update: my team excludes me from lunches because of my dietary restrictions

Remember the letter-writer being excluded from lunches because of their dietary restrictions? Here’s the update.

I am happy to report that I am no longer at the company that excluded me from lunches.

I ultimately didn’t take your advice because I was being kind of a chicken. I thought about talking to my manager, but he was so hands-off with me (like, we only talked for maybe a total of three hours in the year and four months I was at the company) that it felt weird to try to set up a meeting with him just to discuss the food issue. As for submitting receipts for reimbursement for food, it was a little tricky due to the fact that managers would often use their own money to pay for lunches. So, I just kind of let it keep happening and started actively job searching.

As you can imagine, there were a lot of big reasons I started looking – not just the pettiness of being excluded from lunches. (The lunch thing definitely lit a fire under my belly every time it happened, though!) The team I was on (and from what I could tell, the company itself) was totally chaotic and disorganized. In my yearly review I asked my manager to clarify what our team’s strategy was and what larger business strategy we were serving in our work, and he didn’t have an answer. And he was a VP!!! Plus, they were dragging their feet on giving me a raise that was MUCH deserved and well overdue, despite me massively outperforming expectations on a consistent basis and doing essentially three jobs for the VERY low price of one. It was just time to leave and find a job that didn’t stretch me thin while making me feel like I had to beg for the pay I deserved.

I found my way to a really amazing company that is actually mission-oriented and walks the walk, pays me 40% more than what I was making, and has INSANE benefits. The people are lovely, too. I’m really happy with how things turned out and I’m no longer steeping in my own resentment over being underappreciated and underpaid, so all in all, this is a very happy update! :)

{ 68 comments… read them below }

  1. EPLawyer*

    Sometimes the thing people write in about is the one tangible thing they can point to about the whole house of bees that is their company.

    This is not to say the excluding from lunch thing isn’t horrible. But it was comb in the whole honeycomb of horrible that the bees had gathered.

    1. Justme, The OG*

      Agree with this. I few years ago I wrote in about a small thing that was the start of me knowing that I needed to leave for a new job.

    2. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      If your team is whispering lunch plans around you for a delivery meal that your manager is ordering, it’s not about the gluten.

      1. Daisy-dog*

        Yep, I’ve had some crummy vegetarian lunches when it has to be planned for 20+ people. The meal coordinator doesn’t have the capacity to think through the group at large and I end up eating lettuce and if I’m lucky a cookie. This in itself isn’t that bee-filled because I would get other catered food that was delicious, nutritious, and filling.

        At that same company, my team would plan extremely inclusive lunches easily. We would pick restaurants with vegetarian and gluten free choices (or other restrictions as needed). We would label our foods and list ingredients when we did potlucks. If someone opted out for whatever reason, we understood. So that was the really sketchy piece for OP.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          And honestly, if the company has ordered food more than once in their existence? These are the BASICS of putting together a staff lunch. It is ridiculous to treat food allergies/restrictions like some kind of bizarre alien-language request that’s so arcane and difficult to deal with that the person should just expect to eat lettuce and a cookie!

          I work in food service taking orders and I take these kinds of business lunch orders all the time. Every single day. I can recommend sizing, know what is gluten or dairy free, tell you if the peppers are packed in oil, you name it. It’s the basics. If the person calling me has even an outline of what’s needed the order can be nip-and-tucked to specification nine times out of ten! It simply isn’t as difficult as places like the LW’s company want to pretend it is.

      2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Yes I felt that it was more that they didn’t want Jane around and the gluten was just an easy excuse. When you want someone to be included you make the effort.

    3. Quill*

      The whole company wants to sting you? Hard to prove or give advice on. One of your coworkers flew up your nose and is still buzzing in there? Weird, maybe less harmful, but much easier to point out as a problem because you should not have a coworker, who is a bee, in your nostril.

      1. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

        Quill, I don’t know if you’ll see this comment a day later, but: that last phrase is a delight. “A coworker, who is a bee, in your nostril”. I know people who say of someone they mildly dislike, that they “get up my nose”, and then there’s just something so specific about “nostril”. Thank you for the laugh.

        1. Quill*

          It’s much more of an emergency if the bee has made it higher than the nostril!


  2. RJ*

    OP, pettiness is so much to deal with at the workplace, whether it be the exclusion from luncheons, etc. but a VP not having a narrative when discussing company strategy is a major red flag. Good on you for finding a better, higher paying position and best of luck to you!!

    1. Random Dice*

      That stuck out to me too.

      “In my yearly review I asked my manager to clarify what our team’s strategy was and what larger business strategy we were serving in our work, and he didn’t have an answer. And he was a VP!!!”

      I’m a mid level manager and in process now of coalescing the team vision and place in the larger strategy into something succinct, so I can align my team. This post really helped confirm how important it is for people to feel purpose and place in the bigger picture.

  3. A Simple Narwhal*

    What a lovely update!

    I had a hunch that the lunches weren’t the only issues at play, just an easily identifiable pain point.

    1. Warrior Princess Xena*

      I think that the speed and grace at which minor things get solved is a really healthy barometer of an organization’s general culture and ability to problem solve on a macro scale. An organization that has its stuff together and is functioning smoothly isn’t thrown off its stride by creating new channels for a new kind of request (can we adjust how we order food to include people with different food needs) or is able to adapt existing channels (our core will remain the same but let’s use our existing reimbursement function to be more flexible about food). An organization that isn’t functioning smoothly will struggle with new requests and handle them negatively.

      I wonder if asking about the process by which supply requests are handled would be a useful interviewing trick for figuring out how flexible a workplace’s culture really is – for instance, if they make you fill out forms in triplicate for a pen, and it’s not a government job.

      1. ferrina*

        I think that the speed and grace at which minor things get solved is a really healthy barometer of an organization’s general culture and ability to problem solve on a macro scale

        Now I REALLY want an update from the LW earlier today who had waited 5 months to get the chair.

        1. Snow Globe*

          Yes! As I was re-reading the original letter above, I was thinking that it reminded me of the chair letter. In both cases, it didn’t seem to be deliberate hostility, just complete inability to manage a non-standard request, along with a lack of concern with the impact to the employee. I agree that kind of thing will come out in a multitude of ways.

          1. Clorinda*

            It’s worse, in that the requests are fairly standard. Any workplace of any size is going to have at least one person who needs some kind of special equipment and several people with specific dietary needs. It’s not like anyone asked to bring in their emotional support rhinoceros or something.

            1. SJ*

              “emotional support rhinoceros” thank you for the startled choke-laugh I just let out WOW

      2. ThatGirl*

        I think that the speed and grace at which minor things get solved is a really healthy barometer of an organization’s general culture and ability to problem solve on a macro scale

        Funny you say this, because my current job is a weird mix – some (most) things can and do get solved very quickly and easily. But if it’s something nobody has been confronted with before, sometimes it’s like a blue screen – we don’t know what to do with this! okay I guess we’ll do nothing!

        So like, a new piece of equipment or an accommodation is no problem. Changing names or pronouns, no problem. But getting our DEI council to enforce not ordering from Chik-fil-a, or having celiac safe gluten free options readily available – those have been problems.

        1. Plz No Bigot Chicken*

          But getting our DEI council to enforce not ordering from Chik-fil-a, or having celiac safe gluten free options readily available – those have been problems

          O, hai, I see you also work with our HR director, whose “commitment to diversity and allyship” includes ordering catering solely from Chick-fil-A for literally every. Single. Event. And also trying to badger LGBTQIA+ employees into outing themselves on the company’s social media so it looks good.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            Even if the Chicken makers weren’t bigots, that’s not even a sensible catering choice just from variety and accommodation perspectives. I like chicken ( though not from Chick-fil-A) and I would HATE that it was the only choice, ever.

          2. nobadcats*

            My gawd, I’m SO glad I don’t work in the office anymore. That’s some expert-level BS right there.

      3. NeedRain47*

        One issue with this is, it’s not always the same person/people. Whoever has to approve a new chair is not likely the same person who would be ordering food for a social event, at least in my world, so it’s entirely possible for there to be a lot of variation in response.

      4. goddessoftransitory*

        Yes. A crust can form over any aspect of a company’s existence if it’s not questioned for long enough; what’s important is how it’s dealt with once it’s brought to light.

        Can the company take new perspectives into consideration and utilize changes to improve itself as a whole? Or does it prefer to ignore, deny, and push out “problem” elements?

  4. Khatul Madame*

    Glad the OP made this change, and hope that she gets to eat with her new co-workers without risking her health or relationships.

  5. Stretchy McGillicuddy*

    Whoa, Alison. I’m not sure if you are aware of this or not, but I had not one but TWO video ads that covered the entire screen when I logged on just now. The ads could not be minimized, closed or even fast-forwarded.

    1. Jenny Craig*

      Me too. I had to refresh my screen to get them to go away so I could see the site.

    2. Hlao-roo*

      Just above the commenting box, there’s a link to report “an ad, tech, or typo issue here.” It has a (short) form with all the info AAM needs to investigate a problem ad.

      1. ScruffyInternHerder*

        Thank you as I happen across it so infrequently I forget about this!!! (Maybe if I comment on THIS I might remember?)

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      From my ad team: “We found what was happening — one of our providers had added a size configuration that shouldn’t be possible. It’s fixed and syncing right now, so this won’t happen any more after a few minutes from now!”

      1. Beth*

        “This size configuration shouldn’t be possible. Click NOW to find out how we do it!”

        . . . I am 12.

        1. Phony Genius*

          Yup. And I bet the advertiser assigned one of their computer techs to figure out how to bypass the size limits, and they succeeded. I wonder if they got a bonus for that.

  6. Bookworm*

    Thanks for the update, OP! I’m really happy to read you’re in a better place!!

  7. NeedRain47*

    BUT what about the work lunches? Can you get something to eat? Inquiring minds want to know!
    ;) Congrats and I’m glad you’re out of the other place.

    1. NotRealAnonForThis*

      I’m not the LW, but I can tell you that simple and easy accommodations are nothing to CurrentJob, where before at OldJob, it was a case of pearl clutching that yet again (surprise surprise) I still can’t eat anything from CFA so I’d be screwed if catering for all hands was from them again. And it always was.

  8. IHaveKittens*

    I love updates like this. Congrats on the new gig and cheers to no more feelings of being treated so poorly.

  9. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    OP, I’m glad you see this as the blessing in disguise that this was.
    Would you have written to Alison about the absentee manager, the carrot on stick raise, the lack of professional goals if people at this place were pleasant? I think the only thing they have going for them is this stupid food and they are afraid “making special demands” will goof it up for everyone. So the only thing they can do is beat up the outsider who is “ruining” their department/company.
    Bread and circuses.
    At least they are not your monkeys anymore.

  10. Veg Girl*

    Congrats on getting out and finding something awesome! Seemingly small things like honoring dietary restrictions show so much about a company’s priorities.

    I left a boatload of toxicity in 2021 and found myself in the first healthy workplace of my life. I feel like I marveled every day at a new, healthy trait in the company and bosses.

    They ordered food for us on a pretty regular basis (like 2-3 times a week). I’d been there a month before the bosses learned that I’m vegetarian and they were both immediately concerned that I hadn’t been able to eat and asked why I didn’t say anything! There had always been an option for me, so it just hadn’t come up, but I am also used to just being quiet and making do. I was amazed that they cared so much – not only that I had options going forward, but that they might have slighted me in the past even though they didn’t know. It spoke absolute volumes.

    1. Kyrielle*

      YES. I switched jobs while I was on the initial elimination phase of a low-FODMAP diet, and went from a place that would order pizza for everyone and not get anything else (even though I was known to be very lactose intolerant, and another staff member couldn’t have dairy at all), or get a salad (with croutons and … cheese, sigh)…to a place that made sure I could have something I could eat during every catered lunch meeting, even the all-hands department one. Buffet for like 200 people, custom boxed lunch for me which I was welcome to supplement with whatever in the buffet suited me. (Really glad for the reserved lunch, because the salad bar was the only piece that was okay for me – but that’s fine, I had a perfectly nice lunch!)

      It really, really made me feel hugely valued. Far more than the equivalent amount of money probably would have. I didn’t have to do anything except provide my then-current restrictions data, update it if it changed, and I just…had something. That I could eat. It was awesome.

  11. Cat's Paw for Cats*

    As an aside, OP, your manager isn’t hands off, he’s missing in action. It’s unconscionable that he would spend so little time and effort in cultivating relationships with his team. Of course you don’t want to approach him with work related issues.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      Very much this. Look at the overall.
      OP reaches out to manager to say that s/he is being cut out of lunches. Manager is confused about being bothered by such a little thing. Because manager is not there managing, doesn’t know OP, doesn’t know how the office runs day to day: that managers are buying lunches for staff with their own money because the place sucks so hard; that coworkers are avoiding OP when ordering; that OP is running out to get food during a team lunch.
      “Hey, manager, how about that raise and promotion you keep promising me?”
      “Hey, VP, any luck with a five year plan yet?”
      “Oh, by the way, they keep ordering pizza.”

  12. Mmm.*

    I’m getting tested for Celiac soon, and based on everything I’ve been reading and learning, having actually safe food is nearly impossible even with the best intentions. I had no idea cross contamination was a thing with it, and even restaurants with GF options aren’t necessarily Celiac safe!

    There are many other, technically worse disorders or diseases I could have. I am being tested for them, too. But this one scares me the most. Food is now my family shows love, food is something that brings me joy, and food is a common bonding portion for work. My dad was diabetic and felt like he couldn’t be diabetic at work. My company is amazing and would do anything they could for me, but it still won’t ever be the same. In fact, studies are showing the depression linked to Celiac isn’t a symptom but a separate issue caused by the feelings of loss and isolation.

    I’m glad to see someone like me is living and working happily. If you have a coworker or employee with Celiac, do a bit of research. I had legit no idea what it TRULY was, even though I knew people with it.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Have you read Samantha Irby? She’s a hilariously funny essay writer who talks a great deal about her own Celiac diagnosis. She’s got four books out and blogspot, BitchesGottaEat.

    2. coffee*

      I think it’s always a bit of a challenge to rework your diet, but my family has handled changed food needs and still held our regular family dinners, and I’m sure you’ll be able to still have nice family meals together and bond at work with your coworkers. Some people in the comments have shared good experiences of getting gluten free food at work. Best of luck.

    3. Hlao-roo*

      Hello! I was diagnosed with celiac over 20 years ago, so maybe I can offer a bit of hope.

      First of all, it is a big adjustment and I don’t want to downplay that. You’re right that food is such a big part of life and has a huge social component. But is something that it’s possible to adjust to.

      Food is now my family shows love

      A friend of a friend was recently diagnosed with celiac. I don’t know her all that well, but I do know that her partner has taken it in stride. He is experimenting with different brands of gluten-free pasta so they can learn which one is the best, researching which breweries have gluten-free beer, etc. If food is how your family shows love, they will learn how to cook gluten-free food for you because they love you. I am still occasionally surprised, 20+ year later, by how much effort and care my friends and family put into ensuring I have food I can eat.

      food is something that brings me joy

      There is a lot of gluten-free food out there (and a lot more than there was when I was diagnosed), but some of the substitutes are still sub-par. They don’t bother me because I can barely remember what “real” bread tastes like at this point, but my advice for you is, if the quality of the substitutes is getting you down, look for food that is naturally gluten-free. Mexican, Indian, and Thai are all cuisines that have delicious dishes that don’t contain gluten.

      food is a common bonding portion for work

      This is true, and like you mention it won’t be the same to have to talk to the admin and get a separate gluten-free lunch when you’re used to taking a slice of pizza like everyone else. But I have found that at well-functioning companies, I have never had a problem ordering a gluten-free lunch for myself. (And, occasionally, my gf lunch is better than the standard lunch!) I have had celiac my whole working life, so I can’t say if it has affected how I bond with coworkers but I can say that I haven’t noticed any obvious negative effects from eating different food than others at shared meals.

  13. Rosacolleti*

    Firstly, I HATE remote working! How can a manager possibly manage people well and with empathy, with their role develop in mind?

    Secondly, I really wish the OP had raised this as an issue. Surely all pizza and burger places have GF options and every caterer who supplies sandwiches does too – it’s not even hard!

    1. *kalypso*

      No, they don’t. And even those that “do” can have serious issues with cross-contamination and don’t necessarily have controls in place in the kitchen. Plus, if it’s being delivered, the gig-economy drivers indeed have zero controls regarding contamination and they do sometimes take multiple orders at once and put the food in the same thermal bag where lovely excess oil can soak through from one paper bag to the next etc. It’s actually really hard and not all restaurants want to spend the money and resources on making a safe area and keeping the food separate to the level required.

    2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      The remote working manager was a problem but it needn’t be. I work as a volunteer in an organisation and haven’t seen my coordinator for months, even years. But she is a wonderfully approachable woman who I know genuinely cares for me as a reliable worker and I know I can go to her to talk of whatever problems I might have. Other managers working literally in the next room can be far harder to approach.

    3. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

      No, actually, it’s hard. There *are* GF breads, but mostly they really aren’t as good as good regular bread is, and some things (like rolls that sandwiches often come on) just can’t be done. There is a great cafe near me that has lots of food I can eat BUT they don’t offer GF bread options so I can’t do their sandwiches, which look so good on the menu. (And there actually are some really good GF pizza crusts – as long as you like the thin style or cracker-style – but economies of scale make them expensive.) I second the person who said the easiest thing is to eat from cuisines that have always had non-wheat things (rice noodles, corn tortillas, even Ethiopian food if the injera is made only with teff).

  14. Jade*

    Management should absolutely provide you with a meal for catering and work lunches. It’s too much to expect that coworkers are going to cater to your food requirements. They have a limited time to order and eat. Either bring lunch or order food service if that situation arises.

  15. WeDontDoNotStinkingAllergies*

    Interesting. In my experience companies will accommodate vegetarian (sometimes vegan) and gluten free but good luck with anything else. I’ve never seen a company get kosher food for a former coworker who kept kosher. I’ve rarely had any workplace accommodate my tomato allergy (there was one place that was good about it for a couple of months then gave up and said it was too hard to do more than vegetarian and gluten free). In general companies have felt this is a perk they offer and if not everyone uses it then not everyone uses it, or at least that’s what I was told at a few different places when I pointed out I couldn’t eat the food they ordered.

  16. I feel valued*

    I have dietary restrictions that people at my job know about. There is no whispering or hiding. But I am excluded Every. Single. Time.

    1. *kalypso*

      I have restrictions that my job know about and they try, and then pull ‘this is yours, sorry it’s in the same container with the thing you’re allergic to!’ and expect me to be happy.

    2. Former Retail Lifer*

      Same. I’m vegetarian with a dairy allergy, so I usually request vegan since that’s simple to figure out. I’m always given something with cheese or baked with butter. Every single time.

  17. nobadcats*

    I think I’ve probably told this story here before. In Old Job, the office admin would order food from Corner Bakery. She’d only order three vegetarian sandwiches (the caprese salad ones). If my co-irker S didn’t get there within 10 minutes, other co-irkers would snatch up the caprese salad ones, because they’re delicious. When I asked the office admin about it, she shrugged her shoulders and said, “It’s not my fault if S doesn’t get to the food.”

    Well, actually, it IS. Just… order more caprese salad sarnies! It’s not that hard. So, I developed my own policy of jumping out my chair like a shot and grabbing the veggie option for S as I grabbed my own. So stupid. Again, the Corner Bakery caprese sarnie is utterly delicious, I just odered one last night for dinner.

    We also had this bit of a problem for a hot second in Current Job, when we were all still in the office. We had two people who had IBS or CD, and our office assistant would order a small gluten-free pizza for them on pizza day. A LOT of people would take a slice of the gluten-free pizza just to see “what it tastes like.” My co-irker said, “It sucks, okay? It’s not the same. Stop taking food out of my mouth.” After ONE round of this, when the GF pizza was nabbed up, my boss and the VP did a dainty foot stomp and said, “If you don’t have a need for GF pizza, it’s NOT yours. It’s for X and X.” Also, they usually ordered a giant salad, which my GF co-irkers couldn’t eat because of concerns about cross-contamination (I didn’t take any salad because it had raw red onions and olives… ick… don’t get me started about the reek of that salad on day 2, gross). People would use the same tongs in the salad that they’d used to scoop up their pizza.

    Dietary restrictions are so incredibly common these days. It’s not hard to order around those issues. It’s not acceptable to just shrug your shoulders and say, “Meh. What can you do?” A lot, actually.

  18. DJ Abbott*

    It’s strange that the managers had to pay for the lunches themselves. In almost 30 years of office work, I’ve never seen that. A good company would not expect this of any employee, including managers.

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