how should you address coworkers who take way more than their share of free food?

A reader writes:

I have a question sparked by this part of a recent letter about the coworker who was eating much more than his share of food at a work event:

“At one point I had to remind him that the appetizers were for the entire five-person table and not just him, and he still proceeded to eat most of a sampler platter. He didn’t just eat absent-mindedly either, we’re talking full-on food shoveling and then going back for more. I saw major stake-holders giving him the side-eye at multiple meals.”

I read your column regularly and like anyone else here, I’m aware of all the drama surrounding office food. How and where do you draw the boundaries in the gray area of office eating if it’s company-provided food at a company event?

If the coworker above (I’ll call him Cyril) were eating all the appetizers for the table of five, and three of them were clients, would you say something to him later? If this were instead an office-provided buffet, with many guest attendees and some staff, would it be okay to say something in that case?

I am emphatically not trying to start any drama. Like a lot of readers, I find the food issues a fascinating microcosm of office life. As the person managing the catering for our frequent conferences, I find myself laying out different sets of rules for different events. Sometimes the food is *only* for the guests. Sometimes it’s for the staff as well, but only after the guests have gotten theirs. Sometimes it’s simultaneous, in which case the expectation is that my coworkers will take modest portions. Sometimes I have to quietly direct staff away from, say, the vegetarian option if I’m concerned we’re running short. Generally I let staff know either during set-up or via email what their options are.

We have had actual instances where young interns with hearty appetites have jumped in line and I have literally stepped in front of them and told them quietly that they’re to wait until after guests have eaten. I’ve chased coworkers away from trays of desserts. I’ve also said things like “please take only one” or “no, we’re not serving staff yet.” I figure this traffic-directing is part of my job. (Clarifying that all of these events are in our actual office building during business hours, so staff has access to their usual dining options, they’re not trapped in a convention center. Also, most of the time, the staff invited to help eat the catered food are not involved the event.)

I feel like I would be really, really tempted to tell Cyril he needs to take smaller portions and/or not come back for seconds if it’s a regular issue. What do you think?

People are really weird about free food! Well-paid people who aren’t in any way hurting for cash can devolve into near-savagery when free food is on offer. (We must never forget the guy who hid breakfast tacos in his desk drawer so no one else could have them.)

So you’re right to lay out clear expectations ahead of time when there are rules people should be following about food or restraint they should be exercising. Often people assume everyone is playing by the same rulebook on this kind of thing, so they don’t give guidance beforehand … and then are horrified when colleagues decimate the buffet table and leave with pot pies stuffed in their pockets before clients or VIPs have had a chance to get any food.

Of course, even when you do set clear expectations ahead of time, people sometimes still do that kind of thing.

To answer your hypothetical about Cyril eating all the appetizers at a table of clients: In the moment, you’d want to be gracious about it so the clients didn’t feel uncomfortable. You could say something like, “We’re going through these faster than we realized — let’s order some more so everyone gets a share.” And then yes, talk to Cyril in private afterwards, especially if you’re his manager / the event organizer / the most senior person at the table / otherwise have some authority in the situation. You could say, “When we’re eating with clients, please just take a single serving of any shared appetizer and make sure they’ve had a chance to take the food they want before you go back for seconds. Jane and Gulliver didn’t get any appetizers until I ordered a second round. Our top priority at these dinners is making sure clients have a nice experience, even if that means we’re compromising on our own preferences.”

The same thing holds with buffets. Ideally you’d lay out expectations beforehand (“please let our guests go through the buffet and fill their plates first” or whatever it might be). But then if you saw problems at the event, you’d either address them in the moment (as you seem to be doing an excellent job of!) or afterwards. And yeah, with repeat offenders, it’s not unreasonable to give standing guidelines like not coming back for seconds or only taking a single dessert.

Free food, man. It’s apparently a visceral, biological imperative.

{ 630 comments… read them below }

  1. E*

    This is very timely. We just had a potluck and maybe 20 people brought food, but 80 people showed up. Because free food. Needless to say there was barely enough food everyone and I could not help but side-eye the intern who got back into line for seconds before everyone else had even been through the line. My coworker was especially annoyed at the person who came from another department and grabbed food and then left without interacting with anyone.

    I feel like as an organizer it is definitely your job to do a little bit of subtle policing at events like this.

    1. KayDeeAye (Kathleen_A)*

      We just had a potluck today and although we had a great crowd (“great” as in almost the entire staff of 50 attended), we had soooooooo much food. In fact, we still do. Nearly everybody brought at least a little something.

      1. Lynn*

        I always read these reports and wonder who on earth these people are. I mean-any workplace I have ever personally worked at had potlucks where we should probably have invited people in off the street just to make more of a dent in the abundance. My motorcycle club will have potluck meetings where we leave pies/pastries/desserts for the staff at the dealership for the next day because there is a limit to how much we can all eat. I read on a forum somewhere that they have “designated eaters” invited to potlucks-folks who eat, but who are required to not bring anything. I think it is a pretty decent idea. I have never been to a potluck that was anything except over supplied with food. At most potlucks I go to, people are trying to foist the leftovers off on someone else. “There is no way my family can eat 3/4 of a cheesecake-please take some.”
        “Only if you take a half dozen cookies and a scoop of pasta salad.”

        When I work in client offices and they are having a potluck, they will often invite me to attend-after assuring me that there is soooooo much food (I tend to decline as I don’t want to butt in-but I have seen them, and they have enough food to feed an army…or at least a good sized squadron).

        That said, if food at potlucks are an issue where you work/with your family/insert the group it applies to here, then they either need to cease OR they need to be policed a bit to ensure that folks aren’t sneaking in who didn’t bring anything and that folks are taking reasonable portions.

        1. Lucette Kensack*

          Agreed. Potlucks — which I love! — have always sort of confused me. If everyone makes a casserole, or a salad, or a pan of brownies, you’re going to end up with absurdly too much food. I can’t eat a whole casserole by myself…

          1. CMart*

            At my office there is always a sign up sheet of sorts, where among the options of “savory snacks”, “vegetables”, “dip”, “desserts” and “beverages” are options to bring plates, napkins, plasticware, and cups. Sometimes condiments are on that list, like when we had a chili cookoff you could bring a chopped onion, or a bag of shredded cheese.

            1. The Other Dawn*

              I don’t think I’ve been at a company yet that has a proper signup sheet for potlucks. It’s annoying when we have these events and end up with 15 desserts and like two entree-type items. Whenever possible I try to bring something savory that’s more like a meal versus a dessert or an appetizer.

              1. Theelephantintheroom*

                Yeah, we just had a potluck and there was a whole table of macaroni and cheese because, even though there was a list, the lady in charge if the potluck didn’t bother to actually point out the list. (In fact, I didn’t know it existed until today.)

                And a couple people brought their YOUNG kids. To the office. For a potluck where they were enforcing a, “If you want food, you have to contribute something” policy and anyone who didn’t had to wait until after 2 to eat—to make sure they didn’t eat so much that contributors didn’t get food.

                And I’m OK with these policies, but they never actually communicate any of it. So most people were pretty confused about what was happening.

              2. PhyllisB*

                One time our ladies’ group at church had a Christmas dinner, and out of the group of 15, NINE brought green bean casseroles. The rest were desserts and plenty of wine.

                1. PhyllisB*

                  This was my first year with them (and I was one of the green bean contributors.) I asked why they didn’t do a sign-up sheet or assign categories. I was told “That was no fun.” Everyone wanted to make their own choices. I wasn’t there the next year so don’t know what happened then.

                2. Ms. Alex*

                  At my grandmother’s funeral luncheon there were 13 Jell-O salads, donated by the ladies at the church. For some reason I found this hilarious and it turned out to be a mood-lifter for me on a sad day – so much so that I still chuckle about it. They were sweet ladies but that was too much Jell-O for us to eat all of it.

              3. Ellen N.*

                I feel the opposite. To me the luck part of potluck means that the dishes will be a surprise.

                I was at a company that had a signup sheet. I was willing to go along with categories, but I dropped out when I couldn’t just sign up for a vegetable side or a dessert, I had to be specific about what the dish would be.

                One of my coworkers said that we couldn’t, for example, have two people bringing cheesecakes. I said that in my view a cheesecake throwdown would be fun.

                1. Lynn*

                  I agree. I have been to a lot of “all the pies, all the time” potlucks, a couple of “the wide, wide world of pasta and potato salads” potlucks and even one “how much chili can one group eat” potluck (I was the only one who brought green chili instead of red-but otherwise, for whatever unplanned reason, 10 out of 16 of us all brought our version of chili).

                  I think it is kind of funny to end up with an odd potluck balance of foods that indicates that an office/group is all on the same wavelength and that everyone is thinking the same way.

                  But running out of food-I just have never seen it, so it comes across as completely strange to me. I know it happens-we read about too many problems with potlucks for me not to believe. I just don’t really ‘get’ it beyond the hypothetical. As with many things, I look at it oddly, accept that it happens, and then go back to my world where my husband tries to convince me to cook less for our club’s Christmas White Elephant exchange and all dessert (on purpose) potluck.

            2. Product Person*

              At current and past 2 jobs, we didn’t provide choices, but we did use a Confluence (wiki) page where people would sign up and describe what they’re bringing. This way, folks signing up at the last minute would know that we already have two people bringing mac and cheese and would go for corn bread or a dessert instead.

          2. Bagpuss*

            I think they work better for groups where whole families attend – you won’t individually eat a whole casserole or cheesecake, but if you have (say) a couple plus children, or an adult plus elderly parents, then if they bring one dish then it would probably work out about right.

        2. Flash Bristow*

          I’ve been to potlucks where there was tons of food …

          And I’d brought the only veggie dish. So I’d be eating a few scoops of my couscous, smiling and saying “no I’m fine!”…

        3. Berkeleyfarm*

          Long ago I was in a “food and cooking” group on usenet and they had occasional epic potlucks (“Cook-ins”) at various people’s houses. Most people would bring 2 or 3 things and in good quantity. We did and still use the term “designated eater” for non-cooking friends and relatives who came along to enjoy.

          I agree that if people aren’t playing by the established rules, the potluck needs to get a bit more managed.

        4. Anonymous*

          I am more empathetic to the intern – Unless your office pays interns generously, it’s possible they are experiencing food scarcity. I have read stories of lower income students trying to break into their careers practically starve during unpaid college internships, so – you sometimes really don’t know a person’s situation. For an unpaid intern, that may have been their only hot meal all day?

      2. Detective Amy Santiago*

        My team never does potlucks on Fridays because we always have enough food for two days.

      3. I Am the OP*

        We also have potlucks — people sign up ahead and everyone seems to enjoy it, including me. The over-the-top food consumption I sometimes witness is always related to catered events in the office, not employee-provided food events. Maybe the idea is that nobody “owns” the food since it was prepared by a caterer?

        1. The Other Dawn*

          That’s been my experience, too. I don’t think I’ve ever seen food run out at a potluck, but there are almost never leftovers when it’s a catered event.

        2. Glitsy Gus*

          I think that’s a good point, a potluck situation creates more of a “we’re all sharing” vibe whereas a catered event brings out the, “the boss OWES me this” attitude.

        3. Adlib*

          Yes, we absolutely run interference for catered lunches. We have several in our office per week, and the rule is if it ends up in the kitchen, then it’s open season. After it’s announced, the vultures descend, and you better be quick!

      4. Old Biddy*

        Potluck culture can be very variable. I am in a profession where many people like to cook, and my friends and the people in my neighborhood are foodies, so potlucks with way too much food and booze is the norm for me. My husband has a hobby and the local folks are light eaters, cheap and not that organized. He warned me aobu their potlucks but I couldn’t quite grasp it until I went to one. They had a potluck and people bought things like a little 6 oz package of cut up fruit, or one box of crackers, or nothing at all. Although there was a sign up sheet, they didn’t give the option of bringing plastic utensils or paper plates, because they apparently thought everyone would bring their own. I showed up with a massive quinoa salad and immediately left and made a trip to Aldis to get the plates and utensils.

    2. Jean*

      It’s pretty rude to show up to a potluck to eat if you haven’t brought anything. If the organizers specifically invite everyone to eat whether they contributed or not, that’s fine, but otherwise you better have some cookies or a veg tray to chip in. I have too much shame to ever be seen getting in line for a potluck if I haven’t brought anything, but a lot of my co-workers have no such shame. (At my office the moochers all seem to be men age 50+ but I’m certain that this behavior is not exclusive to any age or gender group.)

      1. E*

        I am with you on this. I would never show up to a potluck and eat without bringing something. In our case it’s that we have a lot of college and just-out-of-college aged people who are naturally attracted to any free food offers, regardless of their own contribution, because they make relatively little money.

        1. Quill*

          There was a point when I was in college (it was during a portion of the weird post-christmas break term where only half the students were on campus) that the cafeteria decided to phone it in and serve tater tots for three meals in a row.

          Yup. Just tater tots and your salad or pizza bar options. The salad bar had last been cleaned during the previous semester.

          If one of my friends hadn’t worked at the library and made off with the entire cheese and fruit tray after her shift, I think we all would have gotten scurvy.

          1. Dawbs*

            I used to manage a team (well, realistically 1 team officially and 2 other teams when their bosses sucked-so often) of student workers

            If there was leftover/excess event food, I fought off facultyvultures tooth and nail until my students got fed. Man you’d think I kicked puppies. that I thought people who made 1/4 what they did should get to eat before they got to take it home.

            (I usually managed to get the students take home leftovers too…but I could only piss off faculty so much. My boss had my back and the best day ever, the instructor who was packing things up to “take to the poor at the shelter [ftr, I do Actually think he was doing that] was stopped mid pizza by boss reaching over his head, taking 2 boxes and telling him “of course! But the poor here come first ” and handing them to my polite students [who were legitimately in need])

              1. dawbs*

                I did!
                When she left, so did I; once it became obvious that the replacement did NOT have my back and the ideas of fairness, esp to our students, was not a priority for him.

                Boss pissed me off SO many times, over the 10 years I worked for her.
                But when it came to the basics–making sure our low income students had food and mittens and whatnot–she always worked with me.
                (I have a story of me taking her personal credit card to the local market and buying them out of granola bars and fruit, because of a mishap relating to HS students not having free breakfast because of a field trip. I’m 99.999% sure she didn’t even try to get reimbursed for that)

            1. Myrcallie*

              Gosh, I wish I’d had you as a faculty member when I was a student!

              I know someone who has an untenured post at a college, and she keeps her office stocked with sandwiches, breakfast bars and other snacks for hungry students. A(n older, tenured, male) colleague of hers will sneak in once or twice a week, steal a bunch of food, and run back to his office with it. And it’s just like…why, when you are not even remotely hurting for money, would you do that?

        2. Jaydee*

          When I was an intern, we were explicitly told that for the office potluck we were to bring either nothing or a bag of chips, 2 liter of pop, or package of plates, cups, plastic silverware, or napkins. The paid employees would bring all the food.

        3. Iris Eyes*

          Food insecurity in college is a REAL thing. One of my greatest regrets in college was not realizing that I probably qualified for food stamps and/or food banks. Fresh out of college wasn’t much better. So to those of you doing the good work of hospitality for college students and recent college grads, bless you!

      2. TooTiredToThink*

        I hate potlucks because I never know what to bring and the cost! If I make something it never gets touched and if I buy something it usually ends up costing me like $20 and never gets touched. At OldJob we had a lot of moochers so the people who organized the potlucks decided to start doing a money donation and they’d use that money to buy food, drinks, etc… I opted into that so fast.

        1. Antilles*

          One way to handle this is to only bring food that I’m 100% okay if nobody eats it and I have to handle the whole thing myself over the next few days.
          Another trick which I’ve used in the past is to offer to bring the plasticware and plates. Costs like $5-10, requires literally zero effort or thought, and usually the organizer is like “oh man, totally hadn’t gotten that far, but yeah, that’s good!”.

          1. Librarianne*

            Yes, I’m usually the first to sign up to bring plates/cups/etc. It eliminates all of the guess work!

            1. Dawbs*

              One of our local employers is a large paper product company. Employees get “imperfect ” products.

              The unspoken rule is if you sign up for plates, etc, it doesn’t count, sign up for something “real” too ;)

          2. Kyrielle*

            Drinks and/or chips are another good go-to. :)

            Or anything your potlucks usually run short on – only if you have repeated potlucks with the same group of course. :)

          3. 1234*

            In elementary school, when we had parties in class, the teacher would have a sign up sheet for what everyone was bringing. My parents always encouraged me to bring either plates or chips. They wanted it to be easy to shop for and not heavy for me to carry. Do not volunteer to bring the 2 liter soda is what they said. Thinking back, they are so smart.

          4. Richard Hershberger*

            I always work on the assumption that I will be taking some or all of it home. Hummus: People are terribly impressed by home-made hummus, but it is really easy: just chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, a bit of cumin and a pinch of salt, all in a blender. You can add other stuff to fancy it up, but those five ingredients alone are just fine. Put it in a baking dish, or a disposable foil pan if you don’t want to bring the dish home afterwards. Swirl it around, drizzle a little olive oil, and add a garnish if you want, and it looks pretty. Pick up a package of flat bread and you are done. This is bog easy to do, is inexpensive, and other than the flat bread, it is all stuff that you can have sitting on your shelf indefinitely.

            1. Sun Tzu*

              Cumin isn’t necessary. And if you want to make it nice, add some swirl of sweet paprika (sweet paprika, not the spicy one!) on the top to decorate the dish.

        2. E*

          Yeah. I agree potluck food is difficult especially if you don’t have time to think about it. I have a few go-to dishes but this time logistically couldn’t work out either. I just ended up bringing rolls and butter. They all disappeared because there was so little food. I would have been all for a monetary contribution and would have probably done one if I was the organizer.

        3. ThatGirl*

          What my new department here does is a sign-up sheet (drinks, appetizers, sides, entrees, desserts) and also the option to kick in $10 if you don’t want to bring something – then they bring in some catered food to fill things out. It works pretty well. That said nobody would be shamed if they came without bringing something or contributing.

          1. UKDancer*

            Yes. My company also allows you to contribute money rather than making something. As someone who is short of time and a terrible cook I always opt for this.

            Mostly it works ok, we have enough food. I have a couple of colleagues who like making cakes and this suits them.

            I am always a little unsure how clean peoples’ kitchens are so I tend to stick to the shop bought food as I know that’s safe.

        4. Amethystmoon*

          For my job, I always just buy one of those packages of mixed cut veggies from the grocery store and a container of hummus. Works great as an appetizer and those on restricted diets have something they can eat. I never bring anything I wouldn’t eat myself.

        5. Essess*

          My Oldjob did the ‘donate money or bring side dishes’. They told people that the money would be used for a main entree. Then they spent the money on a giant ham for the main dish, ignoring that many of the employees were Jewish or Muslim. It would have been okay if they’d also provided one other main dish like chicken, but that was the only thing they bought. I thought it was really rude to take the money and buy food that the donators couldn’t eat.

          1. Sabina*

            Yeah, as a vegetarian I’ve been burned in similar situations. “Let’s all kick in for pizza! Oh, sorry, all we bought was the Meat Lover’s Special with Extra Pepperoni…sorry!”

        6. Jcarnall*

          I’m vegetarian, so I always bring a one-dish meal that I’d be happy to lunch off.

          That way if everything else on the table is either meat or fish or unspecified* or dessert, I still get to make a good meal.

          *Unspecified. This is genuinely a big problem for anyone with dietary issues at a potluck – because you’re staring at something that looks like it COULD be good, but also COULD contain unspecified meat. And trying to find the person who made it and getting a quick run down on what it contains tends to irritate them (especially if it IS vegetarian) and of course delay me in getting a helping. I wish all potlucks had rules that you had to list ingredients.

      3. J*

        I like the way my workplace handles potlucks. Anyone who brings a dish can participate, and if there are leftovers (and there always are!), people who didn’t bring something can come grab a plate in exchange for a $5 donation to our organization’s chosen charity that we support.

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          We have the opposite… management reimburses the cost of ingredients for anyone who brings a dish, everyone eats, if not enough people volunteer to cook then they order a pizza or something to round things out.

      4. JustMyImagination*

        Former company had potlucks and it was the same 20 people bringing enough food to feed 50. The 20 got tired of it and one potluck only about 5 people brought food. Some of the moochers had the gall to go into the potluck, look at the table and say “is this it?”. I never participated in a potluck at that company again.

        1. Antilles*

          I would never say this at a work event, but it would absolutely cross my mind to reply with a snarky “yeah, this is it; I think the rest of the food is in YOUR kitchen, sitting with all the other potluck contributions you haven’t made for the past six months.”

          1. Det. Charles Boyle*

            Antilles, I need you to be the scriptwriter for all my future snarky remarks. That one was delicious!!

          2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

            This is why I’m best in my own little worlds where I can easily say that to anyone who wants to get salty about the lack of free stuff.

            Thankfully though, I work with people who do not do this and they’d be taken down many pegs if anyone ever tries. We’re not a quiet crew who stews over things, we just say it as long as it’s not something actually vile.

            1. Ego Chamber*

              “We’re not a quiet crew who stews over things, we just say it as long as it’s not something actually vile.”

              I like this method a lot more than the alternative. The last big family reunion I went to, I found out I’d apparently been “frozen out” by a particularly Mean Girls subset of the family and they’d been working on turning everyone against me for the past 4 years(?!).

      5. Kiwiii*

        I don’t know, only about 1/3rd of people brought things in our office for our potluck thanksgiving, but everyone ate and we had tons of leftovers.

      6. AndersonDarling*

        I sometimes get the vibe that some men don’t understand that they are also expected to contribute to potlucks, not just the women. In their lives, the wife/mom always brought the dish to family events so they don’t even think “bring a dish to participate” applies to them.
        A company I worked at would have potlucks and half the employees were salesmen. 20 women would end up buying and cooking food for 100 employees.

        1. Librarianne*

          I’ve noticed it especially with men… of a certain age. The young(ish) men I’ve worked with tended to like showing off their cooking skills.

          1. Joielle*

            Yuuup. My husband (30s) is an excellent baker and always brings really lovely home-made cakes and pastries to potlucks… and has been asked several times if he REALLY made it, or if his wife made it. Uh, no, his wife (me) is terrible at baking, but thanks for being a sexist jackass about cake.

            1. Autumnheart*

              Never mind that apparently this person thinks it’s okay to go home and blithely tell one’s spouse, “Oh, hey, my office is having a potluck on Thursday, so I’ll need you to bake 3 dozen cupcakes. Thanks,” like their spouse is Uber Eats.

              1. Joielle*

                I know! That is so foreign to me, it just does not compute. Who ARE these people? And what are their marriages like??

                Plus, what, he’s lying about making an elaborate cake? All it would take is one person being like “Nice, where did you get the recipe?” for the ruse to come apart. It makes no sense. The sexism runs deeper than the logic, apparently.

                1. Tina*

                  Ooh! It’s my parents! My dad works and my mom was a SAHM homeschooling a gaggle of kids and keeping a big but kinda run-down house immaculate and running all the literature courses for the entire homeschool community for forty miles and taking care of Dad’s elderly aunt, so she had OODLES of time to make cake and cupcakes and cookies for office potlucks and office ‘something cool happened so I’m bringing cake to share to celebrate’, didn’t she?

                2. Short Time Lurker Komo*

                  I wouldn’t think it that weird. I actually have asked my Mom to cook stuff for work pot lucks/chili cook offs. Now, I help with the buying and prepping, but she puts it all together. I would imagine it’d be similar with a spouse asking the other for some food. ‘Hun, if you’ll make this for me, I’ll do Y.’ Or whatever.

              2. Amy Farrah Fowler*

                You don’t know their relationship dynamics… While it’s absolutely wrong to assume that the woman did the baking, it’s also wrong to assume that a woman (or anyone) WOULDN’T want to bake. People like baking. I’m a woman, and I made brownies a couple nights ago, and if my husband came home and said, “hey we’re doing a potluck on next week” we’d talk about it and if he asked me to bake something, I’d be happy to do it.

                1. Sally*

                  +1, same here. I like baking, I like his colleagues, happy to send something along, (especially since he works stupid hours). There’s more than one way to be an equal partnership.

                2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

                  When my husband tells me he has a work potluck coming up, I say “what can I make?” because he is incapable of making a sandwich without dirtying every dish we own, and while he always cleans up after himself, it still drives me bonkers. :-P

                3. SDSmith82*

                  +1 here too…
                  Cooking is my way to let off steam from a bad week. I’m totally ok making things for his potlucks. PLUS- since the last couple places had people who really didn’t care too cook (or even go to a grocery store for package dip) – it’s my way to insure he’d not going to survive on tortilla chips and salami trays during a long shift. He tends to work places that are too cheap to pitch in for potlucks, but full of folks that don’t really want to participate either. My tray of pasta salad is not only usually VERY appreciated, but also always eaten.

                4. TechWorker*

                  Some people also enjoy baking but can’t eat all of it! When my colleagues wife was on maternity leave she was bored of being stuck at home and did a lot of baking… the office was the very grateful recipients of various nearly-whole cakes.

              3. TinLizi*

                My dad used to do this to my mom. Drove me nuts. I made sure my husband knew to NEVER volunteer me to bake for his work. I like baking, but only when I want to. Not on command.

              4. ThatGirl*

                I mean, I offer to make things for my husband’s work potlucks because I enjoy it, although if he *demanded* it of me that might be a different story :) (Also if I just couldn’t for whatever reason he’d pick up cookies at the grocery store)

                1. PhyllisB*

                  It’s funny…my husband loves to cook and does about 90% of it at home, but when he has a work potluck he always asks me if I have time to make something for him to take. Usually a dessert, because he doesn’t like making desserts and I do; but I just think it’s funny that he doesn’t want to make something on his own. If I’m on overload and can’t, then he does the chips/salsa routine.

              5. Jaydee*

                My husband did that to me once. He asked if I could make some cookies for him to take to work. I was thinking this was like a “whip up a quick 2 dozen chocolate chip cookies for a meeting” so I said sure. Turned out he wanted like 100+ cookies and both chocolate chip and sugar. And he realized as soon as he started to say those words what he was asking and quickly said “no, I can just buy some it will be okay.”

                Reader, I made it happen. Brown butter cookies even. They were all gone within an hour and got rave reviews. And I leveraged the goodwill from that into a fully redecorated living room that I am currently sitting in, with the fireplace glowing and the house panther pinning me to the couch.

                1. Jaydee*

                  To be fair, I love to bake and have a history of helping him out with massive baking projects, so it’s not like the request was totally out of the blue. On the flip side, he makes a roasted veggie dip that everyone loves, so I promise that for all sorts of potlucks, parties, etc. without even asking him. We even paid one of my friends in roasted veggie dip and pita chips for babysitting our son for an evening.

              6. Free Now (and forever)*

                My husband comes home and ASKS me to bake something. The staff at every courthouse he’s worked in (he’s a judge and formerly a prosecutor) knows that I’m the baker and people in the various offices have been known to beg him to bring something in. I visited him at one courthouse and was practically worshipped by everyone he introduced me to. I like to bake and we shouldn’t have baked goods in the house, so this works for both of us.

              7. Essess*

                I work in a male-dominated industry. The majority of them bring in food that their wife made for the potluck. It’s incredibly rare that they would make their own potluck contribution. It boggles my mind to expect your spouse to supply the food for your job event.

              8. Adlib*

                My former coworker’s husband does this. I don’t know how he isn’t buried in the backyard by now. (for this and other things)

          2. the_scientist*

            I think this is definitely a generational thing — my husband’s workplace is doing a series of potlucks and bake sales to raise money for Movember and the talk of the office has been the baking skills of one of his team members, a man in his late 20s- apparently he makes a mean cornbread. My millenial and gen-z colleages, of all genders, all seem to understand that you need to bring something to a potluck if you’re going to join.

        2. Quill*

          This would explain some demographic coincidences about other peoples’ observations on the age and gender of the office moochers.

        3. Caroline Bowman*

          this attitude still prevails and it sends me up the wall! I love to cook and make potluck type things, but the number of men who never even consider contributing at all because, man, is astounding. Many of them are generally not chauvinistic in other ways either. Just that potluck = women do and provide for.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            A lot of them don’t know how to cook because they’ve never had to, usually their mom did it. This is an explanation, not an excuse. Everyone who’s physically capable of it should learn some basic cooking skills just because it makes things easier.

            When I was 22 and in school, I helped a 19 year old cook a pizza for the first time because he’d never been expected to feed himself when he was living at home and the entire experience was new and scary for both of us . If you think pizza is too challenging a recipe for someone who doesn’t cook, I should add that it was a frozen pizza from the grocery store. His first question was “How high does the oven need to be?” and his second question was “Do I need to take the plastic off or does it cook on this cardboard thing like a Hot Pocket?” and then I stood in the kitchen and made him read the instructions out loud because I didn’t want to die in a fire that night.

        4. Loves Libraries*

          Fortunately my husband does his own cooking for his work potlucks. Today he took deviled eggs. I’m hoping that there are leftovers and they have been refrigerated.

      7. Witchy Human*

        Ha, my office had a (supposedly optional) potluck a couple weeks ago, and I wasn’t interested in attending or contributing. Potlucks aren’t really my thing, and I’d been having a rotten week and wasn’t in the mood to cook or socialize. I would never attend a potluck I hadn’t brought a dish to, so I thought that would be the end of it.

        Three people tried to summon me in and protests that I hadn’t contributed and wasn’t hungry didn’t get them to leave me alone. Eventually I put in appearance, complimented the spread, grabbed a drink and escaped again as soon as I could.

        1. pleaset*

          I had a similar experience today and straight-up told the founder of my organization I don’t like crowds so wasn’t going when she seemed to be pressuring me to get something from the potluck.

      8. pleaset*

        I literally skipped my company’s potluck today because I didn’t bring anything, and then my orgs founder and others came over to say they noticed i wasn’t there and that there is plenty of food. They seemed to be pushing me to go. I told one I didn’t because I don’t like crowds.

        But if I did go I’d get sideeye from other people who brought stuff.

        The whole deal sucks – I personally wish we never had food events at work.

        1. Ella*

          I feel the same way. I don’t want to cook, ever. It stresses me out every single day. I decline every potluck because I would rather sit alone than food shop. Yet, colleagues want to drag me in. So awkward.

        2. Burned Out Supervisor*

          To be fair, some leaders (me included) worry that there’s some reason that you’re not coming that you’re not sharing (beyond it’s just not your jam) that we could fix. I would feel super bad if someone didn’t come to a potluck because they, for instance, couldn’t afford to bring anything even though they want to socialize with their team.

          1. Burned Out Supervisor*

            Just to add, the potlucks on my team are more about hanging out together and most of the groups isn’t really bothered if someone doesn’t contribute for that particular lunch. They just want everyone to feel welcome and included.

          2. pleaset*

            Good point.

            I skip social events all the time – this person actually knows I don’t like them. Or at least she’s heard me say I don’t like them. I guess she thinks I’m not being truthful, but I’ve literally heard her say “I know you don’t like big events.”

            It’s weird.

      9. Unregretful Black Sheep*

        Same. I’m anti-potluck (don’t trust random strangers to cook in sanitary conditions, eating finger foods touched by co-worker’s unwashed hands grosses me out, etc.) so I only attend if it’s compulsory & I’ve brought something. Even then, 9 times out of 10 I have someone stop at my desk when it’s over & tell me to grab food because there is far too much left.

    3. Kittymommy*

      We’re doing a work Thanksgiving on Wednesday and hearing up for all the department Christmas lunches soon to follow and we had to have meetings regarding anything potluck related. In the past (as in every single year) we have had a lot of people show up to potlucks who haven’t brought anything. The big complaint had been that since it’s our potluck it’s at our office so most of us are still working while participating all day but the ones who “happen by” get to come at the start and eat a lot of the food. Last Thanksgiving I got one slice of pumpkin pie and green bean casserole (which I don’t really like).

    4. Lynca*

      For our potlucks we have a rule that you sign up for a dish or you pay X amount so that the organizer can organize additional food. This so far has worked really well because surprisingly a lot of people will contribute that way.

    5. Autumnheart*

      I’m eating my office-provided lunch right now. There was an organizer at the door, sonorously repeating the appropriate portions to take. “Two slices per person, one each of the other items.” It’s really helpful to have that guidance even if you have no intention of taking more than your share, but just want to know how much you should be taking. Then the organizers send out an email when everyone’s been through the line, and it’s open season on the leftovers. It seems to work well.

      1. Autumnheart*

        (I just asked my friend on the organizing team if we have a buffet-hog problem, and apparently we do not.)

        1. E*

          Ha. They were just being proactive! But I agree knowing how much you are allowed to take would be helpful even if you don’t intend to take much.

        2. Seeking Second Childhood*

          That may be *BECAUSE* someone is telling someone the expected the portion control guidelines. Good for them!

          1. Autumnheart*

            My friend said it was a combination of making an honest assessment about how many people were eating (e.g. don’t try to skimp on portions when you’re feeding 80 people), ordering extra food, and sending out an email telling people they could come get seconds. Once an event is over, all the leftovers are placed in the break room, and if someone wants a whole box of something at that point, they’re welcome to it.

            I think we ordered 125 pizzas for today, and there are currently 15 boxes left in the break room. So if any starving interns and/or vice presidents reading this, they should come on over.

      2. Librarianne*

        My last workplace did something similar. We had to wait for seconds until everyone in the department had a chance to go through–my grandboss, who has a very deep and sonorous voice, would let us know when it was open season on the remaining food.

    6. Arya Snark*

      When I last worked in an office, potlucks were a Big Thing. At first, I participated enthusiastically but people like the intern above and my favorite Sales Boy jumping to be first in line, piling his plate a foot high after bringing a small bag of chips he picked up at the gas station on the way to work soured me on the whole experience. A couple of friends and I would steal away and head to a restaurant instead. Sad, because I do love to cook and I’m damn good at it.

    7. Jeannalola*

      Ugh potlucks. I won’t eat food that anyone has brought in from home. I’ve seen too many people not wash hands after restroom. And how do you know what’s going on in co-workers kitchen?

      1. Lurker*

        This. Potlucks are a big NOPE for me. I think they’re gross. Plus even if they have good habits (e.g. washing hands, not letting their cat on the counter), you never know exactly all the ingredients. What if there is chicken stock lurking in the “vegetarian” soup?

        1. Gatomon*

          I’ve reached this point due to food allergies. By the time I determine who made the item and track them down to clear what ingredients they used, it’s easier to just not eat it. Luckily my current office isn’t into pot lucks, they seem to prefer to just order in for the holiday meal.

          What has always terrified me about potlucks is the temp control moreso than animals or handwashing, even. People will happily tuck into stuff that has been sitting at room temp for hours, DAYS even. That’s just inviting whatever germs there may be to get their party on.

          1. RaeaSunshine*

            This doesn’t address the hygiene concerns, but in regards to allergies – at my last employer we did monthly potlucks. Each would be focused on a different cookbook/recipe book that we’d leave out all month for people to select recipes from, and then we’d bring the recipes in along with our dishes. So at the potlucks we’d have the recipe for each dish displayed in front of it. It worked out well, it helped people manage allergies (and people would hand write on the recipe any swaps/substitutions they’ve made) and general food preferences, and had the added bonus of everyone being able to easily grab the recipes of any of the other dishes they really liked!

            1. Fikly*

              This only helps manage mild allergies – people will severe allergies will be sensitive to anything that the food might have come in contact with while being prepped, and that is an unknown factor.

              1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

                Yeah, I am allergic to a vegetable that is also available as a dried spice and embedded in some cheese (peppers). This means that I pretty much don’t eat *any* precut vegetables that I did not prep myself, in case someone didn’t wash the knife and cutting board between slicing up the peppers and the tomatoes, that I need to know what kinds of cheese are in the cheese things (in case it’s pepperjack – I have had some bad experiences with cheese sauces/fondues/etc.) or if the cheese came from a tray of cheese slices where some of the other slices were pepperjack, if anything was garnished with peppers, and which spices were used in anything (in case paprika was added). The level of paranoia I feel around potlucks is hard to describe, but my actual potluck plan is to eat savory foods entirely from my own resources and maybe grab a dessert from the potluck. I rotate between a few different dishes to bring depending on whether I plan to eat an entire meal before I go to the potluck or whether I plan to make a meal out of my own potluck contribution.

                1. General von Klinkerhoffen*


                  And at any potluck or buffet I want to get there early or first, in case someone else used the same spoon all their way along the table, because cross-contamination is A Thing.

              2. Ego Chamber*

                This also only helps if people follow the recipe and/or note any updates they made to it. I mean, sure you can put walnuts in the pasta salad (seriously why tho) or use soy milk instead of dairy in the mac ‘n’ cheese or add a bunch of random spices into anything you make but any substitutions or additions are also potential allergens and worth a mention.

        2. Cathie from Canada*

          Off topic, but our local butcher shop makes a good turkey stuffing, so I asked them once if it was vegetarian (so my son could eat it) and they said yes it was, and then I asked, “just making sure, do you use chicken stock in it?” and he happily said “yes, we do!” — he just didn’t see the problem.
          So its interesting sometimes how people interpret “vegetarian” to mean only “no pieces of meat”

          1. I Am the OP*

            This, so much. I have a vegetarian child and a vegan child. They have been served items with meat broth and, often, bacon, which somehow seems exempt from people’s definition of “meat.”

          2. Tina Belcher's Less Cool Sister*

            I have this problem with gluten! I’ve literally been told something is gluten free and then asked “just to check, is there flour in here?” “Yes!” …that’s a no from me dawg. I actually got really sick last week because both my waitress and her manager confirmed something was gluten free when it very clearly wasn’t.

          3. BethDH*

            This issue is a big part of why my husband learned to cook. I like cooking, so it had mostly been my job. When he went pescatarian, he knew he could trust me, but by learning to cook himself he knew more about what dishes were likely to have secret meat and how to ask about specific components like broth, bacon/pancetta, etc.

          4. Alexandra Lynch*

            A lot of the historical recipes that are vegetable based aren’t vegetarian. When I cook them for a feast, so there IS a vegetarian option, I have to make era-appropriate substitutions like olive oil and vegetable stock.

          5. Turtle Candle*

            I had an issue with this at work that was due to a culture issue. It was at a very traditional Chinese banquet restaurant, the kind that does many courses shared family style. The HR person called the restaurant and asked how many of the courses were meat-free. The person answering the phone said yes, of the ten courses, only two contained meat.

            …they didn’t consider fish to be meat. It was, as far as my Chinese coworkers explained to me, not a confusion over whether fish was a vegetable but simply a cultural difference; fish and meat were different categories. But the poor vegetarians basically ended up eating rice and green beans.

            We got better about asking more probing questions after that!

        3. Sabina*

          ^^^This 100%^^^ Even one of my best work friends who knew I had been a vegetarian for years could not stop “forgetting” not to put chicken stock in everything. I would wonder why I would feel sick a couple hours after eating “vegetarian” foods” at our office potlucks.

    8. Marissa*

      My work thanksgiving potluck did it where you could either bring food or pay $8 to get to eat, which seems like a great way to handle it to me.

      1. Figgie*

        My spouse used to participate in work potlucks. They charge everyone $5.00 (which is given to charity, not spent on extra food) and ask people to bring in food. But if you don’t bring anything, the $5.00 means you can still eat. As my spouse said…why should I bring in food (that costs money and time to prepare) and pay the same amount as the people who don’t bring anything?

        And a story to illustrate how crazy some people are about free food. When my spouse participated, he would bring in a gallon and a half of home-made caramel corn. Because it all didn’t fit into the bowl, he would put out half and then replenish it. So, about 20 minutes after the potluck started, he went to see if the bowl needed to be refilled and the bowl was gone. Some of his co-workers seeing him looking for the bowl went looking too and found another co-worker sitting back behind some equipment with the entire bowl of caramel corn. :)

        1. Grapey*

          Many people actually like cooking and like to show off their skills. I’d be one of those people that would be happy to cook AND pay for charity.

          1. Figgie*

            Yes, the did. :) The guy was thoroughly verbally shamed by his co-workers (male, factory type environment). My spouse asked someone later if they knew why he had taken a whole bowl of caramel corn and was told that all the guy said when asked is: “I wanted it.” :)

            1. Toads, Beetles, Bats*

              So obviously his behavior was rude and inappropriate. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t admire him just a little bit for owning it.

              1. Glitsy Gus*

                right? I read that and though, “huh, well, makes sense.”

                Also the picture of a grown man hiding behind the stack of equipment with his horde of caramel corn is making my afternoon bearable.

            2. Not So NewReader*

              So I tell my little buddy with four paws, “Not your food, Bud, not your food.”

              I’d have to bite my tongue really hard here.

    9. I'm A Little Teapot*

      My dept just had a potluck today. We were in a conference room, and when we finished then each person chose if they wanted to put their food in the kitchen. That was 30 minutes ago. Not much is left.

    10. Erin*

      We have several potlucks throughout the year. If you want to attend and haven’t brought anything, you have to pay – usually $5-10, and it goes either to the event committee for employee parties, or to a charity.

    11. Eirene*

      Whereas my department had a potluck that I forgot all about and thus didn’t make anything to bring, so I didn’t attend. People were flabbergasted by that. But I couldn’t live with myself if I’d gone!

    12. TrainerGirl*

      I had a job where the department had quite a few potlucks, and after having Greedy Gus and Selfish Susie show up looking to load up a plate without contributing anything, we deputized one of our teammates as the food monitor. She had a withering stare and could stop anyone dead in their tracks. It used to make people so mad because they knew they hadn’t brought anything and got called out. There are a few people who will try to continue after this, but most people have enough shame to slink away and hope there’s food left over when everyone goes back to their desks.

  2. baby yoda*

    Food insecurity can also be very real, especially for young interns or people not drawing a large salary. It can be extremely demoralizing to not be able to afford the kinds of food that you see going in the trash every day after people who CAN afford such foods have picked them over. I don’t have a solution here, but it’s another angle to consider.

    1. The Original K.*

      I was thinking this about interns. I’ve worked places where the interns are actually urged to take free food because they’re either not being paid at all or being paid by far the least, and in an expensive city. I have a friend who works in higher ed and holds events for students, and she’s told me she’s really put off by seeing tenured professors and deans rush to beat students to the front of the food line.

      1. Katrinka*

        That makes me bananas about our free/leftover food situation. We have a lot of student workers and interns here, but the first people who always beeline for the food table in the break room are the well-paid, well-fed IT guys who are going for second lunch. Let the kids get the burritos, guys!

      2. Kiwiii*

        I was thinking about this, too. Our intern who makes about half of what I do — i’m not in the lowest paid department, but I’m entry-level/the newest on my team — was talking about bringing something and i was like ???? no don’t????????

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Anecdotally, here, it’s the people with the highest salaries who are most likely to bowl bystanders out of their way as they descend upon the food.

      I think that people who actually are food insecure are loathe to advertise that at work–they need to project that things are fine lest it endanger their job. It’s the people who can’t imagine anyone thinking “Whoa, the head of sales took three helpings of lasagna–I wonder if he hasn’t been able to afford lunch this week?” who feel free to scarf three helpings of lasagna.

        1. CoffeeforLife*

          Thanks for posting that! Such a moving situation and the call to action from the AAM community was lovely! <3

        2. Kate Daniels*

          Thanks for sharing this! That was really heartwarming to see the AAM community come together to help without being asked. I am side-eyeing Anonymous November 8, 2011 at 12:58 pm, but am heartened by how the good people far outweighed that one rotten egg.

      1. MusicWithRocksInIt*

        In my experience 100% of people being dicks about office food have earned way more than me. It is possible low income people need that food more than others, but are not jerks about it (taking 2nds before others get their first serving, hogging all the leftovers, grabbing food before the event starts).

        1. Doug Judy*

          Can confirm. I used to work for Big Finance and we’d get lunches catered several times a week paid for by a wholesaler. If for some reason the sales rep had to cancel (usually weather related reasons) and lunch was canceled, the people who complained the most were the people making a solid six figures in a LCOL Midwest city. I was on the bottom of the pay scale. If I could afford the run across the street and and a sandwich, they certainly could.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          The statistics show that lower income folks are more likely to donate to charity and take care of others. Part of getting really big bank accounts is often saving your money by taking advantage of these kinds of setup. [Of course it also takes hard work in most cases but in the end, you save your riches for what you want, when you can get meals for free, it saves hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year if you get the majority of meals expensed].

        3. Tequila Mockingbird*

          This has been my experience, too. I work in a law firm and 100% of the food-moochers (who continue their rude habits even after being politely chided) are highly-paid attorneys.

          1. Not an Attorney*

            This is an issue coming up at my firm now. We have catered meals about once a month as an office event and the attorneys who make more than double what I make (as the highest paid non-attorney member of staff in this office) ALWAYS take all of the leftover food home with them at the end of the day instead of leaving here for lunches the next day. It’s such a small thing but has really started grating on us staff members because of just how predictable it has become.

            1. CatCat*

              Huh. I’d think food left at the end of the day was expected to be tossed or taken home rather than left for consumption the next day. Could staff just pack up the leftover food and take it home too? (Then just bring it for lunch the next day or whenever you wanted to eat it.)

          2. Lexin*

            I work in a legal environment and we are often bought biscuits and chocolates by our senior bosses when they have been travelling.

            The moochers are nearly all the most highly paid lawyers – the admin staff a least likely to take multiple biscuits and chocolates and have to be encouraged to do so. I wish it weren’t so, but it is. Our lawyers recently got through two tins of chocolates in one day. The rest of us hardly got a sniff of them.

      2. Arya Snark*

        Also not coincidental – the same guy taking all the food is the very same one that wont wash a mug that he uses or wipe out the microwave after he exploded pasta all over it because he didn’t use the cover provided to prevent such messes.

        1. Facepalm*

          Yep. Jerks are jerks, whether it’s driving in traffic, or being rude to people working service/retail/food jobs, or hogging the food at a potluck.

          1. DrRat*

            There was a study done years ago when researchers were trying to devise a plan to deal with people who run red lights. Unfortunately, what the study showed was that people who consistently run red lights are generally jerks in all aspects of their lives. And there is no cure for jerks, sadly.

      3. Vin Packer*

        Dude, thank you.

        I get that this comes from a good place, but the idea that the people who are rubes about communal food are probably poor drives me bananas. Nobody works harder at hiding their food insecurity than the food insecure, for real. Communal food-hoggers are more likely to be people who don’t think all day, every day about where food comes from and the labor to get it.

        The intern is probably just a little oblivious (possibly broke, but that’s different from being poor); just clue them in. It’s a kindness.

        1. fposte*

          And they’re often coming from that collegiate culture Creed Bratton mentions above, where early access and big helpings are victory.

        2. Jedi Squirrel*

          Nobody works harder at hiding their food insecurity than the food insecure

          Exactly this.

          I know from my years in foster care, food-insecure kids are really good at hiding the fact that they’re hungry, and they’re also really good at stashing food. You don’t want to look different from anyone else.

        3. Tequila Mockingbird*

          Thank you for saying this. It’s pretty presumptuous to assume that being a greedy hog = poor. This behavior boils downs to manners and consideration for others, which has little to do with income. The poor, believe it or not, have manners just like anyone else.

      4. ACDC*

        This is so interesting to me because it’s the exact opposite dynamic in my office! The entry level, lower wage earners are the ones creating food domes on plates and going back for seconds before other go through the first time. The managers and more senior leadership typically don’t even participate in the free food/potluck events.

        1. SimplyTheBest*

          I don’t think it’s about entry level/low wage, I think it’s more about people who have spent large amounts of time being food insecure vs people who don’t. I’ve seen the kind of thing you mention as well, but by the entry level, low wage kids who have come from families who have always had enough. From the unpaid intern who can afford to work for free because their parents are supplementing their rent or the entry level workers who are broke (which, as someone else said above is not the same thing as poor) because they decided to spend the week’s grocery money on 3 pairs of $300 sneakers. Not the ones who don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

    3. Mrs_helm*

      It doesn’t have to go in the trash, there are plenty of ways to organize it so that the event attendees get what was promised and then later make it available to others.

    4. Marissa*

      Very true. Food waste is a massive problem as well, and these kinds of events can be big sources of food being left out just to be thrown away. Anyone dealing with food insecurity and/or focused on environmental issues and waste will be wanting to make sure there aren’t piles of food going to the bin and getting wasted. I think the language to use boils down to saying “please wait until x before getting more” whether x is the clients/donors have been served, everyone has had a chance to go through the line, or the guest of honor has had a chance to see the cake, etc. And this can be different in every meal, at a staff appreciation lunch it’s a bad look for the c suite to come and pile up a plate before staff has gone through. It’s about why the food is being served, not how much the individual will eventually eat.

      We should not be in the business of policing how much others eat, but it makes sense in office settings to set expectations for when to wait for guests to eat first and things like that.

      1. RaeaSunshine*

        “We should not be in the business of policing how much others eat, but it makes sense in office settings to set expectations for when to wait for guests to eat first and things like that.”


      2. CB*

        +1. There was a ton of leftover food last week from an event one of our teams hosted in the building. I ate those leftovers for lunch and dinner for 3 days in a row – not because I NEEDED it, but because it was tasty and I wanted to reduce the amount of food waste. I was careful to wait until each day when the food was put back out to grab some for lunch, then come back with my tupperware on my way out the door to pack up a serving for dinner.

      3. OtterB*

        My father’s family, more than 60 years ago, when there were guests and a dish was put on the table, would casually announce to the kids that this was “FHB” or “MIK” – Family Hold Back or More in Kitchen.

        My office does a lot of conferences and workshops. When we’re at a hotel, it’s understood that our staff wait until most of the guests have gone through the line, unless someone has a schedule issue that says they should eat first in order to be somewhere else. For meetings in our own office, food set out on a sideboard in the conference room is for meeting attendees only; food that’s been transferred to the kitchen is fair game.

        And we always try to send leftovers home with interns when we have them (leftovers and interns both).

          1. HannahS*

            It means, let the guests take before you do, or take only a modest portion until all of the guests have had plenty. So, in my family, the ravenous young cousins might be told that the expensive entree dish or fancy dessert is FHB, so that you don’t have a young nephew sticking four pieces of smoked salmon or eight macarons on a plate before all of the invited guests have had some. There’s plenty of everything else and there’s enough for everyone to have some, but not necessarily enough for everyone to have as much as they’d like of everything.

            1. londonedit*

              Yes, we were taught ‘FHB’ growing up. As HannahS says, it means that if you’re part of the family that’s hosting the party (particularly if you’re a child) and it’s a buffet situation, you should let the invited guests go up and get their food first, rather than dashing to the front of the queue and nabbing all the best bits for yourself. The idea is that it’s polite to let your guests have first pick of the food, and family should wait their turn.

    5. The Bean*

      Yeah it’s weird to me that there seems to be an assumption that more highly ranked people should get first dibs and interns should go last and risk being the ones getting slim pickings. Like, if you’re invited you’re entitled to take a serving? My understanding of the etiquette is that everyone should take a reasonable amount of food in light of what’s on the table and the number of attendees. Then people can get seconds after everyone is through. And when I’ve been an intern I definitely did try to make sure I got a real meal out of any free meals because I was broke.

      If running out of food is a common problem maybe the LW needs to order more? (Or more cheaper food?) I understand giving external clients first pick, but even then, I have seen clients do the “oh no you” thing when in trial since the lawyers and law firm staff are the ones actually working.

      If you’re invited to an event it’s reasonable to expect you can have a reasonable portion of the food regardless of your position in the organization.

      1. Combinatorialist*

        But in the article, the LW says that most of the time the people eating the food aggressively are *not* involved in the event. So they don’t have a (reasonable) expectation to a reasonable portion

        1. SebbyGrrl*

          Thank you (from all of us who actually read the post)
          OP clarified why and when any given group is prioritized. Most of the meetings she said were for hosting clients – i.e. put our company’s best foot forward.

          While I have all the empathy and sympathy and care about food insecurity and not wasting food – that has nothing to do with the stated problem and OP very clearly delineated why the interns are last in this instance.

          The only social issue or ism at play here is professionalism in a business/work environment, where food is a feature of engaging CLIENTS of the business.

          1. I Am the OP*

            Thank you. No, there is absolutely *no* expectation that senior staff get to eat first. I am an interested observer of human behavior, and the variation around this one topic interests me — that there are some staff who seem aware and considerate by nature, and some staff who seem oblivious. And since it is (literally) my job to organize the food, I feel pretty comfortable asking staff to hold off when necessary.

          1. SimplyTheBest*

            To differentiate them from clients and guests? Because that’s how you refer to them in real life so why come up with a new word just for this post? Sometimes people use a word to refer to someone without having an agenda with that word.

    6. J!*

      No one is talking about food going into the trash, they’re talking about making sure clients and guest of a specific event are fed before staff and other non-attendees who are offered extras.

    7. Bertha*

      As someone who grew up food insecure, as an adult I’ve pretty much grown into a human garbage disposal who will eat anything. That said, exactly because I know what it’s like to not have enough food, I don’t tend to go crazier than anyone else when my office has free food because I don’t to take it from anyone else. The same was true when I was a poor college kid — I’d help set up the freshman orientation lunch, and I would get the leftovers when they were all done eating. I’d get the bread that was otherwise going to be thrown out from Subway. Being food insecure perhaps made me a little more resourceful and a little more grateful for free food as well, and I can only speak for myself, but I’d be surprised if the people taking away trays of bacon before everyone has even had their first serving were food insecure.

      1. SebbyGrrl*

        Your approach is completely professional and considerate of others at the same time.

        See, it can be done, tactfully and gracefully! Nicely done.

      2. Myrin*

        Yeah, that argument gets brought out whenever anyone on here so much as mentions “someone ate a lot” and I honestly don’t buy it one bit. I don’t want to say it’s never the case but generally, I can guarantee you that the people who behave like this do so because of rudeness, greediness, and selfishness, not because of food insecurity.
        (And the poor people I know who would behave like that – who are many, considering I grew up in that environment and my family is only just now slowly starting to climb out of it – would do so because they’re jerks, not because they’re literally starving. You don’t do that kind of stuff unless your primary motivation is “I want to eat this now and I will eat this now, everybody else be damned!”.)

    8. Engineer Girl*

      I can relate. But there’s such a thing as integrity and not taking what isn’t yours.
      I was a starving student working my way through university in a hospital kitchen. Every night we threw out massive amounts of food. We had to – leftovers risked food born illness for an at-risk population.
      It deeply bothered me sending all that wonderful food down the garbage disposal while my own stomach was growling. But it want mine and the hospital let us know that taking food home was a fireable offense.
      If someone is in a job then they are adults. That means that they have the ability to control themselves even if it goes against what they want.

      1. techRando*

        The hospital absolutely 100% could have allowed you to eat the food/take some home. I understand choosing not to go against that, but it’s reprehensible that they 1) didn’t pay you enough to meet your needs and 2) didn’t allow you to eat food that would otherwise be thrown away.

        1. Engineer Girl*

          They used to allow it. But then certain individuals prepared extra food just so they could take free food home. It was blowing the hospitals budget, especially since they already had a feeding program for the homeless.

          This is why we can’t have nice things.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            Instead of managing the problem employees who abused the system, they decided to take a benefit away from everyone? Cool, cool.

            Shitty management is why we can’t have nice things.

        2. Engineer Girl*

          BTW, it was a barely living wage but I was using a big chunk to pay my university tuition. That’s not their problem.

    9. Morning Glory*

      Totally agree with this. A decade ago I was a food-insecure unpaid intern, and that experience stuck with me – I tend to think that interns should get first dibs on most free food like meeting leftovers, although I think OP is right to make sure the clients get fed first when that’s the setup.

      I would judge an intern taking more than their share of food much less harshly than a well-paid exec taking more than their share.

    10. Cedarthea*

      Depending on the type of food insecurity someone has experienced, they may have a compulsive desire to protect or “horde” food.
      I run a summer camp and we have to balance making sure that everyone has access to food and we keep within a manageable food, but we’ve had so many children sneak and squirrel away the strangest food because they are worried about being without food.

      While I did not experience food insecurity in my childhood or adult home, I have had very acute, short-term traumatic experiences with food insecurity when a teen and a canoe camp kid, and more than 20 years later I still have some strange compulsive actions that I link back to that experience.

      This is a long way of saying, that this is likely an unpickable knot in a workplace, but considering the compassion of the OP I imagine they are trying to be considerate when they set the expectations first for the event, as work food can be a minefield.

    11. Det. Charles Boyle*

      The OP didn’t mention food going in the trash or food insecurity. Those are interesting topics, but not the focus of the OP’s question.

    12. MissDisplaced*

      There certainly is, and I sympathize with that, but grabbing food and packing it up before others have eaten is still rude.
      I don’t want good food to be thrown away either, so yes of course it should be offered to those who’d like it.

      I actually gave my intern a grocery store gift card as a thank you because… starving students! (And I noticed she was eating PBJ every day)

  3. AllTheNope*

    I used to have a coworker who never ever contributed to any kind of food-related event, but would take multiple plates of everything, each time loudly exclaiming MMMM MMMMM!!!! as if that made up for the lack of courtesy.

    1. KayDeeAye (Kathleen_A)*

      I used to work with a woman who I’ll call Heidi because that was her name, and Heidi was apparently a very serious and dedicated cook and baker.

      I say “apparently” because I never actually ate anything she made because although she’d *say* she was bringing Fancy Dish A or Intricate Baked Good B….she never actually brought any of it. Something had always happened to prevent her from making her contribution.

      I don’t think this was because she was a natural moocher. I think she just thought she was more busy than the rest of us, and so it was OK if she didn’t contribute “just this once.” Or twice. Or three times!

      Ah, Heidi. We always had more than we needed, but still.

  4. Jennifer Strange*

    I am the events person at my work and we have one event a few times a year that invites both donors and all staff (even those not on my team). We provide a breakfast spread (bagels, pastries, fruit) along with coffee prior to the event (with a pretty tight budget). My first time running the event the food was decimated by staff before many donors got there. After that , I had the idea to give donors an earlier start time (by half an hour) than the staff. Obviously we still have donors who arrive late and staff who arrive early, but I think it’s greatly helped ensure that those we want fed, get fed. Another thing I do is make sure all bagels and pastries are cut in half (to encourage taking only one piece) and using smaller plates (when we used larger ones people would fill them to the brim).

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      Meant to add: I’ve also made it a point recently of telling my team that even though we arrive when the donors do, we need to hold off on eating until they’ve had some.

    2. Third or Nothing!*

      The smaller plate is a common tactic for reducing food portions! People don’t like having lots of empty space on their plates, apparently, so they tend to fill them all the way up. Smaller plates means less space to fill.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Smaller serving utensils also. It seems like restaurant buffets use smaller utensils to help slow down the inhaling of food.

    3. Pants*

      I produce the biggest event in my company each year. My first year, we had to temporarily remove trays because people were taking 3 and 4 chicken breasts (chicken parmesan) as well as a serving of the vegetarian option. There were several employees, who were not attendees, that casually got in the food line. Since the invite list is curated by executives and senior leadership, and because I send the invites personally, I know exactly who is supposed to be there. I ousted the crashers in the sweetly-pleasant-but-also-unmistakably-indomitable manner of an admin.

      Every year since, catering is staffed with people who serve from the trays rather than giving the vultures free reign. I had to shift the budget around and I understand it’s not a feasible option for most people, but it certainly got the point across.

      1. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

        I attended a wedding this year in the spring where they served a fajita buffet and the wedding coordinator would let each individual table know when it was their turn to join the line. I was seated at the last table and by the time we got to the buffet they were almost completely out of food. The staff was scrambling to make more vegetable fillings, but they were out of all the meat options. My dinner was two tortillas filled up with guac and peppers. After the wedding was over I made a mad dash to the nearest food truck because I was still hungry!

        I didn’t want to tell the bride or groom and make them think people were disappointed, so I kept my mouth shut for several months until I was spending some time with the bride and she was talking about the wedding. She specifically asked me if our table, being the last, had gotten enough food. I told her no, we didn’t, but I don’t think it was because they didn’t order enough. Other tables around us had heaps of food on the their plates, and some people even had two plates! One for chips, one loaded down with fajita tacos. Turns out the bride had upped the head count for the food order because she was worried about that, but people were extra greedy! We both figured it was because there wasn’t any staff to serve people, it was free-for-all.

        I had another friend who happened to choose the same venue for a wedding 6mos or so later. I told her about the earlier debacle and asked if she’d be able to have staff serving the food. They were able to accommodate that request and it seems like the food situation was much better. They didn’t do fajitas, which makes things a little different, but there was staff to serve the roast and fish portions while guests were able to dole out their own sides. I was at the last table again (I’m single, it happens a lot) and this time there was still food left for others to make another round.

        Sorry, long story, but my point is that having staff to help portion out the food makes a big difference. It’s not always feasible, but people tend to see a catered situation as a supply of never-ending food! At least it keeps people from making a plate that could probably count as two or three portions (sheesh!).

        Good luck with your events!

        1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

          I was just at a wedding where the servers made the mistake of giving people too much! The bride and groom had us select if we wanted beef, fish, or vegetarian entrees with the RSVP. But when we got to the wedding, the catering people had set up the line so that each guest was offered beef AND fish AND vegetarian entrees.

          I noticed and only took what I preordered, but I saw a lot of people just accepting each thing they were offered. I hope they didn’t run out.

          1. Do I need a hard hat for this?*

            Oh geez! Usually if you select what you want it’s because they’re going to come around to eat table and serve it to you, as opposed to letting you all go through a line. What a mess! I would say that catering company was a liiiiiiittle disorganized!

        1. Pants*

          I got the “whoa” eyebrow at first. Then my boss started pointing them out so he could watch. (I love my boss. He makes all the crazy more than worth it.)

      2. sheworkshardforthemoney*

        Whenever we did catering the one thing that always filled me with rage was the meat-eaters taking a meat portion and then a vegetarian serving to “try” it. The poor vegetarians were often short-changed through no fault of their own.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Wait, what? You cut pastries and bagels in half? So you don’t even get a full one, you get half of one?

      That’s a budget issue when it gets that crazy. The only thing we would pre-cut would be something that’s meant to be broken down like a pie, cake or quiche kind of setup that’s made in a standard pan instead of cupcake style.

      I’m all about portion control but that feels extra and over the top to me.

      Smaller plates is the way to go though! That’s a weight watching trick as well.

        1. All Outrage, All The Time*

          Yup. Pretty normal to cut them in half or even quarters if they are large. The idea being that people can try an range of things instead of just one giant muffin.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Okay, that’s fair. I’m not a pastries person, I can’t tell you when I had one last. And when you said this, it does bring to mind those giant pastries that exist.

          I was thinking more of a donut size originally.

          But can we agree that a full bagel verses half a bagel? I know there’s stories about people casually cutting these into pieces but I’ve never personally seen it [though some butt just cracked off half a cookie awhile back but they were indeed big cookies, my bad on that but they weren’t THAT big…]

          Granted all the things I get are meant to just pop in your mouth, so my mental visual is cutting something the size of a thumb print cookie in half!

          1. SimplyTheBest*

            Usually you can take two halves. But pastries and bagels are often cut into smaller pieces because lots of people don’t want to eat a whole one. This way they can without wasting the other half.

          2. Flash Bristow*

            My favourite sandwich (bought, I’m afraid) is a pack of 4 different quarter sandwiches, all vegetarian.

            Having that variety of flavours is lovely.

            Could you not take two halves of the same thing, if you don’t want to try something different?

  5. Creed Bratton*

    Kind of like Black Friday – I see a feeding frenzy of greedy coworkers embarrassing themselves for stale cookies and I’m willing to pay more to go somewhere else without the chaos. Good lord do I love reading these stories on AAM though!

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        Not me! We’ve got enough drama with me fighting for inclusion in the menu planning. I’m so tired of being treated like a whiny baby for asking for food I can eat without getting sick. *sigh*

        1. WellRed*

          I’ve given up on inclusion. I smuggled in carrot and celery sticks last year to ensure I had *something* I could eat.

  6. J*

    I can’t get over how weird some people are about food. I worked at a place where there was one person who was known for taking entire catering trays of food to her desk, even if she wasn’t specifically invited to said event. Once at a breakfast event she took an entire tray of bacon.

    At this same place, one of the senior managers would always sneak into speaking events towards the end just so he could grab a heaping plate of food and leave through a back exit as the speakers were trying to present, so he could take it back to his desk. This guy made WAY more than six figures a year and there were staff who were making minimum wage who would have appreciated being able to grab a plate of any leftover food.

    Like, it just seems like common sense to me. Grab one dessert/appetizer/whatever, and don’t overload your plate so everyone at an event can get their fair share.

    1. The Original K.*

      Once at a breakfast event she took an entire tray of bacon.
      The shamelessness of this is pretty staggering to me. I almost admire it. Almost.

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        Just the thought of that makes me furious! I love, love, love me some bacon an would be so steamed if somebody tried to hog (sorry for the pun!) it like that. Grrrr, how dare she!

    2. Ewpp*

      Ridiculous. But I’ve worked in a place where after a summer bbq, before everyone had gotten food for the day, there were employees packing things up, putting it in fridgerator, with notes claiming it for themselves with knives drawn on the notes, in sight of those who hadn’t gotten their meal. One of the people claiming the food was the highest paid in the building.

    3. MissDisplaced*

      I find it is frequently the high level, high paid execs who often do this. Like, it’s a competition or something? It really brings out the animal instinct in some people I guess. Or feeling they got one over.

      If it’s like the interns being a bit of a glutton, I’m not as bothered.

  7. SophieChotek*

    I admit I’ve been guilty of the free food greediness and leaving with a heaping plateful that was obviously “for later”…in retrospect I am embarassed and would not do it again….

    1. E*

      I think it’s okay when there are obviously going to be plenty of leftovers, but in a situation where there is a client or where there clearly is not enough food for everyone then it would be something to reconsider.

      1. Amy Sly*

        One other caveat — if the food is being provided as some kind of lunch meeting, you either attend the meeting or wait for the leftovers.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          This. At Exjob, on my floor, there was a table widely understood to be the “free-for-all” table. Anything left from a meeting got parked there with the understanding that it was now fair game.

    2. Parenthetically*

      I don’t think it’s even slightly an issue, and in fact I’d strongly encourage it to avoid waste, UNLESS you’re hogging food from others who haven’t had a chance at firsts yet. Say it’s Wednesday, your week is packed, and there are 8 sandwiches and two big bowls of potato salad and a 12 pack of Diet Coke left over after everyone’s taken what they want — you definitely SHOULD take some of the leftovers for your remaining lunches!

    3. CastIrony*

      This is part of why the cafeteria at my job stopped letting staff grab go-boxes instead of eating at the cafeteria. I was one of the greedy ones who liked to fill that box instead of filling it with how much I would typically eat there.

      We can be guilty together.

  8. Third or Nothing!*

    My coworkers address the problem by making snide remarks under their breath and giving side eyes.

    To be clear this is not a thing I am suggesting you should do.

  9. Mrs_helm*

    Re: most of the time, the staff invited to help eat the catered food are not involved the event

    I’ve worked in a couple offices where the rule was that *after* the event, food moved to a *communal area* is up for grabs. That could cut down on some of this.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      That’s what we do: All leftovers go to the staff lounge and are fair game. But it’s well understood that you don’t take more than a normal-sized serving plate while the event is going on.

    2. Aquawoman*

      That was going to be my suggestion, too. Make the leftovers available. Staggering start times may work but it depends on how Lord of the Flies the situation has gotten.

    3. Antilles*

      That’s a reasonable approach and fairly common, I think.
      What’s NOT reasonable is people not involved in the event coming to eat the food first. As the event organizer / meeting planner / whatever, I ordered food based on the count of attendees I had. If we have leftovers, sure, go free-for-all…but not until after we’ve actually eaten normally.

      1. Herding Butterflies*

        At a past employer, we had a very lovely kitchen and seating area outside of our conference area. This is where catering was set up. However, being centrally located, the kitchen and seating was an area that everyone passed through to get basically everywhere else. We had to do all staff emails for EVERY event saying you are not to TOUCH THE FOOD until the event organizer sends the “all clear” email.

    4. Curmudgeon in California*

      Most places I’ve worked did this. Food for a meeting would be in the meeting, then when they were done it got moved out to a common area for everyone to have at.

    5. RaeaSunshine*

      That’s what we do. It works well. It seems unnecessarily complicated to me to try and institute policies or expected norms like ‘interns eat first’ or ‘executives eat first’ especially since no one truly knows others situations, so job titles don’t necessarily translate to certain levels of financial security, food security etc.

      I’ve found the arrangement to be fair… in it’s unfairness. Is it frustrating when I’m stuck in a meeting when a email goes out saying there’s free food in the lobby? Sure! But there are tons of times where I am available when the emails go out, and I’m sure there were others unable to make it.

      The leftovers go quick, and yes there are a few repeat offenders that take more than one serving – but it’s not a big deal since the only people actually entitled to a meal are those that were in the meeting/event that was catered. It helps that we have food up for grabs 2-3 times a week usually, so no one gets bent out of shape since there’s always next time!

  10. WellRed*

    This makes me miss my part time retail job where I knew if I had a big leftover something or other, I could bring it there and it would not go to waste. Like when I made a garden salad for a potluck at my day job and no one touched it. Luckily, I was working that night at retail job.

    1. Z*

      I bring leftovers from my events at home into my work. We’re a relatively small office, but give it a day or two and that tray of brownies or veggies will be gone. I really appreciate not having to throw the food out.

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        There are things that I make for parties that I do not want in my house afterwards (usually sweets) and I’ll bring them to work. I resent looking at them at home because I don’t want that much of something in one week, but then I’m irritated when it goes bad, so I’m really happy when people eat it at work.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          I used to do this at OldExjob with Halloween candy and any desserts I bought on impulse, like a rack of cupcakes. I’d eat a couple and then take them to work. The shop guys would demolish them in seconds and I never had to worry about wasting anything.

      2. Coldbrewinacup*

        I do this too. I’ll make a dessert at home, and I have no business eating that whole pan of brownies no matter how much I may want to– and my spouse is diabetic– so off to work it goes. Even unopened bags of chips, cookies, Halloween candy, whatever… I bring it in, and by the end of the day, it’s gone.

  11. Falling Diphthong*

    It’s apparently a visceral, biological imperative.

    I think there’s something to this. Something about it being an occasional chance to feast for free hits a scarcity “we must gorge or starve” button.

    1. Witchy Human*

      It can also feel like an “everyone is eating a lot, so I must eat a lot as well” pack mentality kind of thing. I definitely think there’s something evolutionary going on.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Even in our personal lives, it’s pretty well noted that people will eat more when eating with others.
        I read that it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to realize the stomach has gotten fed. From what I see families can eat an entire Thanksgiving meal in 20 minutes. And then they continue eating. Forty minutes later, “Oh, I ate too much.” Finally the brain realizes how much the stomach has taken on.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          People with extreme amnesia will eat because lunch has appeared in front of them. Even if they ate a full lunch half an hour ago. And another full lunch a half hour before that.

    2. Shan*

      Years ago, when I was married to my ex-husband (a Mormon), we led the activities committee at church. Lots of potlucks, etc. Well, a third ward was added to our building, and the bishopric wanted us to do a big tri-ward welcome potluck (which would be ~400 people total). We provided burgers, and people signed up to bring sides and desserts. Desserts were stored in a room off the kitchen, to be brought out later. We started out with my ex going up on stage with a microphone, welcoming everyone, and clearly stating that it was a limit of one burger per person and that once all the tables had been called, we would announce when/if it was okay to go for seconds. This wasn’t our first rodeo.

      WELL. I was in the kitchen, but other members of the committee caught people with five or six burgers on their plate, and it wasn’t to share with their kids. People were rushing up for seconds when half the tables hadn’t gone through. And then, people started trying to come take desserts from where they were stored. They tried sneaking through the kitchen and arguing that they just wanted to grab a piece of the cake they had made (well, you have the recipe, Twyla! Make some more when you get home.) When we asked them to please go back outside and told them desserts would be brought out shortly, they literally tried to force open the door we had locked. It was like something out of a movie, where a natural disaster or war or whatever has pushed people to desperation… except this was a bunch of church members in a relatively affluent neighbourhood on a regular old Sunday. And it wasn’t that people were just being thoughtless with the amount they were taking, it was that they seemed to be aggressively hording it for themselves.

      I was so turned off, I asked to be released from the committee shortly after. That was over a decade ago, and I honestly will never forget it.

        1. Shan*

          I remember reading an article about the population limit to which a community can self-monitor. The theory was that after a certain number, because there are enough people to allow for anonymity, people feel they can get away with stuff. I think this potluch was a bit like that. When there were just, say, 250 people, and all familiar faces, people behaved. But throw in strangers, and boost the numbers… chaos.

      1. MissDisplaced*

        Yikes! 5 or 6 burgers! Like what are you even going to do with those? Burgers don’t even reheat well. Uck!
        But what a fantastic story. Yeah, I’d be very turned off by that, especially as they’d been told beforehand.

  12. Jenny*

    I will note I had a job where people were eating food intended for conference attendees (not them) and they got fired for it (they had been repeatedly warned).

    1. CMart*

      The VIP client conference room at my office is directly across the hall from the “mother’s room”. It was always such agony to walk by the catering set up for the client meetings as I was going to pump, starving (always starving) and exhausted.

      I would remind myself every time that there were cameras, and that keeping my job can buy a lot of sandwiches, whereas taking one of those sandwiches could very well get me fired. It was good motivation to stay away.

      1. Jenny*

        Yeah pregnant hunger has nothing on breastfeeding hunger. I kept a stash of nut bars in my pumping bag for this reason.

        1. Arts Akimbo*

          Ugh, yes. I just got so sick of *eating* all the time! I stopped enjoying food altogether during that time, it was just meaningless calories that must be consumed to slake the hunger.

    2. Pants*

      I haven’t gotten anyone fired for crashing my event, but I have bluntly evicted several. And noted who those people are so they’re never extended an invite. (Execs and upper management have blessed my ruthless gatekeeping.)

  13. beanie gee*

    Now all I can focus on is which of my jackets have large enough pockets to fit a couple of pot pies. And where I can get a pot pie for lunch today.

        1. corporate engineering layoff woo*

          Reminds me of a conference I was at where a colleague with an obvious “Staff” badge was quietly stuffing sliders into plastic bags into his cargo pants side pockets… In the middle of an exhibition hall aisle. I’ll over-eat my share of food when the supply+quality merits it and certainly grab a spare can of soda on the way back to my desk, but yikes, I still have developed personal standards after getting done with school.

    1. New Job So Much Better*

      My office! The company catered a lunch of both savory and sweet pies. Lots of chicken pot pie left! (And everyone was polite.)

    2. Librarian of SHIELD*

      This makes me think of that scene from Agent Carter where all the women in the boarding house are talking about the modifications they’ve made to their clothes or their handbags so they could smuggle extra food away from the dinner table.

  14. Asenath*

    We have as a general rule that food must be guarded – we often have food laid out in public areas outside the meeting rooms, and you must have someone standing there obviously looming over the food and saying to anyone who approaches something like “This food is only for the people participating in Event”. I must say any potluck I’ve attended has generally had too much food, and I haven’t seen anyone taking too much. They’re generally small-scale potlucks, though. When we did have big work potlucks, again, they had people keeping an eye on things, everyone would be seated, the people at tables went up as their table was called, and the gimlet-eyed supervisors (plus of course everyone else in line) seemed to discourage anyone who might barge in. Those potlucks eventually stopped, though – too much work and too few people volunteering to organize and supervise it, I think.

    Excess food is sometimes put on the “You can eat anything on this counter” spot in the office, particularly if it’s non-perishable. Students and people associated with an affiliated institution can generally be relied upon to finish off any excess we might have so most of it goes to them rather than to us. And they’re often around, so they can finish off things that shouldn’t be left on our counter overnight or maybe even longer.

  15. Lora*

    There are actual etiquette courses available for this situation, but it’s really about teaching people how to behave rather than how to say something to them.

    In my experience trying to make the most socially inept people on earth presentable to clients, I had to do sort of preparatory meetings with new people before we had a client meal; it was usually combined with some other client event we had to prepare for weeks in advance, so it was just one more thing to incorporate into the preparation on that end. We had to directly TELL people, “Client will have three people on site; the catering will be provided for no more than eight people. As our guests who pay us money, traveling from far away to visit this godforsaken land far from decent take-out nearby, clients get first crack at the buffet. You all know that you need to bring a lunch or it’s a heck of a drive to get something, the clients don’t know that, so let’s be gracious hosts.”

    1. Clever Name*

      I really like this idea. It lays out the expectations around food and courtesy as an expectation of doing one’s job. I think interns especially would benefit from this. Maybe incorporate it into their orientation.

  16. designbot*

    I’ve been in one of those client situations before, and was able to address it quietly in the moment. It was an awards banquet, one of our clients had not been served but the junior staff had started in on their dinners (I was mortified). Then they called over a server to ask for salad dressing! I made sure to add on a “well let’s make sure that Henry gets his salad in the first place.” Then since it was a noisy enough room I was able to say to the junior staff that in these situations we should be looking to make sure the clients are taken care of first.
    In the future when sending junior staff to something like this (which is considered a treat for them by the office, to be recognized for the work instead of just the senior staff), I’m going to make sure to mention it in advance. Something like, “I’m sure I don’t need to mention it but we’ve had issues in the past with staff eating before clients are served. This is a very mind-your-manners environment and particularly make sure that clients are taken care of before you dig in.”

    1. Parenthetically*

      I think it’s so important to do this, and failing to do it is failing to train your junior employees in exactly the kinds of soft skills they’ll need to excel in the job. So many people never get the memo about waiting to eat until everyone is served, for lots of different reasons (particularly including that “table manners” and our experiences of them are VERY cultural and class-based), and IMO it’s part of leveling the playing field to clue younger staff members in on stuff like this. It needs to be part of the prep for events like this.

      1. Alienor*

        I admit I do start eating when I’m served, and the reason is because I’m such a slow eater that I need a head start to get even halfway through my food by the time the rest of the table is finished. Its either be rude at the beginning of the meal or be rude at the end because I’m still eating and everyone else wants to leave (or in a situation like an awards dinner, the next portion of the evening has started and the servers want to clear away). I do apologise and explain instead of just digging in, though.

        1. designbot*

          In the presence of clients, I’d choose rude at the end of the meal every time. When you set a bad tone, it’s hard to walk that back. But if you’ve been having good conversation and they like you overall, it’s easier to excuse the faux pas at the end.

    2. BlindChina*

      I belong to an organization (not work) that has a large convention each year. When we as a state organization send someone to represent us at national, we require they listen in on a manners conference call. It is surprising how many people don’t know things like waiting for others to be served, or even dressing appropriately. A couple of years ago someone showed up to the black tie awards banquet (yes it is listed as such) in a t shirt and shorts. It was fully covered on the call what classified as black tie! His explanation? It was in Orlando, so he figured tourist casual was fine.

  17. Merci Dee*

    I wonder how much of these food behaviors are habits that were ingrained in these folks when they were children. I came along a bit later in my parents’ lives, so a lot of the adults in my extended family that I knew growing up were significantly older than me; to wit, were in their 60s and 70s when I was a young child in the 80s. Many of these people were considered “comfortable” from a financial aspect, but it was insane to watch them turn into ravening beasts when the buffet at the family reunion was uncovered. Multiple plates heaped high with more food than they could possibly eat for a meal, or even for the day. And then they would make more plates of food to take home with them. It just boggled the mind. I asked my parents about it one day, and they told me that they knew one lady in particular had been a child during the years of the Great Depression, and that her family had been poor and not always sure where their meals were coming from. So it was nothing to go visit at her house, and find cans and boxes and bags and packets of food stocked away in her pantry, in the garage, and in her refrigerator. She said that she starved enough when she was growing up, and she was never going to go without having enough food in the house if she could help it. And I totally get that mentality — but what’s “enough” food to make somebody who grew up like this feel safe?

    We really do carry a lot of our habits from childhood with us into adulthood.

    1. CheeryO*

      Definitely. I’m in my late 20s and doing fine financially, but I still need to consciously remind myself to not be weird around free food. I didn’t even grow up particularly poor, but we were paycheck-to-paycheck, and there was never enough food around the house to really fill up on. My parents both grew up poor with very large families and parents who were born into the Great Depression, so scavenging for food was their default, and they never taught my brother and me any food-related manners. I was well into my 20s before I realized that it’s polite to wait until everyone is served at a restaurant before digging in, as designbot alluded to in the comment above yours, and I would happily take a big helping of food if it looked like there was enough for everyone, even if there was only enough because other people were limiting themselves.

    2. BadWolf*

      I was on vacation with a tour group and we were visiting a non-US location that didn’t have a ton of US-ish visitors. We were eating a tour included lunch at a restaurant and a buffet-like set up was provided near our table. Before anything was explained, people were going through the “buffet” line and the food was gone before everyone went through and the staff were staring at us glassy-eyed, “Uh, that was the food for the whole group.” and we were supposed to eat a salad first.

      On one hand, for the US folks, it looked like a buffet and in the US a buffet is usually a “we keep filling it” operation. On the other hand, people were taking both meat options, all of the sides and freaking out that it ran out. It was awkward (I ended up with my salad and some hot vegies and gave up on anything else as I hadn’t stampeded the line because I was super thirsty and guzzling down my water instead). For the record, we definitely had breakfast and we were generally well fed people.

      On the subject at hand, the OP mentioned directing people away from vegetarian options if it’s running low…yes please. I am not a true vegetarian, I’m just pretty “meh” about eating meat (and don’t like a lot of meat things). So if there’s a vegie option that looks good, I will eat it. If you want it saved for someone, please, please, please label or reserve it. I don’t want to steal someone’s meal.

      1. Another worker bee*

        I am a true vegetarian and I get super annoyed when the veggie options run out. I think this is mostly on our culture and on the people ordering the food, because there’s this idea that NO ONE who eats meat would actually eat a veggie dish. If it’s a pitiful side salad vs some awesome entree, sure, but I’ve run into the “lets order 1 veggie pizza and 7 pepperonis” and then everyone is shocked that most people take one slice of each and the veggies starve…

      2. UKDancer*

        Definitely if you don’t want non vegetarian people eating all the vegetarian food, order a reasonable amount.

        Despite being an omnivore invariably I would opt for the cheese or vegetable pizza. The meat one is always pepperoni and which always goes through me like a dose of salts. I’m not going to endure gastric discomfort at conferences or events so I have the non meat option.

        If something is a special meal for a particular person, label it and say so.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          I second this, especially when it comes to pizza. I’m not even close to vegetarian, but my favorite style of pizza is cheese only. If there’s only one plain cheese pizza, I’ll happily go for it. If it’s meant to feed the vegetarians and the supply isn’t plentiful, I’ll take pepperoni and puck off the meat. But I won’t necessarily figure that out on my own.

          But that only applies to cheese pizza. if there’s a pizza with all veggie toppings, I won’t even be tempted to go near it lol!

      3. Librarian of SHIELD*

        My company came up with a pretty good way to manage this. We do a couple of box-lunch style meals per year at training events where staff select which meal they’ll be having a week or two in advance. After a couple of years where all the vegetarian meals got taken before all the people who ordered them got theirs, our management started color coding the lunches and adding a colored sticker to each attendee’s name tag. If you have a yellow sticker on your tag, you’re getting the lunch in the yellow box, even if you think the lunches in the orange box look more appetizing in the moment.

        1. UKDancer*

          I think that’s a very sensible approach. Where people are given a choice and can order in advance, it’s sensible to ensure they get the meal they expressed a preference for.

        2. londonedit*

          Very sensible. I find one of the worst situations for this sort of thing is a barbecue – people tend to view the vegetarian options as extra side dishes, whereas obviously for the actual vegetarians that’s their entire food option. But I’ve been to a couple of parties with catered barbecues, and the caterers would ask the vegetarians and vegans to go up first, so they’d have first pick of the veggie/vegan options. And then it’s fine for the meat-eaters to have any leftovers as an extra side if they want to.

    3. Curmudgeon in California*

      My family didn’t come through the depression, but were somewhat food insecure when I was a kid. My mother believed the Hamburger Helper box when it said “feeds 4”, and fed on pan of it, no sides, to the four of us as a whole meal. (Hamburger Helper is an entree only, it is meant to be served with sides – like a vegetable, etc.) As a preteen and teen, I was always hungry, and there wasn’t enough food. So whoever ate the fastest got seconds.

      I am aware of the problem, but when I was younger I was still in the mindset of “get it while you can, there isn’t enough”. Plus I went through a period of poverty, but was ineligible for food stamps. I often behaved badly at potlucks when I was first starting out. I have gotten better, but I understand where the mindset comes from, and how hard it is to shake.

      1. blink14*

        I wish we had been friends as kids! Our house was an open door at meal times, I had one friend who spend a ton of time at my house, and we spent very little at hers. When I was older, I realized both that I would not have been fed there (my parents always somehow picked me up before dinner) and that my friend was hungry.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I used to have a bf who would eat anything I cooked even if he didn’t like it, because growing up, they had what they had and that was it.

    4. Anon today*

      My grandmother was a depression era food hoarder as well. When she passed away in the early 90’s we found canned goods in her basement that had expired in 1976! That is NOT an exaggeration. Worse she must have paid to move them cross country in the 80’s when she moved from New Mexico to the mid-west.

      I’m going anon for this because my mother reads AAM and we don’t tell family secrets LOL

    5. blink14*

      100% agree. One set of my grandparents grew up in NYC during the Depression, and not a scrap of food went to waste. My grandfather’s family’s financial situation at that time was significantly worse than my grandmother’s, and even if that man didn’t want to eat what was in front of him, every speck would be gone by the end of the meal, and he never complained. His manners were impeccable in every situation, including meal times, and it was very important to him to pay for dinners out and making sure that anyone in the house at dinner time had a meal. That was passed down to his children, who have passed that along to me and my cousins. Food is a huge way of showing love and respect in the family. My grandmother hordes free food and is the first at the buffet line, it was instilled in her from a very early age to make sure you always have food, no matter what. Her family fared somewhat better during the Depression, but it was still a great struggle.

      Another set of grandparents, who are about 10 years younger, grew up in more rural areas, and one was extremely poor. Their house is stocked with canned goods, water, drinks, etc. The fear of not having food is still so strong, all these years later, that habit will never be broken.

    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      My best friend’s grandfather is a hoarder of both things and food because of growing up during the Great Depression. However he has excellent table manners, he’s actually very frugal in how he cooks and dispenses food.

      The kitchen is full of food. Let’s put it this way, all the kids can have their own banana for example. But he will make them lunch and he’ll carefully cut up just two bananas and split them between the 6 kids. Then he’ll go and make sandwiches and cut them each in half and give each kid just one half of a sandwich, that’s fine for the littles but the bigs you know…they’re at that age where a full sandwich is appropriate. So their meal ends up being a sliver of banana and half a sandwich [with sparse meat/cheese because you know, portion control!] For very active, athletic kiddos. They are so sweet about it since they’re well aware it’s their great grandfather’s quirk and therefore they smile, eat their food and then go grab a snack whenever they decide they need one because again, full kitchen and pantry of food.

      And he ended up being in good financial health as an adult but yeah, that hold over from that time…

      Unlike my extended family who took their food insecurity issues [not the depression but just being poor AF as kids], so yeah they are beasts at a family dinner and I was glad when I never had to do that again after family gatherings were cancelled after my grandparents died when I was a pre-teen.

    7. Arts Akimbo*

      Plus stressful events like wartime can take a psychological toll. My best friend’s stepdad fought in the Vietnam war, and he forever after would hide canned goods around the house. They’d be vacuuming the sofa or something, and lo and behold, a can of peas. It was a harmless quirk, never escalated into serious hoarding, but it was a lifelong habit borne of scarcity.

  18. Bubbles*

    Very timely as today is a company Thanksgiving potluck. My office manages the event and we create a Google Sheet with all possible items to bring and ask each person participating to bring something. Every year we have to make adjustments – two years ago people signed up to bring drinks and brought a single 2-liter, so last year we had to clarify that if they were bringing beverages, they needed to bring enough for 24 people or if they were bringing a vegetable dish it should serve 15 and had a specific number of spots available for those items. Then people were frustrated because they wanted to bring dessert but all the spots were filled, so they just added their names anyway and we were lopsided. This year we made it a point to number each spot, make a cell in a bright color at the end of each category, and tell people it was full.

    We have so many people participating that we have them come in shifts over a 2.5 hour period. Each department has a 30 minute window to come – but we also know not everyone can always make their assigned time so it isn’t a big deal if they miss it. The hardest part is when people we don’t know or those we know didn’t contribute are first in line. The secretaries are the one assisting with serving and keeping items stocked, so we know all of our staff and our interns and everyone. We know who brought each dish. And the moochers are annoying.

    This year I wasn’t able to cook a dish because I am going out of town directly after work ends. So I signed up for a double shift serving and doing clean up, plus I brought a lot of items from home (like my electric roaster) to help. I know not everyone can contribute with food, but there are others ways to help.

    1. Hold That Thought*

      A while back I stopped enforcing category rules for potlucks, because so what if you have too much dessert? It all seems to work out just fine. Quantity recommendations however – yes!

      1. Lucette Kensack*

        But you shouldn’t both require people to bring large servings and be angry at moochers… otherwise if everyone is bringing 15-24 servings of the dish they prepared, there will be massively too much food.

        1. Hold That Thought*

          No disagreement there. I’m just saying letting people bring what they want generally means they bring something they are really good at, and it all seems to work out ok. Didn’t say anything about moochers.

    2. MissBookworm*

      My office stopped doing a potluck Thanksgiving about five years ago because it was always the same 10 people (in an office of nearly 30) that were bringing in food. We managed to convince our CFO to let us get it catered. Cost this year was about $300 (including any fees and a tip) and we had so many leftovers. Our main rule at our staff only events is that the people who planned it and set it up get to take their food first (and every event is planned by the same four people—myself included—but we prefer it this way).

  19. Amy*

    I have absolutely spoken to people about their behavior with clients. I’m in a role where I have “ownership” over certain client relationship and I’ve had conversations ranging from appropriate dress, topics to not bring up, food best practices, not having private conversations in a client site bathroom etc with a variety of employees/colleagues. When we’re doing client events at the office, we also leave notes like “This breakfast is for the Greenwood meeting” and then take the sign down after to signal it’s now available.

    But ultimately with some accounts, the stakes are too high to let them interact with certain people. If I ever need too speak to someone twice, they can’t work with the account anymore. It may seem harsh but there just aren’t enough bites at the apple in some cases.

  20. Curmudgeon in California*

    Then there the cheesy, all day events that have 15 danish (cut in half) for 30 people for “breakfast” (good thing I eat beforehand), and half a vegetarian sandwich and a stale cookie for lunch, with no local eateries and a half hour to eat in. In both occasions, the first people in line take whole pastries or sandwiches, leaving those of us who don’t move quickly with nothing. When they specify that food will be provided, I would like to be assured of more than a fad diet portion.

    1. Chili*

      I think this also brings up a good point that there should actually be more than enough food for everyone who is supposed to be fed. This is easier when the food items are discrete and it’s customary to take one (like sandwiches or bags of chips) and trickier when it’s something that is scooped or something where the “norm” is more than one (like pizza where most people eat two-three slices, depending on the pizza).

    2. Another worker bee*

      Ugh, one of my former employers did this. The default portion for sandwiches was half of one per person, and then they just had chips/cookies/other unhealthy sides. I’m a small person who eats average portions at best and I was always left hungry.

    3. Anne*

      Yup, I relate to this. When I worked at a non-profit, there was one incident where I came to a meeting and saw a pile of bananas on a table, clearly for the taking. No other snacks—just the bananas. I grabbed one and my boss, standing nearby, loudly said, ‘NO, everyone gets half a banana.’ They were…cutting 20 cent bananas in half. I’ll never forget being publicly shamed for having the audacity to take a whole banana for myself!

      1. WellRed*

        That non profit should be shamed. And if you got the top half did they give you a fork since the peel would be useless?

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        Whoever planned food for that should be ashamed. Planning to have to cut fruit is chintzy, at best, and insulting to the attendees.

      3. That's a Wow From Me*

        That’s a terrible look for an organization! It’s petty, cheap, scarcity-consciousness, and a sign of an organization a normal person would want to flee. It would be better not to serve food at all and tell people in advance they’re responsible for their own meals.

    4. SimplyTheBest*

      Ugh, yes. About a month ago we had a “staff appreciation lunch” that was being provided by our board. We were told about it ahead of time, so no one brought lunch with them that day. “Lunch” turned out to be two shared trays of hummus and baba ganoush with pita and one falafel each. I’m sorry. That is not lunch. That is barely a snack.

  21. Miffedy*

    I worked for a weekly paper where management would feed us on deadline night, usually pretty well for that kind of thing — like non-chain pizza or good Chinese or deli food. There were always leftovers, and people who stayed to close the issue would sometimes hope to have some the next day for lunch.

    But nope: Every week, the people who DIDN’T stay at work until 1 or 2 am would vacuum up any and all leftover deadline-night dinner in the morning, no matter what it was. And when the deadlining people would roll in at 10 or 11, the leftovers would be all gone. Every. Single. Week.

    We carped about it, of course, but management took the attitude (not unreasonably, in retrospect): “It was dinner, and you got your dinner, so whatever.”

    But it still feels wrong to me somehow. Free food has strange effects upon us all.

    1. All monkeys are French*

      I think the late night hours contribute to those strange effects. I work odd hours and I can get annoyed at people who don’t, especially when it comes to little perks like free food.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You should have all brought your own take home containers and took your lunch portion, put it in a lunch box with your name on it and rolled that way. I mean it’s leftovers so they can’t do too much to police them, that’s fair. So game the system, since you’re late shift you knew everyone got their fair share, now get the first dibs on seconds instead of hoping you get some 24hours later!

  22. No Mercy Percy*

    Maybe I’m weird, but I almost always turn down free food at work. Monthly birthday potluck? I ignore it. Annual, big Christmas potluck? Same thing. Department manager buys the department Jimmy John’s? I opt out. I simply prefer my own choices regarding food.

    1. No Mercy Percy*

      Adding that part of it is preferring my own food, and part of it is that in the case of potlucks I don’t trust my coworkers enough to eat food they’ve cooked. I’m not rolling the dice on food poisoning.

      1. BottleBlonde*

        I’m the same way with potlucks. Admittedly I have some anxiety about food safety. But how am I supposed to know who washes their hands while cooking, who follows refrigeration suggestions, who lets their cats sit on their food preparing surfaces, etc? I’d rather skip them.

        1. Cafe au Lait*

          I’ve stopped eating at self serve events after I caught my grandmother’s friend licking her fingers after each slice of cake. Nope, just nope. I’ll pass.

      2. Anonynon*

        I totally understand this, but in some cases it’s not an option. I work on a very small team that would not only notice but would continually point out my lack of participation.

        And I also fully agree on the not trusting other people’s cooking/cleanliness. I tend to only eat dishes that I know were store bought or cooked by someone I trust (i.e. I have seen their kitchens). I usually take very little at potlucks.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      There is also the aspect that people are less trusting of what was cooked at other people’s houses. I haven’t seen a potluck since I started working in healthcare. Anytime the suggestion for a potluck comes up, a manager will step in and say they will have the event catered. If someone brought in a crockpot of chili, I think everyone might turn it down.

      1. cheeky*

        Funny you say this, because right now, my office is hosting its annual chili cook-off, which I avoid like the plague. Chili already is not a visually appealing food, but I simply don’t trust other people’s cleanliness, particularly the way I’ve seen how the office bathrooms and kitchens are treated.

    3. GS*

      Me too! In my first job, I was slightly heavier than most people (it was a consulting group full of mostly 20s people). Couldn’t have paid me money to eat pizza in front of everyone at the training events. It’s held since then, no matter what my relative size. I’ll have like the smallest plate of vegetables, fruit, maybe a piece of cheese. Always the absolute least I can get away with without being rude.

      On top of that, I developed digestive issues, so often free food upsets my stomach. I had a coworker in my last job who was a food pusher, couldn’t stand her. She would always bug me to eat the gross free food. Why aren’t you going to the leftover food site? I eventually had to pull her aside and explain my gastric issues. Gross for her but she deserved it after not taking no for an answer.

    4. RaeaSunshine*

      I participate a little – but not nearly as much as the rest of my co-workers (same experience at all my employers).

      I prefer to save my calories for after work. Lunch is the meal I enjoy the least, it’s purely for fuel and keeping my head clear. Every once in a blue moon I’ll get a full plate or a second slice of pizza at the office, but it’s rare. I work at a desk job, and am mostly in meetings all day – so I don’t need a ton of food to get me through the day. I am far more inclined to take it home, and more often than not I do! My office doesn’t take issue with it – it’s no different to them if I eat a serving later that night at home versus at my desk.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I used to because of my eating disorder.

      Then my coworkers realized I was sitting out and food ended up being delivered to me. Which wasn’t the worst since they didn’t hover over me to make sure I ate it.

      Now I eat but I’m really lowkey about it, I’ll make a salad last for days. We have people who love to keep filling up everyone’s plate but small company problems ahoy right there. Thankfully I’ve gotten good at the “no no no, I’m good! Nothing will go to waste, I promise.”

    6. Coldbrewinacup*

      I never used to be this way until I started working with people who don’t wash their hands after using the restroom EVER and they’re the first ones to reach into that bag of Doritos with their nasty hands instead of dumping chips out onto their plates. Or using bare hands to grab a slice of cake, or veggies from the tray, etc. UGH

  23. Engineer Girl*

    There is nothing wrong with sending out an email with the rules for each type of event. After all, this is coming out of department budgets and the departthas a right to control gets it.
    It’s also fine to make this something you manage, even to the point of giving a PIP. His falls into the category of “getting along with coworkers” and it’s utterly reasonable to have expectations for employees.

    1. Chili*

      Yes! I think clarity is something that is often lacking at these sorts of events. If sometimes pizza on the counter is up for grabs and other times it is not, that’s really confusing! Things should be clearly labeled and expectations should be set in advance

    2. Amy Sly*

      And some companies do!

      I had a doc review case where someone had to lay eyes on every email in a fired employee’s mailbox. There had to have been a couple hundred “learning lunch” announcements that included “The food is being catered by the vendor and is only for the people attending the meeting. Grabbing a plate to go will result in you [getting tackled by the secretary/ forced to apologize to the vendor/ other over-the-top threat].”

    3. Curmudgeon in California*

      Yes. Communication about catering access rules is important, especially because sometimes each department has different expectations and rules.

  24. Goldenrod*

    “Free food, man. It’s apparently a visceral, biological imperative.”

    Ha ha ha, I know right?? I’ll never forget when I worked as an admin for a bunch of professors….We offered free cookies every Friday afternoon, and the weird intensity of disappointment when, one Friday, there were no cookies was just massively strange. I mean, there was a café right next door….I wanted to tell the professors, “You know, you’re a professor! Did you know that can BUY yourself a cookie? I’m pretty sure you can afford it!”

    Sooooooooo strange.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      They learned to food scavenge when they were grad students and being paid $18K a year and couldn’t afford food.

      1. Old Biddy*

        yup, except my stipend was $12k back in the day. After grad school I worked at a startup which provided free food and that was such a big perk for all of us former grad students. After 13 years there I had almost lost my obsession with free food and then I returned to academics and it came back.

      2. Kt*

        Did you go to school for me? In undergrad I sort of sniffed about it — wasn’t super into the free food. In grad school my nose would start twitching from the fifth floor if there was free food on the first floor, and I could make it down in ~30 seconds.

        1. Elsajeni*

          When I was in grad school, the school of education (my program) shared a building with the school of business, and we all developed this sense specifically for Business School Leftovers, which were always much nicer than Education School Leftovers.

  25. ProgrammerDude*

    I actually worked for a company that kind of weaponized this.
    I worked in a corporate office for a regional grocery store chain (think 15 or so stores). Vendors would frequently send in food they wanted on the shelves, and about every other week or so, a huge pile was put into a “free food” table for anyone in the office to take. Ideally, people would hit the table early in the morning and take 1 to 2 items they wanted, then a bit later 1 or 2 things that were left, and anything there at the end of the day was free game. It was interesting to see what would or wouldn’t move quickly.

    Although, about once a month, ~30 bottles of wine would end up on the table (with the intent of still only taking 1-2 per person). There was a real danger of someone being trampled to death on those days…

    1. Elenia*

      The liquor thing really gets me. People will STAMPEDE for liquor. Ok, wine isn’t that expensive, you can buy it! Last year at our holiday exchange everyone was so excited over any liquor or spirits, no matter what, most of all our CEO! It’s so weird.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Free booze tastes better tho!

        This is why there was a huge backlash when we tried to give people drink limits/tickets years ago. They may as well have got signs and stood outside in protest the way things went down.

        But at least in our case, we limit the time we’re at a place, so yeah you can fill up but nobody is serving you enough to double fist and hired on catering style bartenders are so much more aware of their pours than someone who works in a cruddy bar and has ceased caring, so it’s really not that big of deal!

  26. Chocoholic*

    I think I have shared this before, but I did once take a large box of Enstrom toffee that was intended to be a holiday gift for my office home and ate it all myself. I didn’t even share it with my husband. The only explanation I have for this is that I was 8 months pregnant at the time and must have had very low blood sugar. Looking back I am embarrassed by this and would never dream of doing something like that again.

    1. Anonynon*

      I know you said you feel embarassed, but I think this is delightful. Obviously baby wanted toffee. So it’s not really your fault. :p

    2. DrRat*

      Never been preggers and never will be, but I think I speak for most of us here when I say that if you were in the late stages of pregnancy, most of us will give you a pass on this one.

  27. Mediamaven*

    I’m weird about eating food other people made at home so I don’t like potlucks at the office. I just don’t trust it.

    1. No Mercy Percy*

      I’m the same way. I don’t trust my coworkers’ cooking so I never partake of office potlucks.

      1. Flash Bristow*

        I got a food hygiene qualification for that very reason! My kitchen is small and not in any way spotless but if I’m making food to share, you can bet it’ll be done in a clean area, and I’ll be wearing the right things too, gloves if necessary.

        I don’t want to be the person responsible for passing out a bug..

        My grandmother used to try to hide her deep thumbprints in my sandwiches (from pressing down hard to cut them) by filling the dents with pickled onions… Not something you forget. So glad my mother thought it was “funny”… Not.

  28. tink*

    Our workplace is small (9 people), and we all actually contribute when we do a potluck (about once every 3-4 months). But rule of thumb is make sure everyone has at least one full plate of the stuff they want before you go for seconds. Same for desserts or doughnuts or anything else that is brought it. Take one, then wait. Once everyone has had a reasonable chance to take one (roughly until lunchtime if it was breakfast food, until mid/late-afternoon if it was lunch) then it’s acceptable to take another (because food waste is worse to most of our group than someone having the chance to wrap a plate or grab a slice for themselves missing out because they chose not to do that).

  29. Natalie*

    My mom works for a large department store. Black Friday is “all hands on deck”. Because of limited parking and traffic concerns, employees are not permitted to leave the store during their meal breaks. To offset this inconvenience, the store purchases breakfast (Bagels, muffins, donuts) and lunch (Pizza, wings, and sub trays). They have a strict budget, and assume that each employee will eat 1-2 bagels and 1-2 slices of pizza. Each year my mom says the food is gone within a blink of an eye. She has personality witnessed one man eat 7 slices of pizza in a single setting. The employees who are scheduled for later lunches usually get nothing. My mom has learned just to pack her own lunch just in case.

    1. Chili*

      1-2 slices of pizza is low, especially for employees who are working really hard on Black Friday! Seven is definitely too many to take without making sure everyone has had a chance to grab some, but the department store is also under-ordering!

      1. Natalie*

        I do agree that ordering more food would help. But it’s retail *shrugs*. Struggling industry trying to cut costs so it’s not surprising.

    2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      IMO if a company plans their budget on such a strict assumption, then they need to portion it out to employees. Station someone to serve the food or pre-box the meals and hand them out.

    3. Zona the Great*

      I still can’t eat beef because the one time I worked retail (14 years ago at a Kohls) we had our grand opening and I ate a roast beef sandwich that must’ve been sitting out all day when I started my shift. 14 years without beef!!! I can still taste the crackers and ginger ale I lived off of. Retail and buffets do not mix well.

    4. mcr-red*

      OMG, the pizza thing brings back kids’ parties flashbacks. For a while there, my kids were going to all the parties, and it seemed like kids AND the parents of kids invited (friend, you are NOT the guest your kid is, you are their ride) would immediately take at least 2 pieces of pizza. There was never enough for all those kids and all those adults to take 2 or more pieces each. I had taught my kids, you take one piece, and if after everyone has had some there is still some left over, you ask the parent if you can have another piece. And I never took any. Honestly, there was no point – my kids would take 2 bites anyway and be done, so I lived off their food, lol.

      1. StaceyIzMe*

        It’s true that parents are not the guests, exactly. But- if the actual guests are of an age where they need to be driven, some reasonable provision is in order.

    5. Ego Chamber*

      PSA: If your employer doesn’t allow you to leave the building during your meal break, they may be required to pay you during that break.

      Check your local laws and maybe double check with the labor board but a local company got in trouble for this a while ago because you’re not supposed to tell employees what they can do on unpaid breaks.

  30. Captain S*

    One place I worked used the “buffet line is for meetings only, leftovers go to the communal kitchen” rule with good success. The meeting buffet was in a public place at the front of the office so it was obvious if someone tried to sneak into the line who didn’t belong.

    When the food was in the kitchen, though it was the same old story. Once we got an email about a few leftover sandwiches and within seconds of the email being sent I literally heard chairs being scooted out from desks quickly so people could power walk to the kitchen for the sandwiches. A parade of like 10 people passed my desk. It was hysterical.

    1. ACDC*

      My office has this rule unofficially, but any time we get new people or new to our part of the building people, there is always that awkward first time where they walk in a conference room to get food that is clearly not for them.

  31. Charles is not in charge*

    During our busy season, we’d get dinner catered for employees who were working the long hours. The lines would start and some people would come by and dump SO MUCH FOOD on their plates and to-go containers because they would have food for tomorrow–which, hey, totally understandable…but do it AFTER everyone’s had a turn, not on the first go-around! A lot of the popular products would disappear quickly while there was an abundance of some. I’m shameless but I would honestly have no issue telling someone “hey please leave some for the other people!”

    Our company provides free drinks and free snacks daily and fresh fruit weekly. Our office manager is really nice, and will take requests for certain items. Recently he sent out an email and put up signs saying that the snacks are limited to 2 per day. Obviously, he’s not standing there policing it but enough people know about it

    1. ACDC*

      My office had a snack war too. Employees were taking handfuls of snacks back to their desks as soon as they were delivered and hoarding them. Snacks never lasted more than a few hours because of this. Someone took it upon themselves to be the snack police for a little bit – she set up a folding table in the kitchen to use as her desk and would watch people as they came in to get snacks. Her doing that for a few days actually immediately corrected the hoarding behavior. Was it passive aggressive? Yes. Was it hilarious and effective? Also yes.

      1. Wired Wolf*

        That’s awesome. On occasion our produce department will put fruit in the break room; despite the BIG sign saying “Please only take one piece of fruit so everyone can have one” I’ve witnessed people grabbing whole hands of bananas, six oranges, etc. I’ve worked here 3 years and have yet to grab an elusive pineapple (I’ve seen just the crowns left in the fruit box). Us warehouse grunts suspect that the fruit thieves are stashing it in their lockers downstairs…which could be why that locker room has vermin.

        When the staff breakfast is put out at 9AM Friday it’s like a plague of locusts and typically by 9:30 anything decent is gone. The main kitchen makes a staff lunch every day at 1, and typically by 3 there’s nothing left…partly because people bring containers and hoard some to take home (which is strictly against company policy, but everyone seems to have forgotten that).

        The managers are doing a Thanksgiving potluck for everyone on Wednesday. That should be interesting.

        1. Berkeleyfarm*

          At a previous employer we used to get a crate on Tuesdays. It was usually gone by Wednesdays. People “shopped”.

          The admin assistant sent out a reminder. I made a joke about Fruit Cams that got sent to everyone accidentally (my most embarrassing reply-all incident and it wasn’t bad). It did calm down after that.

    2. Charles is not in charge*

      Sorry, not 2 per day, 2 per “refill.” the office manager fills the snack box 3x a day.

        1. MOAS*

          Ha! I think people would riot. He even typed up on the sign they’re a perk and can be taken away. It’s an awesome sign.

          Me personally, I wouldn’t care either way. We used to have snacks like crackers chips cookies etc and man I went crazy on those. Since the new manager, we have way more variety of snacks that suit lot of diff dietary needs so I think that’s really neat. If they got ird of it I would probably not eat any but that’s on me, not anyone else.

  32. Nic the librarian*

    Slightly different situation; at my library, we don’t often get FREE free food. That is to say, if there is food sitting on the counter to share, one of my other coworkers have brought it (and often handmade it). There is no problem with individuals taking food, even visiting staff. However, I have also noticed that some of the most, er, voracious workers are also those who NEVER bring in any food themselves, going back for multiple portions, even. It’s a weird dichotomy.

    1. LibrariAnne*

      As a voracious baking librarian I don’t mind this ~too much~ in general since I love to bake way more than I can responsibly eat so I’m going to make it regardless & I’m counting on the masses at my workplace to help make a dent in what I bring despite the fact that I don’t often partake in things brought in myself. But I DO notice if one person often takes way more than their share and at one job I actually would sometimes hold back half of what I brought to put out later in the day to give the afternoon shift a fair shot at getting some.

      1. Laszlo Whitaker*

        Another librarian here! I always save some of whatever I bring to put out right when I leave at 5. Otherwise the people who work the closing shift (11 during the semester, midnight during finals) never ever get anything.

  33. WantonSeedStitch*

    I like the way our office handles free food. In our building, which houses a large department, there are individual kitchens on each floor. We have a building-wide e-mail list that people can sign up for that’s just about food. Whenever there’s food left over after a meeting or event in the building, someone will post to it “leftover sandwiches/cookies/salad/whatever in the 3rd floor kitchen!” and people can go there and grab something. Sometimes there’s a bigger stampede than others, and sometimes the leftovers are more plentiful than others, but we all know that we need to move quickly to take advantage, and no one seems to get miffed if they wander by half an hour after the announcement and the choice goodies (or all the goodies) are gone. We have available leftovers announcements often enough that most people can be assured of getting SOME free food once a week! We always seem to order enough for the actual meeting or event participants to eat their fill and then some.

  34. Forrest Gumption*

    I used to have a colleague who did what Cyril did. He also would prowl the floor where the conference rooms were located to see what food had been left over after meetings had ended. I found out later that he was suffering from food addiction, compulsive overeating and bulimia. Not saying that Cyril has this problem, but sometimes people literally cannot help themselves!

    1. Digley Doowap*

      I worked with Marty and Ken and they always knew where to get free food during the day, usually 4 days a week. They even walked to other buildings at our large multi-building complex as they had memorized were various lunch meetings were held.

      They were not malnourished or had any food addictions. They were just Cheapskates who liked a free meal.

      1. Coldbrewinacup*

        I have a coworker like that–he’s an older guy who talks constantly about his multiple pricey vacations but also how he and his wife are on a budget. Every time we have a potluck, he makes sure he brings several Tupperware containers and fills them up, plus he fills his plate. The containers are to feed himself and his wife dinner and lunch for the following day. *eyeroll*. He also signed up once to bring iced tea to a potluck and then took the teabags the office supplies for employees to make the iced tea he brought for the potluck.

  35. Lucette Kensack*

    How would you address it (as, say, Cyril’s manager) if he weren’t breaking any rules that had been laid out, but just… taking too much food?

    1. Hold That Thought*

      Then there is a missing rule about being considerate of others and all employees being responsible for ensuring that guests get their share.

      1. Lucette Kensack*

        I agree that “be considerate to others” is an unwritten rule, but it’s not something that becomes more effective by writing it down in an employee manual.

        As for guests getting their share, I’m thinking of staff-only occasions (or any occasion where Cyril is equally entitled to the food as everyone else in attendance). At events with guests, it’s simple to ask staff to wait until everyone else is served (or some other rule), but it’s more challenging if the problem is that Cyril is taking twice as much artichoke dip as everyone else at the employee appreciation lunch.

        1. pleaset*

          Writing it down can empower others to speak up. I’d be reluctant to call out bad behavior if it was just my opinion, but if it’s company policy I’d be more likely to do so.

    2. MOAS*

      What I’ve learned so far is that…just because it’s “unwritten” doesn’t mean it can’t be said. Anyone who says “Well there’s no rule that says I can’t eat more than my fair share of food!”……I have a feeling they’re a problem employee in other ways as well.

      There’s no rule against farting in the office or socializing too much or spending all day in the breakroom, but as managers we have every right to speak to the offending person.

  36. ACDC*

    Boy oh boy is this timely for me… I work in a company with about 1,500 employees and we occupy 3 floor of our building. The other day, my team was having a lunch to celebrate the completion of a big project. I retrieved the delivery guy from our lobby and brought him up to our area, and people from other teams literally followed us like little ducklings from the elevator to where we set up the food (the opposite side of the building from where they all sit). We set up in the food in an empty desk where all of our team sits and these guys still thought they were invited. I politely told them to get lost and if we had extra food at the end we would bring it to the communal kitchen area. It was unreal.

      1. ACDC*

        It was so funny but not funny at the same time! We step out of the elevator and you see them turn to look then slowly rise out of their chairs to follow.

    1. Liz*

      This reminds me of a pizza party one group had, as a thank you for working on a large project. I was invited as was my boss, as we did the final step of it. Yet one guy, who wasn’t involved in any way that i could tell, wandered in, grabbed several slices of pizza, and proceeded to waltz back out. While there was plenty of food it was just odd since he wasn’t included in the email inviting us, and i’m pretty sure he had nothing to do with said project. yet no one said anyhting.

    2. Mockingjay*

      It’s like shaking a box of Meow Mix and watching the cats come running…

      Too bad you can’t yell “SCAT!” at coworkers.

    3. DrRat*

      At one hospital where I worked, pharmaceutical companies would cater when we held grand rounds (professional presentations). The food was supposed to be for people actually, you know, ATTENDING the presentations. Until we cracked down, staff from the whole hospital would walk in, get food, and leave without even a pretense of attending. And this was a hospital that paid pretty well, in an area with a low cost of living. The whole FREE FOOD idea just seemed to hijack their brains. The frontal lobes turned off and the limbic systems took over. Like zombies going, “Brainnnns.”

      1. MagicEyes*

        I worked in a medical building, and those people went feral when there was free food. I had a candy dish in my office, and people I didn’t know would come in and take my candy and not say a word to me.

  37. Lucette Kensack*

    My office has a habit of ordering not-quite-enough food. I’m not sure why, but it’s relatively consistent (for large, open meetings that are organized by HR). Our occasional free lunches run from 11:30 – 1:00 p.m.; it’s a known thing that to have any shot at food you need to get there between 11:30 and 12:00 p.m.

  38. GreenDoor*

    I work in government so free meals almost never happen. But we do have one very nice, catered luncheon on Budget adoption day (I worked for the local common council). The organizer was smart enough to send a memo to all staff that clarified that the council members and their clerks would go through first, then the support staff, then the aids. She also reminded us that the council members and clerks are usually there until late into the evening working on the budget, which is why they get to eat their fill first, since the rest of us got to go home at 5:00. Totally reduced the potential for game-players, cheapskates, and double-dippers to do their thing.

  39. BlindChina*

    In OldJob the general manager (owners son paid 4X anyone else for half the work) wold hop in line first, take half or more of each dish, and then go back for seconds before anyone else was served. He was a running joke in the company for more reasons than this. I always got asked if we ordered enough food for anyone else to have any after he got his.

  40. Charles is not in charge*

    Also had a coworker who, during the weekly free breakfast, would pick out all the strawberries & blueberries & blackberries in the fruit bowl. (Thankfully with tongs, not with her hands). Didn’t matter that people were standing and waiting and the line was getting long. Maybe I’m BEC on this because she was entitled and unpleasant in so many other relevant ways.

    1. two cents*

      OMG if I was the person who ordered I’d have started asking for only melon plates cause honestly that’s just wrong on so many levels.

      1. MOAS*

        THANK YOU! No one ever said anything because… no one wants to be that person! The office manager in charge of ordering food was more hands off about these things, and seemingly I’m the only one who had issue with it (everyone else had other, deeper issues with her). I never did say anything, but I’m sure she complained to HR that my face was offensive to her. (thanks RBF!)

      1. Flash Bristow*

        I get that you don’t want someone taking all the cucumber or whatever, but in my case I love salad, as a veggie there often isn’t a lot else anyway, but I hate peppers.

        Genuine question, do you think it’s better to just take a tongful of salad, then leave (ie waste) the bits I won’t eat, or to try to ensure my tongful has everything except peppers, taking longer but wasting nothing?

        Fwiw I also love fruit salad but apple makes me ill. I can have stuff that’s touched it, but more than a minimal amount is too much. Again, waste the apple, or take everything else and leave it in the bowl?

        Genuine q, not baiting!

        1. JR*

          I love salad but hate tomatoes. I do my best to avoid tomatoes as I’m scooping salad onto my plate, but not obsessively so, and then I just push what I couldn’t avoided to the side I’d run plate. So somewhere in between?

  41. Chronic Overthinker*

    Free food at the office makes people go crazy! But I never take more than my fair share to make sure everyone has a chance to have some.

    It reminds me of a story my mother told me when I was a kid. She was the youngest of six kids and had a stay at home mom who cooked just enough food so that everyone could have one serving. They invited a new neighbor for dinner named Joe Beck. My grandmother passed around the plate of pork chops they were having; giving one to my grandfather, one to herself and when Joe came to take his portion, he took two chops. Each sibling took their portion in turn until the empty plate was given to my mother, at the tender age of six, started to cry as there were no pork chops for her.

    Now I am a grown adult and whenever I am at a family function or dinner party or anywhere that serves food family style, I make sure I am no Joe Beck. I only take one portion. Then I wait till everyone has had a chance to eat. If I am still hungry I’ll go see if there are leftovers, making sure to take a humble portion if I decide on seconds.

    Don’t be a Joe Beck. :)

    1. MOAS*

      My heart is breaking for your mother. Anytime I read about children not getting any food or issues with food, I feel so sad.

      1. Chronic Overthinker*

        Part of me thinks it was just a story to remind the cousins and family to make sure to only take small portions as my grandfather was a doctor but it was the 50’s-60’s so maybe it was a true story? Either way it is a good reminder to only take your share and to make sure everyone has something.

        1. MOAS*

          So what did she end up eating? Did her parents admonish her for crying? Sorry if these are too many questions, I’m just so curious to know.

          In my culture, it’s a sign of hospitality to let the guest have whatever/however much they want, even if everyone else is left with little. I can imagine if someone took one piece, they’d be encouraged to take more. Of course, there’s an expectation for the guest to have some manners as well lol. Did the guest somehow think that there was more food in the kitchen and this is only what was on the serving table?

          I very rarely host meals but I am so paranoid that anyone will get less that I end up cooking more food. Extra food can be given away, or frozen or something but less food is hurtful lol.

          1. Filosofickle*

            I’ve always tried to avoid this by making extra if guests are present, so they can have more if they want. If I’m only making enough for everyone to take a specific amount/number of something, I plate in the kitchen instead of passing at the table.

          2. Chronic Overthinker*

            I think she ended up eating all of the sides, mashed potatoes, green beans, bread and butter, but had no protein. In those times, meat/protein was a rare treat, so there were no leftovers or extra portions, especially of meat/protein. My grandmother was very resourceful and never wasted a scrap, so leftovers usually weren’t available. And, yeah, maybe Joe Beck did think there was more, but I think that’s the moral of the story. Make sure everyone has enough to eat before helping yourself to another portion.

        2. anon for this*

          I’m attached to another family that had 10 kids of a doctor in the 50s-60s, and I can believe it. That family ate ‘four-legged chickens’ that were apparently originally bunnies from the research labs at the University. Kids didn’t figure it out for a while. In the early days, they were definitely not rich.

    2. Chronic Overthinker*

      When I used to work retail, second shift would always get the shaft when it came to catered events. Day shift would get the lions share, while night shift usually got terrible leftovers, if we were lucky to get leftovers at all. I am glad I don’t work retail any more.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This angers me.

        If I get something that should be put out early [say bagels or donuts] I always pull back the proper potion for the night shift. It really only takes thinking about others ffs!

    3. JustAThought*

      This reminds me of stories of my mother who was one of seven growing up in the Depression who would always hate when a neighbor or someone else would stop in at their house when my grandmother baked bread once a week (that was meant to last a week).

      On a lighter note, it also reminds me of one of Mary’s disastrous dinner parties on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, when she had 5-6 people over and she prepared a roasted lamb or maybe meatloaf that was cut such that each person would get a slice and Lou Grant ignored the pre slicing and served himself half of the entire!

    4. Flash W Bristow*

      Did Joe not notice and say “oh, would you like one of mine?”

      Or even half of one?

      I’m surprised when Joe took two there wasn’t an audible intake of breath, or an “… Oh.” to clue him in. What a selfish guy.

      I hope when he invited the entire family over to reciprocate he ensured they were all well fed, right? /s

    5. Curmudgeon in California*

      I’ve gotten to the point where I can count people and portions very quickly, and figure out the intended portion of a communal dish.

      Unless I’m paying, I try to err on the low side and wait for seconds. It took me a long time to learn this after childhood.

  42. blink14*

    I’m not sure much can be done in most situations – I do believe some of this has to do with how a person was raised and what they were exposed to up through the early parts of their careers.

    I was always taught by both family and at school that after everybody has had their first serving, you can go back for a second, after you’ve finished your first helping. This also assumed that everyone at the table was taking a reasonable sized share to begin with. This is still my rule today at situations with free food – seconds only after everyone has had a first.

    There are some people who did not grow up with those rules, and that’s transferred to their adult life because it was never instilled at an early age. Maybe a person’s home life was chaotic, and it meals were a free for all, or maybe there was always a question of if a meal would be available at all on a given day. Maybe their family just didn’t care that much, and the schools they went to were a one serving only situation, and didn’t expose them to how to share food.

    Greed also comes into play heavily, and it is high on my pet peeve list when someone attends a potluck, bringing nothing, and loads up a plate. I think potlucks are a bad idea in a workplace, they can create the situation where a freeloading co-worker takes 3 servings of every offering, leaving little for those who actually participating, yet because you are at work, you feel like you can’t say anything. Those people are jerks, full stop.

    I work at a university, and the word of free food creates a vulture fight over what to take and how much. If the free food is from my own department, we take what we want, and offer the rest to other departments. When we were located with a larger department, some people were literally taking a week’s worth of food (and not even like it’s amazing food most of the time), and you know some of its getting thrown away. Take what you can reasonably eat in a day or two, and leave the rest for others.

    1. MOAS*

      Interesting point about the rules growing up. I wrote above about how some coworkers behave, and for me at least one of them was a BEC situation. To be fair though, early on I would take more than my share of sandwich halves (ie. instead of 1 half, I’d take 2 or 3 halves). I didn’t realize it was a big thing until I was feeling a chill against me in the office and an office friend told me that was one of the reasons.

      Not that I’d share this at work, but my family was very generous with food. I would get giant portions of whatever I wanted. In my parents’ view, this was a way of showing love and being first generation immigrants, knowing that you can afford good portions of good food was a status symbol. so…ate to my hearts content.

      Cut to when I got married and lived with my husband and in laws (joint family system). My mother in law would cook very small portions, more servings for her sons and less for the wives. I didn’t realize that and would take however much I wanted and one day she pulled me aside and said I ate so much that barely anything was left for her sons. (it was in private but I felt so humiliated and cried for hours).

      1. blink14*

        I do all of the catering orders for my department, and I always order with the intention of each person taking a full portion – we often do wraps, and I don’t think twice when someone takes two halves, because it makes a full wrap! I think it is absolutely ridiculous to expect someone to come to a catered event and eat basically half of a lunch.

        I also grew up in a family where food is a sign of love – my stepfamily is from a very insular ethnic community, and having large amounts of food to go around to anyone in the house at a meal time is a major sign of status and respect. That’s been passed down and it’s also important to me that people have enough to eat. I get so upset reading about kids who are denied lunch because they don’t have the money. That happened to me once – my mom just forgot – and the humiliation is something I’ll never forget. And my parents did have the money. I can’t imagine being in a place where there isn’t enough food, because it’s always been prioritized, even in times when my family has struggled financially.

        Your mother in law’s meal “rules” are very much passed down from an earlier generation, and I’m sorry its like that! That’s really upsetting and I’m sure must make any of the females in the family feel like second class citizens.

        1. MOAS*

          Our office manager does exactly the same — 2 slices of pizza, 1 sandwhich (whether its 2 halves or 1 whole) 1 burger etc.

          Glad to know someone can relate–of course that overindulgence led to other health issues for me (Hi childhood and adult obesity!) but… I understand the thinking behind it and to some extent I want to adopt hte same for my family (hopefully minus the diabetes & obesity issues).

          With my MIL, I did get upset later on, and thought to myself, “come on, stop being stingy and just cook more food (the family wasn’t dirt poor, they just cooked small portions). Fortunately, everyone has their own home and family now, and I never had to deal with that again. And frankly, I follow that philosophy,

          1. blink14*

            Food quality was also something that was really emphasized in my house. Every meal was made from scratch, eating boxed, canned, or frozen meals (with the exception of frozen fruit or veggies) was, and still is, a big no. A treat would be a box of Bagel Bites once and awhile, a Lunchable, or maybe some fast food. But it wasn’t the norm for a meal and was specifically framed as a special treat. I didn’t grow up with pre-packaged lunch meat – anything like that was bought fresh from a specialty deli. Even now, I cannot buy pre-packaged lunch meat, it makes me want to barf.

            I find now what this translates to for me personally is high food expectations. I have expensive taste in food, but I also expect decent quality if I’m at a casual restaurant. If I’m at a high end restaurant, I expect my money to be purchasing high quality food. I’ve embraced this and enjoy going out for good meals with friends have the same level of appreciation.

            But I also will 100% bring a frozen meal to work because I don’t have the time to cook every meal from scratch and usually focus the time I do have on making dinners from scratch.

        2. Not a cat*

          It reminds me of my childhood. My parents would forget to give me lunch money and there was no time to pack a lunch, so a few times a month, I didn’t get lunch. At my school (NJ public school 1970s), there was no food given, you just sat with nothing.

          For dinners when we had company (rarely) there was always plenty for guests (and my father) but not for me. When it was just immediate family my father got a full serving and I was expected to share an adult portion w/ my mother. Interestingly, I was expressly forbidden to accept food when I was at non-family social event w/ parents.

          It’s weird how you never get over that stuff.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Oh, eww, the “girls eat less” thing, like being a second class citizen.

            Teenagers, especially ones who are in sports, need full, adult portions or more.

      2. anon for this*

        I’m sorry you had that experience with your MIL! I come from a clash of cultures, too, on this one: but my family is the ‘stingy’ family. We just never cooked large amounts — no leftovers — and now with my parents trying to be healthful as they age, it’s the palm-sized piece of protein for each person, that’s all…. My spouse’s grandma, though, had many many children and just seemed to get used to cooking for 30 it seems :) Whenever my spouse would come home from grandma’s when we were dating he’d have fried rice, roast beef, chocolate cake, green beans, sometimes fried chicken… What a feast!

        It’s been a challenge to examine my own blind spots, and I’m really trying to lean in to the generosity, because I think it does lead to goodwill and a feeling of abundance. I’ve had a few situations where a guest *ATE IT ALL* (whatever *it* might be) and felt mad about it, and I really had to think about that. I’ve adjusted a lot of my planning and attitudes, with the exception of beer: I don’t like the atmosphere when a friend drinks 12 beers in one evening at my house with my toddler, so we just have a limited amount available.

      3. Curmudgeon in California*

        I hate it when they only allow one half of a sandwich. Who eat half a sandwich for lunch? No, salad doesn’t make up for the fact that half a sandwich is only maybe 200 calories, and the cookies are stale or loaded with soybean oil.

        The only thing that annoys me more is the diet people taking the top half of a bagel, assuming that someone else wants their sloppy seconds. Find a bagel buddy to split with you, FFS. I regularly showed up late, and found a half dozen bottom halves, stale because their tops were off, of bagels left in the box. The worst is when so “oh I can only have a little” person cuts 1/4 out of the bagel then puts the rest back in the box, like everybody else is their food janitor. If you can only have 1/4, either find someone to share with, take the whole thing, or don’t take any. Yes, it’s a peeve.

        1. Coldbrewinacup*

          I feel you on the bagel thing! And the cream cheese that’s been left out all morning that now has to be thrown out because no one thought to put it in the fridge!!! ARGH! No, I don’t want the leftover stale part of the cinnamon crunch bagel after you took the yummy part with the cream cheese that’s going to make me ill!

  43. Hold That Thought*

    Our biz is all about food and wine. When we have a buffet event we’ve found it is imperative to have servers assisting with portion control. You can pile a LOT of spareribs on a 4 inch plate – spareribs Jenga!

    1. StaceyIzMe*

      Or shrimp! There is something about a cold shrimp appetizer that makes some people lose their sense of self-restraint. I think it’s the fumes from the cocktail sauce…

      1. Berkeleyfarm*

        I read a book by a caterer that said that people completely lost their mind when presented with shrimp or smoked salmon and did not take polite portions, so you really couldn’t “plan” for them. Having put out shrimp plates at festive potlucks, I can agree.

  44. Det. Charles Boyle*

    I once worked for a company where we met with clients over meals fairly often. Executives were chagrined to realize that many of the employees had terrible table manners: didn’t know to place napkins on their laps; if you leave the table, place the napkin on your chair; wait before starting to eat until everyone is served; no elbows on the table; don’t push your plate away when you’re finished; place your cutlery nicely on your plate when you’re finished; etc. Basic manners. They brought in an etiquette coach who provided “lessons” on table manners for all employees. It was great b/c we got a free meal at a nice restaurant and we all learned something.

    1. Anonynon*

      Many people don’t know these rules unless they have been specifically taught. It is why so many undergraduate program and graduate business schools have etiquette courses on dining. One could argue that in some ways not all of these are necessary basic manners, for instance placing napkin on the chair rather than next to your plate if you get up, and really just a perpetuation of a sort of business/class hierarchy.

      1. Audra*

        Yes… I am not putting my clean napkin on a chair where so many butts have sat before. This napkin is going to touch my lips, for crying out loud! I usually just put it (neatly folded with the clean side facing out) near my plate and tell the person next to me that I’ll be right back.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            That’s funny. I went to charm school as a kid, and we were not taught to put napkins on our seats. So it’s not universal. In fact, today is the first time I’ve heard of that custom.

        1. Pomona Sprout*

          I’m with you, Audra. Tbh, I didn’t know that napkin in chair was even a rule. I knew every other rule Charles Boyle listed except that one–or if I ever did know, I had forgotten it. And now that I’ve been reminded, putting a napkin I’m still using where butts have been does sound gross. (Not to mention the risks to my clothes of putting my own butt where a messy napkin was just lying. Maybe not a problem with cloth napkins, but with the flimsy paper ones all but the fanciest places use…hmmm.)

          1. Flash W Bristow*

            I find in Michelin starred restaurants, if I’m popping to the loo, it doesn’t matter where I put the napkin – however quickly I return, our waiter will have whisked over, and refolded the napkin perfectly by my plate – in many times invisibly in that the rest of the party didn’t notice!

            The disposable paper ones? Assuming they aren’t spotless, I screw ’em up and put it next to my plate, then on the way to the loo I ask a server if they could kindly bring more napkins to my table. Generally I return to find my old one gone, and a small pile of new ones, which benefits everyone.

            Paper ones weren’t covered in my etiquette books, though… And they were passed down through the family… I don’t think we have to write such formal responses to dinner invitations nowadays. Debrette didn’t foresee email :)

    2. Mockingjay*

      I saw this when my kids were in high school. They would bring friends home for dinner who weren’t taught basic table manners. I would set the table as usual, nothing fancy, but with placemats, napkins (usually paper for teens), utensils in proper place, and fix something simple, say spaghetti and salad. One girl looked wide eyed and asked me if I was doing this special for her. I said no, this is just a normal dinner. She said, “we never eat together at my house.”

      Turns out a lot of these kids came from backgrounds where they didn’t get these opportunities. So I started hosting kids on a regular basis, setting rules for no phones and pleasant conversation. I allowed my next-door neighbor’s hellion son to eat in my dining room on my good china several times. It survived. A friend’s grandson was interested in cooking and wanted to work in restaurants. I said, “wonderful, let’s work on presentation and serving. How do you want to set the table tonight?” (He went to culinary school and is a chef.) I’ve taken teens to fine restaurants and explained the array of glassware.

      I can only say that I was very fortunate in my own family. My parents came from very modest means and in my younger years, some meals were a bit lean. But we always had meals together in which good manners were modeled and expected, even if we were eating cereal until Dad’s payday.

      1. fposte*

        This is a really lovely comment. I agree heartily that people learn a lot better when they’re taught, and I’m glad you were able to teach them.

      2. lobsterp0t*

        Yep I am sooooo grateful for my Granny now. I know how to lay a table and how to eat at one.

        It’s interesting to note the differences between British and American eating etiquette though. I definitely am more aware of the finer details of how we “should” eat.

      3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        This is so kind of you.

        So many others just look at these “untrained children” and decide they’re ragamuffins who don’t deserve to be friends with their kids. It always gave me great distress as a kid to have meals at the table with stranger adults because of how rude some of them can be when you simply weren’t taught something that they see as absolutely required or you may as well just go sleep in the trash bin where you belong.

        We didn’t have a family table at home, so. Yeah we ate in the living room where there were chairs…the horror.

  45. Digley Doowap*

    I worked at a start up where there was a sign up sheet to bring in food for a pot luck for 30 people. I signed up and made deviled eggs, which was a big effort as I assumed everyone would take at least 2 eggs. I noticed that the 1st two entries on the sheet were chips and rolls.

    At the potluck, noticed that most of the upper management did not bring anything, but took part in the potluck. There was plenty good food that was mostly brought in by the lowest paid staff.

    I signed up for rolls at the next potluck and was completely happy with “my dish”.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Make me deviled eggs and I will worship at your feet. Just throw them down here like a faithful doggy *puss n boots eyes*

      1. Filosofickle*

        Dude, come sit by me. I’m surrounded by deviled egg makers and I am allergic. (Also, I find them revolting.) You can have allll of mine.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          They’re my absolute favorite. Especially if they’re extra tangy, I used to be my mother’s taste tester for holidays. Now I’m too far to do this…so I just instruct her that ‘If you think that’s enough vinegar, you’re wrong, add MOAR.”

          I’m obsessed with egg salad too which everyone seemingly hates, gimme gimme gimme.

          1. StaceyIzMe*

            Egg salad and deviled eggs are delicious! I’m with you. If someone doesn’t care for it, that’s fine. More for the rest of us…

  46. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    These stories are so fascinating after years of having an eating disorder along with the fact that I’ve worked with mostly mindful people when it comes to not hording food when it’s available.

    But we’re also not a quiet crowd either, so speaking up is never an issue. Everyone is orderly and makes sure everyone is served their proper meal. Then the seconds are free for all, which still is pretty lowkey. And I’m talking about people with labor intensive jobs.

    We’re even orderly when we have holiday parties, we always make sure there’s enough for everyone to get a doggy bag if they want it. Part of it really is the planning and making expectations known up front.

    Lots of events just assume that you know what the rules and setup is. We expect people to have all been raised like us, have manners and knowledge of social gatherings like us, etc. Expecting people to do anything you want them to without speaking to them directly is usually a recipe for disaster and backfire!

  47. Funbud*

    I’m really shocked by some of these comments. I’ve encountered a few employees in my time who would swoop in to collect leftovers the moment free food was places out AFTER a meeting, but I’ve never see anyone cut in line or attack the food before the event/meeting starts! Maybe I’ve just always worked with people with better manners.

    As to the woman who would take entire catering trays to her desk, I would calmly approach her and ask “WTF are you doing?”

    1. Digley Doowap*

      I want saw someone in the janitorial stafg clean out to full trays of roast beef, turkey and ham that was placed in the communal area for everyone to enjoy. I was able to make myself a sandwich before she scooped it all into her massive plastic bag.

      I did make a comment, but I don’t think she understood a word I said.

      1. Chronic Overthinker*

        Methinks that was an issue of lack of food at home. I always feel bad for service staff or second/third shift workers who are often left out of company-wide catering events. It’s usually the hourly/underpaid staff that take advantage of a “surplus” of food as they often have food struggles at home. I feel for them. I think that’s why I never take more than I need at the moment as too often others could use it more.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’ve heard stories all the time over the years from friends and family as well. So I do trust the comments here but yeah, I think there are certain people and setups where this is more frequent.

      Like nobody here is getting away with taking an entire tray of bacon to their desk. Someone will say “What the heck are you doing, that’s for everyone.”

      My mom used to be rage about this one woman she worked with who dutifully always packed up a second plate during their potlucks to take home to her husband. My mom would always say “It’s for the employees, not your husband but whatever, I don’t make the rules here…” and the woman never got the hint because indeed, nobody made it an actual issue that was addressed by someone with authority of some kind.

      1. Liz*

        I’ve worked with people like this before. Not necessarily meals but cookies, cake etc. I’m sorry but the leftover are for employees, NOT for you to take home to your kids and husband.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Yesssss, it was EVERYTHING that they had including just snacks/treats. Potlucks and company funded setups. So tacky and unacceptable.

          I have had times I have had to tell people to take food home with them, including “Well your spouse or kids may like this, right?” but it’s because it’s something that will go bad and we haven’t finished up after an event. So it’s totally different and even more so because it’s coaxed by a person who is setting up the event.

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            I will *only* take food home if the organizer says “Please, take some home, don’t let it go to waste.” Sometimes I end up taking entire steam table trays home to the roomies, but not often.

  48. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

    My org just controls the flow of food — buffet? there are food servers there to plate it for you (good for safe food handling too ’cause people grab stuff with their hands OMG); fancy plated dinner? food servers that know which VIP tables get unlimited wine and anything they request vs. on-the-clock employee or student volunteer tables that get served last and/or sparingly; informal lunch for a lecture or meeting? pre-boxed lunches, sometimes with names if the group is small or special meals are ordered, and someone stationed to hand them out.

    I guess there could still be jerks who manage to take more than their fair share, but the free-for-all free food melee could be drastically reduced by controlling the flow. For the appetizer guy, if at all possible the manager should grab the plate, as though you are of course passing the dish around the table, and offer it directly to the clients, and then keep the dish on your side of the table (optional FIGHT ME FOR IT look directed at Cyril)*.

    *that’s a joke

    1. MOAS*

      “on-the-clock employee or student volunteer tables that get served last and/or sparingly”

      That’s all kinds of gross and awful to me.

      1. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        No one thinks it’s “gross” that food servers in a restaurant don’t get to sit down and enjoy a free meal or the bartender doesn’t get to drink — either at all or at the very least not with customers. This is not different.

        These are fundraising dinners — $300 per plate — and the funds raised go to scholarships. As on on-the-clock employee I am being paid to be there and the student are also there to work, so it makes perfect sense that we either don’t get served alcohol or very sparingly so, because drinking at work is a fireable offense, and it doesn’t matter if it’s at 9:00 am in the office or 9:00 pm in a convention center. Students aren’t always 21+ and the staff can’t go around carding people or putting wrist bands on those that are allowed to drink. Being allowed to eat in the ballroom rather than expected to provide my own dinner and return to clean up is a courtesy.

        1. Kelly L.*

          I don’t think the objection is to the wine being doled out sparingly to the students, but to skimping on feeding them, when they’re doing the (free) labor and giving up their whole evening and quite possibly broke.

          1. fposte*

            I think it was just the wine they weren’t supposed to have much of, which seems reasonable given they’re working.

          2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

            They volunteer and they are scholarship recipients but it’s by no means a requirement for receiving one, since we only have about 6 of them help. I don’t know, I kinda think getting $1,000+ and then being asked to help for a few hours at the registration table or put a program at each seat and then getting a free 4-course meal on top, is a pretty good trade even if their bread basket doesn’t get refilled or they have to make due with the fish option because the kitchen is running low on the beef due to paying guests changing their meal choices. I also think you assume all college students are dirt poor and going hungry. That’s not in the slightest bit true even if they receive a scholarship.

        2. MOAS*

          Ah, well limiting alcohol makes perfect sense and that wasn’t what I was thinking when I wrote my initial comment.. I thought it was limiting food. Im still not impressed with an employee being served food sparingly just because of their employment status.

        3. Ludo*

          No one thinks it’s “gross” that food servers in a restaurant don’t get to sit down and enjoy a free meal
          – –

          Um yes I think that’s gross, most restaurants provide a free meal to their workers and the ones that don’t are gross

  49. Food, Glorious Food*

    My (soon to be ex office) has food somewhat regularly but all of the conference rooms are VERY out of the way and you would have to pass the Guardians of the C-suite to get to them. There is also a separate kitchen from the employee kitchen break room that stays locked when anything for an upcoming meeting is being stored there.
    They are always good about putting leftovers in the communal break room too.

    The big deal is our annual all company potluck. Everyone (200+ people) brings in something, even people who never participate in staff lunches or other smaller potlucks will bring in a couple cases of soda or flavored water. It takes over our largest conference room where the all hands meetings are usually help and there are about 15 tables FULL of food – there are usually 5 or more tables just for Crock Pots. All day gorge fest and no actual work gets done. Company President wears a funny hat and asks everyone what they brought in and if he should try it.
    If I did it right, that will be my last day at this place.

  50. Granddaughter*

    My grandmother was a depression era food hoarder as well. When she passed away in the early 90’s we found canned goods in her basement that had expired in 1976! That is NOT an exaggeration. Worse she must have paid to move them cross country in the 80’s when she moved from New Mexico to the mid-west.

    I’m going anon for this because my mother reads AAM and we don’t tell family secrets LOL

    1. Filosofickle*

      My grandmother passed recently, she was in her 90s. As a Depression baby, she continually canned and froze produce from her huge garden, even when there was absolutely no need to keep doing so. She would make pie from fruit frozen 10 years before. She would eat green meat. (And wondered why she had digestive issues.)

      When it came time to clear the house, Dad found the basement filled with canned goods from 20-30 years before. Tops were bulging, liquid had evaporated out of many. It was a botulism parade in there. (I am happy to note she never moved them, though!)

      1. Curmudgeon in California*


        I can stuff. I follow proper process, and then give away most of it. If anything ever has a bulging lid it gets tossed.

        I freeze stuff. If it’s freezer burned I toss it.

        I date all of my stuff – stuff I can, stuff I freeze, even cans from the store.

        While I hate to throw good food away, I will toss it when it’s no longer good.

  51. BlueWolf*

    Our firm has many catered meetings and after the meeting they’ll often let staff know there’s leftover food so they can come take some. This is obviously after the meeting attendees are done with it. I wish they would let people know more often though. Sometimes they’ll have big external meetings and there will be SO MUCH FOOD left over and I see them just throwing it away. It makes me sad to see all the waste.

  52. Hamburgler*

    At Old Job I used to order, setup, and clean up after monthly lunch meetings. There was *always* food left over but it would have been sitting un-refrigerated for an hour+, not to mention having been picked over by 30 or more people by the time the staff would get the “come and get it” email. I would quietly set aside a sandwich for myself after setting up, before the people arrived.

    Sorry, not sorry.

  53. Eman*

    In healthcare it’s kind of a running not really a joke regarding not getting between pathologists and free food.

    1. Tongue Cluckin' Grammarian*

      At our lab, the joke is about the techs not the pathologists. Our docs usually provide something to the meal (salad, dessert, etc), but rarely actually partake.
      The techs will clean us out (esp. sugar), so we do a little table policing to make sure everybody at least gets a first plate of food.

  54. Kimberlee, No Longer Esq.*

    Adding in something that I’m not sure but maybe has been mentioned elsewhere… if you’re gonna order food into the office, you gotta order extra. It doesn’t solve the problem (people taking three servings before everyone has had a chance at it is a problem that deffo needs to be dealt with 1:1) but it helps. At my last job, I often was in charge of ordering food, and it took longer than it should have to shift from a goal of “we have exactly as much food as people end up eating; no one is hungry and there’s no waste” to “running out of food at any point is a sign that you under-ordered.”

    There’s part of me that thinks if you have someone in the office that eats just a ton of food, that you need to take that into account and order a ton of extra food! Some people have different needs for medical reasons, some people may be food insecure, etc. Like I said, not a solution per se, but if the goal is to provide food, the food should be in abundance.

    And I always made at least half – if not more, and sometimes all – of the food vegan, so I didn’t need to try to police that. Still have to police the gluten-free stuff, but at least in my case that was usually one person who I could privately flag or even prepare a plate for. Much easier than trying to make people eat meat (and I felt better about it morally, too).

    1. Third or Nothing!*

      Bless you for providing options for different dietary restrictions. So many don’t even bother because it’s too much work.

    2. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I agree with you in theory, but there’s honestly not always room in the budget to provide an abundance of food. You can easily double or triple your catering budget between “enough plus some extra” and “an abundance.”

  55. Half-Caf Latte*

    Story time:

    We’re currently displaced from our training/meeting space, and have been renting meeting space from a very chic space which includes a “snack bar” consistently replenished throughout the day. It’s embarrassing how our attendees descend on the snacks, clearly bagging up for later. Last time all the organic tampons in the ladies room disappeared by 9am as well.

    Another time: potluck at the hospital on the nursing unit. Food was inside the conference room, away from patient care areas. Staff were coming in and out and eating as they were able to find time. We found a family member absolutely helping himself to food, and packing some up to go. I told him it wasn’t his food, and he wasn’t welcome to it, and he WENT OFF on me, how we clearly weren’t going to eat it all, and he WANTED it.

    1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      We had this happen at my work! We were running a community event in the evenings, and we provided a meal break with dinner for the staff and volunteers who were working the event. Dinner was things like Costco pizzas and salads, nothing exciting.

      WELL. We had a family who attended the event as participants shove their way into the room, saying that they were there for “dinner for the event” and that “Fergus” said told them to come in. They proceeded to take multiple plates of food, heaped six inches high with seconds and thirds, before most of the staff had even started their breaks, and as one of our supervisors is following them around saying, “Um, we still have a number of people who haven’t yet arrived for dinner, we do have to make sure there’s enough for everyone.” They took enough food to feed probably six adults. It was ridiculous.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        ETA: I went out front and found Fergus and asked why he’d sent them back. He said they’d said they were volunteers! They lied and stole the food.

  56. Filosofickle*

    This all fascinates me! I wouldn’t take more than my share because manners. But also because I am overweight. Not always, but often I consciously watch what I eat in public to avoid that side eye that seems to say “that’s why you’re fat”.

    I’ve been noticing lately how many of my pet peeves are related to People Taking More Than Their Share. Like, taking seconds before everyone has had firsts. Hogging two seats on the subway. Playing music in public without headphones. Parking over two spots, or blocking driveways. Taking up all the air time in a meeting. There is a spectrum where one end is a right to enjoy one’s life and take up personal space, and other people’s rights on the other. Personally, I over-rotate towards limiting my own behavior and not imposing on others, and get upset when people don’t return that. But there sometimes isn’t an objective right or wrong. (Unlike in most of these food examples, which are pretty straightforward.) Living in community is hard!

      1. Filosofickle*

        I wish I could let the parking stuff go more — it’s not good for me! My neighborhood has gotten very tight on parking over the years, and the couple that lives downstairs blocks me all the time. They’ve also developed a new street parking strategy: when one of them leaves they move the second car into the center of the two curb spots so no one can fit on either side, ensuring they get that spot back when they return. That doesn’t actually affect me since I have a garage, but it’s SO RUDE to the other neighbors who would very much like one of those coveted spots.

          1. MOAS*

            I wish I could post the same but these are alllllll my neighbors. So. I’d be the outlier sadly. we already have one person who calls the cops on people parked “illegally”

            1. Not a cat*

              This. On my street, there’s a dude who lives alone and parks all three cars in the street. Nothing parked in his driveway.

        1. MOAS*

          I’m blind with rage right now that this is happening but also because IT HAPPENS ALL THE TIME IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD!!!!! People park in the middle of two spots very carefully so that no one is behind or in front of them. People block the front of their home with garbage cans or orange cones so no one else can park. Each home has multiple vehicles, and some homes have a un-usable driveway (cough mine). My neighbor had parked his commercial BBQ grill in front of my house, and once he got rid of it, he replaced it with a huge pickup truck. *flames*. Meanwhile, he SAVES HIS OWN SPOT WITH A CONE. It is SO infuriating.

          1. Filosofickle*

            THE ORANGE CONE. Oh, the orange cone pisses me right off. I had a neighbor that did that for years…I really really wanted to steal it in the middle of the night but wasn’t sure if there were any cameras. When I lived in Chicago, it was lawn chairs, especially during snow season. Look, I get that you dug out the spot and want it back. But it’s the only f-ing spot on the street, I get to park there. But you were taking your paint job in your hands if you did.

    1. 8675309*

      I hate that this is such a ~thing~ for overweight women specifically (and as one, I know exactly what you mean).

      One time my boss asked me to print something for him– he’s situated much much closer to the printer and it wasn’t a typical request, so when I brought it to him I asked if he was having trouble printing things from his computer. His response: “No, I just thought you could use the exercise.” o_O

      It was supposed to be a joke, I’m very sure. He would have said it to me whether I was rail thin or 400 lbs, but goddamn.

      1. Kat in VA*

        With food and appetites, some of it is just women, period.

        We just had our Thanksgiving potluck, and I had a sampling of just about everything (think a tablespoonful of each, there were a *lot* of things to choose from).

        Now, our COO is an older and, shall we say, “courtly” man who expressed surprise about ALL THAT FOOD ON YOUR PLATE, YOUNG LADY.

        I told him I generally eat once a day, and this was my once a day, so…? And let the silence hang.

        He muttered something about “That’s why you’re so skinny” (I’m not, I’m pretty average) but it was like, dang, man, just let me eat all the things, okay?

        I’m known for having the dietary habits of a trash fire anyway, but it stung that he pointed out how much food was on *my* plate when there were dudes walking around with plates heaped 4 or 5 inches high.

        By the way, your boss is an ass. You don’t say that to anyone, male or female, fluffy or rail thin. You just…don’t.

    2. lobsterp0t*


      Although I take a vicious glee in being fat and eating what I want with the mindset that I double dog dare anyone to mention it.

      Very occasionally they bite and then they get a lecture and they don’t do it again.

  57. YouCanGoHomeAgain*

    Oh gosh, I just can’t imagine acting that way. Maybe it’s because I’m self-conscious about my weight, but I always take less than I want because I don’t want people thinking I’m Ms. Piggy. I’m trying to teach my son about this kind of etiquette as well, as I can see how he would become one of this people who others side-eye. He’s 20 and is kind of blind to social niceties.

    It seems to me though that the OP is doing what they can to thwart this kinds of people.

  58. Pampaloon*

    We had a high tech worker who in an exit interview railed about offensive it was for us to put out leftover sandwiches from the Board meetings as though he would lower himself to eat other people’s leftover food. I get not wanting to eat stuff sitting out all day but nobody is forcing you, most people like it and I was stymied about why that was offensive.

    1. Parenthetically*

      “lower himself to eat other people’s leftover food”

      Imagine having a sense of self that was THIS fragile! Wow.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Aw he sounds like a treat!

      I have had people have this kind of intense reaction to seemingly normal, even nice things before.

      Once I told someone WHY we couldn’t get his order out that day [I’m talking “our machine broke and the machinist is out there fixing it as we speak, we should be up and running by EOD, so we should have it out tomorrow. I can keep you updated!” “RAWR rude rude rude to tell me what’s going on, I don’t care what’s going on behind the scenes! I just want my stuff!.”

      Okay bro…you can’t have your stuff though, so…I’m going to hangup now…

      This is why I don’t cater to this kind of person in general. I nod along and wait until they get the heck out of my space.

      People take offense to things randomly. Think about that lady who was fired for going after our OP for having tattoos, even though tattoos were acceptable by the management. But she was dying on that hill of how unprofessional and awful those tattoos were!

    3. Kat in VA*

      That’s just…well, okay then. No one says he has to eat it.

      We have two floors and it’s well known that the Fifth floor folks rub their hands together in glee when they know I’m catering in for a customer meeting or internal meeting, because Kat always orders the good stuff and she always over-orders the good stuff. ;)

  59. C in the Hood*

    We have one person who acts very food insecure; she really goes to town on anyone’s leftovers! But I know she makes decent money, is a penny pincher, owns 2 homes, etc, so she isn’t hurting for money to buy food. And no, she didn’t live during the depression, plus she was able to go to private school growing up. I’m not sure where she gets this from.

    1. Mediamaven*

      I have an employee like this. I call her trash cat (which is a nickname for a raccoon and I only say it to myself of course). She will EAT ANYTHING. She will even use your used fork to eat it. Free food is the most exciting thing and she will take home all the leftovers. Similar background to yours.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        Ewww – using someone else’s used fork? Ewwww.

        OTOH, I was at a restaurant with a group one time, sitting and talking after finishing. Some people had already left, but their plates weren’t cleared. A woman I know came up and sat down to talk to me. As we talked, I watched her eat food off of several of the plates that were left by other people. I was astounded, but managed not to say anything.

    2. Third or Nothing!*

      Could have to do with unnecessarily strict food restrictions as a child. It really warps your relationship with food.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        This. When all you can find to eat in the house is a few aging carrots and a little lettuce because your mother has decided that “we” are going on a diet, but you just got home from school after sports practice, your relationship with food gets very screwed up.

    3. Flash Bristow*

      Hmm. Here’s another perspective. I went to public school (on a scholarship). When I started, my dad ran a business and we wanted for little. Then he got ill and that was the end of that. The house we moved to was on an interest-only mortgage, so not much to pay, and I imagine any “spare” money would have gone on debts (so your colleague’s income might be going straight into repayments). We also had to save up and pay for school uniform and equipment which was branded and sold exclusively thru the school. It was assumed everyone could afford it – but those few of us who weren’t fee payers couldn’t really. Another drain.

      [Very broadly, with an interest-only mortgage, you’re not paying off the purchase cost so it isn’t moving any way towards being “yours”. If you sell then all you make on it is any increase in the price between when you bought it and when you sold; in many cases it’s not worth it and you are more or less stuck with that house.]

      However, we still had the decent clothes from before, and our manners and pride. But I’d certainly have been grateful for free food; at school I stayed late for some voluntary activities because anyone staying for them could join the boarders for dinner. I also had a reputation for being “tight” because if I could afford a half portion of chips for lunch (30p) then I learnt if I let one person have one, suddenly I’d be surrounded by vultures and literally have no lunch by the time I made it back to the common room. (When I went to uni, a boyfriend coached me in “how to share”. Bit mortifying.)

      I’m not saying this kind of circumstance applies to your colleague and you’d know better than I do of course. I’m just saying there are various scenarios where someone might appear to live comfortably but in fact is going from meal to meal.

      I wonder how much we all truly know about each other’s financial situations.

  60. Jojo*

    OMG my company does a once-a-month companywide celebration of everyone’s birthdays that month, and has giant sheet cakes or some-such for all employees to get one portion of (it always happens at the end of our monthly companywide meeting). Sometimes it’s cupcakes. Whatever is left over is put out later on our different floors where we keep coffee stations etc.

    One month we had between 1 and 2 dozen premium cupcakes left over. As HR was cleaning up, this young new employee in his coat and mittens swoops in AND TAKES ALL OF THEM. Just threw them all into a one of the many giant boxes they came in and BOOM darted out — I mean out of the building altogether. We all stoop there with our mouths open, it was unreal.

    1. Wired Wolf*

      We get a once-monthly sheet cake for all the staff birthdays…no matter how small the cut pieces are, it’s GONE in about 5 minutes. A lot of my team has learned that if you want cake, better grab a piece the second it comes out/you lay eyes on it as it won’t be there when you actually go on break.

  61. Blarg*

    One essential thing: either all invited employees get to eat, or none do. I’ve been at meetings where the support staff (i.e. note takers) are told to eat last while their higher ranking colleagues go right ahead. If a person is invited to the meeting, the person gets to eat.

    Interlopers or uninvited interns coming to crash for food? Shoo them away. But never rank your own employees by who deserves to eat. And order more food if you have to.

    1. Senor Montoya*

      Nothing wrong with having guests or clients go through first, however.

      Also, I’d think for a repeat offender, especially one who repeatedly engages in outrageous behavior (eating half the appetizer platter at every meal = outrageous behavior), you can specifically not invite them, and make it clear that they are not invited because of repeated X outrageous behavior (spell it out for them).

      If they won’t behave professionally, they don’t get the perk of free lunch. This is not your great-uncle Adelbert who you only see at the holidays; this is a professional setting and the meal is *work*.

      1. Blarg*

        Oh, I have no issues with clients, visitors, etc. But a big problem with “you admin peons can wait and go last while the rest of us fill up.” I don’t believe I’m better or more deserving of a meal during a lunch meeting than my other colleagues who are required to be there. (Especially when they were hourly and we were throwing off their regular unpaid lunch period). I didn’t have any issues with over-consumers. Just prior managers who set a gross hierarchical standard that was really unjustified.

        1. Kat in VA*

          When I – as one of those admin peons – am the one who orders the food, you better bet I serve myself first. Fortunately, it’s actively encouraged.

  62. anon for this*

    This is a little different than this situation, but my husband works for one of the tech giants in Silicon Valley that provides a crazy abundant amount of free food as a perk. We’re talking tens of restaurants on campus, snacks everywhere, ice cream shops, you name it. What’s insane to me is that people still manage to complain. Someone griped one day on a company-wide forum about how the noodle bar ran out of chicken and steak at 1:00 and how unfair that was. Dude, if you can’t handle vegetarian noodles, go to one of the MANY other places to get free lunch! It’s so true, free food makes people crazy.

    1. Anonynon*

      Very unfair. Ha. I have a friend whose husband works for one of these companies that gives lots of freebies, including free coffee and breakfast. He always eats and drinks coffee at home but then goes in and eats a second breakfast because it’s provided to him for free…

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I honestly just laugh internally at people like that. Sure, complain over the free food not being uh, free enough?

      Just like I try to do my best to get the soda everyone likes but no, I’m not getting you some obscure thing that only you want to drink either. There’s a balancing act. When people complain about it, I just do the smile to your face and internally shrug. “I’m sorry, that sounds frustrating. I’ll look into it.” and by looking into it, I file it away for a funny party story later.

      You have the right to complain and in reality, he just looks like an oaf to the majority of the people in attendance. Priorities, man, priorities! Every large enough crowd has one of those guys.

    3. Flash Bristow*

      On a company wide forum?!!

      Well, they made themself look stupid to everyone in one fell swoop!


      I hope the response was ridicule.

  63. HailRobonia*

    In my old job, one time we organized a holiday “pie open house” for people in our department to come by our office to enjoy pie/cookies/cider/cocoa and socialize.

    One guy came down, grabbed an entire pie, and walked off. And knowing him, I am certain he was not bringing it back to share with his coworkers.

    1. StaceyIzMe*

      Yeah, NO. That pie would be coming back with or without the pie-scarfer attached. Failing that, some extended inquiry about whether he enjoyed the pie would be only fair…

  64. EventPlannerGal*

    People are fucking weird about free food. The people who harass me the most for free food after our events are uniformly the highest-ranking, best-pair ones – they just feel they’re entitled to it and are FURIOUS if someone gets the last bowl of leftovers before them.

    Like, literally this afternoon I ran into one of the most senior guys in my office eating leftover food from an event. There was tons of this one dish left so he’d eaten an enormous plate and as he was leaving he said to me “that’s far too salty, you know, it’s horrible”. I tried some of what was left and it was practically inedible – one tiny piece made me gag. But he’d sat there and eaten about four servings of this stuff, which he did not need and did not like, because it was free.

    Regarding Cyril, I would definitely say something after the event, but I think if you’re frequently having company events where you’re hosting clients it’s useful to lay out expectations ahead of time of how staff should generally be conducting themselves there. That isn’t just about portions and so on, but more about how to make your clients feel comfortable, general behaviour (eg whether they should be drinking or not, informality vs formality etc), expected standards of dress and so on. “Don’t take all the food so the clients are left hungry” falls under that, and then you have something to refer back to later.

  65. Kelly*

    We had a T-giving potluck today, catered by the company. Starting 15 minutes before the lunch ‘opened’, a large gaggle of folks next to me started yelling “WE HAVE TO GO NOW. TO GET IN LINE. HURRY HURRY HURRY”.

    So weird.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah, I flinched when someone once tried to get me to “go first” because they swore that after everyone started gathering, I’d surely miss out.

      Spoiler: there was plenty of food and there was no need to scurry.

      My dad comes from a large family and they did have food scarcity growing up. Thanksgiving was actually anxiety inducing being around everyone fighting over food [by this time everyone was making enough money to never be hungry at least]. That memory as a kid is part of my food anxiety needless to say. Only instead of joining in, I was like “That’s insane…that’s awful, I’d rather go hungry tbh.” [I would have died if I was born into that generation if that’s the only way you ever got to eat…my mom’s family is the “split the apple into slices and share it equally” kind of family, having been equally as poor and large. Sigh.]

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        My mother one time sliced one (1) tomato for the entire family, then handed it to me to put on the table. She then yelled at me for several minutes until I was in tears for eating most of it. One tomato. I was a teenager, and hungry. But since I was also fat, I wasn’t allowed to just eat.

  66. Shadowbelle*

    Rules for taking food: a British colleague said his family used the code “FHB” when they had a guest for dinner and not enough of a dish to go around. “Here are some nice FHB peas.” FHB meant “Family Hold Back” — don’t take peas, or take only a few.*

    An office version would be “EHB” — employee hold back. Although I find it a bit appalling that some people are so lacking in basic table manners that they don’t know to take no more than their share. Perhaps there should be a Guide to Good Manners for company events. It could be done in a humorous way.
    *This would never have happened in my house, because my mother would never have served a dish if there weren’t enough to go around. She’d have merged the small-portions into a lasagna or casserole or soup or even (God help me) an aspic.

    1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      FHB is a well known phrase in the UK, yes, or certainly in the north of England. It’s tied up with ideas of not wanting to *seem* poor.

      Personally I am aiming for the tombstone inscription “never knowingly undercatered”. I was horrified at the last children’s birthday party I hosted where some dishes ran out (!!!) even though there were leftovers of other things. I’d rather be eating leftovers for days than run out of anything.

      1. Flash Bristow*

        This is one of the benefits of only living with hubby – make a recipe for 6, he’ll eat 1.5 portions while I’ll eat a teeny one… Then two for the fridge for lunches for him in the week, two in the freezer for whenever.

        [Also – I just looked up aspic, I thought it was a cleaning solution… I’m very glad not to have encountered that!]

    2. Filosofickle*

      Aspic! Dog save us from savory gelatin.

      Where I laughed (in knowing horror)reading the Julie/Julia project was the aspic phase. Aspic for days, literally.

      1. Alexandra Lynch*

        Aspic CAN be good. But just because some aspics are good does not mean that all aspics are good. Far from it.

        (Envision, if you will, a clear seafood broth in a bowl, with small shrimps and crayfish tails and a little heap of flaked fish at the bottom, arranged in a pattern. Bring your spoon down to it, and it is solid. But only just; it melts in your mouth when you try a sliver, releasing aromatics, white wine, and the savory goodness of seafood, in an elegant, composed chord of flavor.)

    3. Can I hear a Wahoo?*

      We use SHB-Staff Hold Back!

      We always over order food for events and end up with tons of leftovers–that staff happily takes home after the event. But I would only take a bite during the event if I thought guests had at least one pass through.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I love these stories since my mother is like yours, she never serves a dish that’s not enough for an army.

      We are 4 people for Thanksgiving. She will make a turkey. And a ham. And all the sides that are enough to feed God knows how many people. It lasts for literally weeks because two of us leave afterwards and then there’s just her and my dad grazing on all this nonsense, LMAO.

      Then my brother grew up to be a cook and therefore all those little nubs and randoms will be put into some kind of skillet or pan fry.

      1. Old Biddy*

        is your mother related to my husband? because we cooked a ham last night and are cooking a turkey on Sunday and it’s not even Thanksgiving yet. Husband really wants lots of leftovers for our freezer and we won’t get them on Thanksgiving itself because we’ll be guests then.

      2. londonedit*

        My mum always wants there to be ‘enough left for Boxing Day’ at Christmas, because we have people over for a Boxing Day buffet lunch, so we end up with enough turkey and ham to feed an army, and I always make an entire extra one of my traditional vegetarian pepper-and-nut terrine things specifically so we have enough for Boxing Day.

  67. Rebecca*

    Oh dear. I know many workplaces try to stretch budgets and do their best, but I really think if you are hosting an event that involves food, and everyone is invited, you really need to have enough food for everyone to eat, period.
    Basic manners (and yes, I know some people don’t have them, and that’s when the discreet conversation suggested in the response comes into play) dictate that guests go first. But that shouldn’t be because you might run out of food! It should be because they’re guests (clients, customers, whatever). And I really don’t think you should be reminding employees to take modest portions or shoo them away from vegetarian options, or the like. I get why it is happening, but the answer is to order adequate amounts of food, not to shame people for eating what is put in front of them, at events they are invited to. No one should be made to feel like a greedy pig for making a simple choice of what to eat.
    I’ve definitely arrived at work to emails like “We are hosting a meeting with Customer X today and the luncheon set up in the main conference room is specifically for that meeting,” and this is fine. And potlucks are a completely different story!

    1. fposte*

      I don’t think that’s reasonable, though. It’s not your job’s obligation to feed people until they’re full to bursting and have enough to take home until later, but that’s what some people’s view of “enough” is. And the OP’s initial question is focused on the previous comment about appetizers, which are by definition not supposed to be enough, yet people were still taking so much that other people didn’t get any.

      If you’re at a workplace where people can share food civilly, that’s great! My current one seems pretty good at that too. But a lot of places aren’t like that, and managers get to manage their employees during work time, even if it’s about eating.

      1. 1234*

        But if a job says they are providing a lunch, they should provide a reasonable lunch, or state “light lunch” so people can supplement with their own food. I don’t think anyone is expecting that they feed an employee to where they’re “full to bursting and have enough to take home”

        1. fposte*

          There is no statutory definition of “reasonable.” Look at the comment thread: people are taking full trays and considering them reasonable portions. People are taking whole pies and considering them reasonable portions. So it looks like some employees are indeed expecting that, and they’re why other people got less than reasonable portions.

          Sure, some offices cheap out by ordering less than the caterer recommends. But you can order what professionals consider to be a reasonable amount of food and still have the employee who thinks it’s reasonable to take a whole chicken back to his office. For most work situations this isn’t part of anybody’s compensation, and the office isn’t obliged to cater, figuratively or literally, to large appetites.

        2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          Some of this can be blamed on the catering companies that people use.

          So last year our holiday party was awful in the food department [not meeeeeeee, not meeeeeee, it was the bosses fault! Just to be clear]. WE TOLD THEM that we had 20 heads to feed. Their charge per person said “You will each get a full 3 course meal!”

          Gurl. Not even. They basically fed us tasting portion sizes. Everyone was super steamed about it. I was angry when I saw the bill and how much they gouged us for. [Reason 26 why I now have to do event planning and I’m fine with it because at least we’ll have enough GD food or there will be rage flames coming out of my eyes.]

          Catering portions vary depending on how cheap the place you’re using is. It takes some skill to know if I say “20 people” if that’s going to get us fed or not. Or if I need to say 25 just so we have enough to have regular portions.

          Since we’re on the side of that sliding scale that if there’s food and it’s not a “sack lunch” setup, they’re expecting more than a slice of pizza. This is also why everyone always still brings their lunch when we’re having catering just in case it’s not enough for them to satisfy their hunger.

          1. StaceyIzMe*

            Never settle for their “per person” stats. Always get total product by volume (cooked weight) and per person estimated portion. Otherwise, you’re taking a heck of a chance. If THEY can’t tell you how much total volume/ total cooked weight for their food? Unless you have an unhealthy affinity for stress, keep looking, they’re not the caterer for you.

          2. Dr Wizard, PhD*

            I also got caught out by this when organising an event for work!

            I was *assured* by the restaurant manager who coordinated our catering that there would be enough for 40 people (placeholder number, cause I can’t remember).

            I particularly liked his airy ‘oh they’re big pastries, so half of one fills people up’.

            I was suspicious of his recommended amounts of tea and coffee and actually increased them before the event.

            We ran out. Fast. Worse yet, they ran out of the tea and coffee almost immediately. It was so embarrassing. And one of our coordinators ran over to the restaurant to get more water, and they tried to refuse her, saying we’d got what we ordered.

            After the event? Organiser brazened the whole thing out, claiming nobody eats much of anything at his normal events, and nobody ever wants a second cup of tea or coffee.


    2. Parenthetically*

      “reminding employees to take modest portions”

      I think this is getting a bit semantic. IMO we’re talking about encouraging *single* portions, like taking ONE McAllister’s sub on a person’s first time through the line, rather than taking three and wrapping two to take home when there are fifty people behind you in line.

      “shoo them away from vegetarian options”

      I’m not going to stand and schoolmarm people, but if I have four vegetarians to feed, and there are only six vegetarian sandwiches, I’m either going to send out an email in advance saying, “The vegetarian main is marked V, please allow vegetarian coworkers first pick,” or I’m going to set those aside and hand deliver them to Rashindra, Mark, Dayi, and Caroline to ensure they actually get to… you know… eat.

      1. fposte*

        Yeah, of the sins one could commit, I’d rather commit the shooing-away sin than the leaving-the-vegetarian-without-food sin.

      2. anon for this*

        One of the culminating dramatic events in the month before I left my university position is that I got into a shouting match about vegetarian sandwiches with an admin in front of a crowd of 30 HS students. We were having a summer camp. 30 high schoolers. 8 vegetarians. Drama Monday because they only ordered food for 15. Fixed it, fine. Drama Tuesday because there wasn’t enough veggie. Fixed it, fine. Wednesday: the tallest vegetarian kid was watching and as the box of sandwiches was opened — and all the kids were hanging back relatively politely! — he shouted, THERE’S ONLY TWO VEGGIE SANDWICHES! (And the rest were roast beef or ham, and we had a bunch of kids who didn’t eat beef or pork.) I said fine, any kid who’s not getting a sandwich, I’m taking you out to eat.

        The admin who’d ordered the food tried to stop me, saying that it’s because all these rude high school kids had charged the table and stolen all the vegetarian sandwiches out of the hands of vegetarians. I couldn’t believe it. First, I was there, and that didn’t happen, and hungry high schoolers who eat meat are not into stealing vegetable sandwiches from their peers just for kicks! Second, these kids are still hungry and we promised them lunch. I started getting mad. I raised my voice slightly. I remonstrated briefly. I had a come-to-deity moment and thought, what the f(*& am I doing as a 40-yr-old woman with a PhD, getting into a dispute about vegetarian sandwiches in front of my students. I swept out of the room with the students at my back, and we went on to have a nice though awkward lunch that was delicious. And then I got a new job.

    3. StaceyIzMe*

      I think that this is a supremely reasonable position. Unfortunately, when it comes to matters of access to “free” anything, people sometimes aren’t their best selves. Businesses have the right not to be deprived of the reasonable use of the things they purchase. In the case of food provided for clients, for meeting attendees or for a special event, some reasonable limits are prudent and quite possibly essential. Those who are invited to partake after the event’s intended guests are served should use reasonable standards of self-service and practice a little courtesy. Monitoring employees doesn’t strike me as shameful or unkind, unless it’s done to excess.

  68. Anon Here*

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like this. If anything, in my experience, free food seems to bring out the opposite kind of behavior:

    – monitoring what other people are eating and encouraging them to be more “normal” (eat more, eat less, have a little bit of everything

    – excessive comments about your dietary restrictions. whether they are medical or by choice

    – odd comments about how you don’t want the free food

    There are usually some people who find a reason to whine about the free food. The other people just take a proportionate amount and say thank you.

    1. Pomona Sprout*

      “– excessive comments about your dietary restrictions. whether they are medical or by choice”

      Ugh, yes. As a self-admitted picky ass weirdo when it comes to my food choices, any time I get through a potluck without someone saying

      1. Pomona Sprout*

        Oops, that got sent before I was done, for some weird reason. As I was saying:

        …any time I get through a potluck without someone saying something about what I have on my plate (e.g., “Is that/are those the only thing(s) you’re eating?” “The [item I detest] is SO delicious, you MUST have some!” “What do you mean, you don’t like x, how anyone not like x?” “You don’t know what you’re missing!” etc. , etc., etc.) feels like a win to me! Yes, I know my eating habits are weird, okay? I’ve been told that all my life, no need to tell me again. Just shut up and let me enjoy the stuff I do like!

  69. Sabrina*

    The engineering company I used to work out would be sent all sorts of goodies around the holidays, all of which would be placed on the front desk or in the break room for the enjoyment of the staff. Some people got weirdly possessive about it and would try to take entire summer sausages or boxes of truffles but the power of public disapproval was enough to stop that, most of the time. The last December I worked there I noticed a box from a fancy cookie place on front desk, and asked if I could have one. “Sure! We just got this in, Steve took one a bit ago, but there should be plenty left!”

    Well there was plenty, except every cookie had a bite out of it. Not like a bit broken off, there was tooth marks. We think Steve tried them all, then took his favorite.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      What a childish jerkbag move.

      This reminds me of the stories about some guy scooping something like a pasta salad out of a shared container with his frigging man paw.

  70. La Triviata*

    Where I work now, we have catered lunches – sometimes breakfasts – when there are meetings taking place in the office. The person managing the meeting logistics will send a message to the entire staff telling them to wait until the meeting attendees have eaten; they’ll then send a message that the leftovers are available. And, so far, it’s worked pretty well. I often don’t eat the leftovers, but I have trouble resisting the chocolate chip cookies we often get.

    However, the place I worked before was, um, different. People would complain if leftovers weren’t made available soon enough. Sometimes, they would grab food off the trays when the person responsible took them out of the meeting room into the break room. On the other hand, one woman would insist on ordering enough food – a hot entree, sides, bread and dessert – for the entire office. But a lot of the time, she’d scoop up all the leftovers to take home for her daughter and herself. On one occasion, the only thing she was willing to let anyone else have were the kale leaves that had been laid over the trays under the food. And while feeding everyone may sound reasonable, for a full meal like this it would often take the entire budget for that group for several meetings, meaning that the person responsible for the group’s finances (not the woman ordering food) would have to juggle money to feed those attending subsequent meetings.

  71. mcr-red*

    I’m picturing former coworker who was always annoying about food, and well, in general. I enjoy baking, and there was a time that I baked a lot for coworkers. I’d find out it was someone’s birthday, and I’d ask what kind of cake they want, make the cake. So one time I made a cake for Sheila, I brought it in, we sang happy birthday, and I started cutting it for the amount of people around, so fairly small slices so everyone got one. Reginald is like, “Hey mcr-red, cut me a bigger piece!” So I look him dead in the eyes and say, “No. It’s not your cake and it’s not your birthday, it’s Sheila’s.” And then deliberately cut him a very small piece. There ended up being an extra piece at the end, and Reginald is again, “Hey can I have that?” Dude, it’s SHEILA’s BIRTHDAY CAKE. Perhaps she’d like to take it home with her? What part of that do you not understand?

  72. 1234*

    Would it help to order individual portions instead of having a buffet style? Send out a menu ahead of time and have employees pick out specifically what they want. Have the restaurant write the names on each individual order. Have someone watch the lunches and make sure that Bob isn’t taking the ham & cheese sandwich with Mary’s name on it. That way, people who weren’t invited to the meeting can’t sneak the “free” food and there’s no food waste/less food waste.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It depends on the size and scale when it comes to this technique.

      Also not everyone eats at one time in a lot of situations. But if you can have it proportioned in some way, it makes things so much easier in general. Instead of just a spoon or tongs to go at it with.

      But by portioning things in some ways, you run into the excess waste. Like if we lived on a planet where I didn’t have to worry about putting everything into it’s own serving cup, that would make my life so much easier.

    2. Flash Bristow*

      You’d think that’d work. On school trips (I’m talking 16+ so not too young to know better) my packed lunch often got taken, because people preferred the vegetarian version. Leaving me with a ham roll, beef flavour crisps… And an apple.

      One time a guy even said he was vegetarian, because he fancied my flavour of crisps better. I challenged him and he said it was a very recent thing. Next day he was back to meat again. Grrrrr.

      Then once on a plane flight I was sat at the back, so served last. I’d reserved a veggie meal. By the time I was served, it had gone to someone else… The staff actually told me off for not making myself known as soon as they started pushing the trolleys out!

      So even if it’s labelled in order to ensure everyone gets an equal sized meal, you then would need to make sure you serve any different meals first (gluten free, veggie etc) so nobody goes hungry. At which point surely it becomes a bit of a hassle?

  73. Peaches*

    We always cater lunch for the whole office (20 people) when we have sales meetings, and I have a coworker, John, who *always* takes way more than his fair share. He also is always the first one in line for food, no matter what.

    I’ve been the person responsible for ordering food for about a year. The first time I ordered, I got Chipotle catering for 20 people. It was basically a make-your-own taco/burrito/bowl bar. Amongst the toppings, there was a large container of chicken, and a large container of steak. Both should have been plenty enough for 20 people. But alas, John (who was first in line, of course) took literally close to 20% of the chicken, and 10% of the steak. After I saw him scoop his portions, I felt like I could only take a tiny bit because of meat I knew we would run out before all 20 of the staff members got through the line. Sure enough, we ran out of meat and 7 or 8 people had to make vegetarian bowls/tacos/burritos. Ever since then when we order catering (especially Chipotle!), I order for 25 people instead of 20.

    No one ever says anything to John, even though everyone knows he’s a savage with the food. I don’t know if it’s his personality (acts like Mr. Tough Guy, slightly arrogant), or his weight (morbidly obese) that prevents people from saying anything. By the way, I’m not one to judge others’ eating habits/weight, but when there’s a set amount of food for everyone, you’ve gotta show some awareness!

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      People with bad manners are often simply intimidating to the majority of people I’ve learned. It sounds like even your management isn’t willing to stand up to him, so why would someone feel safe doing so otherwise?

      I have that shitheel streak along with being naturally intimidating myself [size, RBF, take no prisoners way of speaking, whatever it may be…] and I haven’t been accused of being shy for quite a few years now. So that helps. You need a counterweight in your office to offset John is really what’s missing.

      I’ve gotten into long haul truckers personal space when they’ve decided they make the rules for my facility before. It’s not a usual personality, so people are shocked to see it. Yet everyone who knows me that if I’m going off, someone really did something to flip switch.

      So yeah, it’s not abnormal that nobody is standing up to him. Boors are boors because nobody says “Hey you, knock if off!” what’s he gonna do? Can he fire me? No. Is he physically threatening, do you think he’s going to actually strike you or do something violent? No. Not scared. Let’s discuss this issue.

      But lots of people simply hate confrontation. They are afraid someone will dislike them. Or they’re afraid of getting yelled at. I don’t like being yelled at, I hate it. But around here if you start yelling at someone, you can pack your bags and get out, so yeah, not worried about that!

  74. CastIrony*

    To help with the running out of food, OP can use these plastic standing labels you can write on with paint markers and write, “Take one (or however many they’re allowed to take)”. They can also use them to write something like, “Vegetarians only” while keeping that option closed with tongs on top.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This helps with those with manners but the ones who will load up their plates are usually the folks who refuse to read signs.

      Think of all the other signs that are ignored, hungry people aren’t reading. People still ask me what a pizza is when it’s written right there on the lid LMAO

  75. Alli525*

    “Well-paid people who aren’t in any way hurting for cash can devolve into near-savagery when free food is on offer.”

    Truer words were never spoken. I used to work on Wall Street, and not long after one of the execs started bringing in free bagels on Friday mornings, my coworkers started complaining that we didn’t have a toaster. This went on for several weeks until I bought a $15 toaster off Amazon in a rage. Then, on the very first day of the toaster, they complained that it was too small and why didn’t we have an INDUSTRIAL-GRADE TOASTER. To which I snapped that they could buy one with their own money if they were so disturbed by the generosity they’d been shown so far.

  76. Ann Nonymous*

    I fully authorize anyone with authority in these matters to enforce rules and civility at gunpoint if needed (not really) as I absolutely abhor piggish and selfish behavior around food.

  77. Elizabeth West*

    I grew up with plenty of food, but as an adult, I’ve always been poor and have even starved (not intentionally). A coworker at that time once sussed it out and brought me a sack lunch, and although I was thankful, I nearly died of shame. It was embarrassing to admit I had no money and nothing to eat even though I was working. It shouldn’t have been, but here we are. Poverty is seen as a personal failing, but in fact, I wasn’t making enough money to live on. Plenty of people aren’t.

    Despite that, and despite the lingering trauma from it that causes me to sometimes buy more food than I can eat, it’s beyond me to even think of hogging everything from an office spread before clients have even had a shot at it. Unfortunately, there are too many Cyrils laboring under a very misguided sense of entitlement.

    I see upthread that OP has no problem with asking staff to hold off, and I’m glad to hear that. Management should always back this up. I’d be pretty miffed at my boss if I had to take responsibility for seeing that guests were taken care of and they didn’t stand behind me on it.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      It makes me sad that you had such shame associated with your lack of food. But I totally understand it. I had to get in a loved ones face a few years ago and tell them exactly why they were going to go get temporary food-stamps while they were between jobs. This is a real problem in the service industry, a lot of servers and kitchen staff are surviving on their shift meals and those days they don’t work, they don’t eat because of them barely scrapping by.

      And people like yourself, who really benefit from those meals/snacks is why I’m not shy about asking people to limit their portions or to let everyone pass through once before they go back for leftovers, etc.

      Part of organizing these kinds of things is to keep control over them. You can do so by serving things or by doing a line and having someone announce when leftovers are available and so on. But so many people are simply lazy and decide to make it that free-for-all and causes the bad behavior to roll on.

    2. MissDisplaced*

      I once went through a similar period where, if it weren’t for those meeting leftovers, I would’ve bern eating a PBJ sandwich every day for lunch.
      But I still would not have ever considered grabbing the food from the meeting or taking home more than a single serving. Though once or twice I did get lucky and got a whole CPK pizza (which aren’t very big anyway) to take home because there were so many.

    3. Kat in VA*

      You bring up a good point about poverty being equated with morality – as if being poor is somehow a moral failing. People who have money are “good”, people who do not are “bad”.

      I’ve been on both sides – grew up relatively poor, enjoyed periods of relative wealth, back down to broke, back up again. You don’t know what someone’s circumstances are in the moment – could be a job loss, medical bills, irresponsible behavior, bad luck…but some people always act as if those in need are there because they were spending on Amazon wildly with abandon or buying new cars every six months.

      When in reality, they might be double paying their student loans or got hit with a huge medical bill or had something major happen with their job. Maybe they’re having to foot the bill for Mom’s memory care facility or some other major expense. We just don’t know unless we’re told, and even then, you might not get the whole story because again, being broke clearly means you did something wrong or bad in the eyes of the judgmental.

      All we can do is extend grace, kindness, and understanding. Like you said, there are a whole lot of people who are employed, sure, but they don’t make enough money to live on, let alone spend anything on extras like lunch.

      And don’t even get me started on the whole, “Oh she’s broke but she gets her hair colored, or her nails done, or has a new blazer so how broke can she BE, she’s so IRRESPONSIBLE” jackwagons…who never consider that maybe the color is a box dye bought at Big Lots, or the nails are a practice set by a relative training to be a nail tech, or the new blazer came from Goodwill with the tags still on for $5.99. As if having little to no money means you have to wear a figurative hair shirt, never look nice, and never ever have anything extra for yourself, even if it’s a once-a-month Starbucks treat. /drags away soapbox

  78. Cheesehead*

    There was a little girl in my son’s preschool class who liked to hoard the snacks. She would side-eye other kids and if they seemed interested in something, she would swoop in and take a whole bunch even though she still had some on her plate. And then she’d end up throwing it away because, you know, she took more than she could eat. It was a co-op preschool, so all of the parents took turns bringing in the snack, and I was kind of annoyed that whatever I took the trouble to make was being thrown away just because she had to have the most, or had to prevent other kids from getting some. I (personally) thought that would have been a great lead-in to teaching her (and the other kids) about portion control and consideration, and not wasting food.

    In thinking about that, I wonder how many of the mooches were like her as kids and nobody ever bothered to correct them or teach them manners in a setting with communal food?

    1. StaceyIzMe*

      I’m kind of more liberal with very young children. In your shoes, I’d portion and label the snacks in an approved container so that everyone got their own. Oversized muffin cup liners work well for this. I guess I’m a subversive influence, though, because I always brought extra by a factor of three or four in most cases. Still remember one four year old lamenting that someone else was “eating all the Emmy-EMS” on hand for topping sundaes. We had several pounds of “Emmy-EMS” on hand, but perceived scarcity is still scarcity for the young… And of course this was all back when dinosaurs still roamed the Earth and before wiser guidelines were adopted for snacks in preschool and school settings.

    2. kt*

      Glad to hear my continual reminders to my kid are probably on the right track (“Of course you can have some more! Finish what you have on your plate first!”)

  79. Kate*

    In grad school, we were required to provide lunch for *the entire department* (about 50 people) the day we defended our thesis (I know. Terrible system. ‘Figure out and pay for catering the day you have to defend! Yes you have to pay for it, you’ve already dropped thousands on tuition so what’s another few hundred dollars?’) People were NOTORIOUS about taking so much food that there was often none left over for the people who arrived closer to the start of the event. When my turn came, I blatantly printed and put up signs that said, “There are a lot of hungry people, please take only 1 portion until everyone’s gotten food!” Faculty gave me EYES and muttered about stingy students, but everyone got lunch that day. We even have leftovers, which suggests to me people were taking way more than they truly needed to be full and were just eating it because they’d put it on their plate.

    1. Close Bracket*

      Faculty gave me EYES and muttered about stingy students

      While profs are underpaid compared to what they would make outside of academia, they are paid a hell of a lot more than the students are.

    2. Old Biddy*

      This wasn’t a thing back in the dark ages when I was in grad school (1994). People defended their thesis and then the group gave them a cake and maybe everyone went out to lunch.
      When I got to my current job, the thesis buffet was very much a thing. I was horrified to see that someone baked 5 batches of cookies for their defense. Fortunately it has shifted to the group providing the food and sometimes the advisor buying pizza afterwards

  80. All Outrage, All The Time*

    I have to wildly disagree with AAM on this one.

    I organise a lot of office catering for events that have external stakeholders as well as staff. I can’t imagine in a million years policing what staff eat, let alone TELLING them how much and what they can and can’t eat.

    Order an excess of food so there is enough for everyone, of everything. If something runs out? Big deal. You’re not a paid buffet. You’re providing free hospitality. I’ve never encountered a client who is all “The mini quiches have run out so I’m taking my business elsewhere”. And certainly not “Wakeen ate all the mini quiches so I’m taking my business elsewhere.” How odd to think that clients think this way.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Did someone actually say that you’d lose clients over this? I didn’t see that but I miss stuff frequently enough…

      Yeah, nobody is pulling a contract however that’s not the point of teaching people to be well mannered.

      Its the same idea as all business etiquette though, dresscodes, cleaning up after yourself, not using the entire office fridge for your big ass grocery trip that you do at lunch time, etc. Nobody is going to die, that’s not the point, you still have to set a standard of behavior.

    2. RedinSC*

      Oh, if budgets were unlimited then yes, I could order enough food to cover all kinds of behaviors, but as it is, I work for a non profit and we do tell staff that they wait until our paying guests have all gotten their meals before they line up. AND I tell my staff specifically (the event producing staff) that we wait for other staff to get their food. I will take my team out for lunch if they don’t get it at the event, but it’s important for our guests to make sure they have their food, and some people just honestly don’t get it.

    3. No Outrage, Just Disappointment*

      It must be lovely to work somewhere that does not have any budget restrictions. You are extremely fortunate, and I am happy for you.

      The rest of us have to live in the real world, sadly. My dept budget simply does not stretch to ordering enough food that the thieving, greedy bastards who show up with their Tupperware and clean us out can stock their fridges for a week on our dime.

  81. RedinSC*

    Oh yes, the free food thing.

    We hosted a wine tasting event and had a big ole pile of cheeses, etc, and our trustees got in early and ATE (nearly) THE WHOLE THING – meant for 300 people who actually paid!

    Just wow people! It’s free you don’t have to eat it all! ‘

    1. StaceyIzMe*

      “This little piggy went to market. This little piggy stayed home. This little piggy had roast beef. This little piggy had none. And THIS little piggy and his or her fellow trustees ate ALL of the cheese, causing their coworkers to go wee wee wee all the way home…”

  82. nnn*

    I like Alison’s idea of saying that the top priority is to make sure the clients have a good experience. That provides people with context for their decisions, rather than just making arbitrary-sounding rules.

    I also think that, whenever the context permits you to be generous, you should be generous. (For example, in a conference being organized by a large company, it’s a relatively simple matter to just order more food. In contrast, if everyone is chipping in for pizza, you only have the money everyone has chipped in to pay.) Having enough food for everyone to eat as much as they want and for the interns to take leftovers home is a far better look than constantly telling people not to eat as much.

    1. StaceyIzMe*

      True, more food is a better look. But people who take advantage will simply increase the amount they consume, pack up to take with them or stow in the employee refrigerator for later. I think that buffet lines and food service go more smoothly and with more civility if the stations are attended. You don’t have to serve the food, but having someone stationed along every 3 feet or so does wonders for putting people in mind of remembering their better manners and their better selves. It’s worth the inconvenience to pay more for this service or to ask some responsible parties employed at the office to assist.

    2. Flash Bristow*

      It’s a tricky one. I agree with Alison in principle. But I know when I’ve been a guest at a company meal I am very much guided by how the “regulars” (ie staff) act. I don’t want to line up for food before everyone else, in case I’m too early! I like to see how much they eat, so I know what’s reasonable for me to eat. Are they drinking alcohol or soft? I’d probably best do likewise, or at least not be the first person to get wine, unless it’s obvious (full glasses poured out ready for people to take).

      As the client / guest / visitor, I don’t want to make a bad impression either!

    3. Flash Bristow*

      Re the pizza that everyone chips in for – every year, a group I’m in goes to a takeaway. We all order stuff to more or less the same value. At the end we get the bill, round it up to include tip, divide by the number of people, and that’s what we pay. If one or other of us had something more expensive like a whole spatchcock chicken or a second bottle of wine, of course they volunteer “hey, mine was extra, let me chuck in an extra tenner” or whatever and everyone pays a little less. Fine.

      Then one time someone came with us, who I won’t detail as it would make them instantly recognisable but suffice to say they were sometime who I knew quite well and while not rich, wasn’t strapped at the time. They asked to look the bill over, picked out their items, and counted out the exact money for that. No tip, though I did suggest 10% was appropriate for service…

      … It kind of screwed everything. So, if everyone chips in what they can afford before you ring out for the pizzas, how do you make sure the person who paid enough for two slices of something basic doesn’t take four of an extravagant one, and leave others cheated? Just curious. I have been stitched up by this before…

  83. MissDisplaced*

    Oh dear!
    I’ve also seen this with people. Especially people who start packing up to-go boxes before everyone has even eaten. I honestly don’t begrudge someone eating more than there share, as long as they ARE eating it then and there.

    I think someone does need to lay out expectations if staff or interns need to wait for clients—definitely! If it’s pizza or buffet for everyone, I guess it can be suggested people enjoy ONCE and wait a bit so everyone gets a turn. But jeez! Some people are so greedy!

    1. MissDisplaced*

      And I do understand there is a fair bit of food insecurity in America. I sympathize, but still, don’t be packing up the food before others eat. You can ask if it’s ok to do so.

      1. Flash Bristow*

        UK too. Food poverty is everywhere. But still, ask before you take, wait till everyone has had something. And if you want to do something GOOD with the leftovers…

        My local area – a part of east London that was a dive 25 years ago (I moved here cos I couldn’t afford anywhere else) but is now “gentrified”, and people are moving out once they have kids cos they can no longer afford it :( – well, it has a food fridge. Based in one of the shops, anyone can donate spare food to it and anyone can take from it. No questions. THAT’S where leftovers should go, if they’re uncontaminated / from a proper catering company etc. Certainly sandwiches or pizzas could be boxed up. It might be an incentive to put *most* food out, but hold some back, so you can refill as platters empty, but if there are spares at the end, they’re untouched.

        Maybe slightly off topic, but to conclude:

        The church hall also does free coffee mornings every week.

        And of course we have a traditional food bank, they also run a baby bank, and unlike those run by the well known charities, I don’t think they question your need, or limit you to X amount every three weeks or whatever.

        In fact a quick Google says that 2 million ppl in the UK are undernourished, 1 in 6 parents have gone hungry to feed their families…

        Yet if you walked down the high street you’d never realise the huge level of need behind closed doors. It’s so sad.

  84. Anonymous at a University*

    It got so bad at my university that the school stopped serving elaborate catered meals at faculty meetings; now it’s very basic snacks (with vegetarian and gluten-free options provided) and bottles of water. They got tired of people who wouldn’t even stay for the whole meeting snatching six sandwiches- not an exaggeration- and leaving because, “I’m so busy! I’m so hungry!” There was also a problem where faculty would show up with kids or other people who they hadn’t warned the organizers were coming and then pitch a fit because there wasn’t a Happy Meal for their kid or whatever other meal the visitor preferred.

    Now people complain and say that we should have the food back, but at least there’s no one carrying huge trays away in their arms and no people screaming at the organizers because, “But Junior loves McDonald’s, WHY IS THERE NO MCDONALD’S FOR HIM!” And we don’t have noticeably lower meeting attendance.

  85. MiaRose*

    I’m late to the game here and didn’t even think I would comment, but it just occurred to me. How much crossover do you think there is between the free food moochers group and the lunch thieves group?

    1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

      I actually suspect not that much. People who exploit a system where they can get something for free at least seem to respect explicit rules, just not unspoken ones.

      People who actually steal from others don’t respect rules at all.

  86. chickaletta*

    Miss Manners would be appalled. Guests always go first. Just because an employee didn’t do the actual ordering and paying of the bill, it doesn’t mean that they’re not a host. Men seem to be more oblivious than women, but this could go for anyone: if you’re clueless about why it’s important to be a good host in the workplace – there’s a couple ways to think of it in the business sense: one, being a good host is a form of networking, and two, making sure you’re guests’ needs are met before yours is a power play. By taking the food for yourself, you’re giving that up. It could lead to losing good standing in the eyes of your guests at best, leaving money on the negotiating table, or worst – losing a relationship/account altogether. I’ve seen it happen to hoarders.

    Always always be gracious to your host. If you need to eat immediately or more than your share, then plan ahead and eat before the event, or plan to eat your main meal afterwards. It’s not rocket science.

  87. StaceyIzMe*

    In your shoes, I’d continue to monitor each situation as needed. I’d also disallow anyone from serving themselves before invitees, clients or honorees were served. So- in the appetizer situation- your employee should have been chided directly. At about one fifth of the way into the communal plate- “wait, let’s serve our guests first.” Just a little emphasis on “wait” should make your point. Anyone who is either clueless enough or graceless enough to skate past that warning deserves to be uninvited to future events where some sort of dining occurs and deserves the uncomfortable conversation that management will need to have by way of follow-up.

  88. MissDisplaced*

    Have any of our European readers chimed in?
    Or have our bad manners around food appalled you?

    For the record though, I’ve dined at many places in Europe (not tourist places either) and found portion sizes to be pretty similar in most cases to dining here. Even the breakfast buffet in Berlin was not unlike a Golden Corral but with more sausage. LOL! And plenty of non-American people were heaping their plates.

    The biggest difference I noticed is that the food seems less processed and that Europeans WALK! Like a lot! And they walk quite fast.

    1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

      European reporting in. There’s anxiety around taking an ‘acceptable’ amount from shared food, for sure.

      A colleague bought pastries for the office this morning, and was careful to buy exactly one each and tell us, which alleviated anyone’s worry about taking one.

      I participate in a bunch of camping live-action roleplay events, and we’ve stopped arranging catering for them. Not because people were taking too much food, but because everyone was always hungry. The caterers would provide carefully-portioned items (like a cup of soup and two slices of bread) for each meal, but our playerbase runs the gamut from tiny women to huge guys. Meaning the people with low calorie requirements were fairly okay, and everyone else was starving.

      I live in Ireland and all I can say is we’re not as bad as the UK for sheer worry over this, though! People will often just verbally check in with others what the situation is regarding portioning, etc.

      1. Curmudgeon in California*

        A cup of soup and two slices of bread is not a meal. The maximum calories in it, assuming cream of mushroom soup (97) and multigrain bread (100/slice), is still under 300. That’s a snack. Plus, if it was a more normal vegetable soup (67) and wheat bread (69/slice), you barely broke 200. Most people don’t do well on that, especially in a live-action event.

    2. SageMercurius*

      Can’t speak for all UK people, but I’ve never had a potluck at any of my workplaces.

      I’ve bought in cake or sweets when there’s something to celebrate.

      I think the free food behaviour is universal – I joke in the academic world that in order to get people to come to a training session, offer free food!

      One conference I helped organise, I heard there was feedback that our pastries were too big! There really is no pleasing some people…

    3. Flash Bristow*

      Waving from London UK here!

      I’ve left quite a few comments (!) but I’m about a day late.

      I don’t see many differences except you guys don’t know what chips are *ducks & runs*

      Nah, seriously, it’s similar.

      EXCEPT that my ex used to work in catering. He noticed that visiting groups of Italians did not know how to queue. They would all rush along the serving area as if it was a bar, and then jostle to be served first / next.

      My ex is quite firm. He taught them how to queue… Or they wouldn’t get served. Their choice.

      (Note to add: never seen anything like it from Italians living here, just those visiting for a fortnight or whatever. Not wishing to tar everyone with the same brush in any way!)

  89. Djaria*

    Free food brings out the Italians! I’ve lived in Italy for five years and I work in restaurants. I’ve seen my (well-off) father-in-law aggressively cut the line at EVERY buffet, be it an aperitivo or a wedding. And he’s only an example. Some people just lose it when they hear the word “free.”

  90. Chocolate Teapot*

    I have told the story here before about the previous co-worker who would make a beeline for the leftovers from our external client meetings. Tinfoil and plastic boxes might have also played a role.

    Since there were plently of leftovers after several meetings, the receptionists decided to order slightly less food (apparently this is normal when catering) and at the next meeting, there were a couple of extra attendees, but no problem, there was enough (tasty) food and everyone was happy.

    Except Co-worker. “There weren’t any leftovers!” My reaction? “But you weren’t attending the meeting and you have nothing to do with it.”

  91. Dr Wizard, PhD*

    Confession time! I did this once when working as a sessional instructor after my PhD.

    I was teaching at a different university to the one I studied at, and at the time was working three jobs and not able to afford rent.

    Worse yet, all my teaching jobs were paying me a month in arrears: I started teaching in September and wasn’t paid until the end of October. I had no money. At all.

    So I spotted an event the science department (not my area) was hosting on my way out of the building, and shamelessly gatecrashed the buffet. I don’t think anyone noticed, but I was very aware of it: I had some cover stories in mind if people asked me who I was / what I was doing. In the end, nobody said anything and all was well.

    But I still remember the anxiety of being ‘caught’ and the pressure to do it so I could eat that day.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Ah! I’m not bothered by this if the person (one person not your whole family) is truly broke, hungry and experiencing food insecurity.

      As long as you ate it there and within reason, it’s not to begrudge someone a hot meal. But some people take advantage, like taking home 3 whole pizzas or a tray of bacon! That one killed me.

  92. Quickbeam*

    OP is referring more to a catered lunch than a potluck. My company provides food wranglers for these events and there is a lot of peer pressure to not hog the good stuff.

  93. Workallday*

    I used to work with someone that would bring a 2 liter of generic soda to potlucks and then proceed to eat everything he could, going back 4 and 5 times, until the food was gone. If there happened to be any food left, he would shamelessly take it home, usually without asking. No one said anything to him because he was the boss and might I add made at least 4 times what the rest of us made.

    1. Flash Bristow*

      Hmm… Could whoever was laying out / gathering the buffet have left a Super Big Space for the boss’s contribution… Thus making it look rather sad when all that gets plonked in it is a bottle of Poundland cola!

      Not sure I’d dare say “cool, we can wait while you bring up the rest, do you need someone to help carry?” or similar, but I’m quite a fan of the shell shocked “…oh!… No, er, nothing…” to illustrate that something unexpected has occurred.

  94. Capt. Dunkirk*

    Just a weird anecdote about people and free food – One time there was a new chain restaurant opening near my work. They were doing a week long soft-opening where you could get an entree for free (apps and drinks still cost), but you had to reserve a seat online beforehand. I guess this was to give the staff there lots of practice to get the restaurant running smoothly before the official opening.

    A coworker was informing me of all this and I expressed a mild interest. A few other coworkers overheard this and immediately jumped in the conversation to start anxiously telling me how hard it was to get seats and I needed to go online “like, right now!” to make sure I had my seat reserved because they’d barely gotten theirs the day before.

    In the matter of a few seconds it went from me saying, “Huh, that’s interesting.” to being surrounded by 4 coworkers badgering me into making sure I was getting some of this free food. It was bizarre!

    FWIW I didn’t bother. If 4 people were going to be this exaggerated about some free food, there’s no way I wanted to be in a restaurant full of the same.

  95. loislolane*

    I’ve had coworkers pull out tupperware and put stuff away to bring home!! Including at a baby shower at work where the mom-to-be had requested a particular specialty cookie that I make. One girl took so many that the mom-to-be had to kind of half-jokingly say she hadn’t had any yet just to stop the girl from taking them all!

  96. Amethyst Anne*

    My coworkers and I are the Lunch Ladies at our local elementary school cafeteria. We work with food everyday, preparing breakfast and lunch for 700+, and preparing an after school brown bag snack (hot entree/hot sandwich, vegetable, fruit, and milk) for 80-100 Monday to Thursday.

    There is a potluck at Christmas time. The teachers and classroom aides bring in the covered dishes, and us Lunch Ladies are not expected to bring anything, but are always invited and expected to partake of what is brought in. I’m sure that if we brought in dishes too, our food would be enjoyed but it is not the expectation.

    Our Food Service Director(a lovely, no-nonsense, has-our-back woman) arranges for all 22 of the Lunch Ladies in our very small county school system (1 elem., 1 middle, high school) to go to a local restaurant after work one afternoon. It serves Southern U.S.-type food, family style.

    It’s funny, really. If someone makes me something, even a peanut butter sandwich, it always tastes better than if I make it myself.

    1. Flash Bristow*

      Heh, if someone makes me something and it’s not a restaurant that scored 5/5 on its council hygiene review, I worry about whether they washed their hands… Etc etc.

      Doesn’t mean I might not be tempted! but my initial thought is not about how much I want but who made it, where and when.

      Sometimes people just bring bought stuff, and I’m grateful for not having to consider that.

  97. LeighTX*

    I’ve attended a LOT of church potlucks in my nearly 50 years but the last one I attended had a genius setup: they had servers on one side of the serving table who would serve you whatever you wanted. It solved the Cyril problem nicely! No one helped themselves to six sandwiches or eight deviled eggs or huge scoops of the best potato salad (we all know who brings the best one), it ensured there was plenty of food for those last in line, and it led to much less waste.

  98. Berkeleyfarm*

    Oh yeah. Free Food. It does make people nuts.

    My current office does the annual T-day potluck right – they bring in the turkey and ham, signups by category for sides and desserts. Even if someone can’t bring food there is plenty.

    I used to run potluck events for my former church and supposedly grown adults did have to be reminded to not expect the organizers to cook or prep their food for them from raw/frozen ingredients. I learned this the hard way. When I was presented with a watermelon to cut up five minutes before the service started I said “here’s the knife”. I was also delighted when we got a new kitchen with actual counter space and room to move around people because people would arrive during crunch time 20 minutes before and take up the space doing their prep (and constantly interrupt us to ask for items), but that still wasn’t as bad as the DO THIS FOR ME.

    Also, free cake turned adults with advanced degrees into sniveling five year olds. I have cake stories. The actual five year olds were better behaved.

  99. nêhiyaw ayahkwêw*

    Hey, as an ndn I thought I should point out that savagery (id est acting like a savage) is REALLY not a word white people need to be using

  100. Jcarnall*

    Not work-related, but true story:

    I was at a friend’s wedding and the catering assistant had been told not to allow ANYONE to take two plates away with them.

    I was there with my wife and we were sitting with a friend in a wheelchair. The buffet was up a step from the rest of the room so she couldn’t go to the buffet herself.

    We agreed I’d go to the buffet first, collect a plate for her and a plate for me, and then my wife would go get a plate for herself, so that we weren’t leaving our friend at the table on her own. I got to the buffet, explained briefly that I was holding two plates because I was collecting one for a friend in a wheelchair, and catering assistant told me I’d have to come back a second time to get a second plate because Them’s The Rules. I protested. His boss showed up, and supported the catering assistant, reiterating Them’s The Rules.

    There was a queue building up behind me, so I took the plate for my friend and went back to the table and explained, and we ended up playing Queue half the evening as my wife went back to collect a plate for me, and then me to collect a plate for her: and when the bride and groom stopped by our table for a chat and asked why we were eating like this, and we explained, they were mortified.

    I never asked, but I did suspect that the extreme mortification expressed by the bride was because she had laid down that rule with the catering staff because she didn’t want people collecting massive quantities of free food and taking it back to their table and preventing everyone from having a share – and she’d also booked this beautiful but not-accessible building – and hadn’t put it together that her friend in a wheelchair was going to have to get someone else to get her a plate.

    At this point it’s kind of funny, though. But I still think the catering assistant was being a bit of a dick: he could have glanced to his left – I pointed, our table was near the buffet – and seen that there was a lady there in a wheelchair who obviously couldn’t reach the buffet.

  101. OG Orange You Glad*

    My office’s free food isn’t even that good. My boss (director level, makes at least 3x what I do) is rabid for free food. He’s always stalking the buffet setup until it’s ready so he can be the first. He stalks outside private catered meetings so he can have the leftovers. It’s insane and I find it tacky. I’m not going to go out of my way for leftover lunch meat sandwiches.

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