going out to eat together, there is a lot of resistance to one person skipping, even if the others say it’s fine (it’s usually not actually fine). Also, if you DO go to a place where you can’t eat anything, or can only eat a side, or ate beforehand, often people will try to hunt for something you can eat, or strongly pressure you to eat something if you’ve already eaten, both of which are EXHAUSTING.

    It also depends upon whether the person with restrictions is actually bothered by eating/not eating. Eating in general is not a fun activity for me, so I genuinely don’t mind not having anything while others eat. I’m also extremely comfortable with being alone/don’t particularly need social interaction, so in a situation where I only have a limited time to eat (so need to actually get something to eat instead of sitting and socializing), I’m perfectly fine eating alone. Others (including your coworker) might not be, but people tend to project their own desire to be included in a meal onto someone who doesn’t actually care, and overly stress about including someone who doesn’t care if they’re included or not.

    1. pleaset*

      I skipped a happy hour organized by my organization’s founder and chair yesterday – she’s two or three levels above me in the org chart, and walked by my desk to see if I could make it before heading out.

      I hope people with confidence in their job security resist going to things like that if they don’t want to. I do, as much as possible. It gives cover to lower-level people who also want to skip.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      This is a really good point. There’s optional, but then there’s technically-optional-but-we’ll-all-notice-and-judge-you.

      It’s a friggin rock and a hard place for people who can’t just eat whatever’s set in front of them.

      1. Rusty Shackelford*

        In this particular case, though, I’m not getting a “it’s optional but not really” vibe. When the OP says At least 80% are meals that are not mandatory and she could do her own thing, it makes me think they’re really saying “we’d be perfectly happy if she’d go do her own thing once in a while, but she won’t.”

      2. Sarah*

        I agree if the whole group is going its really not optional. Its like a kids birthday party you can invite a couple of kids from your class but after so many you have to invite them all or its just mean.

    3. Lynn Whitehat*

      You know what I could do without ever experiencing again? People reading the menu “for me” and pointing out meatless options like I’m five years old. “Oh look, they have bean-and-cheese tacos! And you can get the salad without meat! And mushroom fajitas!” Um, yes. I can read just fine (actually I’m an unusually fast reader) and I haven’t eaten meat in 20 years, so I’m probably a lot better than you are at homing in on things I can eat.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Yeah, when I was on a really restrictive diet I consistently got the “well why don’t you order x? or y? or z? Try getting v!” usually followed by the “but why can’t you have x? or y? or z?” Dude, I don’t want or need to go into what my doctor said I can’t have right now, plus I can read, thanks. I appreciate the sentiment that they’re trying to be helpful, but I really don’t need the help. Or interruptions when I’m ordering of “but can you have that?” No, I just really enjoy the consequences of eating something my intestines hate.

    4. Totally Minnie*

      There’s also “this isn’t mandatory but there’s not a single other person in the office who isn’t going and if you say you don’t want to go you’ll be the single, solitary weirdo who doesn’t fit in.”

  23. Environmental Compliance*

    As someone who had to go through a 12 week very restrictive diet after being diagnosed with IBS, during which I had to attend 3 work conferences…. it does suck to be the Picky Eater, but I knew what I couldn’t and could eat, and I knew it was pretty difficult to find things to eat. For mandatory food events, I would put in a request for specific places/types, but all else…I just opted out. Those conferences all had lunches included, for which I brought snacks I could handle in my bag, and nibbled at what was offered that I could eat. All nonmandatory dinners, I ordered food elsewhere and ate separately, because I knew it’d be an absolute mess to find a place that I could eat at that the rest of the group would be okay with. At that point my list of places I could eat was pretty slim, so it’d end up being the same place nearly every time we went out. Even if you like the place, that gets old.

    However, I’m also the type of person that has no problem opting out of things, especially social events. Does your coworker feel obligated to be present? I know the events are apparently 80% nonmandatory, but are they clearly stated to be totally optional, no big deal if you don’t go? It also kind of sucks to be the one person that gets left out, so perhaps there’s something there too.

    (Also, somewhat irrelevant – 2-4 times a month is a LOT, and always going out together when travelling is a LOT. Who’s all paying for these?? Even no longer being a Picky Eater, that would get real old to me real fast.)

  24. Observer*

    #5 What Alison said is true. But also, sometimes there are real culture issues at play. If you are a total pen and paper person in an organization that’s trying to eliminate paper or that is really into information sharing, that could present a problem. Also, the way you keep organized could give a hint to your larger working and thinking style, as well. Not that one style is necessarily “better” than another, but it’s information that can be relevant.

    1. Admin of Sys*

      Definitely! It also depends on the needs of a job. If someone in a paper-heavy industry responds to the question saying they meticulously organize their filing cabinet, that’s a very different implication than if, say, a programmer says the same thing.

  25. Observer*

    #1 – If you do occasionally ask your coworker to skip the congregate meals, make sure it really IS *occasional*. Also, it’s worth noting that you dichotomy between “this is what makes her feel physically good” and “medical issue” is not meaningful. The only difference between one and the other is whether a doctor has diagnosed her or not. But that doesn’t make it less real.

    Mild allergies, for instance, are very real but they are not any worse than many other sensitivities – and in fact some of the symptoms of classical allergies look very much like the symptom of non-histamine sensitivities. I suffer from both mild seasonal allergies, and food sensitivities. Both are very real, and can be pretty miserable, even though neither is life threatening. On a work trip I would likely to be MORE careful of what I ate, because I need to be at my best and the stress of the trip would already be a strike.

    I do agree though, that some prior research is a reasonable thing to ask.

    1. Orfeo*

      I do think that it is necessary to remember that its not so much medical/not medical as a spectrum of severity. There’s life-threatening, need to go to the hospital medical issues, and there are I feel uncomfortable, my digestion gets out of whack, I feel sluggish/itchy/gassy/jittery medical issues. A lot of things are cumulative. There’s lots of issues where one meal won’t be a big deal, but every meal on a trip will.

      1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

        This is a really important point. There are lots of people in the comments on this post who seem to think that if an issue isn’t diagnosable, then there can’t possibly be any physical effects from eating something, and that’s sadly just not the case.

        1. Strawmeatloaf*

          That’s sad. I know I just have a sensitivity to certain foods, which while I would love to eat them, I would rather not have the inner-lip swelling and pain that accompanies it (raw carrots, raw strawberries, raw watermelon, random cesar salad dressings [I don’t know what’s in that one that causes it], etc. mostly uncooked veggies and fruits). I’m probably not allergic to them, but it doesn’t mean I want to be eating them anyway.

          I miss bananas though. Freaking adult onset allergies.

          1. JSPA*

            Lip swelling and pain is a classic allergy symptom, so yeah, you probably are in fact allergic (full stop) either to the fruit and veg themselves, or to something used in the production or preservation (some salad bars still use sulfites, for example, on their cut fruit and veg).

            If you don’t already do so, you’d be safer keeping a couple of diphenhydramine* on hand, just in case something “stealth’s” its way into your food, and that’s the day the allergy decides to turn more severe / systemic. Yes, the pill will knock you out a bit, but that old standby is the fastest acting option, short of an epipen, for a severe reaction.

            * in the US, classic Benadryl; in other countries benadryl can be something other than diphenhydramine

          2. Positive Reframer*

            I randomly started having something like that occur with black jelly beans. Inner lip swelling and redness (not pain as much) still SO weird and definitely not something I want to deal with while traveling.

            1. Strawmeatloaf*

              Not that I know of, but I tend to avoid seafood in general (just don’t like it). I can however have tuna and it’s not all Caesar salad dressings, just random ones.

              @JSPA: Good to know! The sensitivity is only what my allergist told me, but I haven’t been tested for food stuff. I can have those cooked, like carrots and such, I just can’t have them raw. It’s only bananas that make the back of my throat swell a bit so I do have different reactions to them which is why I believe the Dr. said it might be a sensitivity. But I will definitely keep that in mind and keep some Benadryl with me!

          3. uranus wars*

            I puff up like a balloon when I eat certain foods. So while, yes, I am technically not allergic I prefer to not have to wear flip flops for 3 days while I wait for the swelling in my feet and legs to subside.

            I also had a nurse tell me that while I wasn’t having anaphyltic responses yet if I repeatedly exposed myself to low-reaction foods that I would increase my chances of actually experiencing anaphylaxis at some point.

          4. Natalie*

            Since you mentioned raw fruits & veg specifically, you might look into “oral allergy syndrome” if you also have pollen allergies. Essentially, their are proteins in some foods that are very similar to the proteins in ragweed, birch pollen, etc so people can cross-react to the food proteins. Cooking breaks those food proteins down into different enough structures that it doesn’t trigger a reaction. Birch pollen/strawberry and ragweed/melon are both common ones.

            1. Strawmeatloaf*

              I do have plenty of plant/tree pollen allergies so that could be it! I don’t have the exact list, but I’m pretty sure the only thing that I wasn’t allergic to when I took the animal/plant allergy test were cats and dogs (the rest were mostly 1’s though).

              I’ll definitely look up that oral allergy syndrome then! Thanks!

          5. Anonerson*

            That sounds like Oral Allergy Syndrome – it’s an allergy to the pollen in food, not to the food itself. Sensitivity to watermelon, for example, is associated with a ragweed allergy. I have the same thing, but I’m sensitive to different foods. I never would have guessed how much I’d miss eating raw celery. Freaking adult onset allergies, indeed.

    2. Decimus*

      There’s also stuff that may not have a physical result on the body but sure does on your comfort and enjoyment. I have the genetic anomaly that makes cilantro taste like soap. I essentially cannot eat Mexican cuisine because of how difficult it is to reliably avoid cilantro in that cuisine. I don’t get sick if I eat it, but it really does taste like soap and even a small amount means I suddenly feel like someone added Dawn(tm) to my meal.

  26. Legal Rugby*

    OP #4 – My wife and I started working together recently, and a couple of times I’ve had to talk to her about her tone, which is uncomfortable as hell. BUT we are adults, navigating a new dynamic to our role, and both heads of our respective departments.

    In addition to speaking to his manager, you may want to provide her with professional coaching on how to respond to that type of situation. Regardless of whether or not they are in an intimate relationship, it takes concerted effort to develop a calm and rational response to that level of hostility in the workplace, and she will probably run into something similarly uncomfortable down the road. You may be able to help her out just as much by practicing how to respond to the situation with her.

  27. Lily Rowan*

    One thing Alison didn’t mention to OP#5 is that the interviewer doesn’t have a good way to know you’ve never missed a deadline in your life, so asking about your organization is kind of a “show, don’t tell” way of getting to that information. Just asserting that you don’t miss deadlines isn’t actually enough.

    1. Tuxedo Cat*

      I had an interviewer ask what happens when I miss a deadline question, and the only times I missed the deadline was for group projects. This was not on my end, though- the other pieces of the project, that I couldn’t do, didn’t happen by the time the deadline rolled around. I don’t know what I could’ve done differently because I sent reminders (not too often), looped in my manager, etc.

      It was a hard question to answer without coming off like I was blaming everyone else. I would much rather be asked how I organize things.

  28. queen b*

    just popping in to say that Aegon and Sansa could theoretically work out if they brought in Young Griff to the show

  29. Kiwi*

    Depending on the kind of restaurant and the restrictions, more places may be able to accommodate coworker than their menus suggest. If the group picks the restaurant hours in advance, coworker may be able to phone and say “hi, we’re a group of 15 wanting to come in for lunch today and I can only eat plain grilled chicken and rice, no flavourings. Can you manage that or do we need to go elsewhere?” Quite a lot of restaurants can handle that kind of request.

  30. Anita-ita*

    #1 – I am definitely your coworker. I’m a very clean eater and when you go out to eat you don’t know what you’re eating unless you choose a restaurant that caters to people who eat like that. I have eaten like this for years (nothing processed, minimal ingredient items, organic, small batched farms, I’m even picky about the butter I put in things). I do allow myself 1-2 treats a week but its usually at night when I can be a couch potato and don’t have to be productive after. If I go to a restaurant with no clean options and have to get a heavier meal, I feel like crap the entire day and my stomach is messed up for a few days after that.

    That being said, I like what AMA has suggested. Accommodate her when you can, ask her for a list of restaurants, and if you can’t accommodate her ask if she wants to skip it.

    1. Pollygrammer*

      Although I get what you mean and applaud your self-restraint, I would try not to present it as “clean” when you’re communicating your preferences to others, especially coworkers. It sounds majorly judgmental–basically, their usual food choices are then “unclean.”

      1. WellRed*

        Well, that’s what it’s called, clean eating, it’s a thing. What would you suggest?

        1. Persimmons*

          It IS a terrible name. Food should not have a caste system.

          Back in the stone ages, before clean eating was a thing, I was on that sort of diet for migraines. We called it a “miminal ingredient” diet or a “whole foods” diet. (This was also before the grocery chain of that name was widespread.)

        2. Ciaraamberlie*

          100% agree. Clean eating is what it’s called. Getting upset by that seems to be deliberately looking to take offence.

          1. Xarcady*

            But if you haven’t heard the name before, it does sounds judgmental. As if everyone else is eating “dirty.”

            I understand why it is called what it is called, but I don’t think it was the best choice of a name.

            And whenever I hear the term, I always picture someone madly scrubbing away at their vegetables, removing every speck of dirt from them and then some.

          2. tusky*

            But, what does it actually mean? When you say that’s what “it” is called, what is the “it”? I’d agree if it did actually refer to a specific diet, but it can encompass a lot of (sometimes conflicting) dietary practices that go by other names (Paleo, plant-based, AIP, low carb, etc), so your argument doesn’t follow.

            Also, a slight aside: can we please let die the nonsensical idea that people who challenge/critique something are “deliberately looking to take offence”?

            1. Ciaraamberlie*

              People who look to challenge or critique something so petty and unimportant do seem to be looking for something to be offended by. It certainly isn’t so black and white as to be nonsensical.

        3. fposte*

          A term that’s more concrete and supportable. “I eat organic and local” is fine. “I eat raw vegetables” is fine. “I prefer to eat at Anita-ita’s Cafe because she posts the sources of her ingredients” is fine. But no food is cleaner than any other; the term is just a way to make a kind of food sound superior generally by drawing on cultural views of taint and hygiene.

        4. Observer*

          It’s called that, true. And most of the people who call it that are either quite self righteous about their food choices or have some … interesting … attitudes towards food.

          “Clean” is not even a really accurate description anyway. Simple, minimally processed is a far better description.

      2. Anita-ita*

        I suppose I never thought of it that way! Good to always be aware of how you sound to others.

    2. Pollygrammer*

      I might also add: frequently restaurants that offer this kind of food are fairly expensive. If your dietary accommodation requires people to spend more money than they otherwise would want to, I’m not sure that’s a reasonable ask.

  31. Miss Jay, the Brazilian*

    OP #1, I could be your picky coworker, though I’m often very willing to accommodate and believe compromise is a two-way street. I agree that for mandatory meals, she should be accommodated. I would say for non-mandatory, more social in nature, ones, if you all want to keep the group eating together, have a rotation? Something like, ask everyone’s favorite places/places they can easily eat at, and make a list, and every time you go out together you rotate from that list? This would make it so everyone had a chance at being accommodated (not just the picky eater) and add an element of predictability to your outings, making it so that those with restrictions could look up the menu in advance and either pick something before they even get to the restaurant, or have the option of declining and going elsewhere if they feel there’s really nothing at all they can eat.

    While it’s not the ideal solution – and I’m not sure there’s even one -, I feel it’s at least fair that everyone gets their ‘turn’ when it’s a social outing. (I believe someone probably said it already, sorry if it’s been said)

      1. Miss Jay, the Brazilian*

        I do it a lot with my social group because it’s only fair that everyone gets one chance at their favorite place. I’m an ‘easy to please’ picky person, though, in that if the place has fries of a Cesar salad, I’ll order that and something to drink and I’ll be happy to just be there and socialize, and then pick up something on the way home or cook something later if I’m still hungry.

  32. IT But I Can't Fix Your Printer*

    I did many interviews for high-volume, high-stress positions and always asked people what their organizational tools and strategies were, and how they kept track of what was ‘on their plate’. There was no one right answer here, but I definitely heard some wrong answers. For example, ‘I rely on [other team] to tell me if there’s something I was supposed to be doing but forgot about’ (the position was in Other Team) or ‘all of my tasks are in a single ticketing system so I don’t need to have my own way of organizing’ (huge red flag that the person didn’t have the type of experience needed to succeed on our team).

  33. BookCocoon*

    I have a little bit of a different perspective on #4 because I work with my husband. I also had a colleague for several years whose wife worked in a different part of the organization, and I could always tell when he was on the phone with her because he was much more blunt and would get defensive or frustrated with her, which he would never do with anyone else. Working with my own husband I’ve found the same thing — in email communication we’re both polite and professional, but on the phone or in person we can’t just turn off our normal conversational patterns. In most cases this has been a positive thing — we work in different parts of the department, and on issues where each area is quietly annoyed at one another but not saying anything, we’ll go ahead and have the argument about it and hear the other’s point of view and bring that back to our respective areas.

    There was an incident recently where I was being the annoying one (bugging him about getting something done that he was planning to do later that day, which wasn’t urgent) and he joked that I could do it myself if I cared that much, and that resulted in his supervisor and my supervisor reprimanding him for inappropriately telling me to do his job, even though they’d both checked in with me and I told them it was my fault and there was no problem! So it’s a weird dynamic and I think it’s fine to check in with the person who received the aggressive response, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask couples to act overly formal in their interactions at work. I have work friends I joke around with and tease and sometimes get annoyed with, but that doesn’t stop us from generally being professional, and the same is true with my husband.

    1. McWhadden*

      I think you are right up to a point. But that point is when other people are made uncomfortable by the tone of the discussion. In the case of the OP a supervisor had to get involved because they were uncomfortable with the level of aggression. I don’t think couples get to put others in the office in an awkward place where they don’t know whether to intervene or not just for the sake of not changing their home dynamic.

      1. BookCocoon*

        Agreed. Most conversations I’m having (with him or anyone) are one-on-one. And it was uncomfortable for me to overhear my colleague’s conversations with his wife when he would get frustrated with her. But then I overhear my current supervisor talking like that to lots of people, so… somehow it seems better if it’s only someone’s significant other?

  34. Lynn*

    A job applicant showed up to her interview with my office with coffee spilled all over her blouse. Worse still, she never acknowledged it. She did not get the job, but does work in our industry and most people know about it.

    1. McWhadden*

      People in the industry know she spilled coffee once? Who hasn’t done that? And I think a lot of people would feel awkward mentioning it. I don’t see how this is a horrible thing that follows her in the industry.

    2. ArtK*

      Wow. Sounds like people in your industry are excessively nosy and gossipy.

      Frankly, why would you think it was bad that she didn’t acknowledge it? The polite thing to do is to ignore it on both sides, just like someone passing gas in public. It’s called a “polite fiction” — to be polite, you pretend something didn’t happen.

    3. Admin of Sys*

      Ooh, the failing to acknowledge it was a bad decision. Coffee spills happen to everyone, and yes, you should try to have a backup solution (reversible shell, dark clothes, backup top) but sometimes that just doesn’t work out. But you apologize for the mess! And heck, even if you actually did something dumb like fail to confirm the lid was on tight, you can claim someone bumped into you and you didn’t have time to change.

      1. ArtK*

        If you spill coffee in the presence of someone else, yes, you should acknowledge it. But why should this candidate have said anything? The spill already happened. There’s nothing to apologize for.

        1. Natalie*

          It has nothing to do with apologizing, it’s just acknowledging that you know that you’re not following a convention (clean clothes). Sometimes people have to deviate from the normal interview dress standards, whether that’s wearing tennis shoes because of an injury, Plain Dress for religious reasons, or not wearing a clean shirt because you spilled coffee on it five minutes ago. Whenever this has come up here before the general consensus is to briefly acknowledge it.

          That said, this minor thing following this woman around the industry is insane.

          1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

            That’s providing she knew there was a stain. A couple of weeks ago I was drinking a cup of coffee and I thought I spilled, looked down and didn’t see anything. Didn’t think anything of it, until I looked down again a couple of hours later and found a big unmistakable spot down the front of my blouse.

            Luckily I was driving during those several hours before noticing and I was able to clean myself up right after arriving at my destination.

            In other words, it’s a coffee stain, they are tricky bastards and those horrible dribble cups you get from the coffee places are stealthy.

            1. Natalie*

              True. And really, it’s a minor faux pas at worst no matter what the exact circumstances.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            This. Someone who didn’t acknowledge a stain on their shirt would make me wonder what other normal workplace conventions they might not follow, and given candidates who were equally qualified, I’d go for the one who seemed to fit typical workplace norms. But gossiping about it… no.

            1. Totally Minnie*

              I find that really weird, to be honest. Accidents happen. Sometimes I’m at work and I spill something on myself and I’m just stuck like that for the rest of the day. It doesn’t mean I come to work in dirty and stained clothes on a regular basis. I don’t like the idea of assuming people won’t follow the dress code just because they once spilled something on their shirt and didn’t feel like devoting valuable interview minutes to an explanation of how the spill occurred.

              1. Rusty Shackelford*

                Yeah, accidents happen. But when you show up for something where you’re supposed to be putting your absolute best foot forward, and you don’t bother to say “excuse my shirt, I spilled coffee and didn’t have time to change” (which takes seconds, not minutes), people are going to wonder if this is your best foot. I have absolutely no way of knowing if this is something you’re going to do on a regular basis. By hoping I’ll ignore it, you’re encouraging me to think it is. People have opinions and jump to conclusions. It’s unavoidable.

            2. WeevilWobble*

              “I’d go for the one who seemed to fit typical workplace norms”

              And this is how discriminatory environments manage to flourish in the US. Lots of people are taught that it is more polite not to raise it and make it awkward for the other person to have to respond (as is mentioned here.) But you don’t want some universal workplace norm (as if there is one for this unusual situation.) You want people who think and act just like you would. Norm=what you would do.

              That is really scary thinking.

          3. Admin of Sys*

            Yeah, I meant apologizing for showing up with a stained shirt, not apologizing for spilling coffee. In much the same way that if I got splashed by a muddy puddle on the way into an interview, I would say ‘I’m so sorry for the wet mess, I got splashed on the way in’. It’s not ‘omg how dare I offend your sensibilities’ it’s ‘I don’t look as professional as I should during this interview and this is why’

    4. WeevilWobble*

      Seems like she dodged a bullet here. No one should work for people who think spilled coffee is so scandalous they gossip about it with others in the industry.

      She’s not the one who comes off poorly in your story. And many consider not saying anything the polite thing to do.

      1. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

        Right?!? I can’t comprehend this. Unless the job was at a nitroglycerin factory where they were afraid the person would be a klutz. I can’t imagine passing on an otherwise good candidate and then gossiping about them to others over a coffee stain.

    5. Xarcady*

      How did the interviewers even know she spilled the coffee. I can imagine several circumstances where someone else could spill coffee and it would spill onto the interviewee. Because that may seem like something that is against the odds, but when you are interviewing that day, that is when something weird like that would happen. And if you don’t have time to go and change, or even find a restroom, you are out of luck.

      What bothers me most is that the interviewers obviously shared the story around. And I don’t think that was very nice.

      1. Totally Minnie*

        Right? And it’s not professional to tell your job interviewer about the jerk who bumped into you on the subway and spilled their coffee all over you, so you keep it to yourself and try to make yourself seem as professional as possible.

    6. Michaela Westen*

      This whole thing sounds like the dynamic of not helping someone from a bad background, then judging/criticizing/abusing her. Guess how I know about that.
      The people who do this think it’s “polite” to not acknowledge and help someone less fortunate (or even another elite who’s having a bad day), but it’s actually judgment and elitism. Who would they look down on, if we were all equal?

      1. Admin of Sys*

        I’m curious why you assume a person who had a coffee-stained shirt was from a bad background or was less elite? There was nothing to indicate that in the comment.

        1. WeevilWobble*

          They mean that this shocking lack of empathy and defining norms as only those fitting in a very strict set of social rules defined by what your own economic/geographic class would do is what leads to those sorts of discrimination.

          1. Admin of Sys*

            The social rule in question being that showing up to an office job interview in stained clothing and failing to address it? I don’t think gossiping about it to other folks in the industry and sharing the interviewees name is appropriate, but marking someone down due to missing social norms in an interview is not a lack of empathy. It’s not the fact that there was a coffee stain that’s a problem, it’s the fact that it wasn’t acknowledged. If they didn’t notice, it implies a lack of attention. If the did notice and decided to not mention it, then it might be that they’ll do the same with larger errors.

  35. Lisa Babs*

    Well if I was interviewing someone and they mentioned they use their Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper, I would give them mad cool points… but I think older people (like the owner of my company) might not. Plus if they were being interviewed by millennial you would have to even explain what a trapper keeper was (shutter).

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Obligatory reminder that Millennials were schoolkids in the 90s and we know what trapper keepers are, tyvm!

      1. Aleta*

        Yeah, I was born in ’91, and I had Trapper Keepers up through like 2007. (though I had some other brand because I didn’t know them as Trapper Keepers. Or I just didn’t pay attention to the name at all, which is very possible.)

    2. Environmental Compliance*

      This Millennial definitely had several Lisa Frank Trapper Keepers. And Lisa Frank folders. And pens. And markers.

    3. Joielle*

      Can we stop with the barbs at millennials? The oldest millennials are in their late 30s now. I’m a millennial and had trapper keepers throughout my childhood. It’s an actual age group, not just “someone much younger than me.”

      1. Natalie*

        You’d think it’d be easy to remember since the time period being referenced is baked right into the name.

      2. Lisa Babs*

        I’m sorry that I mentioned the phrase Millennial. There is definitely younger people who don’t know what they are but I am well aware that the term Millennial cover many different ages. So I didn’t mean to get people upset with that choice of words. I’m 37 and at the cusp of being millennial so I’m aware that some are in their 30s.

  36. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    I have a verrrrrrrry low tolerance for accommodating pickiness. I grew up with a father who had an extremely limited palate, and to this day it makes me crazy that my family constantly accommodates him. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of behaving as though his limitations are hard boundaries. It’s like we collectively forget that anything beyond the four or five things he will eat exists.

    So for me my willingness to accommodate this coworker would depend entirely on her reasons, with the acknowledgment that she isn’t obligated to share them so I would have to work off my own best understanding.

    If her preferences are genuinely just preferences — if she just has a limited palate — I would not let her dictate restaurant choices (any more than anyone else can weigh in). If that means she can’t attend or doesn’t eat, that’s fine. It’s her problem to manage, not everyone’s.

    1. Luna*

      I have a father who is the same way, and it drives me nuts. It is exhausting for the rest of the group to constantly be running around, bending over backwards to accommodate one person’s preferences. I have a friend with a gluten allergy, and she is way more flexible than my father, who has zero food-related health issues. This employee sounds like she is just a jerk- not only has she voluntarily chosen an extremely restrictive diet, but she makes everyone else deal with it every time, and it doesn’t sound like she even bothers to research the restaurants herself.

    2. MLB*

      Drives me nuts too, because I like to try new places and love a good variety of foods. I have a few friends in my life that are super picky too, but we don’t go out to eat often enough for it to let it bother me. But it sounds like the LW goes out to lunch with her colleagues A LOT and that would drive me batty. Pick a place, and if some don’t want to attend that’s fine. But don’t stress about it. (BTW, for me that many lunches with colleagues is way overkill. I like my colleagues but not enough to hang out with them that much in social situations).

  37. stitchinthyme*

    #1 – I am the picky eater at my office. I never expect other people to accommodate me; if I don’t like what they’re doing for lunch, I just go my own way. I told my coworkers that early on: if you are going someplace I want to go, I may tag along; otherwise, I’ll get something on my own. No harm, no foul. (That said, I *was* a little hurt the one time I didn’t have my car — it was in the shop and there really aren’t any places within reasonable walking distance — and they refused to change their lunch choice as a favor to me. I don’t expect accommodation 99.9% of the time, and I’d never ask if I had another option, and I’d do it for someone else if they couldn’t go get their own.)

    #5 – My husband is a sysadmin and sometimes has to do peer interviews; his favorite interview question is “What’s your favorite text editor?” He doesn’t care what the actual answer is, just that they HAVE an answer — anyone who works regularly on Unix systems should damn well have an editor preference, so it’s a way of gauging whether they actually have any hands-on experience.

    1. stitchinthyme*

      (So I suppose that first sentence should read “I *almost* never expect other people to accommodate me.” Although even in the case I mentioned, I didn’t *expect* it; I asked for a favor and was refused. I ended up asking a different coworker and we went out on our own.)

  38. Alex*

    LW1 –

    I’m someone who probably falls into the same group as your coworker with specific food needs – I’m vegan for ethical reasons, and since there’s not an allergy that’s being accommodated, I usually take on the brunt of the work finding places I can eat (and my coworkers with other dietary needs can also eat). I don’t think it’s too much to ask, and if you do get push back from them, that’s when you can revert to the “hey, we’re gonna try this restaurant out, if you want to join, great, but if it doesn’t work out, that’s fine too”

  39. Rockhopper*

    #2 Water should be fine, but I wouldn’t chance anything that would be noticeable when I spilled some drips down my front, the odds of which go up tremendously in a job interview (because of Murphy’s Law).

    1. McWhadden*

      I recently had an interview at 3:00 pm, which I hated because that just meant I had all day to spill something on myself!

      1. Totally Minnie*

        When I have afternoon job interviews, I always bring a change of clothes just in case.

  40. AKchic*

    #4 bothers me in so many ways.

    This screams Red Flags.

    Aegon held Sansa responsible for the team not communicating with his team.
    He felt the need to be verbally aggressive *at work* with her to the point that a supervisor stepped in to intervene.
    They both have been at the company for under a year (unsure of how long they’ve been dating), but you would expect they are still kind of supposed to be on their party manners at work.

    Aegon changed his tone and demeanor as soon as a supervisor stepped in. As if he didn’t realize another person *could* hear him. That speaks volumes to me. I am concerned that Sansa needs support. Do I think that LW4 is the person to give it? No, I am not advocating for that. I *am* however, saying that Aegon’s manager needs to be told of the incident so he can be “reminded” of how to speak to fellow coworkers. HR should also be made aware in case Sansa is ever in a position to leave Aegon, and gee, there’s this written statement already in her file documenting a witnessed event of possible verbal harassment/abuse by a supervisor in case she needs it. and HR is already aware that there might be a problem in case she does need help or comes forward with a restraining order, or perhaps someone else has an issue with Aegon and gee, it’s documented in *his* file that he was aggressive with another coworker so there is a pattern being established. (see where I’m going with this?)

    Their relationship shouldn’t be a factor, but it kind of is, depending on the future and each of them. Employees do need to be protected, because when you protect your employees, you are protecting the company.

  41. mrs_helm*

    LW #1 – another solution is food courts and and take out picnics. If you can find a mall or market with a food court that has one place Picky can order from, everyone else has other options but you can eat together. But also, if there is a park, river walk, or communal eating area in your hotel, you could let everyone get their own food and meet at (area) at (time).

    1. Humble Schoolmarm*

      I think this could be a really good solution. I’m a part of a group of about 5-6 that goes to our local food court once a week. The ambiance isn’t the best, but everyone can find something suitable and, aside from garlic breath jokes for those who choose the Mediterranean place, no one worries too much about their colleagues’ choices.

  42. Bookworm*

    #3: I’ve seen a few people now and then bringing a cup of coffee with them, but not water. I’d play it safe and stick with Alison’s advice (which is something I do but keep it in my bag). It may vary from organization to organization and it can be hard to tell (ie, I once worked for a large national law firm in a very liberal city where Hawaii shirts were and shorts were perfectly acceptable for partners to wear vs. being told off for not wearing a jacket on a humid 85+ degree day in a screening interview with a temp agency).

    I personally would not be bothered by a candidate bringing coffee but someone could always “interpret” it as someone who is a caffeine addict or can’t function without coffee or something equally ridiculous.

  43. Ursula*

    When I was hiring entry level people, I asked the question in #5 for an even more simple reason – I just wanted to know that the person actually does anything at all to keep things organized. I didn’t even care what it was – just that organization was something they thought about at all.

  44. STG*

    Perhaps if there isn’t a logical reason for a work convention than we should be examining why it’s still being followed instead of encouraging the convention even further.

    1. Cordoba*

      Sure, but while we’re examining it we can also assess whether sticking with it is at least morally neutral and will advance our own interests.

      There’s no logical reason for the etiquette around exchanging business cards in Japan. Despite that, when I’m in Japan I still follow the etiquette because I don’t want to be the boorish foreigner who offends the people I’m working with on the first day. It would be more logical for everybody to just exchange contact information via email rather than passing little printed pieces of paper back and forth. I’m not going to be the one who convinces Panasonic of that fact.

      There’s no logical reason to dress well for interviews. A suit is in many ways functionally inferior to a bath robe and pajama pants; it would be more logical to show up in your jammies. I won’t do that, because I want to get a job and get paid. You’re welcome to give it a try.

      Ingrained cultural and professional conventions are followed because humans are social animals rather than biological computers. Some conventions are actively bad, hurt people, and should be challenged. For example “this firm only hires white frat boys from Yale” is one that really needs to go away. A convention like “don’t bring a paper cup full of coffee to a professional interview” is perhaps one that most of us can just live with for a few hours as part of the cost of job searching.

      1. STG*

        The problem is that there is actually logical reason for business card etiquette and dressing well for interviews. It actually makes a pretty clear statement about being put together, etc. Even more important when it comes to customer facing roles.

        However, furthering conventions that serve no purpose should be questioned. Someone having coffee with them says pretty much nothing about the person besides that they drink coffee. It’s silly to continue to further it.

  45. Nephron*

    LW-1: I have an odd question, why doesn’t LW1 go somewhere else to eat? If the restaurant chosen by the group is not to your liking or you want to try a specific place to eat why not go there and say pass on the one that the group has decided on?

    1. Lunita*

      Probably because LW feels that he/she is in the majority in terms of restaurant preference but people don’t want to be rude to the one with dietary restrictions.

  46. Lunita*

    LW #5- Alison is right. As an interviewer, I don’t care whether you use Outlook or post-its, all I care about is that you have a system for organizing yourself and prioritizing tasks. And while you may know you’re a high performer, I have no way of knowing that except from your resume or possibly a reference (but in my industry that’s hard to measure).

  47. loslothluin*

    In all honesty, if I were in OP #1’s place, I’d speak with an employment attorney to see what my options are and if the attorney could write a letter about any and all violations the company is causing by knowingly assisting in stalking in this situation. It may stop it long enough for you to find another job, so you don’t have to keep worrying about what information is being passed on to the ex.

  48. Amber Barnett*

    #5 I’ve run into this question a lot lately too, and it makes me cringe, as my organization at work is drastically different from when I’m at home. I’m a very creative type, so at home, my stuff tends to fall under the heading of “organized chaos” in that it makes sense to me but looks like I’m scattered everywhere to anyone else. What really sticks with me is when an interviewer specifies “How are you organized at home?” which I have gotten a few times.

    At work though, things HAVE to be in the correct places or I start to lose my mind a little bit. So for the answer I prefer to give, I usually just focus on the work aspect and say that I make sure things are put back where I got them so they’re easily accessible to anyone else.

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