coworker has temper tantrums whenever there’s noise, rigid vacation policy, and more

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

1. Coworker has temper tantrums whenever there’s noise, then gives us apology gifts

I work at a small construction company. When I started, it was our office manager, me, and one other office worker and we were completely remote. In the two years I’ve been here, we’ve grown rapidly (we now have 13 office employees). Earlier this year, our owners decided that with the increase in work and employees, we needed a centrally located office to hold meetings, etc. We are also a relatively new company, so we have a lot of processes and procedures to work through to ensure everything gets done and no one is duplicating work. Being in the office GREATLY helps with that.

We moved into an office two months ago and were given plenty of advance notice that we would need to report to the office full-time for a few months while we get processes in place to ensure things are running efficiently. This has largely been a big success. It’s helping immensely to be able to bounce ideas off of each other, establish guidelines for how to handle things, etc. (Ultimately we will transition to a hybrid schedule and work remotely 2-3 days a week and in the office the other days.)

I’m writing in regards to one coworker, Fay. Fay worked remotely for almost four years prior to this. Since settling into the office, she has at least 1-2 “temper tantrums” a week in regards to even the slightest increase in noise level. I’ve worked in a lot of offices and truly, this one is the quietest! Everyone is very respectful of each other’s space, that they may be on the phone or concentrating on something. However, it does occasionally get loud (example, when the field teams are in for a meeting, it’s going to be louder).

Every time the volume increases, Fay throws a tantrum, yelling and swearing about how she “can’t work in these conditions,” “it’s f-ing ridiculous to expect her to get her work done with this noise,” and so on. The language doesn’t bother any of us (we work in construction, we’re used to that). It’s the sudden explosion of anger and that she’s taking it out on us when we’re not the loud ones. The rest of us put headphones on, take our lunch break, or work on something that doesn’t require as much concentration when the office occasionally gets louder. Fay does the same, eventually, but not until after she throws a tantrum and has a yelling fit. I handle her outbursts the same way I did with my kids when they were little — I ignore them. I’m not giving any of my time or energy to react because she can’t get her emotions under control and doesn’t want to be in an office.

Every time, Fay approaches all of us one by one a few hours after her tantrum and apologizes. We accept and move on. Lately, she’s been buying little gifts for those of us who work in her direct vicinity (and take the brunt of her yelling) with an apology note. (Nothing expensive or crazy, think a mini size facial scrub, a scented candle, things like that.)

Today, she had yet another one tantrum. Our boss has talked to her once about one of her outbursts, but she hadn’t witnessed it, she’d only heard about it after the fact. Fay apologized and was good for a week or so. Today our boss witnessed it and said she will handle it, and I know she will address it with her. She’s very good like that.

However, I also know Fay will be making her rounds soon to apologize and there will likely be a small gift on my desk when I get into the office tomorrow. Is it awful of me to tell her I don’t want any more gifts (and frankly any more apologies) and I’d rather she just get her tantrums under control? I don’t want to be rude, but it’s like working on the edge of a volcano, never knowing when it will erupt.

Nope, it wouldn’t be awful of you. Fay is wildly out of line and she knows it; that’s what the apologies and gifts are for.

You could say this: “I don’t want or need any apology gifts, what I want is for you to stop exploding in the office because it’s really disruptive. If you do that, we’re good.” If she keeps pushing the gift anyway, say this: “I really don’t want gifts after this happens. Please just get your temper under control; that’s really what we need.”

2. Making sure halal and vegan buffet food doesn’t run out for the people who need it

I work for a fairly large employer (about 300 full-time staff), and we are planning our holiday luncheon. The luncheon is a well-attended event, served buffet-style with typical American holiday foods (turkey, ham, yams, macaroni and cheese, vegetables, etc.) I had an employee approach me yesterday about providing halal options. We have a sizable community who would benefit from this and are happy to include this in our planning, but we also have had a few vegans express interest in more vegan options.

What is the best way to include halal- and vegan-friendly options while ensuring that those who observe these diets have access? We have found that when we have vegan-friendly options in the buffet line, those who need it don’t always end up getting it because everyone else will eat it, too. We were thinking of setting these options up on a separate table with a small label indicating the type of food and saying “Reserved for our colleagues who observe these dietary requirements,” but I don’t know if that really sounds right or would make people feel like they are “outing” themselves in a way that would make them uncomfortable instead of included. We are too far in the planning to switch caterers, so we are adding a caterer who can do a few special options for us. But that means it won’t be enough to allow everyone to partake. Any ideas?

One effective option is to let people with dietary restrictions go through the buffet first before you open it to everyone else — because otherwise, you’re right, there’s always a risk that the vegan and halal food will be gone by the time the people who actually need it get up to the front of the line.

Read an update to this letter

3. Rigid vacation request policy

I’m in a pretty typical nonprofit desk job. A manager on my team quit a few months ago, and now all six of us report to the team director. The director has instituted a new policy on vacation: all vacation requests must be made by two weeks into the quarter before the planned time off, and she’ll make decisions on them a month after the submission deadline (so requests for October-December vacation are due July 15 with approval or denial on August 15).

This is weird and bad, right? She says it’s the only way she can ensure non overlapping leave and that she doesn’t have time to consider leave requests more than quarterly. I doubt either of those are right? I don’t know how doctors or firefighters do it but I think coverage is pretty essential there and I can’t imagine this is their system; similarly, I would bet there are at least some executives at major companies overstretched in the same way as this director, and I’ve never heard of them refusing to even consider leave?

This is a new policy so we’re all still learning how it works. Apparently if your request is denied, you can submit a modified one for another attempt — but that won’t be reviewed until the next deadline. Also bad, no?

What, no, this is a terrible policy. You have to know by July that you want specific dates in December and if you don’t, then too bad, there’s no way you’re going to get them any later? (Actually, it’s a little more reasonable with December just because that’s a popular month for time off — but requiring people to submit dates for June by January and so forth is not reasonable.) What if you get the opportunity in November for a cool trip in March, or you learn on July 20 that you’ll have family in town in November? You’re out of luck because of these arbitrary deadlines?

Fielding leave requests just isn’t that burdensome, especially on a team of only six people. It would be different if she were telling you that you’d have your best shot at the dates you want if you use that schedule — but not even considering any outside of it is BS, and you might consider talking to HR about whether it’s okay for your benefits to be limited in this way.

4. Non-gendered honorifics

I work in the front end of a major grocery store chain. Sometimes I’m in a checkstand, but I am usually behind the customer service desk. Our store has a large non-binary-gender population, in both employees and customers. While it’s fairly easy to ask employees about preferred pronouns, it’s a little more awkward with customers.

For example, as a late-Boomer/early-GenX-er, my default would be “How may I help you, sir?” or Ma’am, you forgot your keys!” but I may misgender and/or offend some of our customers. Are there ungendered honorifics that can be used in these situations? “Hon” or “Dear” bug me for their sexist and ageist connotations. “Citizen” sounds like a bad sci-fi movie from the Cold War and isn’t appropriate for our large immigrant population. “Yo” or “Dude” are a little too casual. Some people say just not to use anything, but honorifics do help keep people connected and catch their attention when they’re looking away from me. How do I address people respectfully?

I can’t think of a single non-gendered honorific that wouldn’t sound bizarrely out of place in that context, like your “Citizen” example. And yeah, definitely don’t use “hon” or “dear.” Some people will use “friend,” but that’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and some customers may find it overly familiar. (At first I accidentally typed “fiend” there, and now I’m sad that that won’t work.)

But while I agree with you that honorifics can be very useful in the sorts of situations you describe, they’re not essential. When you need to catch someone’s attention (such as someone walking away who has forgotten their keys), calling out “pardon me!” will usually be nearly as successful as “ma’am!” (I agree it doesn’t sound as polite, but that’s because we’ve been conditioned to hear “ma’am” and “sir” as polite. I’d tell yourself that you’re prioritizing a more important form of politeness in not misgendering them.)

Anyone want to suggest a better option?

{ 1,207 comments… read them below }

    1. Double A*

      Alas. It’s excellent. Shortens nicely to “Wiz” for less formal settings.

      I’m a cis female teacher and I hate that we still use honorifics that indicate something about our freaking marital status. I use Ms. but would prefer just first names (you can’t just unilaterally do this in a school, I know plenty of parents would prefer it). Unless we could all move to “Wizard.” Actually “Wiz Jones” is not that different than Ms. Jones. Maybe I’ll just pretend that’s what people are saying when they address me.

          1. talos*

            American here. To me “buddy” and “pal” both sound dismissive/rude, and also feel to me (a cis man) like words I would only ever use for men.

            It might be regional, but I personally sure wouldn’t use them.

                1. Princess Sparklepony*

                  I can’t remember what that is from but I find myself laughing. Was it South Park and Terrence and Phillip?

                2. Tai*

                  South Park… unforgettable. But yeah, as a Cisco woman I would be horrified if someone called me buddy, pal or mate.

              1. Hey Buddy!*

                I once saw a Venn Diagram of “Picking a fight in a Bar”, “Helping a lost child”, and “Playing with a puppy”. “Hey, buddy!” was at the center.

            1. Slartibartfast*

              regionally, dude is becoming non gendered like the Aussie mate, but not enough for this situation. Excuse me would work for the key situation, all else you could probably just avoid altogether. I’m getting pretty used to a singular they, so if someone else looks up when you say “excuse me”, you could point and say “they forgot their keys”. Yeah it’s a drop in formality, but it makes no assumptions.

              1. not like a regular teacher*

                I always think dude is gender neutral, until I’m addressing an amab trans femme person. Because of its history as a gendered term I would NEVER use dude in that situation.

                1. Magenta Sky*

                  I live in southern California, where dude is definitely gender neutral. It’s really more a state of mind (and that of the speaker, not the person referred to).

                2. Lenora Rose*

                  Until “I met this dude last night and we hit it off and dot dot dot” doesn’t make everyone in hearing assume you hooked up with a man, it’s not gender neutral.

                  Even the Californians claiming it sounds that way to them ring pretty hollow, and none of them are likely to say “Cool; guy, girl, or non-binary?” in response.

                  There does seem to be a gender neutral version of Dude, which is when it’s used as an exclamation of surprise, delight, or annoyance (Recalling the statement that all behaviours, good and bad, by a cute pet hamster can be reacted to with varying tones of exclaiming “Dude!”), but this is distinct from when you say “I was talking to this dude…”

                  (And “Dude, not cool” is right on the edge, since it’s directed at a person. I can see it being directed at a woman, but it takes effort, where I might believe a Californian saying it felt gender neutral to them and actually not noticing or caring.)

                3. Donkey Hotey*

                  As a friend observed, “Dude will never be gender neutral. If I go to a sports pub and suggest the guys there like to have sex with dudes, it’s going to lead to a fight.”

                4. not nice, don't care*

                  GenX PNW native here. Dude and guys are used gender-neutrally here, and have been for decades.

                5. Bast*

                  I am on the east coast, and at least for many people my age, no matter gender, “dude” is acceptable in informal settings, but would NOT be an acceptable to address, say, your boss or professor, or anyone with any level of authority (and obviously not if someone prefers not to be referred to that way). Similarly, it would feel a bit strange to direct it to someone outside of my friend group — “Dude, check out those crazy decorations” would likely just be cut down to, “check out those crazy decorations” for a stranger. It seems to be a term you use once comfortable with someone. I have also found that we typically don’t use it to refer to others, either, so, “check out that dude over there” would not exactly be how we would use the term. This could vary person to person, but at least in my small area within my age group, there seems to be unspoken guidelines about the use of the word.

                  Annnnd I also agree with “pal” or “buddy” being fighting words, at least in my neck of the woods. The only times I ever hear those terms are passively aggressively when someone is about to lose it, and the person is DEFINITELY not their friend. “Go right ahead, pal.” “Back of the line buddy, just like everyone else!.” Not friendly.

                6. BlondeSpiders*

                  Thank you!

                  I’m not going to lie, it’s kind of upsetting to see all these (probably self described ally-aligned folks) dig in their heels so hard on Dude. IDC if that’s how it was in 80s or 90s when you grew up. Actual people here are telling you it’s rude and it’s not gender-neutral in their experience.

                7. Jessastory*

                  Dude and guy can be somewhat gender neutral when addressing a group as “hey guys” “Dudes, let’s…” but only in the sense that “Peace to men on earth” means all humanity. It’s not truly gender neutral. I’ve switched to saying “folks” instead.

                8. just me*

                  I think the issue with “dude” is that both sides of this are right. If you’re using it in a 3rd person sense, ie; “I met this dude”, then it isn’t gender neutral, it refers to a male. In 2nd person sense, as a form of address, ie; “hey, dude” then it typically IS gender neutral, for those that use it. It’s a different word depending on usage.
                  It doesn’t really matter, though, what matters is that some people do find it offensive, so it’s best to just avoid it.

                1. Snarl Trolley*


                  Until straight cis men can casually say they slept with “the dude over there” and not cause an ounce of confusion, it’s not gender neutral, sorry.

                2. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

                  I’m human. Don’t call me dude.

                  Personally, I prefer “ami” (ah-mee). Short for amigo/a, amico/a, amicus/amica/amicum, ami, etc.

                  No idea if you could pull it off in that setting. Might irritate people named “Amy” if they think you’re just butchering their name.

              2. a clockwork lemon*

                This is interesting because I’m from the south (and feel very strongly about “Miss” being an honorific only for children) and “Excuse me” feels like the only appropriate polite expression here. No gender required–just the default level of etiquette for addressing someone you don’t know.

                1. winter sky*

                  Wait … if that’s true, why are people from the South always calling me (e.g.) “Miss Cathy”? Are they making fun of me, as I’ve often thought?

                2. Calamity Janine*

                  fwiw as a southerner as well, “miss” isn’t always for children – “little missy” is what is employed when you really want to make it as diminutive as possible lol. “miss” is far more for a younger and presumably unmarried woman.

                  it is why when someone calls me “ma’am” instead i feel some part of my soul curdle as it has to once again face the fact that the inexorable march of time has happened to me, lol!

              3. Kay*

                Ugh – dude to me is just – not good. Up there with bro. I get some people have started using it more liberally – ha – but I just hate it.

                1. DePizan*

                  Same—and it’s funny how dude or guy (or now bro) started being used as “gender neutral” about the time when women began pushing back on the use of words like man/mankind for everyone. So….we just replaced one gendered word for humans with others.

              4. JMR*

                I do think of “dude” as gender-neutral but it’s far too casual to use in a customer service situation.

                1. Cyndi*

                  I often use “dude” as an interjection expressing shock, rather than a form of address, but I’m trying to get out of the habit anyway because to the other person the distinction is probably meaningless. Also because it’s not very professional to go “Dude!!” when something wild happens at the office and I really need to kill that reflex.

                2. JustaTech*

                  Thinking about it, “dude” can be a gender-neutral form of address *to* a person or group of people “yo, dudes!”, but when speaking *about* a person is it still gendered male – “that dude in the blue shirt”.

                3. Froggy*

                  “now used as a general term and applied to all genders” is not the same as gender neutral. Dude is clearly gendered. I am not a dude.

              5. MassMatt*

                “Dude” and “mate” may be becoming less gendered but they are very informal, dude especially so. The letter is asking about how to refer to customers at a grocery store CS window. So, not a bank, law firm, or court, but still IMO far too informal. These might work at, say, a hipster bar or tattoo parlor.

              1. HailRobonia*

                I’m American but my dad was Australian and as a child I confused friends and teachers alike by calling people “mate.”

                And then there was the time I was really frustrated during art class in 3rd grade and said “I can’t find my bloody scissors!” which raised some concerns…

              1. Charlotte Lucas*

                I have a family member who goes by Buddy, so it could be accurate?

                Pal, Buddy, and Friend all sound vaguely aggressive when used with strangers. (“Watch it, Pal!”)

                1. Sneaky Squirrel*

                  I’ve used ‘friend’ in a peer-to-peer situation with strangers such as a “hello friend” when I’m talking to someone that I am meeting at a class where we are both participants. ‘Friend’ when it’s a customer-client situation sounds weird.

                2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

                  I’ve also had a friend point out that they get “buddy” much more often when using their cane/otherwise visibly disabled than they do when not obviously using assistive devices, to the extent that they consider it an ableist microaggression and it makes their hackles go up around their ears. Knowing that, it’s not a term I’m willing to blanket-apply to everyone.

                  Weirdly, a stranger calling me pal may well trigger a “I’m not your pal” response from me, whereas I wouldn’t do the same thing with friend. But I’ve hung out with Quakers, so perhaps I have an atypical read on friend.

                3. MigraineMonth*

                  @Cyborg Llama Horde — In the context of Quakerism, I think it would be even worse. Not everyone is a Friend of Jesus Christ, and not everyone wants to be!

                4. Cyborg Llama Horde*

                  I’m not Quaker, so perhaps my understanding is flawed, but Quakers have the whole “that of God in everyone” thing going on, where they see everyone, co-religionists or not, as fellow members of creation, so I always interpreted it as a “fellow human” kind of deal.

                  (That said, I can see why it might have enough of a religious connotation that someone would be uncomfortable with it.)

              2. Amanda*

                I wanted to offer reassurance that honorifics aren’t necessary in my experience. I wasn’t raised to say “sir” or “ma’am,” (partly my parents and partly where in the US I live, I suspect). Since it’s not something I’ve ever been in the habit of, I didn’t do it when working customer service jobs. Just an “excuse me,” or “pardon me,” with a smile and a wave if needed to get someone’s attention is enough, I think.

                1. Jane*

                  I’m a Midwesterner who now lives on the west coast, and I find sir and ma’am kind of insulting. Seems passive aggressive and unfriendly. Hi there always works for me.

                2. commensally*

                  I’m a customer service person in the northern part of the South, and it’s not only expected here, we still have customers who remember when Sir and Ma’am were only and always used for White people; leaving it off for older Black people risks coming off as a racist microaggression and leaving it off for older White people risks them going all racist Karen on you. Younger people expect it less, but if Mrs. Cranky Elderly McWhitey expects the ma’am (which she does) I’m definitely not then going to leave it off for the Black teenager behind her, and then I’m stuck wondering what to do for the butch person after her.

                3. Runner up*

                  Like Lauren said, I think I’d go with “oh! you forgot this…” or “Wait!…” – neither of which is super-polite, but there’s no risk of picking a fight either.

            2. learnedthehardway*

              When I was in the Canadian Reserves, we used “buddy” for lower-ranked or same-rank people we didn’t know, or if in civvies with people we didn’t know. Not sure if that still holds, though. It worked pretty well, but took a bit of getting used to.

              I suppose we could all adopt “comrade” and feel revolutionary about it….

              1. The Starsong Princess*

                Bud or buddy is common in Canada but tone matters. But women don’t use it as much and it usually only refers to men.

                1. magpie*

                  In my experience on the Praries and the West Coast, buddy/bud is gender neutral and friendly, so long as you use a friendly tone.

            3. RussianInTexas*

              Yeah, that won’t go over well in the US, it reads either rude or too intimate.
              My first reaction would be “I don’t know you, I am not your pal”, regardless of intentions of the speaker.

            4. Froggy*

              Completely agree. Buddy and pal read as male and super casual.

              Cis female university faculty and I absolutely hate that female honorifics are tied to marital status. I am also married, but don’t share my spouces last name. So, Mrs. Husbands Last Name both requires someone to be “polite” by including my marital status (weird, sexist, and dated!) and use a name that is in no way mine.

              Getting referred to as “Dude” is, however, even worse.

          2. DataGirl*

            American here- Buddy and pal sound infantilizing to me. I would only use them with a child. I loathe mate, it immediately gets my hackles up. I realize these are “me” issues, but I would hate to see them become commonly used, particularly in customer service situations.

            1. Mighty K*

              I have friend who has recently started calling me “kiddo”. She’s in her 50s, and I’m 41.
              I hate it.
              It used to feel like we had an equal friendship but now it’s as if I’m junior.

              Haven’t brought it up because I’m not sure I can say it well,even with all the other Alison scripts to work from!

              1. Kes*

                Ugh that would bug me. I would probably say something like “Jane, you know I’m 41, right? I’m not exactly a kid at this point”

            2. Bookmark*

              Yeah, Buddy was what I and all my coworkers used as a lifeguard to let a kid know that I definitely saw them doing the thing they know they’re not supposed to do (running, hanging on lane lines, etc). Would definitely not use it with adults.

                1. Calpurrnia*

                  Same. This is like 85% of my usages of “buddy”: “Nice blinker there, buddy” “Hey buddy I’m merging here” “Get a move on, buddy” (all spoken aloud to myself within my own car, not actually directed at the other driver)

                  The other 15% are talking to either dogs or little boys.

                  It’s interesting that people are referring to using it with “children” when I don’t think I’ve ever heard an adult call a little girl “buddy”. Only boys (and maybe nonbinary kids or those with ambiguous gender markers? Not sure, I don’t have a ton of interaction with kids).

                  As I’m writing this, I think I hear “honey” or “sweetie” more directed at little girls, which is interesting because if I used those with an adult it would almost always be in a sarcastic or insulting way as well like “buddy” above. “Oh honey no” is not just letting someone know your dissent, it’s a pitying thing like “oh you sweet summer child”.

                2. Aitch Arr*

                  I think that calling little boys ‘buddy’ has become popular because apparently it’s not masculine enough to call little boys ‘honey,’ ‘sweetheart’, or any other feminine term of endearment, especially if the one doing the calling is their dad or another male.

                  Allow me to roll my eyes so far back in my head I am looking at my brain.

                3. Random Dice*

                  I get exquisitely polite to drivers I think are glassbowls… but sadly in a Southern gendered way.

                  I, too, would love a non-gendered uber-polite alternative to sir/ma’am.

          3. Fluff*

            Hey Buddy could be…

            – Appropriate right before you murder them.
            – Appropriate to remind someone they forgot their keys.
            – Appropriate to get your kid’s attention.
            – Appropriate to get your dog to not poop in the neighbor’s flowers.
            – Appropriate to yell at the person who cut you off for the parking spot before the beat down.

            Too many uses for me. :-) My husband came up with all of these and I am dying.

            1. curly sue*

              – 100% appropriate in the Canadian maritimes, except in very formal situations. It’s our local stand-in term of address when you don’t know someone’s name. ref: musical comedy group ‘Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers.’

              I still wouldn’t use it for clients in a business context, but calling out to someone in a shop is exactly what it gets used for here.

              1. East Coast*

                Not only would you not use it in a business context (it’s not an honorific at all – you don’t use it the same way you use sir or ma’am), it’s also not really gender neutral. It’s almost always directed at men – hence, Buddy Whasisname and the Other Fellers. Buddy’s a feller. One of the guys.

                1. Em*

                  Yep. “Buddy over there with the red shirt” is the male version, “Missus over there with the red shirt” is the female.

                2. Em*

                  (Come to think of it, I think the neutral version when addressing a person directly would be “my ducky”.)

              2. Ace in the Hole*

                Pacific Northwest coast, rural area: “Buddy” or “Bud” is totally normal for a peer at work, shop customer, etc. in pretty much any blue collar setting. It would probably be out of place in an office job, and you definitely wouldn’t use it for your boss or an important bigwig client.

                …but it’s also not gender neutral. It’s 100% masculine. I’m a woman in a male-dominated industry for over 10 years. No one has ever called me bud or buddy, even though the guys use it for each other all the time.

        1. nonam*

          Another Aussie – I was going to say the same thing, mate is the ultimate honorific. Friendly, gender neutral, cover for when you’ve forgotten someone’s name, etc.

          I miss using it, but the sepos mock me when I do.

          1. Elsewise*

            When I worked with college kids I’d get Mrs.’d all the time even though I went by my first name with them! I think many of them thought that Mrs. was more polite than Miss, even though I wasn’t married. I got “Mrs. Firstname” a few times, which was just very jarring for me. I assumed it was regional.

            1. Aeryn*

              That’s so funny – in England, every female teacher regardless of marital status is “Miss”. Not “Miss Smith”, just “Miss”. Male teachers are “Sir”.

              Sounds very respectful in theory, in practice with a truculent teenager, not so much.

              Interestingly female surgeons are also “Miss Smith”, regardless of marital status, and whether or not it is their maiden surname or married surname. Male surgeons in the UK switch back from “Dr” to “Mr”, after they pass their fellowship exams, for historical reasons (barber-surgeons).

              Presumably married female surgeons (and married female teachers) were something of a rarity originally, and the convention is now established.

              1. Sacred Ground*

                USian here. From watching UK television all my life, I’ve gleaned that any British woman in a position of authority is properly addressed as “Mum”. Which always sounds so weirdly familiar to me. I can’t imagine calling anyone that who didn’t actually give birth to me.

                1. Cyndi*

                  As another American who watches a lot of British TV, I’m willing to be corrected by someone who’s actually British, but I strongly suspect you’ve been mishearing “Ma’am” as “Mum.”

                2. Bruce*

                  And if you are DCI Stanhope you address everyone as “Luv” or “Pet”, including the murder suspect you are teeing up for a big revelation that will force their confession!

                3. Aitch Arr*

                  There is a subtle difference in pronunciation between ‘ma’am’ and ‘mum’. So very subtle that it wasn’t until I started watching British murder mysteries with the subtitles on that I realized it!

                4. Aeryn*

                  Yep Cyndi’s right, it’s “Ma’am”pronounced with a schwa, so sounds like Mum. You might also hear “Marm” or “Mam” depending on accent.

                  Totally different word, no connotations of motherhood whatsoever.

              2. Ace in the Hole*

                My aunt teaches english as a second language. Her students (from a wide range of countries) often default to “teacher” as an honorific. I think it’s great. Wish we could make that standard here!

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              Was it in the US deep south? I’ve heard of professors there trying to go by “Bob” and winding up as “Doctor Bob” because their students were not having this.

              1. Rocket Raccoon*

                I’m in the US, but NW, and I (and my kids) would absolutely hear “I’m teacher Bob” and go to Mr. Bob. Teacher Emily would be Miss Emily.

              2. NotJane*

                I’m in the south and my last job was with a roofing company. There were only 2 women at the company and all of the guys addressed us as “Miss Firstname”.

              3. greenlily*

                I work in a college financial aid office in New England. When I first started my job, this happened a lot with my students from the US Deep South:

                Me: *helps a student*
                Them: “Thank you, Ms. Lastname!”
                Me: “You’re welcome! And it’s fine to call me Firstname, everyone does!”
                Them: “Thanks so much, Ms. Firstname!”

                After a few months, one of my Black colleagues explained to me that many of my Black students, particularly male students raised in the Deep South, had been taught by their elder relatives that you never call a White person by their first name even if the White person says you should. I was mortified and dropped the “oh, everyone calls me by my first name!!! :) :) ” line immediately.

                I do still introduce myself to students by my first and last name, and I let them decide whether they want to call me Firstname or Ms. Lastname without any further comment from me. However, a student who calls me Professor Lastname or Teacher does get a gentle “Just so you know, you don’t need to call me Professor or Teacher, because I’m not a faculty member. You can call me Firstname or Ms. Lastname, whichever one you prefer.”

                1. Just Another Starving Artist*

                  I’m Black, from the South and that feels… not quite accurate? Or rather, the explanation’s missing complexity. Titles add polite distance. First names are for peers and friends. If you are not my peer or my friend, I don’t want you pretending to be, or trying to act like we’re on the same level because *you* feel awkward about the situation, nor do I want to risk thinking an authority figure/someone with power to destroy my life (like someone in the financial aid office) is a friend. There is an earned wariness.

                  It’s also why I get so annoyed when this question comes up and the comments are full of white people treating it like a joke, or acting like non-white people and white southerners who value inclusive titles are silly. There is value in titles, and if you don’t see that value, it is perfectly fine to be quiet instead of insisting that everyone act like you.

                2. Clisby*

                  I’m white, 70 years old, from the US South, and it kind of surprises me “that many of my Black students, particularly male students raised in the Deep South, had been taught by their elder relatives that you never call a White person by their first name even if the White person says you should. ”

                  That has not been my particular experience, but of course, it may be the experience of others.

                3. Random Dice*

                  There is definitely a religious / racial /cultural element to Firstname vs Miz Firstname vs Miz Lastname, especially in the US South, coming from a white person to a Black woman.

                  I don’t have it totally figured out but try to adopt the most respectful version in the situation, as I can, and hope I’m not accidentally messing it up.

              4. JustaTech*

                At my college (SoCal) the professors were all spoken of as either “Prof Lastname” or just “Lastname”, with the exception of one chemistry prof who was “Dr Lastname”.
                This was fine on campus, but was a bit jarring to people outside as my advisor and deeply lovely person has the last name Adolph, which is fine as a last name, and in writing, but just hearing it, people get … concerned.

            3. Elitist Semicolon*

              I work with college students and have told a few explicitly to call me by my first name yet I still get “Mrs. Semicolon.”

              1. Bread Crimes*

                I had a professor when I was a grad student who insisted that in grad classes, as a sign of respect, he was going to title everyone properly–whether you wanted it or not. So all the male (or at least male-presenting) students were Mr. Lastname, and I was–Miss Crimes!

                I pointed out that I was married–Mrs. Crimes!–but had not taken my spouse’s last name, and thus was somewhat grudgingly allowed Ms. Crimes.

                Would’ve far preferred a Mx. Crimes, if I had to have a title, but given how the prof was about titles already, I decided that was not the fight I wanted to have, sigh.

                1. Random Dice*

                  Oh FFS.

                  “You will use titles! No not titles that reflect reality or your own agency, only the ones that reflect my facile understanding of you based on your appearance and my assumptions. You’re welcome.”

            4. AliceInSpreadsheetland*

              It was really difficult for me initially to make that switch from all my teachers being Ms/Mr Lastname to professors going by just their first name. 12 years of conditioning is difficult to break :) (I actually got yelled at by a teacher as a child for not calling her ‘Ms Lastname!’)

              Similarly for not needing to ask permission to go to the bathroom and not needing to raise your hand to speak in social situations, habits I carried outside the classroom for years.

              1. Phyllis Refrigeration*

                Also having recent college grads address managers, etc with Mr.Ms. everyone just calls eachother by their first names when you are an adult!

              2. Zephy*

                Oh, that conditioning is super hard to break, you’re so right. I have aunts and uncles that have insisted I can just call them Judy or Greg and I’m like absolutely not Aunt Judy, your full legal name starts with Aunt as far as I’m concerned.

                1. Calpurrnia*

                  This is kind of off topic but the Aunt/Uncle thing reminded me of something semi-related!

                  I’m working on learning my husband’s native language, and I only belatedly learned that most of the adults my husband refers to as (translated) Auntie Susan/Uncle Jim are actually… not his relatives?? I assumed they were, yknow, his parents’ siblings, but apparently it’s just standard that your parents’ friends, your friends’ parents, your neighbors, etc are exclusively referred to as Auntie/Uncle.

                  There’s also some weird(-to-me) grammatical constructions when addressing them since you only use 3rd person and never “you”… so if your mom’s friend is visiting, you’d ask her “Can I get Auntie anything to drink?” Which to my English ears sounds really insulting and reminds me of like, “Polly want a cracker?” but it’s the actual polite way to speak to adults as a child. Languages are wild!

                2. Random Dice*

                  @Calpurrnia That is bog standard English in the southern evangelical community where I grew up.

                  Mr/Miss/Mrs Lastname – very formal, distant, and rigid; this is for teachers and acquaintances

                  Mr/Miz Firstname – a more familiar relationship between kids/youth and adults, say for a youth group leader or babysitter

                  Aunt / Uncle Firstname – your mom or dad’s BFF, someone who is extremely close to the family, likely changed your diapers, and whose house you can enter without knocking. Technically not family, but… family.

              3. Calpurrnia*

                The teachers from my childhood are still named Mrs. Brown to me, even if I keep in touch with them into my adult years and am fully aware of their first names.

                I have the same problem with my parents’ friends! I *know* that the couple who lived next door to me for 20 years are named John and Lisa, but in my head they are 100% of the time “Mr. and Mrs. O’Neil” or whatever. A childhood friend Sam Smith’s parents are ALWAYS Mr. and Mrs. Smith, neeeeeever “Jim and Ann”. Even though both their kid and I are now almost 40 years old and maybe even have our own kids and stuff.

                People I knew when I was a kid are forever in the Mr and Mrs department in my brain. (I don’t think I actually knew anyone who went by Ms. when I was in school! Somehow all my female teachers were married, I guess?)

            5. Zephy*

              It’s 100% that they think “Mrs.” is just the Most Politest way to address an adult woman. I’d almost bet money that none of them have ever thought about what “Mrs.” actually means, and how/why it’s different from Miss or Ms. (or that Miss and Ms. are different from each other at all), and think those are just different levels of formality. I have also been Mrs. Firstname’d (and Mrs. Lastname’d) by high schoolers and college students who were definitely trying to be as polite and respectful as humanly possible.

            6. ETSU*

              Definitely regional, I think. Growing up in East Tennessee, all adults were either Mr. Firstname or Miss Firstname (regardless of marital status), but I don’t hear that usage much where I live currently.

            7. TeaCoziesRUs*

              Or parental. I’ve raised our kids to speak to and about adults as “Miss Jen” or “Mister Tom,” rather than only by their first name. (Yes, I realize that Miss is typically meant for a young, unmarried woman, but the way my accent works is really easy to slur Ms into Miss. My kids are also great about aunt pronounced more ahhnt than ant, which I vastly prefer but then find myself skipping back into insect territory. >.< )

              To me the Mr or Ms in front of a name is a symbol of respect, in the same way "sir" or "ma'am" is… and I would desperately love for a non-binary honorific to already be established in our lexicon.

              1. Calpurrnia*

                “Aunt” has always been pronounced “ahhnt” and never “ant” in my accent! It’s so weird to me when people call their relatives “ants and uncles”, even though that’s apparently more common nationwide. I had no idea, I never ever heard “ant” while growing up in New England.

                1. Me...Just Me*

                  I’ve only ever had Ants and Uncles – and to switch to “Aunt” with that “u” emphasized is a bit too uppity for my family’s comfort.

                  From the west coast and “dude” is definitely a thing, too.

                  Living in the Midwest now and I’m definitely Miss Just Me at work and only occasionally addressed by my first name.

                2. Ahhnt*

                  I pronounce aunt like you do. I grew up in New England (MA) and my family were the only ones I knew who pronounced it that way. Everyone else said “ant.” Maybe all my friends’ parents were originally from somewhere else? My family had deep New England roots. Exciting to “meet” someone else who pronounces it like I do (correctly :)).

                3. Clisby*

                  I grew up in the US South (SC). White people typically said “ant” and black people typically said “ahhnt.” As far as I could tell, everybody from Tidewater Virginia said “aahhhnt.”

                4. Moonstone*

                  Same – I’m in Massachusetts and have always and only used ahhunt and never ant. And growing up I never heard anyone pronounce it as ant.

            8. Random Dice*

              I’ve never heard Mrs Firstname. I grew up American Southern evangelical, and my word that group leans hard into Miz / Mr Firstname, to emphasize child respect for adults, while still reflecting a level of casualness that was a step down from Mr/Miz Lastname.

          2. Oscar the Grouchy Nurse*

            Ask them what their preferred pronouns are! if they identify as gender neutral, ask how they would like to be addressed. Using first names is a great option. I find that to be very useful and generally accepted. When dealing with patients and families, I tend to use “friend” a lot, but in a more formal setting, “Pardon” works well. There is a newer term that replaces gender specific salutations–“Mx” (pronounced like mix or mux) [last name]. Also, if they have a title (Dr, Coach, Professor, etc), absolutely use that.

            1. anon for this question*

              I’m queer/trans, born in the US South, and currently living in the US South, so I would hesitate to potentially *out* someone or draw attention to them from potentially hostile people by asking about pronouns (even if I’m asking everyone), or alternately, get someone who doesn’t want to be asked. Some places in my town are friendly about this! Others, less so. I usually quietly let people make whatever assumption they’re going to make about my pronouns/gender; I find this actively less exhausting.

              I should add, I know a trans woman who finds it upsetting when people ask her her pronouns because she works very hard at presenting as femme and it feels to her like her efforts are being dismissed. I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all solution.

              It’s doubly tough because “sir/ma’am” as polite is especially ingrained in the culture in the South in a way that it wasn’t when I lived on the West or East coasts.

              1. WantonSeedStitch*

                Yeah, the idea of asking someone’s pronouns always makes me a little hesitant because I’m afraid of it coming across as “your gender is not as obvious as you think it is” in a way that people might find insulting. I try to flip it instead by introducing myself with my own pronouns. It seems like most of the people I meet these days are people I meet over Zoom, which gives me the option of putting my pronouns up for everyone to see, which makes it easier! I am trying to get better at remembering to do it on the rarer occasions when I meet someone new in person with whom I’ll be having more than just a transactional conversation.

              2. RowdyDow*

                I am so glad this topic has been broached!

                I’m from Texas and was brought up to address anyone over my age range respectfully. Black, white, didn’t matter – as ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’. Many other southerners in my age bracket (going on 53 years) feel the same. I even say it now to people younger than me, as it is so, so ingrained – so when I pop it off and then realize I can’t immediately identify the person’s gender (think fast food drive-thru intercom or a soft-spoken voice on telephone) I get flustered and try to over-correct. Which embarrasses me more. It certainly is never intended to be disrespectful – just the opposite!

                I fully support whatever anyone wants to be called – it’s just incredibly hard to go against proper southern culture!

            2. redflagday701*

              Besides the issues Anon for This Question has pointed out, asking and using first names is really not feasible when the people in question are customers.

              1. Charlotte Lucas*

                And even if you do know, a lot of people (myself included) hate it when people they don’t really know call them by their first names. It feels presumptuous and like they’re trying to sell you something.

                I vote for just being polite, using “excuse me” or “pardon” (whatever is common to your region), and avoiding gendered language.

                1. My Cabbages!*

                  Oh good, it’s not just me! I loathe when people in sales positions call me by my first name…it feels so manipulative.

                2. College Career Counselor*

                  In the Northeast, that’s often, “YO! You forgot this!” (That of course has its own verbally aggressive issues)

            3. Hospitiful librarian*

              They’re just called pronouns! Preferred pronouns isn’t the worst way to phrase it since it was called that for a while, but they’re just my pronouns. I don’t prefer to use them, they are my pronouns

              1. anon nb*

                Not necessarily. I’m technically nb but afab. I dislike she/her but it’s what I’ve gone by my whole life, so ours “ok” if people call me those but I’m not psyched about it. It’s safer to use she/her with strangers but if I say they are my “preferred pronouns” than I’m reinforcing the gender binary that I detest. It’s a no win situation.

            4. Misty_Meaner*

              In the situation outlined by the LW, these are customers, and it may be an “in the moment” thing like “you’ve dropped your keys,” so…. at what point are you suggesting the LW, a cashier/customer service person at a grocery store, etc.. ASK a customer “Hi, I’m Joe and I’ll be assisting you today. Can you tell me your preferred pronouns before we begin?” I find when I want someone’s attention, a firm “Excuse me?” or “Hey there, looks like….” or “Oh, hey….” works. It’s really quite simple to address people without calling them by … well anything.

            5. epizeugma*

              Also trans and in the South and I agree with “anon for this question” with the additional point that a lot of people (including me) do not like or use “Mx,” which when spoken (“mix”) sounds an awful lot like “Miss.”

            6. Kay*

              A new patient form at a doctor’s office – absolutely! A line at a customer service desk – that is too much.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              I’m in my 50s and have never once run across a married woman who was offended by Ms.

              I’m not saying they can’t exist, but I suspect they are largely apocryphal.

                1. doreen*

                  I was in an online conversation with someone about this once – and it turned out he was both speaking about women of a certain age and pronounced “Ms” in exactly the same way he pronounced “Miss”. He said he had never heard “Mizz” – I wonder if the words are pronounced very similarly in the place you are talking about.

                2. Quill*

                  It appears to be endemic to a time and place and specific attitude… (The ones of those I’ve met will find SOMETHING else to pick at you for. If you can’t get rid of them fast enough.)

              1. Jules the 3rd*

                I have run into several married women who objected to Ms., in the last decade – US South. They were all members of various evangelical Christian groups. It’s definitely A Thing in those circles.

              2. Orange Ball of ...*

                I’m one. Married, 50s, cisgender, raised in the south and now in the NE US. I just hate that the first thing you know is my gender and my marital status. None of that is important info to lead with. I have MANY friends who feel the same way. I also hate being ma’amed.

                1. Cyborg Llama Horde*

                  I’m confused — you don’t like being introduced by your marital status, so you object to Ms? Most women I know like Ms. because it sidesteps the whole marital status question.

                2. Orange Ball of ...*

                  Cyborg Llama Horde, the software is not allowing me to reply directly to you, so this will have to do (I guess if the reply is too nested, you don’t get a reply option).

                  Ms. can also be used for married women who didn’t take their husband’s last name. There are other use cases for it, so it can be seen as drawing attention to marital status.

                3. Starbuck*

                  Same, I hate having to navigate the Ms/Miss/Mrs minefield at all. It’s something I’d just rather spend zero time thinking about because it all annoys me. It’s a convention I’d be happy to see die off completely.

              3. Not Totally Subclinical*

                I’m also in my 50s, and I absolutely have run into them, mainly in the southeastern US.

              4. Ellie*

                My grandmother is offended when people use it – she still signs my birthday card as Mrs . It’s her subtle way of letting me know she disapproves of my hyphen.

                On the topic at hand, there is no good, polite substitute for Sir/Ma’am, but the closest would be ‘excuse me’, or ‘sorry to bother you’. Or you could say, ‘neighbour’, ‘mate’, ‘fellow shopper’, ‘honoured customer’, etc. but its going to come across as weird.

              5. Cheshire Cat*

                In my experience, womwn who dislike “Ms” either grew up in the 1930s/1940s, or are very conservative.

          3. Cyborg Llama Horde*

            I spent several years thinking that Ms. was spelled Miz because of the degree of forcefulness with which my first grade teacher informed us of what she was to be called and how we were to pronounce it.

            (To be clear, I don’t in any way blame her — I would probably do the same thing in her shoes. But I was very confused.)

            1. JustaTech*

              I always used something that sounded like “Ms” when talking about the women teachers at my school, except the high school history teacher, who was Miss and expected you to clearly pronounce every letter of Miss so that it was clearly not “Ms” or “Miz” and never, ever “Mrs”.

              It actually wasn’t until I had Miss History that I paid attention to the difference between “Ms” and “Mrs” – I don’t always hear the difference.

          4. different seudonym*

            For real, many people don’t hear a difference, or assume that you just have a weird accent when you say it. Many genuinely don’t follow the point about marital status, either. I am not ignorant of “Ms”, but it has not been a good option in my working life.

          5. zuzu*

            One thing I LOVED about Anita Hill’s testimony during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings is that those creepy old men had to call her “Professor Hill.” Not “Miss Hill.” Not “Mizzzzzzz Hill,” with all the contempt they could throw in there about those uppity, newfangled modern women who wouldn’t submit to a man’s authoritah.

            PROFESSOR Hill. An earned, gender-neutral honorific. Just one very small light in all that BS.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          In Ireland, female teachers tend to be addressed as “Miss” regardless of marital status and male teachers are “Sir.” Except I taught in one school where they instead used Irish terms, “Inion” and “Maistir” (those aren’t spelled quite right ’cause I can’t be bothered checking where the fádas go) and one student started calling me “Onion” (deliberately, to be cheeky).

          While it doesn’t bother me personally, when I think about it, there is a different level of formality implied with the words “Sir” and “Miss.” And the same is true of the Irish language versions used in that school – “inion” means both “Miss” and “daughter” where as “Maistir” means “master” (as in schoolmaster, not as in my lord and master).

        2. slashgirl*

          I joke that kindergarten students tend to call everyone “Mrs”. A few years ago, when we used to have computer lab next door to my library, one of the upper grade teachers, Mr. Jones, was doing a prep cover with a kindergarten class–the door was open between the rooms, and I hear him say: “I’m Mr. Jones, Mrs. Jones is my mother.” (His wife had kept her surname.)

          I usually use Ms, but will answer to that, Miss/Mrs., even the teachers sometimes say Mrs. and it doesn’t bother me. Although I will correct them if they call me “Library”.

          1. WantonSeedStitch*

            When I was a kid it was kind of the other way around: we just kind of slurred both “Miss” and “Mrs.” to “Ms.” It wasn’t a conscious thing, just careless, hurried speech.

          2. Esmae*

            I get Library all the time. Not Ms. Library, not Librarian, just Library. Also one very confused kid that called me Uncle Esmae.

            1. Tai*

              I’m laughing so hard. I’d correct this, honestly. I tell students all the time that they can’t leave our high school addressing people all confused, it’s no good in college or at a job.

          3. Cheesehead*

            I teach a form of kids sports classes, and a long time ago, there was this one little boy (about 3 at the time), who always called me “Mr. Jen”. His mom would always tell him, “no, it’s MISS Jen”, but he never remembered. It got to be his “thing” and we all just laughed whenever he called me “Mr. Jen” no matter how many reminders he had. I think he’s in high school by now so that it’s just funny to remember that (and it makes me feel old!).

        3. londonedit*

          In British state schools teachers are usually either ‘Miss’ or ‘Sir’, regardless of marital status. Kids will know that it’s actually ‘Mrs Jones’ but 99% of the time they’ll just go ‘Miiiiiiiiisssssss’ if they want the teacher’s attention!

          1. Gracie*

            “Sir” just feels so inherently “a thing I yelled as a teenager to get a teacher’s attention” that these days it just doesn’t feel like a respectful form of address used by adults!

            The ability of teens to drag Miiiiisssss and Siiiiirrrrr out into fifteen syllables cannot be understated

            1. Carlie*

              I am American but have watched a lot of Catherine Tate as Lauren Cooper, and am delighted to find it was a realistic depiction!

            2. Aeryn*

              Inbetweeners and Catherine Tate clips demonstrate this kind of usage really nicely, for anyone who hasn’t experienced it firsthand themselves.

              “Yeah but Miss, that ain’t my fault though Miss” is absolutely not an attempt at respect. It’s just punctuation.

          2. Distracted Procrastinator*

            American Rockies state: Teens and preteens will just use Miss for every female as well. Half the time they don’t even really know the teacher’s actual name. It’s just “Miss.”

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              I went to high school in the Chicago area in the 80s. We actually used Ms. for our female teachers. (Some did differentiate Mrs. and Miss, but I think we were just being economical with our syllables.)

          3. FerretinaSweater*

            I teach a lot of students who emigrated from South America, and they almost exclusively call me Miss. I have no idea what they call my male colleagues. We don’t have any NB teachers at my school, so I don’t know that either.

            1. singularity*

              I also teach a lot of immigrant students from South America/Central America and Mexico. They call me ‘miss’ and they call male teachers ‘mister.’ I think it’s because in Spanish or Portuguese, this is how it’s taught, so when they begin speaking English, they still fall into the habits of their native language.

            2. Spanish Prof*

              I can’t speak for all of South America but in Mexico, “Miss” literally means female teacher. “Miss Rocío” isn’t analogous to “Mrs. Rocío” but rather “Teacher Rocío.” And you might hear something like, “La nueva miss es genial,” meaning “the new (female) teacher is great.” So when your students call you “Miss,” they may likely be just calling you “Teacher.”

        4. Dragons&Bananas*

          If I need to flag someone down, I’ll say something with a descripitor like, “Excuse me, the person I was just serving with pink hair?”, or “Pardon me, you in the black pants?” If more than one person turns around, I wave hard at the person whose attention I want, and they can see that I need them to come back. It’s not the most elegant but seems to work

          1. Festively Dressed Earl*

            This. IME calling out “Miss” results in getting the attention of every woman except the one you’re after. Same with “Sir” and men. Not a fan of “You!” or “Hey you!” but “Person with the _____” gets the job done. Just never fill in the blank with a person’s body part. “____ in the awesome Nirvana shirt” is okay, “_____ with the awesome rear end” is decidedly not.

        5. curly sue*

          I say sometimes that I got my PhD specifically to sidestep this question. I’m not entirely sure that I’m joking.

          1. Jay (no, the other one)*

            I have an MD and it has not allowed me to entirely sidestep this question. I have been called Mrs, Miss, and Ms at work while wearing a white coat with my name and title embroidered on the pocket AND an ID badge clipped to the collar. While the man next to me was of course called Dr. whether he was a doctor, a nurse, or (in one memorable occasion) the Xerox machine repairman.

            1. Gyne*

              As a female-presenting physician, I am usually called “nurse!” when someone wants to get my attention in the hospital.

            2. Phyllis Refrigeration*

              My friend is a PhD health psychology and the medical doctors would refer to her as “Miss” all the time.

            3. irritable vowel*

              Healthcare culture is so bad about this – one of my copy editing clients is a hospital development/fundraising department and so many of the things they write refer to men and women differently. A male patient is called Mr. So and So and a female patient is referred to by her first name, that kind of thing.

          2. Elitist Semicolon*

            I was on an airplane once and the guy in the seat next to me turned and said, “Are you Mrs. 4B or Miss 4B?” and before I knew it I’d said, “I’m Doctor 4B.” The resulting silence (and appreciative look the woman in 3B gave me between the seats) was almost worth the (mumble) years in school.

            1. Dr. Fernie*

              Totally had this same experience with a restaurant server once who was handing back my credit card – “Here you go, Mrs. Fernie. Or Miss Fernie?”. “It’s Doctor, actually,” came out of my mouth reflexively.

              My cousin who was across the table thought this was hilarious (I guess it sounded over the top for the situation and like uncharacteristic bragging) and now calls me “Dr. Actually” all the time.

              1. WantonSeedStitch*

                This reminds me of the delightful exchange between Mads Mikkelsen and Benedict Cumberbatch in Doctor Strange:

                “Mr. Doctor?”
                “It’s Strange, actually.”
                “Maybe. Who am I to judge?”

          3. not nice, don't care*

            I work with some PhD faculty who insist on being called Dr. or use Dr. in communications, even though it isn’t common in my institution. Students and staff don’t care for the hierarchical performativeness.

            1. daffodil*

              I’m a PhD in higher ed, I use Dr last-initial or Prof last-initial with students generally. I don’t make a big deal about it unless there’s gender weirdness. I’m grateful for my male colleagues who call it out if there’s a problem. “if you’re going to call me Dr Dave then she better be Dr Daffodil.”

          4. JustaTech*

            I work with a bunch of folks with PhD’s and the quickest way to get their dander up is to call them “Dr Lastname” – they react like their moms just called them by all their names.
            Literally the only time they use their (very hard earned!) title is when introducing themselves to outside people they need to impress.

            Sadly I don’t get to use my academic degree as a title, but really I don’t want anyone calling me “Master”.

            1. 1LFTW*

              Right? But it would be kind of cool to be, like, “Magistre” or “Dominox” though (I just made those up, and I don’t know Latin, so I don’t know if those work as gender-free forms of address or not. But they sound cromulent.)

          5. Bread Crimes*

            It’s at least 10% of why with my PhD. On particularly frustrated with gender days, up to 25% of why. And the thought of finally having a gender-neutral title option has gotten me through many, many frustrated afternoons of fixing citation formatting or what not.

            1. Angry socialist*

              I didn’t specifically get a doctorate so I’d have a gender-neutral honorific…. but I didn’t NOT do it for that reason, either.

          6. Nightengale*

            I will answer to Dr, Miss or Ms. Or my first name. (My preference before I was a doctor was Miss. Which also rhymes with my last name)

            I do not answer to Mrs. I have had people on the phone try to tell me they were calling me that to be polite. Ms would have been polite. Assuming I was married was impolite as well as inaccurate.

        1. Stay-at-Homesteader*

          As a parent who has recently entered the school world, ooooh how I wish we could do this! Not least because my name is *not* Mrs. Child’sLastName, it’s Ms. MyLastName. And also because I don’t want to offend a teacher by calling them by their first name, but boy does it feel weird calling my kid’s teacher Mrs. Lastname when we’re just about the same age.

          1. Phyllis Refrigeration*

            Do you not address the teachers by their first names?
            I mean the children don’t, but as a parent emailing or whatever I’m definitely going to use their first names!

            1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

              At least when my kid was in school, communication home didn’t include the teacher’s first names until high school, and then only sporadically. I could maybe have found first names in the school directory, but if you send me a note signed “Ms. Lastname, 4B”, I’m going to address you as “Ms. Lastname” until you tell me otherwise.

            2. TeaCoziesRUs*

              I personally don’t. They’re firmly in my head as Mrs. or Ms. or Mr. whatever. I know their first names, but since we aren’t close personal friends, I stay a touch more formal. I have a background in teaching and MUCH prefer to go by my last name when teaching or subbing in a school. To me it’s a sign of respect for their position and role.

              Then again, I answer to “Ms. *Kid*’s Mom” any time I’m in the school and not subbing. :D

              1. TeaCoziesRUs*

                Also, growing up in the military (US Army), serving myself (USAF Reserves), and married to an Airman, I’ve grown up in a society where peers are simply LastName or Call Sign (Yes, those are a Thing – think Maverick and Ice Man in Top Gun – in the flying world of the Air Force and Navy. They typically come with VERY funny back stories that start, “So there I was…”) unless there are two – and then one usually has a nickname. People of higher ranks are called Rank LastName, or Rank LastInitial, or simply Rank (Captain America, Cap’n A, or Cap,) depending how much you like them / level of rapport. People of lower rank are called by their last name, too, usually with a brief rank- i.e. Airman Snuffy vs Airman First Class Snuffy or Sar’nt Snuffy vs Technical Sargent Snuffy. And the lieutenants are always L.T.

              2. New Jack Karyn*

                I’m a high school teacher. When I email parents, use Honorific Surname in my salutation, but then I sign it with my first name. I want to show respect to them, but also invite them to be more informal with me if they wish.

          2. Florp*

            When my son was in second grade and new in school, I was usually called Mrs. Bobby’s Mom. The kids liked my son and knew I was generally a friendly parent who would help. They were typically polite kids, and they knew they should say “Excuse me, Mrs…” and end with “please,” but the last name just eluded them.

            It was honestly adorable and it kind of stuck. There’s still a little group of college age kids who greet me with “Hi, Bobby’s Mom!”

            1. Calpurrnia*

              One of my high school friends’ mom had remarried and changed her name, so her surname didn’t match my friend’s (who, just to add to this, uses her initials rather than her legal first name). And this was foreign to me when I was a kid because I was taught to always call a friend’s parent Mr./Mrs. Friend’sLastName. So, she has always been and will always be “Mrs. CJ’s Mom”… to the degree that if she signs a birthday card for me or something, she signs it “MCJM”. (Name changed but you get the idea)

          3. MigraineMonth*

            Not only did my mom have a different last name than me, it was the same as the last name of another student in my class. Things got confusing during parent-teacher night.

            I use my mom’s last name as my middle name, which has worked pretty well apart from some admins’ creative attempts at hyphenation. My mom has made it clear that if I ever achieve something newsworthy, I am to include my middle name in the press release.

      1. A (Former) Library Person*

        My wife worked in daycare for about a decade and the standard practice there was [honorific] [first name]. I wonder if that might one day translate over into teachers, or at least elementary level teachers (because people constantly get weird about tweens/teens not being “respectful” enough)?

        But as a non-binary person who has yet to find a suitable honorific, I can see why that seeming compromise might not be ideal either.

        For context, “elementary” to me means roughly 5-10 /11 years old.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          It’s been in common but not universal usage around my kids’ school. All staff get the opening honorific (Mr/Miss/Ms/Mrs/Mx) but some go by first name, and some by last name, and some by initial (Miss Tanya, Ms. Anderson, Mr. B). While there’s a slight rank element (EAs are more likely to be first name) that’s not the only factor at all. (Pronounceability of the last name can be a factor too, though one of the teachers who goes by her initial doesn’t have a particularly unusual name). When one of my friends happened to have the same first name as an EA, the kids ended up differentiating by Miss Tanya vs Mrs. Tanya.

          (And yes, my kids have at least one Mx. in their life, though not at their current school.)

        2. Patty*

          I have a non-binary sibling who is a teacher and they have the kids call them “Teacher K” (K being their last name initial). The kids are totally cool with it which is awesome to see :)

        3. Gila Monster*

          My kids are in a Jewish school, and teachers, including the principal, are mostly addressed as Morah/Moreh (‘teacher,’ in highly gender-inflected Hebrew) FirstName. A couple of the rabbis prefer Rabbi LastName, some use Rabbi FirstName.

          1. Random Dice*

            There’s a whole Thing about when one calls a rabbi Rabbi Firstname vs Rabbi Lastname, especially if a female rabbi.

            One will likely not be shocked to realize that women get called “Rabbi Rachel” or even just “Rachel” while her male peer is called “Rabbi Schwartzman”. I always call every rabbi by the lastname in synagogue, then downgrade based on familiarity and setting. At a party I use just their first name to avoid awkward “oh no you’re a clergy I’ll have to watch my mouth” kind of awkwardness.

      2. amoeba*

        Pity you’re not in Manchester. “Love” works great there. (And no, it’s actually not gendered. I’ll post the link to the heartwarming Ian McKellen Video in a separate post.)

        1. Ellis Bell*

          Love and mate are both used to fairly gender neutral effect in the UK- when I was younger I used to come across the occasional old guy who would tell me not the use the word mate at all (They didn’t like women saying it), but no-one does that any more. I’m speaking from a female perspective though; love isn’t really used between two straight men.

          1. amoeba*

            I thought it was in Manchester though? Not from the UK, so I only have Ian McKellen’s word for it, haha. I think the post got eaten by the system, but if you google “Ian McKellen love” you find it quickly. He basically tells the story of how heartwarming it is when (male) taxi drivers call him “love” whenever he comes home.

            Will try posting once again!

            1. Gracie*

              Lots of different regions have different platonic pet name usage – I’m in the Midlands, where duck is very common. Love is fairly universal as something used by women towards everyone regardless of age or gender, but in some regions men are more likely to use it as well. In the south-west, you can hear “my lover” as a completely platonic thing between men, too!

              1. Wonder Woman's Tiara*

                I’m Welsh, and ‘babes’ (it MUST be plural) is very common here.

                And in former mining areas, ‘butt’ and ‘butty’ (both roughly analogous to ‘mate’) are fairly masculine but also common

            2. inksmith*

              In my area of south west England, it’s “my lover” – which threw me a bit the first time my elderly boss’ husband used it on me!

        2. Lenora Rose*

          I use “love” for my kids, so gender neutral but I’d be a bit worried about it coming across condescending to a strange adult. Yet I usually don’t mind it when I hear someone else use it on me if their tone makes it clear they use it habitually.

        3. Britianado*

          I love Sarah Millican’s Geordie “Flower” and “Pet”, used for any gender. Wouldn’t work without the accent, though.

      3. Been There*

        When I was in elementary school in the early 90’s we already just used first names. It’s perfectly possible. In high school it was a mix of first and last names, the teachers just stated their preference.

        1. Double A*

          Yes, but you can’t unilaterally decide to do this, it has to be part of the culture of your school. Unfortunately I’m at an honorific school.

          I’ve taught where we used our first names and I loved it! Ironically it was at a juvenile detention facility where you would think there’d be stricter hierarchies. I think it originally started as a safety thing (harder to look people up on the outside if you don’t know their last name) but had just become the culture. It made everything seem more friendly and I felt like it helped establish trust and rapport between the kids and adults that went both direction.

        1. ThisIshRightHere*

          Yes, this is commonly done where my husband is from (and nowhere else that I’ve seen). This is not only in a workplace context. People in the community address others as Teacher Susan or Nurse Jean in much the same way I’ve heard people in the U.S. address someone who is not their doctor as Doctor Jones.

      4. Timothy (TRiG)*

        In my childhood, male teachers were “Sir” and female were “Miss”, regardless of marital status. These were not used along with names (we said “Mr Jones”, not “Sir Jones”*; “Ms Cobb”, not “Miss Cob”).

        In retrospect, the Miss/Sir thing is weirdly unbalanced, besides accounting for only two genders. I don’t know what Irish schools do these days.

        * Knighthoods actually attach to first names, not to surnames. It should be “Sir Bob”, not “Sir Jones”. And Ireland doesn’t recognise them anyway.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          Sir and Miss are still the norms in most Irish schools. My nephew’s school actually uses first names for teachers but they are a minority.

        2. Bookmark*

          As an American looking at the Sir/Miss thing from the outside, I was getting inordinately irritated about the imbalance between the two terms. I imagine that distinction probably doesn’t feel so pronounced when you’ve grown up with them as honorifics that refer to people of equal status though…

          1. londonedit*

            Yeah…when you grow up with it, the two terms basically come to both equally mean ‘Teacher’. ‘Sir’ doesn’t have any status over ‘Miss’, it’s just the male equivalent. I’d actually never considered that people might think it would!

            ‘Sir’ for those with knighthoods is a completely separate issue, and apart from in formal speech the vast majority of people who do have knighthoods or damehoods would never dream of asking people to call them ‘Sir’ or ‘Dame’. People will do it out of respect, but they’d come off as extremely self-important if they required it.

            1. Wonder Woman's Tiara*

              Sir Ben Kingsley actually had to make a point of saying that no, he did not require people to call him Sir, after rumours went out that he did. It makes you sound like a tit.

              (To be fair, given that Sir Ben is not white, I suspect there was a certain amount of latent racism of the ‘who does he think he is?’ kind behind the rumour.)

      5. Quill*

        Wiz Jones, Wiz Jones! Tommy’s holding his scissors upside down!

        … I imagine if you work with elementary (I volunteered a couple times, enough to know that I didn’t have the fortitude) you develop some selectivity about what parts of the things you hear that you engage with.

        1. John Smith*

          and me!

          Others in the Uk: “My luv(ly) / duck / handsome / sausage, flower”. I know people who use these regardless of the person they’re addressing. “Boss” is another I quite like.

          Personally I avoid using any honourific at all nowadays. If anyone called me “citizen” I’d keel over from laughing.

          1. HHD*

            Midlander here, Duck still makes me chuckle. I had a job once where I was described as “gaffer” which was odd too.

            1. Agent Diane*

              I left the Midlands a long time ago, but was thrilled to be called “bab” at Birmingham New Street earlier this year.

          2. MsSolo (UK)*

            My Cornish brother-in-law’s dad cheerfully referring to the postman as “my luvver” in a way that would definitely raise eyebrows in the rest of the country!

            1. Nebula*

              In Hereford they get even more direct: it’s “alright, shag!” (probably originally from another source to the risque meaning, but the other meaning is definitely there now)

              I live in Glasgow, and everyone’s pal here. I really like that, works for everyone!

            2. littlehope*

              Oh yeah, I grew up around Bristol where it’s completely normal for big hairy construction workers to address each other as “babba” and “my lover,” and I honestly miss it.

          3. ClaireW*

            I really love the idea of someone from a really big US city like NY or something, going into a store and having the staff call them ‘sausage’ but in a clearly endearing way… the confusion would be extreme!

            1. Wonder Woman's Tiara*

              On DIY SOS (BBC TV show), the resident electrician (and resoundingly working-class) Billy once accidentally called a visiting Prince William ‘sausage’.

              Yes, THAT Prince William.

              There was brief mutual confusion and then an almighty laugh.

        1. ReallyBadPerson*

          Since we’re doing Star Trek, why not just call everyone “sir” as they did the officers in TNG? Male, female, you were “sir.” It was completely gender neutral.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Except that it’s not gender neutral, unfortunately. It is definitely a male honorific that women in the military (and Starfleet) adopted. And Captain Janeway preferred ma’am anyway, although she did address it in the pilot episode that she really just wanted to be called captain and not sir or ma’am.

            Now that I think about it, how about we just use captain as the honorific for everyone? :-)

            1. LCH*

              haha, no issue with captain. but it feels like someone needs a certain bravado to go around calling people captain.

            2. Dasein9 (he/him)*

              It would quickly shorten to Cap’n. Everyone except those with the surnames Crunch or Kangaroo will probably be fine with it.

              1. Anax*

                You know, I think that’s still better than the high-school teacher I knew, Mister Bates. That poor man.

          2. Fluff*

            I loved this in Star Trek.

            Now I have to keep myself from saying Hoo-maannn with a Ferengi head twist and bob.

          3. SarahKay*

            Hmmm….it was applied in a gender neutral way, and there may be an argument that in the twenty-third century “sir” has *become* gender neutral, but it certainly *isn’t* gender neutral currently.
            And as a woman, I am extremely underwhelmed at the whole ‘let’s just say that forms of address previously used for men can just be called neutral’. I am not a guy, a dude, or a sir.

            1. Slow Gin Lizz*

              Exactly. See the FB page “Man who has it all” for all kinds of humorous (but still maddening) twists on this theme.

              1. Jiminy Cricket*

                Exactly. Let’s not go back to the good old days of, “But, come on, can’t you see that ‘mankind’ includes you, too?”

            2. Nynaeve*

              It wasn’t that it magically became gender neutral, it’s that they ret-conned it into an initialism that stood for Senior In Rank. It made sense in the contect of 90s Sci-Fi. It makes less sense in 2023.

            3. I am Emily's failing memory*

              Yeah, I think this makes sense for terms used to describe professions – women and men can both be actors – because in those cases the feminine version was usually introduced into and established profession only after women belatedly entered it because idk, men were too fragile to share a job title with a woman? So “actor” meant “a person who acts” when it was only ever needed in practice for men. It only implied male to the extent that so many jobs were assumed to be held by men by default.

              But honorifics have always existed as a gendered pair. As far as I know, “Sir” was not an originally ungendered term for “honorable person” with “Ma’am” hastily added to the lexicon hundreds of years later when women started to become honorable people. It has decidedly always been used to indicate male gender.

              1. TeaCoziesRUs*

                My favorite female job title, hands down, is Aviatrix. (AKA Female Pilot)

                I don’t know what about it rings so beautifully in my head, but man does that word sing!

          4. Random Dice*

            Why don’t we just call everyone ma’am and make that the gender neutral term?

            Oh, no, that doesn’t work for men? Golly you don’t say.

            Yeah that’s exactly why men whoo decide that their word applies to everyone (and WHY are these uppity objectors so annoying?!) also doesn’t work.

      1. Caz*

        A friend of a friend uses “comrade” and it makes me chuckle every time I see them in Facebook comments.

      2. epizeugma*

        Now see, I’m a leftist nonbinary person in the South and “comrade” would get my hackles up in addition to drawing a lot of potentially hostile attention from any random stranger who has an axe to grind against “socialists.” Don’t recommend, even tongue-in-cheek, for strangers.

    2. Part time lab tech*

      Unfortunately I cannot remember the fantasy book in which it was used which included an explanation of it being both literally true and better than friend because there wasn’t the implication that the character had to be friendly.

      1. Mel*

        Sparhawk in the Elenium series by David Eddings! He doesn’t call people “friend” because he doesn’t know that they are friends and not enemies, so he uses neighbour instead because it sounds friendly without actually being friend.

        1. redflagday701*

          This is the only thing I remember about that series, and I knew if I did a find for “neighbor,” I’d find people mentioning it.

      2. SeattleNB*

        I live in a gay neighborhood in the US and friend is the honorific used here. As in, “How can I help you friend?” I can see how it might seem odd if you are used to straight culture, but gay culture is different. Queer people (at least where I live) are generally much more friendly to each other, even just people passing on the sidewalk, than straight people are. I guess it seems a bit weird if you think about it, but it doesn’t feel weird. And enough people are just outright rude and transphobic that it’s nice to have extra “friends” even if it’s temporary!

        1. not nice, don't care*

          I’m up north of you in Bellingham and ‘friend’ is definitely in heavy usage. I hate it. After Mrs. Frazzled went viral it really took off.

      3. Jojo*

        Came here to say Neighbor as well. (Picked it up from Yo, Is this Racist?) It has the added benefit of acknowledging that the person is part of your community.

      4. Richard Hershberger*

        “Neighbor” is a solid choice in Christian theology, the point of the parable of the Good Samaritan being that everyone is your neighbor: even Those People.

      5. Quill*

        Cousin is the most commmon honorific for greeting a member of another species in Diane Duane’s Young Wizards novels. (Or the closest English translation of it, most of the time in the books the characters are not assumed to be talking in English if they need to work with a non human.)

      1. pandop*

        That’s what I was going to suggest. Although I live in a city where ‘love’ can be used for all genders, by all genders.

        1. Agent Diane*

          I’d far rather be called “love” than “ma’am”. So long as it’s applied to all. I absolutely hate being called it then hearing the man behind me in the queue being called “sir” because suddenly there’s a patriarchal hierarchy going on.

          For OP, I suggest not using an honorific at all. If you do feel the need, apply one consistently: even if you know the customer is totally a cisgender dude, he gets the same genderfree honorific as everyone else.

          Maybe the US needs to adopt some of the UK regional terms. I do love “duck”. “Excuse me, duck, you left your keys.”

          1. Random Dice*


            If you call me “luv” you damn well better call the old man in a suit behind me “luv”.

    3. Brain the Brian*

      Honestly, as a cisgender customer, overuse of honorifics always weirds me out. You don’t need to call me “sir” — just “How may I help you?” is plenty polite enough. Don’t stress too much, LW1.

      1. Antilles*

        This is where my mind went too. Not sure why you even need the honorific; something like “Good morning, how can I help you?” works just fine without adding the sir or ma’am.

    4. double spicy*

      Lots of interesting suggestions! There are ways to get around the honorifics if you don’t know someone’s preferred title. “Excuse me” or “I can help you over here” plus a descriptor not related to gender (“the person in the purple shirt” or “the person with the black hat”) could work if you need to identify a specific person.

      1. The Rural Juror*

        I once called my friend’s wife, “Hey! Sweater!”
        This was before we’d been introduced and I just happened to be in the same place as her and saw her drop something, so I was trying to get her attention. We all met up for a friend’s birthday a few weeks later and she said, “Hey! It’s me! Sweater!”

    5. lunchtime caller*

      The NYC coffee shop guy usage of “boss” for everyone regardless of their gender is pretty top tier as an alternative. I’m also not against a casual “my love,” though that’s usually used by women.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I think the Travelling Community in Ireland might use “Boss” too. Certainly, I have heard some of them use it, but not sure if it’s a common thing or not.

      2. M2RB*

        Being called “boss” raises my hackles in a way I can’t explain! A colleague at a past job would call me boss and I’d snap at him every time – “don’t call me boss!”

        1. Czhorat*

          Maybe because it’s usually used for someone who is not, in fact, your boss or in a position of authority; that could make it feel like disingenuous false respect.

          1. Sacred Ground*

            Calling me Boss implies I have authority and responsibility I don’t have. You do, in fact, have a boss and it is NOT ME. I am your customer, learn the difference.

            I just once would like to return the “honorific” by telling them to go mop out the walk-in, cash out the register, and clock out for the rest of the day. Then ask them for their availability next week. Just to demonstrate the absurdity of calling your customer Boss.

            1. Sacred Ground*

              Oh, and the more serious matter of its ugly historical usage in the US South where any black man was expected to address any white man as Boss.

              So the first time I heard it was about a decade ago when I, a middle-aged white man, had a younger black man call me Boss as he handed me my change at the drive-through, I honestly didn’t know what to think in the moment. My first thought wasn’t that he was trying to be respectful. I mean, I got it but it took a moment.

              I’ve found it a bit jarring ever since. I forget that 1) people don’t know the history and 2) words do change.

      3. Phony Genius*

        I know that when Penn & Teller do meet-and-greet sessions after their shows, they respond to everybody’s requests by calling them “boss.” I think they’re acknowledging that the audience of paying customers are essentially their boss in this context.

        In some ways, I guess a paying customer is the boss of a store, but not really in the context that we use the word.

    6. Roy G. Biv*

      My favorite all purpose greeting: Earthling. It works well with “Hello, Earthling,” Greetings, Earthling,” “You may leave now, Earthling.”

      1. Timothy (TRiG)*

        If we’re going down that line, there’s always the classic option of “foolish mortal”.

    7. Khatul Madame*

      If the LW does not like “Excuse me” (which is what I would use), may I suggest “My friend”?
      It would be funny in the scenario of chasing a likely shoplifter out of the store.

    8. Katie A*

      All of these work as attempts to be funny or clever, but they don’t seem like realistic options for the LW. I’ve seen this conversation a bunch of times in different situations, and when people try to give useful suggestions instead of being jokey, it always seems to settle out that “just leave off the honorific” is the only solution (in English and in the US, at least).

      Does anyone actually have any usable options besides omitting the honorific entirely?

      1. miel*

        I agree, the most realistic option is to use polite language without an honorific. (“Welcome, how can I help you?”)

        In specific cases, I’ve seen these work:
        – “everyone” for a group of people, especially in a restaurant (“hello everyone, what can I get for you to drink”)
        – “my friend” – a local radio host uses this one in interviews. It was a little surprising at first, but seems to work in large part because it’s delivered with such warmth. (“Thanks for joining me today, my friend. I wanted to talk about…”)

      2. Head sheep counter*

        I think as you’ve read above there is no acceptable makes everyone happy solution. Hey you or Excuse Me seem to be as bland as a clerk could go. I think that if one naturally uses words like Mate or ?? it generally doesn’t come off as bad… unless one is having a day… but to fake using a word that isn’t part of your lexicon comes off as awkward.

    9. Elizabeth West*

      That would rock.

      You could say what they’re wearing, like “Excuse me, person in red striped shirt! You left your keys.”

    10. Quill*

      My standard group greeting has been “fellow vertebrates” wherever we’re weird enough for that to be acceptable. But it is 100% the thing that you will be known for so I don’t see any replacement honorifics becoming more friction-less than just not using honorifics for the general public any time soon.

    11. Human? Maybe*

      I read an article a few years back that suggested “human(s)” as a way to address people. It was included with several other names to address people, a few already listed here, so it wasn’t meant to be sarcastic.
      I have not used it: “Good morning humans!” seems a little off kilter for every day use.

    12. Aggretsuko*

      The conversation we had last night was that “folks” or “y’all” is what should be used. But that’s for more than one person.

    13. Calamity Janine*

      despite being the token straight (and cis) woman of many friend groups, i have to say i agree with this lol.

      i feel like sometimes humor can have a great soothing effect. if you don’t know someone’s title, i feel like it’s much less hurtful than misgendering to swing for the fences and use something obviously a bit silly but nonetheless an attempt at honorific. so maybe less “citizen”, more “captain”. don’t ask me why my first instinct is increasingly ludicrous navy titles, but if you call somebody grand admiral they will at least get a pretty good laugh at that and be so caught off guard by the sudden silliness they may forget to be irritated lol.

      and hey, it’s a grocery store… there’s always “chef”?

      an honorific is basically the little social dance of “hello! i acknowledge you as a fellow human being! but i do not wish to be overly familiar either!”. obviously misgendering breaks that by not properly acknowledging who they are as a human being. but being humorously wrong i feel can often modulate the response a little with good cheer – “hello! i am putting in effort but unfortunately we are not at the social level yet where i know your preference! so i am lampshading my awkward vulnerability so that you may see what i am doing and hopefully help me out!” and then instead of it opening on the sour note of getting misgendered, you open on… well, you intentionally choosing to look a bit foolish instead of making them uncomfortable. it’s a way to show “i would rather be seen as silly than make you uncomfortable” that puts you and the customer on the same side instead of at odds with one another.

      now i will grant you i haven’t worked retail so there’s some people that will be unhappy with any option. bringing out the silly on a case by case basis is highly advised. but i still think it’s an option to consider. if you’re going to be wrong, you may as well be amusingly wrong?

  1. Really?*

    Why can’t you make sure there is enough halal and vegetarian food that if everyone has some there is enough? You are making sure there is enough of all the other food right? What am I missing?

    1. MEH Squared*

      Because there are 300 employees. Let’s say that a tenth of those people need halal and/or vegan options. That’s 30 people. It does not make sense to get that much halal/vegan food since most people probably won’t eat much if any of it. But there has to be enough to cover the people who actually need it. I think having the people with the dietary restrictions go first is a good solution.

      1. Formerly Ella Vader*

        I used to belong to a group that always had some amazing buffet brunch at our gatherings. The most restricted eaters (and small children) went through the buffet first – like, allergies and celiac first, then kosher, then vegan, then vegetarian, or whatever. They always had a hotel chef standing there to answer allergy questions.

        We would also discuss the plan on our online forum before the gathering, and we’d remind people how it would work the day before the brunch too. So there was a lot of buy-in.

        I think if one was instituting this policy for the first time at a large workplace, it would be appropriate to mention it in the invitation and reminders ahead of time, and also explain from the microphone when people are arriving.

        1. Gabrielle*

          Celiac and allergies first is an especially good idea, so they don’t have to worry as much about cross-contamination. (Some people will refuse to believe that cutting the gluten-free cake with the same knife as the other cake makes any difference. And even if you do care it’s easy to make a mistake.)

          I really like this advice, it’s a contender for the best AAM advice of 2023.

          1. MarsJenkar*

            I agree that it’s an excellent idea, and I’m saying that as someone who doesn’t have any major dietary restrictions. And yes, it does mean I have to wait to eat, but I understand why it’s done, and totally support it.

          2. ClaireW*

            Agreed! I was at an all-inclusive holiday resort last year and the number of people using the same spoon/tongs for everything they lifted was painful to watch, as a weird allergy sufferer…

            1. Charlotte Lucas*

              I hate that because I’m a vegetarian. But I also hate it as a human with taste buds. I don’t need the flavor of pickles beets to mingle with my roasted potatoes or chocolate cake.

            2. I am Emily's failing memory*

              This also feels rude to me because until you return a serving utensil to the dish you got it from, the person coming up behind you in line has no way to serve themselves from that dish! They’re supposed to wait for you to plate 4 different items before the tongs get returned to the platter they go with?

          3. Generic Name*

            I agree. I have an intolerance rather than an allergy, and cross-contamination isn’t really an issue, fortunately. Plus, if I accidentally consume something with lactose, it’s at worst very unpleasant, but not dangerous for my health.

        2. OP2*

          OP2 here. Thanks for this tip! It’s a cone and go event, so having them go first isn’t an option, but we can definitely mention it on the invite! It sounds like a separate table with a server will work best.

          1. Nebula*

            Tbh when I was vegan, I always preferred this option rather than just going through a buffet first. Going through first meant that yes, I got my food, but I rarely got seconds as people subsequently got the vegan food as well as the non-vegan food. Not that I always wanted that, but it was nice to have the option when everyone else did!

          2. Boss Scaggs*

            A ‘cone’ and go event sounds much more fun if it means there’s ice cream. I vote for that!

              1. Charlotte Lucas*

                Is it self-serve, or will catering staff be there? If the second, I have been to buffets where the people with special diets get color-coded tickets, and the staff only serves the related entrees to people with the tickets.

                I also recommend labeling everything well for allergens and other ingredients.

              1. TeaCoziesRUs*

                SERIOUSLY. Not vegan, but aortic to milk. I have yet to find a restaurant… in an entire small city with a legit foodie reputation!… that has even ONE dessert with no milk products in it!! NONE.


                1. straws*

                  Yup, same. I should have clarified “dairy-free” ice cream options, since they’re now making animal-free milk that is vegan but contains clones of milk protein…. but I digress…

                2. Random Dice*

                  Cinnaholic dairy free vegan bakery, has locations all across the US.

                  FoMu in Boston has all vegan ice cream, mostly coconut based.

                  Pie Pie My Darling in Chicago has giant dairy-free rainbow cakes.

                  Erin McKenna’s Bakery in Manhattan, LA, and Orlando.

          3. High Score!*

            Clearly the “special diet” food is appealing to a wider audience. Rather than singling out employees with special diets, order MORE of that food so everyone can enjoy it. Otherwise that I who go to the short table (remember the short bus?) and get the food that others want too is going to cause resentment.

            1. Bookmark*

              It’s not clear that they know whether the halal food and others will be popular. It sounds like from the letter that this is the first year they’re getting these other options. It’s just as likely that ordering a ton more of these foods (which, assuming there’s a budget, would mean ordering much LESS of the food that has traditionally been served) would make a bunch of people upset and resentful about “but I didn’t get any of the honey glazed ham because we got all that awful vegan food” It may make sense in the future to re-think this event a little bit, switch up caterers etc. so that it’s something that is more appealing for the organization as it is today as opposed to where it might have been when these traditions started, but OP’s like a month or two out at most from this event assuming the standard timing of “holiday” workplace events. That’s too late in the game for a big re-think.

              1. OP2*

                Yes, in fact our luncheon is just 3 weeks away because we close the last half of December! But there have been some great suggestions on how we can plan better and be more inclusive in the future, so I appreciate that!

              2. MusicWithRocksIn*

                Maybe have a separate table for the vegan/ halal food – but also have one serving dish of it in the main line to see if it’s popular with the rest of the company. Sometimes it hits badly, sometimes it’s super popular – see what people like. That way if it runs out at the main line then you know there is some on the short table for people who need it.

            2. Elizabeth West*

              Honestly, if someone resents that a coworker who needs special food is getting it, that person is an ass.

              We are talking about adults here who should be able to not whine and bitch because food exists that isn’t for them. I see no need to placate everyone. If they don’t like it, too bad.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I only say this because I’ve worked with way too many of these folks. OP’s workplace may not be like that.

                I get the reasons someone may want to choose vegetarian or vegan options even if they’re not veg, and halal food is pretty tasty, not gonna lie. It might be a good idea to poll people and see if they would like to have extra for next time.

              2. Nina*

                A startling number of special-diet people do work with people who by your definition are asses.
                If it’s a work-sponsored pizza party, presumably the core reason behind it is something that’s beneficial to the company (staff morale, getting people to be friendly to each other, &c) and therefore it’s on the company to make sure that 1) I get food I can eat and 2) I don’t cop any flak from my coworkers about ‘getting nicer food than them’ or ‘getting to eat first’ or ‘being a raging bitch by taking the last piece of cheese pizza when I haven’t had one yet and there are six pepperoni right there

                Adults should not whine and bitch, absolutely. A shocking number of adults will whine and bitch and that needs to not land on the special-diet people.

          4. SomeWords*

            This issue comes up regularly. If the vegetarians/vegans are running out of food, that’s because the organizers aren’t recognizing the level of demand for those foods. Some of us omnivores are trying to cut way down on our meat consumption, or simply really like vegetarian meals as much as a meat-centric ones. I don’t want to deprive anyone of a meal who has restrictions, but I don’t want to be forced into the meat option all the time.

            My comment is only about the vegetarian/vegan items. I can’t speak to the Halal or gluten free options.

            1. Generic Name*

              I agree. I think restaurants and caterers overestimate the amount of people who want slabs of meat and underestimate the amount of people who want vegetable-heavy dishes. I’m an omnivore, but I prefer vegetarian/vegan/vegetable-based dishes both for my health and because it’s tasty. Plus, I can’t have anything with lactose, and I know the vegan option is always safe for me. I don’t like having to track down an employee to ask if the sad chicken breast floating in oily water has butter on it.

            2. Dust Bunny*

              Or sometimes something is just vegan, anyway, and people still like it.

              We found we were running out of vegetarian boxed lunches for events because everyone likes a caprese salad sandwich, so we just started ordering a lot more of those. Tuna salad tended to get left behind so we ordered the minimum.

            3. Jiminy Cricket*

              Agreed. Am I vegetarian? No. But I definitely don’t want to eat meat at every meal or even every day. I think that’s becoming more common.

              I do always try to make sure I’m not taking food away from someone who couldn’t eat anything else, but if there are enough to go around and you give me a choice, I’m choosing the veggie sandwich.

              1. MusicWithRocksIn*

                Especially mass catered meat is usually… not so great. Usually I would rather have a pasta dish at these things than the kind of meat that is served in a giant catering tray. Pasta can sit around with a flame under it and be mostly fine, chicken breasts will get dry and both too hot and too cold.

            4. Orora*

              Yeah, I’m not sure there needs to be a complicated solution. Order more of the stuff people are eating. I work in higher ed; we have a lot of international students and scholars who are vegetarian for religious and/or cultural reasons. Add that to the folks who just don’t want red meat all the time (like me) and we end up ordering a LOT of vegetable-forward dishes. It might take a few instances to get the ratios right, but if you have a percentage of folks who you *know* won’t eat the beef, then order less of the beef and order more eggplant.

          5. Smithy*

            When doing the special table, particularly when looking at religious dietary restrictions, having options that mirror those that on the main buffet aisle helps.

            Being able to guarantee a halal version that largely replicated the main buffet the turkey/gravy is certified halal as is any meat product in items other sides like green beans – and then having a combined dessert or salad bar buffet line can help with buffet line double dippers. I think when halal/kosher lines end up with foods like Mediterranean mezze next to US Thanksgiving buffet that’s when you increase people either wanting to have both or select one and not the other regardless of their restrictions. If I think I have a choice of workplace catered turkey, ham or kebabs – it’s different than if I see there’s halal turkey and everybody else turkey.

            1. Aeryn*

              Or just have halal turkey? At my son’s school all the meat is halal, because anyone who eats non-halal meat will also eat halal, but the converse isn’t true (we live in an area with very few Jewish children, and those there are don’t generally keep kosher. Hindu families generally eat the vegetarian option).

          6. DEEngineer*

            My company always has managers standing behind the buffet helping serve and generally chatting with the employees. Last year I went to reach for the stuffed peppers and one of them gently stopped me and said that they were reserving that food for vegetarians. They saw meat on my plate already. It was very effective! Also, they put labels out for all the food with the pertinent details – whether it contains meat, but also if it contains nuts, etc.

          7. Siren of Sleep*

            I think this is a great option! Make sure whoever serves has enough utensils and maybe even a list of who has restrictions to ensure they get food?

            If for some reason the server doesn’t work out, my next suggestion is maybe you could email those with restrictions and let them come in before the actual time of the event to ensure they get their food?

          8. Sharon*

            As the cook for several large gatherings, I’ve always announced “there is a veggie/halal/gluten-free option here for those who need it – first time through, please don’t take it unless you have a restriction, second time through it’s up for grabs for everyone!”

            Even better if you make sure your “regular” options are both delicious and fit the restricted diets, but usually for a large group there are too many restrictions that clash to make single dishes that work for everybody.

          9. Paulina*

            Separate tables, or separate parts of the table, is likely the best. If you’re stuck with a single table, putting the diet-restricted items at the end may help. Most of the time I see them earlier in the buffet, because there’s some overall “veg first then meat” order that seems near-universal, but that means some omnivores grab the vegetarian food as if it’s a side and then pile their meat on top of it. They seem less likely to pile it all up if they see the food they want most first.

          10. Artemesia*

            Perhaps issue special tickets to those who need different food and only those with the tickets are admitted to that table. (obviously if a ticketless vegan arrives you can be flexible, but it keeps others from jumping on board — )

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              Oh, man, I would hate to have to handle a special ticket to get my gluten-free food. I’m already fumbling with a plate, napkin, plastic tableware–adding a ticket to that would be really frustrating.

          11. Ellis Bell*

            I would probably cover the dietary dishes and have them off to one side. This would protect from contamination too. Make them ‘available by request” so people aren’t snaffling them on sight.

          12. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

            The eating order is my #1 preference, and separate table is another great one (I just did a 3 day conference with this, and it worked well for me). A third option that works well for me is ordering a lunch box for those with dietary restrictions, even if others are eating from a buffet – as a Celiac, I’d rather get limited options that I know meet my needs than get to pick from a million options.

            I know that won’t be true for everyone all the time, but another good way to address specific food needs!

          13. Elizabeth West*

            I would definitely explain it ahead of time and also on the day, like in an email reminder, because there is always at least one entitled yahoo who just HAS to have some of the yummy thing that isn’t for them.

          14. ErinWV*

            I used to work at an institution which catered an international dinner every year. This is what we did: one table for halal food. One whole separate room of tables for vegetarian food (there were a lot of community members from India). And then the rest of the tables for anyone who wants to eat anything.

            The event was ticketed, and when you bought your ticket you identified as a vegetarian, meat-eater, or halal. Tickets were different colors. All the laid-out food was color-coded to the categories. If you didn’t have a white ticket, you weren’t served at the halal table. Didn’t have a green ticket, couldn’t eat from the veg room. The meat-eater category was the biggest and there would be pasta and veggie stuff there too, but for people who didn’t mind there maybe being chicken broth in the potatoes and so on.

            I worked three of those dinners, and as far as I know we never had significant issues with people missing out on food they needed.

          15. Katie*

            If you want to make your food more sustainable and inclusive, the best thing to do is to serve plant-based entrees (which should also be Halal) first and ensure there are adequate quantities for everyone, and then have meat at the end for people to add on. This cuts the cost, dramatically decreases the carbon footprint of food served, and meets everyone’s needs. Check out this info for more resources:

            You can also read this article from GreenBiz about what a success this strategy has been at their conferences:

          16. Scarletb*

            That worked really well for me at a conference recently. They had a separate table that was for *any* allergies/dietary variations, and had someone attending to a) keep an eye that things weren’t being contaminated, b) remind people they’d seen coming over from the main table that this was for people with specific dietary requirements, and c) answer questions about ingredients. The venue had put out on little signs what the things were ‘free from’ for the usual suspects, but there were still a few people who had to check some stuff, and having someone there really helped. I’m vegan *and* coeliac and was fed extremely well and felt really looked after, they’d made sure there were multiple options for everyone so it wasn’t just salad and a fruit platter :). Compare this with a different conference recently where there was a hotel buffet, and I did the rounds and realised I could eat the plain spinach, and *possibly* the pumpkin depending on how they’d roasted it. i just went somewhere else tbh.

        3. Dasein9 (he/him)*

          Allergies first is really helpful. People who use buffets often switch the utensils from one dish to another, which is why I won’t generally eat at a buffet. You can’t really tell whether some of the tuna salad fell into the chicken salad.

        4. kbeers0su*

          I just recently organized a three-day event with four catered meals, and I did exactly this. Before the first meal (lunch) I stood up and explained to the whole group that we had a high number of vegans, vegetarians, and folks with allergies in the group, and in order to ensure they were all able to find what they could eat, they would serve themselves first for all meals. Everyone thought it was a great idea- no pushback. And I didn’t even have to repeat that night for dinner- folks just hung back if they were one of the non-veg/non-vegan/non-allergen folks until the first group got through the line.

      2. The Real Fran Fine*

        I think having the people with the dietary restrictions go first is a good solution.

        That’s exactly what all of my previous companies did for me after my celiac diagnosis and they ordered gluten free food during catered lunches/potlucks. It was also a way to ensure no one accidentally cross contaminated the food before I had a chance to get some by sticking a utensil in it that was used in everything else. If there were leftovers after I ate, they told me I could either tell everyone else to have it at and take the rest, or I could take it all home myself. It was thoughtful.

        1. RC*

          Have them go first, and if that’s somehow not possible, put those dishes at the end of the table. People always overly load up with whatever’s at the front of the food table, in my experience.

          1. Bookmark*

            This also works well because you can announce to the line that the vegan/special diet food is at the end and let those folks skip ahead in the line.

      3. LadyAmalthea*

        I was just at a department away day and they had a separate table for veg/vegan/gluten free sandwiches. (all on different trays). The line for people without dietary concerns included the veg and vegan options (and the vegan sandwich was pretty amazing, so I’m glad other people had that option), and it was so nice as someone who keeps kosher through being mostly vegetarian that the egg salad sandwich wasn’t touching the ham sandwich.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          Any buffet for 300 will have a lot of food waste.

          And if every one of those 300 people went off and had a solo meal, there would also be plenty of food waste, it just wouldn’t be as easy to observe.

          1. Smithy*

            Yeah, I think the point with a buffet for 300 is to be as inclusive as possible and determine where you have a significant minority to warrant a special interest larger group vs supporting specific meal needs.

            I always think about this regarding someone’s level of kashrut and what level of accommodation they require. Because a workplace might have a few dozen people who keep a version of kosher, but if most of those people fall in the categories of not eating pork and don’t mix milk with meat or have their dietary needs met by eating vegetarian – you don’t need a kosher caterer. But from that group, there could be one or two people who keep a level of kashrut where getting them a Chabad meal keeps them included. Now if those numbers change, then looking into having some larger kosher catering makes sense, but there are other options before going that route.

      4. Phryne*

        Yes and no. My workplace uses a system where vegetarian is the standard, and the meat comes extra and clearly labelled if halal or kosher etc.
        It would not work for eg Gluten free where cross contamination is a problem, but it makes sense to at least try to make the bulk of the food accessible to as many of the diners as possible, rather than to assume a baseline of ‘normal’ and then having to search for alternatives for 6 different groups of people whose normal is a different baseline.

        1. Cardboard Marmalade*

          This is such a smart and obvious solution and it’s blowing my mind because I’ve never encountered it before (nor thought of it myself).

        2. Nina*

          (I’m not of a religion that has special dietary requirements, this is a genuine question)

          Is it possible to make most/all vegetarian and vegan food broadly compliant with Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu dietary restrictions, or are they conflicting at a level I’m not considering?

      5. Spuds*

        Let the more restricted go first, but some of this is getting the right amounts of each type of food. Sometimes food gets ordered and there’s only enough vegetables for the vegetarians. Most omnivores don’t want to only eat meat.

        1. Tau*

          This made me so cranky during my slow slide towards vegetarianism. “Oh yeah, there’s ham sandwiches for the omnivores and cheese for the vegetarians” – great, except that maybe I’m trying to reduce my meat consumption, don’t even like it that much, and would like not to have to eat the meat option at every single catered meal? Even when I started registering myself as a vegetarian when they asked for food restrictions I was hesitant to go for the vegetarian food when I could see there probably wouldn’t be enough. I’m not entirely kidding when I say this was a contributing factor to me just deciding screw it, I’ll just go the whole way and become vegetarian for real, then nobody can tell me the nice veggie food is not for me!

          1. MigraineMonth*

            I became vegetarian one year at sleep-away camp when I was in middle school so I could get food first and eat the vegetarian food.

            It stuck.

        2. ferrina*

          Seconding. Definitely make sure that there’s enough so that it’s not just the people that need it that get to enjoy it. I’m not vegetarian, but I tend to eat on small amounts of meat and larger amounts of vegetable dishes.

      6. Falling Diphthong*

        I’d say this is actually the reverse–if you have 30 people eating strictly halal you have an additional 60 or so saying “Ooh, falafel!”

        The belief that no one beyond the three vegetarians will try to scoop up some pasta in cheese sauce is a perennial buffet-planning mystery to me. “Omnivore, no dietary restrictions” does not equate to “I eat only big piles of ham and will not sully my body with a vegetable.”

        1. Lily Rowan*

          Right. And the halal food could include chicken! As a non-Muslim, I’m happy to eat halal or non-halal chicken, because it all tastes the same to me.

          It just doesn’t seem that hard to have the bulk of the food be halal and/or vegan, and add a ham to the table.

          1. ErinWV*

            In my experience planning these types of events…depending on where you live, halal food may be wildly expensive. It is specialized food, it needs to be prepared specially, it’s priced at a premium. Having it available for everybody when really only about 5% of the community *needed* it was just not financially feasible. So, you have regular chicken and, at a different table, clearly marked, halal chicken.

      7. hbc*

        It makes tons of sense to get more of that food because more people want it. It’s pretty obvious. Why deny people food that looks yummy to them just because it’s got a restriction they technically don’t need? If I want a flourless cake or a gluten-free cookie, I shouldn’t have to claim a moral need for it.

        1. High Score!*

          Exactly! I hate it when special diet people get meals I’d love and have to watch them eat it bc I don’t have restrictions.

          1. Gracie*

            I remember a school trip (mid-2000s) where I, the sole vegetarian, got an acceptable bowl of pasta, and everyone else got a dry chicken breast and sad limp vegetables. It was wonderful, especially after all the trips where I got “the same meal as everyone else but they removed the meat and didn’t replace it with anything substantial”

            (There was also the trip where I, not actually strictly vegetarian, just “I eat meat maybe once a month in very specific dishes and otherwise hate it”, got told that I wasn’t allowed to eat veggie because I wasn’t “actually vegetarian” and “didn’t need it” – so despite being marked down as veggie on all catering information before the trip, was told that I had to be served the meat dishes. I spent the entire time carefully separating out the meat from every stew and pasta and getting the stink-eye from the vegetarian staff member who had told me I wasn’t allowed to eat vegetarian)

          2. JB (not in Houston)*

            Imagine how the special diet people feel all the time, then. That’s what it’s like all the time, every day, including at these catered meals.

            1. Happy meal with extra happy*

              Seriously. I’m getting some major “I’m in the main character; if anything isn’t perfectly catered to me [lol pun], I’m upset.”

              1. Florence Reese*

                Yeah I’m confused at all the people who seem upset that vegans and vegetarians get vegetables over the non-veg people. If you want more veggies or you’re trying to restrict your meat consumption or you’re trying to cut out dairy, you can ALSO tell the organizer that you have preferences for those things. I definitely encourage folks to eat more veg and less meat — you can just go ahead and opt for the veggie option, though, instead of being upset that others get it when you didn’t say you want it! Nobody’s doing a background check on you when you express food preferences.

                1. Shan*

                  Yes, I’m back to eating meat, but I also still frequently tick the box for the vegetarian meal. Very simple, no one questions my credentials. At buffets, I take a lot of the vegetarian sides, but only from the main table, and only if I know there’s enough for everyone. I’m not in there scooping the second to last serving of bbq jackfruit when I know two of my vegetarian colleagues are behind me in the queue. If I want to try it, I can order it in a restaurant when I’m not forcing others to go hungry. Same thing with kosher/halal. My desire to try something doesn’t trump their actual dietary needs.

                  And maybe the issue could be helped in future by OP’s office sending around a survey where people choose one or the other, or state they would like more vegetarian side dishes. But that doesn’t solve her problem today.

                2. I take tea*

                  I did that a long time before I stopped eating meat altogether, because if I didn’t, I’d get meat for every meal and I couldn’t eat that much. I just put myself down as vegetarian, and if I wanted to eat the odd meatball, there were always more of that then of the veggie options.

            2. straws*

              Right? I went to a restaurant where their only option for me was a bowl of unseasoned, steamed broccoli. This is way more common than “delicious alternative dish”.

              1. Random Dice*

                My vegetarian friend asked for a vegetarian meal and the restaurant brought him… a bun, with two pieces of lettuce on it.

          3. Observer*

            I hate it when special diet people get meals I’d love and have to watch them eat it bc I don’t have restrictions.

            Welcome to the world of pretty much every person with special diet needs. Except that the difference is that *most* of the time, the person without the restrictions who gets the “lesser” meal is still getting a pretty good meal, whereas when the script is flipped the people with restrictions are lucky if they get something decent, much less really good.

            And to be honest, in most cases when the restricted people are getting something reasonably good, it’s *still* not that much better than what everyone else is getting. It’s just *different* and therefore piques people’s interest.

            Sure, if you see something that people actually *do* like better, just get more of it. (Like the caprese sandwiches someone mentioned above.) But for the rest . . . I’m having a really hard time working up too much sympathy.

            1. NotTheSameAaron*

              When I was growing up, all the vegetarians were eating bowls of yogurt, feta cheese and granola. Now it’s rice and bell peppers and it’s hard to keep away at potlucks.

            2. Shorter List*

              When we were newly married, my husband and I were invited to his new boss’ house for dinner and he thought it would be “rude” to mention my restrictions. There was not a single item served that didn’t have dairy or eggs, so his wife had to go fix me a separate hamburger patty or chicken breast. She would much rather have known in advance!

            3. Good Wilhelmina Hunting*

              And all too often, the special diet dish turns out to contain something I really don’t like or am trying to cut down on, whereas the regular dish when it arrives looks like it would both have been OK diet wise (I could have just picked off that topping) AND looks far tastier than what I’ve ended up with.

          4. Artemesia*

            I was on a tour in St. Petersburg where there was a group meal — I cannot eat onion and one person was vegetarian of the 30. THEY got mystery meat that looked like an elementary school cafeteria. I got a quarter roast chicken and the vegetarian got a gorgeous looking faux fancy sushi roll looking thing — and everyone else at the table was really salty. The mystery meat included ground onions.

        2. Observer*

          <i.Why deny people food that looks yummy to them just because it’s got a restriction they technically don’t need?

          Mostly because there is often an additional expense.

        3. MigraineMonth*

          Sure, but only after people who will not or literally cannot eat the alternative get all they want, right? Because my desire to eat that flourless cake doesn’t trump someone else’s desire to eat.

        4. New Jack Karyn*

          “If I want a flourless cake or a gluten-free cookie, I shouldn’t have to claim a moral need for it.”

          Gluten free cookies are more expensive than regular ones. So they’re not gonna order all that many more than they need for the people who must be GF. If all y’all take the GF ones, then I don’t get a cookie at all.

          Which is fine when it’s cookies, but I’m a little resentful when my work orders pizza at our annual district-wide training; there’s a variety of toppings, but no GF crust. I bring my own lunch or I go hungry.

      8. Harvey 6'3.5"*

        Actually, it seems like if, next time, you just used a Halal caterer, that would deal with most of it. Halal shouldn’t exclude most Thanksgiving food at all. The other thing I do when I am having vegans to dinner is to make everything but the main course itself vegan, and have one special main course for the vegans. If you did that, then you could set aside their “special” main course but have enough of everything else for everyone.

        1. OP2*

          Yes, we will be sure to use a caterer who does halal moving forward. We’re just kind of stuck this year because we already contracted the caterer.

          1. Lily Rowan*

            Sorry everyone (including me!) is making suggestions that don’t help you this year. At least some people are addressing the actual question.

        2. analyst*

          don’t do that unless you’re certain no one keeps Kosher- Halal food isn’t Kosher (any food which has had a prayer in another religion said over it isn’t).

          1. ThatGirl*

            Which is just a smidge funny to me because the requirements are otherwise very similar. But I do understand that Islam and Judaism are totally separate religions. :)

          2. FloralWraith*

            I would suggest most Hindus won’t willingly consume halal food either (and no, we’re not all lacto-vegetarians either).

          3. AskJeeves*

            I’ve never heard this. Do you have a source? The kosher status of food does not involve prayers. (It is not “blessed” by a rabbi.) Kosher just means that the production of the food was supervised by an appropriate person trained in the laws of kashrut. I could imagine there is an issue with food involved in religious practices that Judaism considers idol worship, but otherwise I’m lost.

            1. Garblesnark*

              I’m finding this a bit odd too – I’ve never heard that halal food had to be prayed over in its preparation. No one I know who keeps kosher or halal would have to get a faith leader to pray over their apple.

              Certainly some of the more Orthodox folks in my community won’t eat halal food… because they won’t eat anything not prepared in a specifically kosher certified kitchen. It’s not because the food is halal. (And much of the food, in fact, *is* halal, because the restrictions are very similar.)

              1. Observer*

                It’s not because the food is halal.

                Totally correct. Blessings have nothing to do with the matter. And from a pragmatic point of view, the fact that it’s halal is probably a plus because it means that the item is more likely to be commercially successful, and thus stay in production. Beyond that, the Halal status of food is no more relevant to the Kosher status of food, than whether it’s organic or not.

                1. NotTheSameAaron*

                  This is great to hear. I was taught that halal foods were forbidden because they were “food offered to idols”.

                2. Observer*

                  I was taught that halal foods were forbidden because they were “food offered to idols”.

                  Not Halal. That concept exists, but this is not it.

          4. Observer*

            I hate it when special diet people get meals I’d love and have to watch them eat it bc I don’t have restrictions.

            The issue is not blessings. It’s that the requirements are very different.

            The slaughtering process is not the same, and there are other issues as well. Eg halal meals can contain mixtures of meat / fowl and dairy (eg a chicken cheeseburger could be Halal, but not kosher.) There are a *lot* of other issues. To the point that for someone who is strictly kosher the fact that food is Halal simply doesn’t really mater.

            1. Harvey 6'3.5"*

              Observer is entirely correct. As someone who is kosher but eats “dairy” out of the house, the issue would be the audience. At my work unit for example, there is no one who is strictly kosher to the point of needing a kosher caterer and I think I am the only person who wouldn’t eat Halal meat products. So I would be fine just eating with the vegetarians/vegans.

              Obviously if you had more observant Jews who wouldn’t eat even “dairy” or “parve” out, they would need specially ordered meals. Indeed, at a kosher wedding we hosted for one of our children recently, the kosher caterer had to make a special meal for two guests who only ate Chabad Shechitah even though they trusted the caterer to prepare the food.

            2. Observer*

              And I see I pasted in the wrong text at the top.

              It should have been “Halal food isn’t Kosher (any food which has had a prayer in another religion said over it isn’t).”

              As noted, that’s not correct. This is totally not the issue.

        3. Artemesia*

          When I know there will be vegetarians, I always have two substantial dishes that can serve as sides for meat eaters and mains for vegetarians e.g. maybe a complex tasty bean dish and another that is rice based. And then fruit and green salads and you have a wide array of tasty food for vegetarians and whatever the meat course is.

      9. L.H. Puttgrass*

        This logic makes no sense to me.

        “If we order just enough halal/vegan food for the people who need halal/vegan food, other people will eat it and there won’t be enough for the people who need halal/vegan food to have it. How can we fix that?”
        “Sounds like lots of people like the vegan/halal food. So order more?”
        “But then we might have too much halal/vegan food!”

        Isn’t that the way it is with buffet food? If you order enough, you’ll have leftovers. Why is that worse for the food for special diets than it is for the turkey and stuffing?

        As a vegetarian who has been in the “whops, no food left for you” situation, here’s my personal order of preference:

        1. Have enough special-diet food that everyone who wants some can have it. Assume that the people who don’t need the special-diet food will also want some of that food—heck, the special diet food should be good enough that everyone will want it (you still want the vegans and people on halal diets to have tasty food options, right?). This may mean thinking of the special-diet food as part of the menu planning and not an add on. (Obviously, this doesn’t work for all dietary restrictions, but it can capture a lot of the more common ones).

        2. Let the people with special diets go first in line. Doesn’t work in all buffet situations, though.

        3. Set the special-diet food off to the side, preferably a little out of the way (like behind the counter instead of in front of it, or off to the side), with a note that it’s for special diets only. That avoids people unintentionally eating reserved special-diet food, but doesn’t avoid people who will partake anyway because “Oh, I’m sure there’ll be enough.” And you still have to know how many people will only eat the special-diet food (which may be a different number than those who tell you in advance).

        4. Have special-diet plates available on request. This actually isn’t that bad of an option. I don’t really enjoy having to ask for a vegetarian entree at a buffet-style event, but at least I can be reasonably sure there will be one and that the omnivores won’t have taken all of whatever the veggie food before I get there. Usually there are also veggie sides on the buffet and the entree is just a way to have a “main” and not end up with, say, salad and steamed broccoli for the vegetarians. And depending on who is doing the catering, the special-diet plates can end up being as good or better than what’s on the buffet. This is also a good method for avoiding cross-contamination issues. But the special plates may need to be ordered in advance, so you need people to ask for them in advance. I’ve been to at least one event (a fancy, lots-of-money-per-plate fundraiser event!) where I got the dreaded response that sorry, they ran out of the vegetarian plates. Which was…not ideal.

        The best option by far, IMO, is to treat the special-diet food as if it’s something that everyone will want to eat. Because often times, everyone will want to eat it. That won’t work with all diets, and cross-contamination concerns may affect how you do things. But as a general rule, it seems like the answer to “there won’t be enough of [food]” is to…order more [food].

        1. Siren of Sleep*

          The special diet food being something everyone wants to eat isn’t always true. I can usually label my food contributions as keto and nobody touches it but for the people on the same diet lol. So your mileage may vary.

      10. LCH*

        halal and kosher generally don’t taste any different. just prepared in a specific way. i accidentally ate a bunch of kosher chicken something at a work event once because i didn’t realize they were there for the couple of employees who needed them. they were great.

        so having a ton of halal would be fine. dunno if there is a difference in cost or something.

      11. BethRA*

        “It does not make sense to get that much halal/vegan food since most people probably won’t eat much if any of it.”

        Except people ARE eating it, since it’s running out. Just order more of it.

      12. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Thing is if there’s only a small amount of vegan food, non-vegans are going to want it because it’s rare! And non-vegans can eat vegan food, and it’s even good for them, so why not just order a whole lot more than they can eat, so everyone can have some?

        1. OP2*

          I agree! Since our main meal is pretty traditional, we actually are needing to add some more vegan options along with halal, but we simply don’t have budget for it this year (this event alone is $6500). I was able to get an extra $500 so I want to make sure that those who need it have first dibs. Next year we can plan better and budget accordingly!

          1. Bookmark*

            I think you’re doing a great job given your constraints, OP. I’m surprised how many commenters are suggesting just ordering more food as if budget constraints don’t exist.

            1. Ginger Cat Lady*

              I don’t think people are saying more food overall, just *proportionally* more food that meets the needs of those who do need vegan/halal.
              So if 10% of your employees are vegan, don’t order a ratio of “regular” to vegan that is 90/10 instead order 70/30.

              1. KateM*

                Make as much foods that can be vegan to be that. It’s probably easier to do at home than with catering, though, but sometimes, it’s just leaving this one ingredient on the side and let meateaters to add it on their own if they wish.

                I have a wheat-allergic at home. Of course my parties are nowhere near 300, but what I do is that most of items are prepared so that everyone can eat them (if a recipe asks for a spoonful of starch, it doesn’t have to be wheat starch, and the extra cost is neglible), and then there are those special and more expensive items like cakes, which I try to pair with similar non-wheat ones (because wheatfree kid wants the same as others of course) and the rule is that wheateaters can go after *that* cake only after wheat-containing cake is eaten.

      13. Quill*

        Also there may be conflicts between different diet restrictions, as we see every time there’s a major food thread, so it’s better to say, have a vegan option and a option for people who can’t deal with common vegan proteins, like soy, than to try and boil the meal options down so far that it’s impossible for anyone to get a filling meal.

      14. Ace in the Hole*

        So make vegetarian and vegan food the default. Vegan takes care of vegetarians (obviously), as well as fasting catholics, lactose intolerance, milk/egg allergies, and most people’s requirements for halal or kosher. It’s not hard to get a variety of vegetarian and vegan dishes that the majority of people will enjoy, and it makes the event more inclusive.

        You’ll still need to have special accommodations for people with dietary restrictions… specific allergies, stricter versions of religious observance, etc. of course, but at a much smaller scale that’s easier to manage individually case-by-case.

    2. Elle Woods*

      There’s a few things you are missing. even if a large quantity of an item is provided, it does not mean that you will not run out. But, if for example, you run out of mashed potatoes, it’s fine. People can take a little more stuffing or green bean casserole and still have a filling meal. If you run out of vegan mac and cheese though, there may not be enough options or substitutions available that meet everyone’s dietary restrictions.

      It is also not as easy as just having an over abundance of vegan/halal/kosher options as those options tend to be more expensive and cost prohibited.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        Vegan food is just vegetables, so it’s not expensive at all, unless you go for the weird stuff pretending to be meat, which a lot of vegans find off-putting btw.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Vegan food *is not* just vegetables, unless you have a much broader definition of vegetables than most. Beans, grains, nuts, fruits, seeds, plant milks, tofu, seitan, etc are all traditional vegan foods that aren’t “pretending to be meat”.

          1. Florence Reese*

            Yes, but I think rebel’s point was that those things are all fairly inexpensive (or on par with the non-veg alternative, like milks). Elle Woods said that vegan/halal/kosher options “tend to be more expensive” which isn’t true for vegan food at least.

    3. office hobbit*

      The LW says “We are too far in the planning to switch caterers, so we are adding a caterer who can do a few special options for us. But that means it won’t be enough to allow everyone to partake.”

    4. This!*

      I eat vegan – I *hate* when organizers make a big deal about how no one else should eat the vegan food. A) I want to share in general! B) the point for me isn’t purity of diet, it’s less animal suffering. If more people want to eat vegetarian food, that’s good!

      And if there’s clearly more demand than supply, the answer next time is to fix the supply, not suppress the demand

      1. Emmy Noether*

        I’m not vegan, but I do try to limit my animal product consumption overall, so this is also where I come down. The answer is to make the majority of food vegetarian/vegan (as an added benefit, this will most likely also fulfill most religious restritions). If the quantity of meat-containing food is reduced accordingly, the veggie food will get eaten. There has to be some kind of equilibrium that will work. Yes, some people will complain if they get no meat, but they’ll have much less of a leg to stand on, because they got things they could eat, unlike the vegans in the opposite case.

        And the people with most restrictions should still get an opportunity to go first, as the vegan option, or the halal meat, or the allergy-compatible food, or whatever may still run out.

        It does sound like it’s too late for this year for this LW, but that should be the solution in general.

        1. AllVegDoesntWork*

          As someone who is allergic to raw tomatoes and has a sensitivity to mushrooms and avocados, vegetarian and vegan food can be really hard for me. I’ve worked at places that thought go entirely vegetarian or vegan would solve all the food issues and I almost always ended up unable to eat anything.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            That sounds more like a problem with a lack of variety and planning in veggie/vegan food and not with plant-based food on principle. I’m sure you don’t eat a 100% meat diet (you’d get scurvy, for one). Those also sound like fairly common allergens/dislikes, so they really should be accomodated with proper planning.

            I think that when trying to feed a large number of people that have varying restrictions, the best bet is to have food that isn’t mixed too much. Like having a salad bar with separate ingredients instead of mixed salad. Putting out plain pasta and plain rice with a choice of different sauces separately (two veggie, one meat).

            This also made me think of what was the most restriction-unfriendly food I can come up with. Mushroom mac n’ cheese with bacon bits? Not veggie, vegan, halal, kosher, gluten-free or dairy-free, or for the significant number of people who dislike or are allergic to mushrooms. I’ll serve a mixed chopped salad with cheese and ham and a soy dressing as a starter, and walnut chocolate mousse (with raw eggs!) topped with whipped cream as dessert.

            1. Salsa Your Face*

              Add a candied bacon garnish to that mousse just to further fence a few people out! There used to be a time when I could count on desserts being pork-free. That is not always the case anymore, lol.

            2. Kyrielle*

              Make sure some part of everything is processed with corn ingredients – high-fructose corn syrup at a high percentile will do the job while also taking out most people who need some variant of low FODMAP.

          2. ClaireW*

            Yes! I went to a multi-day conference once that had decided all food options offered were vegan, which in theory is really commendable. But the downside was that despite asking for allergies, not one of the meal options other than a plain breakfast croissant was compatible with my allergies. So my option was to eat the cold pasta with tomato sauce (with no veggies) from the kids’ menu for every meal, or leave to get a proper meal, losing out the the networking part. I think a lot of people forget about food requirements that aren’t veggie/vegan/halal/lactose/gluten.

            1. Justme, The OG*

              So much vegan food is made with coconut. I’m allergic to coconut. So it’s really a no-win situation.

                1. Quill*

                  And I love Seitan but if your group is larger than a dozen there’s a huge chance that at least one person has a gluten sensitivity, if not intolerance.

          3. Barb*

            As a person who must eat gluten free, vegetarian and vegan food very often includes wheat. It doesn’t have to, it just often does.

            1. Kyrielle*

              And if it doesn’t, it often has nuts, because nut flour is a decent substitute. Except when you’re allergic to tree nuts, as I am.

              Rice or soy work for some uses, but rice bread is weirdly sticky once you start chewing it – and there are plenty of people with allergies to soy.

              You can definitely get some dishes suited for everyone when you have the budget and planning time, but sometimes the odd diet out is going to need a dish that’s not worth bringing in larger quantity, and just setting it aside for them makes sense. (Catering and the elimination phase of the low FODMAP diet are fun, for example, and even more-so with a nut allergy!)

            2. Good Wilhelmina Hunting*

              I’m sure the same can be said for the amount of carbs in many vegan offerings. I know low carb and keto vegan dishes exist; unfortunately most caterers seem not to. I like vegan cookery, but if it’s not low carb and gluten free, I’ll be sticking to carnivore, thank you.

          4. Mill Miker*

            I’ve also got the raw tomato thing, and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve got sent to the “special diet” table where everything was just covered in tomatoes. Once, at a wedding, everyone else got an appetizer I would be perfectly capable of eating, and I got basically a pile of tomatoes.

          5. Daisy-dog*

            I think they are advocating for offering more vegan sides, not an entirely vegan meal. Don’t make the stuffing with chicken stock. Don’t put bacon in the green beans. Don’t put cheese in the cornbread.

          6. Artemesia*

            Same problem here with onion. Onion is a standard ingredient to add flavor to vegan food and I have often been faced with literally a table full of vegan food which I can’t eat except for the dessert.

          7. NotTheSameAaron*

            I really liked the taste of Beyond Meat, but now that my allergy to coconut has kicked into high gear, I can’t eat it. I made some meatloaf for a vegan friend and got a reaction from just touching it.

        2. amoeba*

          Yeah, for the LW, that doesn’t work this year. But in general, I’m very much on team “just have delicious plant-based food as your basis for everybody, and then add some dishes containing dairy and meat for the ones who want to add that to their plate”. And for the meat, just order everything halal that can be? So, like, obviously not the bacon, but every dish that can be prepared halal should be.

          I mean, so many tasty dishes are vegan or at least vegetarian by nature, for me at a common buffet there’s just no reason to add chicken broth or a few cubes of bacon to make the potato salad or rice dish inaccessible to some (and then have a special bowl just with vegetable broth or without bacon). Like, sure, you can do that at home or if everybody eats everything, but otherwise just make the majority of food good for everybody.

        3. Punk*

          What? Vegan food isn’t automatically Kosher. And you really don’t want to force a a lot of soy or meat substitutes on people whose systems aren’t used to them.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Huh, I haven’t heard about people needing an adjustment period for soy/meat substitutes before. (These days, it seems like everything contains soy!) Where did you learn about that?

          2. Avery*

            Vegan food… pretty much is kosher, actually?
            Kosher has rules about slaughter for meat, and which animals you can eat, and then no mixing meat and dairy.
            Vegan food has no meat and no dairy so that’s a non-issue.
            Or am I missing something here? (I was raised Jewish, but am neither vegan nor kosher myself, so it could well be I’m overlooking something.)

        4. Old and Don’t Care*

          A good place to start is to have at least the vegetable dishes be vegetarian. Have turkey and ham on offer but leave the meat out of the side dishes.

      2. OP2*

        It’s a come and go event – people stop in when their schedule permits, so I’m concerned that someone coming in late will miss out if everyone gets a shot at the vegan food. We’ve seen that happen when doing box lunch events – lots of people will grab the vegan option. I definitely don’t want to make a big deal of it, so what do you think would be the best way to make sure you got your vegan food if you can’t get there at the beginning?

        1. Green great dragon*

          If box lunch means what I think it does maybe named lunches is the way to go for them. With some spare ones for omnivores who fancy it?

        2. Healthcare Manager*

          Vegan here – in those cases the ultimate way is a box with my name on it. Very very rare that gets picked up.

        3. M*

          Can the caterer you *are* using increase the proportion of vegan, or even vegetarian, food? It seems like your participants are telling you that they want less meat, even if they do eat meat in general, and that’s pretty normal these days. Where that means more expensive imitation meat/cheese, place those options next to each other with clear labels (“Roast Turkey” next to “Vegan Roast Turkey”, with the meat-based option further forward), so people are less likely to “just take a bit of everything”. (Generally, vegan/vegetarian catering that *isn’t* trying to imitate meat/cheese will be cheaper than the alternative, but that may not be an option for a specifically holiday-themed menu.)

          Alternatively – separate serving table(s) for the options that meet dietary requirements. Add a staff member posted at the door cheerfully directing people as they come in and letting them know that you’ll send out an email burst when it swaps to free-for-all once people have had their dietary requirements met.

          1. OP2*

            Yes, we did ask about preparing more of the sides to be vegan, and they are happy to do so. It’s not so much that our audience wants less meat, the meat still goes! But the meat-eaters also enjoy sampling the vegan dishes, so those dishes are going too quickly because we aren’t limiting people’s choices as they move through the line. I think we are going to look at putting the vegan and halal options on a separate table, with a separate server.

            1. OP2*

              I should have been clearer that the main buffet will still have vegan foods available, but the separate table will have only halal and vegan foods so that those needing those foods can go to one table to get what they like. This discussion is really helping me solidify an approach that should work well this year.

        4. Cordelia*

          Vegan here – I’d like there to be a table specifically set aside for vegans and other special diets, but also include some of the same vegan options on the main table. I’m pleased that omnivores do sometimes pick the vegan options when they have the choice, this is a good thing! so long as I have something to eat too

        5. Chickadee*

          I recently attended an event where there were signs next to some of the trays indicating they were for people with such and such allergy or food restriction. Clear labels plus a separate table might work.

        6. NotRealAnonForThis*

          At OldJob, this was how the frequently used caterer handled food allergies and such for all hands meetings (which were buffet). Those who had restrictions for whatever reason, had a plate or box held by name for them with their options on it. The catering company worked very closely with the planning liaison in the office, and everyone knew that if you needed this type of thing, to go see her. It worked – we had vegan, vegetarian, religious based, celiac, and allergy based restrictions, and they could all be accommodated. It was seen as a “not a huge deal” which definitely helped.

        7. Nancy*

          You can put aside a box meal/plate for those with special diets. Put their name on it and say it’s in the fridge or wherever. And in the future order you can more of those meals for everyone since others prefer it as well. People are taking them because that’s what they want and they see it’s an option.

        8. Sandi*

          An individual plate with the comment Special Diet – vegan / halal / no peppers is how we do it at my workplace. The people with limited diets always seem to appreciate it, myself included (I have allergies and the knowledge that I don’t have to worry about cross-contamination or wonder about ingredients in each item in a buffet is a relief. I don’t feel othered, because the other option is to ask people if they think a food has peppers and then it becomes a worrisome best guess).

      3. RabbitRabbit*

        Except at buffets, many people generally try to eat some of everything and we want to avoid the problem of people eating vegan/halal/etc. going without food options *this* time, too. Ordering more for next time works if you are going with the same caterer and similar menu.

        The hospital I work for does free lunch days for employees several times a year, and fixes it by having every side dish be vegan or vegan-possible, but wants to ensure that vegetarians/vegans/etc. also get a “main dish.” So generally you are given an option of One Main Dish Only and then can have all the sides you want. Speaking as a vegetarian who had previously been served a dish of near-raw vegetables and nothing else for my main dish at a work luncheon (done via a caterer), I like knowing that there’s something more substantial for me too.

        1. Office Lobster DJ*

          In situations where it’s practical to do, I really like that solution. No one goes away hungry and everyone still gets the chance to pick and choose the rest to their liking.

      4. Cazaril*

        I’m an omnivore who loves vegetables and prefers to keep meat consumption down. I realize it doesn’t solve the OP’s problem this time, but I’m a vote for ordering way more vegetarian/ vegan options in general.

        1. Bast*

          This is true as well. While I am an omnivore, I find that the vegetarian option is frequently a pasta dish, which I will NEVER turn down and tends to be pretty popular all around. If you find your own version of the pasta dish where everyone loves the pasta, I’d order more of that and less of whatever doesn’t appear to be going.

          I also try to cut back on red meat in particular, so I’d rather load up (thoughtfully — I am not eating to excess!) on sides rather than the meat.

      5. MathBandit*

        “And if there’s clearly more demand than supply, the answer next time is to fix the supply, not suppress the demand”

        This is true (and I think OP would agree), but the question is about *this time* when the supply can’t be fixed, and the concern is that more people eating vegan food (while, like you say, is largely good on a grand scale) might mean that people who can *only* eat vegan food don’t eat at all.

    5. Mo*

      Part of the problem is that when there is a buffet there are lots of people who want to try a bit of everything. So there is regular mac and cheese and (much more expensive) vegan mac and cheese. There is no actual reason for people to have the more expensive mac and cheese other than curiosity. They would be just as happy with the ordinary if it was the only option.

      I used to order lunch for our department. It would be food for fifty. Two vegans. Vegan main dish for twenty. If one of my vegans dawdled there wouldn’t be anything for them. I’d hear about it from my manager. But if I got all or mostly vegan, a bunch would be to waste. People just wouldn’t eat, or get something from the vending machine and I’d get negative feedback from the group. And if I just wanted to get a solo order for my dawdling vegan, he’d be offended by having to do the extra work of giving me an order when everyone else could just show up.

      There really is no winning when it comes to providing people with a free lunch.

      1. RabbitRabbit*

        Yup. Ordered lunches twice a week for Board meetings for many years and we had a few vegetarians (including me).

        If it was buffet-style, the omnivores would eat some of everything.

        If it was pizza, the omnivores would grab meat pizza AND not-meat pizza. The vegetarians would see a dwindling supply of cheese pizza and mushroom pizza ahead of them in the line.

        Boxed lunch with sandwiches? You’d need to hide the veg sandwiches and dole those out specially because a caprese sandwich might sound yummy to some omnivore. We’d mix one or two in with the standard options but had to be careful about not over-ordering.

        1. Spuds*

          The issue here is not ordering the right food. as you noticed, vegetarians aren’t the only ones who eat vegetables and vegetarians dishes. instead plan that omnivores won’t eat meat exclusively (and may have to even eat some pizza without meat) and you’re likely to find more success.

          1. L.H. Puttgrass*

            Right. The issue is that people often think of ordering vegetarian dishes as something done to “accommodate” the vegetarians, when it should be seen as just one of several options. It’s the difference between, “How many hummus wraps do we need for the vegetarians?” and “How many roast beef sandwiches, turkey sandwiches, ham sandwiches, and hummus wraps do we think we need to order so that everyone gets what they want and we don’t have too many leftovers?” That may not be an easy question to answer, but I think it works better than assuming that you only need to order veggie food for the vegetarians.

          2. Dust Bunny*

            This. No vegetarians eat meat but pretty much all non-vegetarians eat things without meat.

            I eat meat. I don’t eat meat in everything. I don’t have to have meat in every dish at every meal. I’m not going to intentionally skip something that sounds good because it doesn’t have meat in it. People are (usually) omnivores, not carnivores. If you expect people who eat meat to only eat the things that have meat in them, you’ve already made a weird assumption and are mis-balancing your catering orders.

            1. Quill*

              Yes. And with low-effort catering, you’re going to see a lot of people go for a veggie option because it will be the only thing that contains an edible looking vegetable. (Or because of individual preference, such as “we ordered turkey and swiss on the online form but I didn’t know it would come slathered in mayo” or “Feeling kinda bleh today I don’t think I’ll eat the pastrami”) This doesn’t sound like it’s the case for OP, given that they’re not just ordering Jimmy Johns, but a buffet can have similar pitfalls, in addition to the “getting my money’s worth by trying everything” attitude.

          3. Starbuck*

            Yes, the solution is just ordering way less meat proportionally. It’s not going to be a tragedy if a meat eater has to have a veggie or cheese instead because the meat has run out. That is always preferable to a vegan or vegetarian who’s left with no edible options for them.

      2. Panicked*

        Very much agree! I’m GF (Celiac), so I have to be very careful what I eat. So many times, people see a “gluten free” label on something, take a bunch to try, then go “Ew, that doesn’t taste like X dish” and waste the rest of it. I’m left with nothing.

        1. Barb*

          I’m also gluten free by necessity, and at my niece’s rehearsal dinner there was a pizza truck making pizzas – both regular and gluten free. I cannot tell you how many people ahead of me in line saw the single gluten free pizza (they were making more throughout the evening) and said, “Oh, gluten free pizza – I think I’ll try it. I’ve never had it!”

        2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          That’s much worse, because the wrong food can make you sick and there’s no need for people to eat GF if gluten doesn’t make you sick. I mean, when my GF friend comes, I just make everything GF because it’s simpler, and there’s less gluten in the air too (she’s very sensitive to traces). That should be labelled clearly, and maybe even not be placed on the buffet but handed to you separately.
          Also IME GF is decidedly more expensive, whereas a veggie pizza is considerably cheaper than meat pizzas.

    6. Twinkle*

      Because you don’t know if everyone is going to suddenly want quinoa salad today. If they do, you might run out before the vegans get to it the are left with bacon salad

      1. Green great dragon*

        This is the problem. Unless you overorder hugely, like twice as much food as is needed, or make it almost entirely vegan, you can’t be sure there will be enough, because maybe the chicken will look a bit dry and no-one fancies the beef pie because someone has made the odd decision to include pineapple and beans while the vegan chilli is delicious.

        And I’m not going to recommend deliberately ordering and wasting an extra 200 meals.

    7. BubbleTea*

      Enough for omnivores and enough for vegans/people eating halal are different amounts – a little bit of each thing versus a full meal.

      1. Kate*

        We refer to adults as “neighbor” around our kid to avoid gendered terms. “Give the neighbor some space,” “Can you answer the neighbor when they talk to you?”

        I think “neighbor” would work well as a non-gendered respectful term of address, but probably not as well as calling out “You forgot your keys!”

        I’ve heard “customer” used in these situations which is at least gender neutral, but sounds so clinical.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          Mm, a clinic is one of the places I least like being considered a customer (at that point I’m usually a patient or a client) but I take your meaning.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Could be worse, I’m health-care-adjacent and we refer to our patients as “consumers”, which I absolutely hate. Whyyyyy.

    8. snuck*

      This is the way….

      Or have the special diets plated AND named at the side.

      A separate table of buffet food just means people run to that one because the queue is shorter, the food is fresher and usually nicer, and people who haven’t announced their food requirements suddenly remember them in the face of that. The larger the crowd the worse this is.

      I have both anaphylactic food issues and coeliac. Buffets are the death of me. Even ‘allergy friendly’ buffets. And I RESENT being asked my food needs and then completely left out. I always pack extra snack but if you can’t cater to me at least tell me.

      (Speaking from experience)

      1. Sara*

        Yes we have people register their food needs and provide plated dishes for allergies and special diets. It seems some diets get a lot less special when the main dish looks better than the plate, we usually end up with extra plates, but it’s a great way to ensure people have the food they need without cross contamination.

      2. Coverage Associate*

        The idea of the line being shorter reminds me of a possible solution. I don’t usually keep kosher, but did at a recent conference because the lines were shorter. (My bad, but I think there was still enough for my observant colleagues.) One reason the line was shorter is you couldn’t mix kosher and not kosher food on the same plate. (My observant colleagues said this was probably an unusually strict/observant practice.)

        So if it’s a buffet, maybe require people taking the food for special diets to only take that food, rather than try a little of everything. Probably has less cross contamination benefit too.

        1. Captain Food Restrictions*

          I would make the same rule for a buffet because otherwise sometime is inevitably going to touch the kashered serving implement to something it’s not supposed to touch or the like.

        2. Elitist Semicolon*

          I’m not sure I see how telling folks who are already on restricted diets that they can’t have something that isn’t “special” will help their situation any.

    9. I Would Rather be Eating Dumplings*

      That is the optimal solution in the long run, but especially if this is the first time they’re ordering from this caterer, it can be hard to calibrate exactly how popular a particular dish will be. Sometimes people avoid the potato salad, and sometimes everybody goes back for seconds – that can be hard to know for sure in advance.

      So you just want to make sure the people who really need that option can get to it before the others go in for seconds.

      1. Fieldpoppy*

        I was at an event a couple of weeks ago that managed this very well — it was veggie-forward (great salad options with simple ingredient including bean salad, build your own lettuce/ veg options, separate cheese and charcuterie board) then hot dishes that were sautéed veg, potato, rice, then chicken and salmon. The animal products were there but an afterthought. No coconut and no dairy in the mains. Allergy tables (celiac) off to the side. Very well planned.

    10. WillowSunstar*

      Here’s the thing, though. Say you are dieting and doing WW or whatever. If the only 0-point foods are the vegan ones, why would you not take them? Especially considering how fat shamy many offices are towards women or people who present as female? Why can’t potlucks or buffets, whatever, simply have more vegetables, that would please more people?

      1. CantEatThat*

        Yeah, pre diabetic elderly here. By the time I’ve skipped the starches, the sugary sauces, the sweet dressings and candied nuts that came on the salad, and the bread on the sandwiches there’s often very little I can eat. I’m not vegetarian but a meal of ham and lettuce or just the sandwich innards just sucks.

    11. Katherine*

      Yeah, the college I went to served primarily vegetarian food on the grounds everyone could eat that, and then smaller amounts of meat for the people who wanted it. It was a hippy school and slightly more than half the student body was vegetarian though.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        There are colleges in London that voted to have all vegan food in their canteens because everyone can eat it, no need for halal!
        And it’s cheaper too!
        And it’s healthier too!

        1. Hey Buddy!*

          I suppose in this case it was two sheep and a wolf voting on dinner, instead of two wolf and a sheep…

    12. Lenora Rose*

      End of the letter notes that this time, it’s a belated add that required a special order so “just order enough for everyone” wasn’t viable.

    13. RagingADHD*

      I know, right? If these are extremely popular and tasty items that nearly everyone likes, maybe have a lot more vegan options, and make all the meat dishes halal, or have a much smaller order of non-halal food.

      It’s not like a non-observant person is going to suffer that they had beef or chicken instead of pork, and they aren’t going to know or care how the animal was slaughtered.

      1. PH*

        People who care about animal welfare care about how their food was slaughtered. It’s not just a religious thing.

        1. Lenora Rose*

          I might care how my meat is slaughtered but I have yet to hear an *accurate* description of Halal or kosher slaughter that has me thinking it’s less humane in a way I object to (Yes, that is YMMV).

          I have ALSO heard misinformed descriptions that make it sound dreadful, and I rank them in the same category as PETA claiming that sheep shearing is equivalent to skinning an animal, only with a side order of either Islamophobia or Antisemitism. And when I hear someone saying they object to Halal/Kosher, it has much MUCH more often been that they heard the misinformation version than the accurate one.

        2. RagingADHD*

          I am curious about how someone who cares about animal welfare would be okay eating standard catered dishes with factory farmed meat, but not be okay with practices specifically intended to maximize the animal’s quality of life and minimize suffering at the end.

          If they’re vegetarian or vegan, or Kosher, or only eat hunted wild game (I know some folks like that), they wouldn’t be eating either one anyway. Hence the need for more vegan dishes! But with LW’s concern for dietary restrictions, it seems like they would order Kosher if people wanted it.

    14. Beth*

      Agreed. If you’re finding that everyone is eating the halal and vegan options, it sounds like that food is popular for more reasons than just dietary restrictions! It makes sense to me to structure the buffet so people with dietary restrictions go first–both to ensure they get enough, and also so they don’t have to be as concerned about the potential cross-contamination that’s always a risk at buffets–but if you do find that other people are going for those options, then it makes sense to increase the order size.

    15. kiki*

      This is a good strategy going forward, but it sounds like for this specific event doing so would likely mean they have double the food they need (since the LW noted they already committed to the caterer who doesn’t do vegan/halal options). It also takes some trial and error to understand how popular vegan and halal items will actually be outside folks with those restrictions. It also may change based on the dish. For example, if the event already has a traditional, non-vegan mac and cheese available, the vegan version probably won’t be terribly popular. But if the vegan main course option is a vegan eggplant parmesan and no eggplant parmesan exists on the traditional menu, that may be more popular and potentially run out unless you have enough for absolutely everyone to have one. That’s definitely an option, but if there are other main options, it could also mean there’s way too much vegan eggplant parmesan. And I love leftovers, but there is a point where there are more leftovers than anyone can realistically be used.

      1. Lady Wendlebury*

        If all the may was halal, I’d choose the vegetarian/vegan options because I will not eat halal meat.

          1. Azure Jane Lunatic*

            I can’t speak for that commenter, but I know that in some cases people keeping strict kosher cannot consume food items that may have been blessed under an incompatible religion.

    16. B*

      Halal or kosher meat is more expensive so in that one I understand limiting it, but yeah on vegan and vegetarian options just order more. You might still want to send restricted diet folks to the front of the line as any food option can run out, but for vegan and vegetarian food you should expect some omnivores will prefer it or want a small amount.

      In my office we’ve had a lot of weirdness with pizza ordering, where folks assume that only vegetarians will want to eat cheese pizza (and one of the local places has a white sauce cheese pizza which is delicious and everyone loves it, many omnivores want some so they need less of the meaty pizzas and more cheese) OR you’ll get someone ordering who thinks ‘vegetarian’ means ‘wants every possible vegetable’ so all the vegetarian options room be the ‘super vegetably’ kind that have like broccoli and more on the pizza and then not that many people want to eat it. The assistants who do the most ordering for bigger events know what to order but for small groups it can be very hit and miss

    17. Azure Jane Lunatic*

      When I was menu planning near San Francisco, California, US, I assumed 30-40% would enjoy the vegan options, 60% would enjoy the vegetarian options, while the actual numbers of people with those restrictions were more like 5% and 20%. We did not run out of the meat dish, and some people had their horizons broadened. The food line also would put the meat dishes before the vegan options, and it’s definitely good to let the people on the most restrictive diets go first.

      When polling for food options, I asked for dietary requirements *and* preferences, because while asking for preferences captured the “beef, as rare as possible” type responses, it would also get the food intolerances that people usually just worked around without thinking about requesting.

      And make sure that catering is also aware of which dishes are intended to fulfill which dietary requirements, lest someone stick slices of bread in the bottom of the (otherwise gluten free) tub of bacon.

    18. Dragonfly7*

      People who don’t need it will often try the food from other diets because of the novelty, but then the people who actually need it end up not getting to eat at all. I’ve had this happen to me on multiple occasions with my gluten free food. One time when it was even specifically set aside with my name on it, someone else gave my name so they could eat it!
      My church once allowed folks with food allergies, then specific dietary needs, then everyone else go through the line for a potluck, and I thought that worked quite well.

    19. OMG, Bees!*

      As someone with basically no dietary restrictions, I tend to let others get food first, especially if it is a client providing lunch, and then I will eat whatever remains. Haven’t had any problems and I still get food, so all good. (Note, happened to a coworker where he ate before all the client employees did, food ran out, and client then banned contractors from lunch, so I adapt to avoid that issue)

  2. MEH Squared*

    I’m agender and think ‘excuse me’ or Alison’s ‘pardon me’ without any honorific (and maybe a wave in the person’s field of vision) works well.

    1. Madge*

      I’m just glad I’m Australian so I can say “mate”, which as far as I know doesn’t have any gender connotations! It doesn’t have the formal register that a “sir” or “ma’am” does, but in Australian culture that’s more of a bug than a feature…

      (“Mate! You’ve forgotten your keys!” / “What can I do for you, mate?”)

      1. Media Monkey*

        i’m in the uk and given that we would rarely use sir/ma’am, i’m wondering what we do say? i guess love/ hen/ mate/ pal/ duck depending on where you are in the uk, or just nothing!

        1. Abby*

          Yeah as someone in the UK that doesn’t use the honorifics you listed (I love them, just couldn’t pull them off in my dialect!), I wouldn’t use anything! In the OP’s situation my go-to would be “sorry” or “excuse me”, possibly escalating in volume until I got their attention.

          1. ClaireW*

            Yeah same, I guess I’d start with “Hey” or “Sorry” or whatever but even in my 5+ years in retail I never used “sir” or “ma’am” or things like that – except if a teacher from my school came in, then I’d give the whole “Miss Trunchbull” type title lol

        2. Irish Teacher*

          I think in Ireland, we usually just say “sorry” to get somebody’s attention when we don’t know their name. Like “sorry…em, SORRY, you’re after forgetting your keys.”

          “What can I do for you?” would just be left as it was without any identifier.

        3. Jane*

          As a Brit, I think I’d use “excuse me” if I were calling after someone and, either “excuse me” or possibly “sorry” if we were already next to each other

          “Sorry” short for “sorry for disturbing you”, rather than an apology for the question/request.

          E.g. shouting “Excuse me” to get attention, then followed with “you’ve dropped your scarf”. On one occassion when someone had left there phone on the train and I was leaning out the closing door trying to get their attention, I tried a few “excuse me”s followed by “the man in the blue shirt” and someone else tapped him to get his attention. Not polite, but effective!

          1. Gracie*

            You’d be aiming for the East Midlands if you ever wanted to get called duck (get ducked?) – it’s a very regional one

        4. rebelwithmouseyhair*

          In the north they use “pet” and “flower” even for men, I think it’s utterly charming.

      2. Grim*

        Same here! I’m Australian and I worked in food service for years and never once called a customer ma’am or sir. Being called “mate” in a customer service context seems much more normal and comfortable to me, which is funny because I’m normally someone who would balk at overfamiliarity or being addressed as “friend” by someone who doesn’t even know me, but “mate” is just different. If someone called me ma’am or sir it would feel either overly deferential, or weirdly pretentious. I’m also pretty androgynous and while I’m fine with any pronouns or gendered language, the fact that Australians as a whole aren’t big on honorifics means skipping the awkwardness of watching a customer service employee struggle to figure out which option to use for me. It’s a win all around!

      3. ferrina*

        It seems that the honorific depends a lot on the speaker. “Mate” works in an Australian accent, but not an American accent. “Love” (suggested by another commenter) works from some people, but would creepy coming from certain other people. “Darlin’ ” works really well in an American Southern or Midwestern accent, but would be condescending coming from others or certain individuals. One commenter suggested “boss”, which I would love coming from some people, and cringe at coming from others.

        Really, find the word that you can apply to your fellow humans that reflects you and shows respect for them. Communication is always about building a bridge between two parties. I haven’t found an honorific that works for me, so I go with non-honorifics (“Excuse me! Pardon me! Hello in the blue jacket- you dropped something!”). This got a lot easier after I started practicing non-gendered language (including pronoun-free language). After a couple decades of school teaching me a gendered way of speaking (not to mention society), the practice really helped me reset my brain into a new way of speaking. I’m not perfect, but waaaaaaay better than I used to be.

      4. sulky-anne*

        Is it true that in Australia you might refer to a guy you don’t know as “old mate” (maybe not in the most respectful way)? That version seems gendered to me.

        1. Grim*

          Yep. “Mate” on its own is considered fairly gender neutral (I would say it skews ever so slightly masculine but it’s still a perfectly acceptable way to refer to a woman) but “old mate” is something I’ve only heard used to refer to men. Usually but not always older men, although I’ve seen it used to refer to a (male) baby. You’re right that it’s not a super respectful term of address, but it’s not likely to get you punched or anything. When used to refer to a stranger I think it can come off as a bit facetious or condescending, but I’m sure plenty of people wouldn’t see it that way at all.

        2. nodramalama*

          ol’ mate can mean 1. someone you don’t know, 2. someone you know but can’t remember, 3. someone you both know but are referring to as ‘ol mate for some reason.

          It’s not gendered but it usually refers to someone who is not part of the conversation rather than at them. E.g. “I saw ol’ mate in accounting buying a muffin”

    2. Formerly Ella Vader*

      OP4, thank you for asking this. I like that “pardon me” and I’ll watch the thread to see if there are other suggestions.

      I noticed last summer that when I was bartending at a busy festival, I tended to speak in an old-fashioned polite register with a lot of gendered words, in a way that I don’t do in my regular life. It felt like I was playing a role. “Thank you sir” “What can I get for you ma’am?” “The cider is for this gentleman”. I didn’t feel comfortable with it, so I tried to dial back to a more casual register, wishing there were ways to convey that traditional respect without the gendering. I tried “This patron is still waiting for their glass of white wine” for a third-person term, but for direct address I didn’t find anything.

    3. 'nother prof*

      FWIW, “excuse me” and “pardon me” sound *more* polite to me than “Ma’am” or “Sir.” The latter two forms of address are most commonly used in/associated with the military where I grew up (middle East Coast), whereas “excuse me” was the standard for getting someone’s attention as they are walking away and such.

      1. NotRealAnonForThis*

        Same. “Ma’am” and “Sir” were just NOT used where I grew up in the midwest, so they sound just **something** to my ears. I’m not sure what that something is, but it isn’t always positive.

        I’m not doubting that there are places where the use of those honorifics are used and seen as a politeness, but that’s not how they were used in my growing up experience.

        1. MC*

          I’m from the Midwest and sir/ma’am were just not used, and if someone did it wasn’t in a respectful manner. I’ve lived in Texas for ten years and I still bristle a bit when someone calls me ma’am. “excuse me” or “pardon me” work just fine to get someone’s attention.

          But a lot of people definitely seem to believe that one region’s way of doing things is the universal and only right way to do it, which just simply is not true.

          1. Bast*

            I’m from the east coast, and unless you are in the military, “sir” and “ma’am” for my generation, (millennial) would be seen as excessively formal here. The one exception other than the military I can think of is in Court, where it is fairly strictly, “Sir” “Ma’am” or “Your Honor.” My parents, on the other hand, are boomers, and everyone is sir/ma’am to them, whether it’s the bank teller or their boss.

        2. Pam*

          I grew up in Seattle, and being called “ma’am” makes me flinch. I associate it with authoritarian hierarchies. I now work with some former military folks and they say it a lot. I know they mean it as a respectful way, but I hate it. It’s not me.

          Someone suggested “Fellow Earthling”. I would love that

        3. Jessica*

          Yeah, I grew up in the midwest, and I only ever heard them used sarcastically. (“Sir, this is a Wendy’s.” “If you’re going to stomp in here in high dudgeon and abuse my staff, madame, you’re not going to get the result you’re hoping for.”)

          1. Quill*

            Similar, but with a generational component that anybody who expects you to call them Sir or Ma’am is likelier than average to be a jerk. (Later Millennial)

      2. Office Lobster DJ*

        For once, maybe someone will call me “sir”….without adding “you’re making a scene.”

        -H. Simpson

      3. English Teacher*

        Same! I’m not sure why, but when I hear someone yelling, “Sir? SIR!” I always assume there’s going to be a problem (even that it’s usually that he left his laptop case behind or something). And beyond possible misgendering, you do not want to call someone ma’am if they think of themselves as a miss!

    4. JamieG*

      I just go with “excuse me!” I used to do retail and sometimes had to flag people down, and if persistent enough that always got attention.

    5. Jessica*

      Yeah, I’ve somehow managed to make it to my 40s without ever uttering an honorific outside of the ones included in people’s names (Professor so-and-so, Mrs. so-and-so, Dr. so-and-so) and it seems to me they’re a leftover of a very classist society and more trouble than they’re worth. Even without the question of getting people’s gender right, it’s awkward and potentially problematic (I’m not going to address people as “sir,” like I’m their inferior in the military, and it can be weird when someone else decides whether you’re a “ma’am” or a “miss”).

      Like, I’m not sure why adding an honorific to an “excuse me!” you’re calling after someone is more likely to get them to know it’s them, as opposed to any of the other people around them, and you can be polite without trying to infer someone’s social/gender/marital/etc. status, so what is the point?

  3. anon24*

    OP 3, I wasn’t a doctor or a firefighter but I was an EMT. Our time off policy was that we had to request time off 6 weeks in advance. A whole quarter ahead of time is just banana crackers.

    OP4 I agree. I try to just never use honorifics, but I wish there was a good gender neutral one, or that it was socially acceptable to be like “hey, person!”

    1. Raccoon Lady*

      Yep – veterinarian at a corporate owned clinic and our policy is by the 10th of the previous month. With the caveat that it can be denied if too many people have requested off already. In the case of the doctors they don’t like more than 2 of us to be out (it’s a 6 doctor practice) at a time so if you have something you really want to have off best to request in advance. But it also allows flexibility/for me to realize in late October that I have enough vacation time left to take off my mid December birthday, etc.

    2. Office ghost*

      I have a friend whose workplace requires submitting leave for the *entire year* the quarter before that year begins. Their 2024 vacation request was due in Sept of 2023. it’s been this way at least since they were hired 4 years ago.

      1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        What on earth do they do about sick time? “Sorry you broke your leg and need to have it set, but Jane has the flu so nobody else can be sick today”?

        1. doreen*

          My son’s job has a similar system – he has to submit all his vacation requests for 2024 by around Nov 1 2023. Three things – this doesn’t apply to sick leave, it doesn’t apply to single days and it’s really only a matter of a guarantee. If you don’t ask for a particular week off by the deadline, you still might get it approved if you request it later depending on how many people already have it. Which means you have to request Christmas a year in advance but probably not some random week in April.

          1. ferrina*

            This makes more sense to me. If you want it (almost certainly) guaranteed, you have to submit by X date. Otherwise vacation is first come, first served.

            1. goddessoftransitory*

              This makes sense to me too. Years ago when my sister was getting married, I had started a new job, and had to let them know I would definitely need X-Y dates off for the wedding. This was months away so they were fine with it. I can see it for very busy times of year like the winter holidays and such as well.

        2. uncivil servant*

          My husband’s a paramedic and this is how they work – he puts in for leave in the fiscal year starting April in January. Sick leave is from a different pot than vacation and can’t be denied.

        1. doreen*

          I think the issue is because it seems to be only very specific types of jobs that do it that way. I spent nearly all of my life in a union environment and non of my jobs ever used the system – but although every job needed coverage and people with the most seniority got first pick , the coverage/seniority was within a small group of people. For example, when I worked at a college, the financial aid counselors were their own group for coverage and the bursar’s and registrar’s office were separate. My son works for a city housing agency that has over 2000 buildings – his coverage/seniority group is everyone in his title because they can easily move someone from development A to development B for a week or two but that means it takes longer to coordinate.

        2. GreenDoor*

          But here, the OP doesn’t have a union or a job where coverage is essential (like a first responder or hospital-based job). My office of 25 people uses a shared calendar. We can all see who will be out and when and can plan our time off around that. It really isn’t hard in a desk-job environment, especially with only a handful of people on the team.

      2. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Hubby’s old job had vacation time submitted in January for the year. But he always withheld a week that he would just take if we needed a long weekend.

        In this specific case, it is so EASY to keep track of time off so you have coverage. It’s called a calendar. If Thomasina requests time off next month and you check the calendar and see you already gave Fergus that week off, well Thomasina gets a no. I mean it works out the same as doing it quartely anyway. In fact, it encourages requesting early. Which if everyone has to request quarterly what happens when two people ask for the same week? How do you prioritize? And its six people. Honestly, if you can’t track six people’s vacation, how on earth are you directing an entire team and keeping track of all their projects?

        1. Birdie*

          You’d think a calendar for office jobs wouldn’t be that hard…..and yet. My brother was getting married and I needed to full week because he lives across the country. I put in the request 8 months ahead of time, as soon as the date was set and it was approved. Put it on the calendar. A month out, I start reminding people I will be gone for that week.

          Same boss who approved my vacation comes to me 2 weeks before this long planned and long approved trip: “I didn’t realize you were off the same week as John when I approved his vacation today, oops, didn’t check the calendar. He already bought his tickets, so I need you to move your trip.” Um no. I got approved EIGHT MONTHS AGO. I, too, already bought my tickets, booked hotels, etc. I’m not cancelling my trip for my brother’s wedding because my boss and John are both idiots who can’t remember to check the calendar. (also, clearly issues beyond just an inability to check a calendar)

          1. Bast*

            I requested the first week of November off one year roughly 6 months in advance. Approved, no problem, not a popular time that people take off. The week of my vacation, one person gets sick AND on the same day someone calls out for an “emergency hair appointment” and my boss attempts to call me back in. I have had my vacation in the calendar for 6 months, and someone decides THAT WEEK that they need an “emergency hair appointment?” AND on the same day that someone else called out sick? I refused. Ridiculous how they expect you to just drop the vacation you’ve been planning for months because someone else didn’t plan appropriately/waited until the last minute.

            1. Tupac Coachella*

              At the risk of sounding callous, a hair appointment is not an “emergency” unless your stylist will be cutting out some type of small animal.

              All joking aside, lice treatment would fall into this category in my book, and I can see why they may not want to share that info widely, even if “emergency hair appointment” runs the risk of sounding frivolous (couldn’t they say “personal emergency” or something?). But none of that should be Bast’s problem to deal with.

          2. goddessoftransitory*

            Cripes, I mean, our manager starts reminding us at least two months out to NOT book tickets and such if we haven’t requested and had our PTO approved for the holiday season! Adult humans should not be scheduling willy-nilly and just expecting others to work their previously made and very clearly stated plans around them.

      3. lilsheba*

        OH yeah. I worked in a call center for a bank that goes by the initials wf and they made us plan out the years PTO in advance, and then they approved or denied based on stupid call center forecasting BS metrics. Work places that do this are treating employees like children. Oh and if you had a random doctor’s appointment and tried to get time off for it it would get denied EVERY SINGE TIME. Then you were forced to call off and get an “occurence”. I am so grateful I work for a normal company now and we get treated like the smart adults we are.

      4. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

        Yes, that’s the way for most hospital nurses in my province, as far as I know. It stresses me out just thinking about planning that far ahead!

      5. sulky-anne*

        I used to work somewhere with a similar policy–any major blocks of time off were submitted in January for the rest of the year. You could ask for time off closer to the date, but it would only be approved if there was coverage.

      6. goddessoftransitory*

        The hell? Who has a life that rigid/surprise free? All I can come up with is “completely isolated monastery” or similarly structured community, and even then people would have to deal with sicknesses and such!

        Man, I thought our having to ask for time off three weeks out due to scheduling was bad…

      7. Doc in a Box*

        I’m a doctor and it’s been this way my entire working life. I get it, you need 24/7 coverage. But I missed so many weddings and other life events because I got the save-the-date a month or two after submitting leave requests, and I couldn’t find anyone to switch with me.

        My chair just announced a truly bananas policy of FIVE years in advance. It’s not in writing (yet) but I started sending out my CV later that week.

        (For sick coverage, we have a jeopardy call system for the inpatient side; outpatient clinics get double-booked onto someone else’s schedule. It really discourages people from calling out sick, knowing their colleagues will have to cover for them. The only time I was out sick in 5.5 years was a required 5 day period with covid.)

    3. JustEm*

      For what it’s worth, I’m an outpatient doctor and am supposed to request vacation 7 months in advance, since that’s when my schedule starts getting full. If there’s an unexpected need I can request up to 60 days in advance, but it creates a big hassle rescheduling patients. Less than 60 days I have to do a makeup clinic and the time may not be approved.

      1. SMH ce*

        yeah nurse here and our vacation calendar goes around in November and we put down the majority of our vacation from March to March-so over a year in advance. Generally tho you have a reasonable manager and the will let you move it or book new dates if required as long as there’s coverage. so still more flexibility at least (gotta love a union)

      2. Gyne*

        Yup, mix of inpatient/outpatient and our schedules are rolled out 6-9 months in advance. (I made Jan-Jun 2024 in early September.) So if I decide today I wanted to take a week off in June, I’d have to arrange my own coverage for call and have my office manager reschedule patients. We try not to do that but it is an option. Major holidays rotate so you know if you work Thanksgiving one year, you won’t the next year (unless you request – I don’t do anything for New Year ever so will happily always take that if possible.)

      3. Y'all come back now, ya hear?*

        One of my parents is an outpatient physician in private practice. All docs, PAs, and NPs have to put their vacation requests in for the whole year the first week of January to ensure coverage and scheduling. Parent could always take a sick day and there was some flexibility around long weekends for our sports stuff – but it is done to ensure coverage in July/August and around the holidays. It’s also to make sure each provider also puts down when they are going to do CME!

      4. boof*

        Yep, same here; if I’m requesting 6 months out, I’m probably safe. 3 months out, my scheudle is pretty full so a weeks worth of patients will need to be moved to… my schedule the week before and prior?? Always fun to overload yourself before and after you go on break (not that there’s any avoiding that anyway, but at least we can try…)
        (also, I think the physician / oncologist shortage is definitely here D: )

    4. Random Bystander*

      On the time off, I think the policy where I am is pretty reasonable. It’s tied to the amount of time off–just one full business day ahead for a single day, a month for a full week. You can ask further ahead than that–those are just the minimums. It’s really not that complicated (and a department calendar that shows who has time off–I mean you can make those electronic now with only the one who can approve having edit permission). I almost always get the approval to my requests later the same day as when they’re made.

      The only time it ever got complicated was around holidays when everyone seemed to want extra days off and there’d be a “request time around holiday by x date”. Like when Thanksgiving and the Friday after are company holidays, a lot of people want that Wednesday before, or during that week between Christmas and New Years. So the policy was that those highly sought days were “skeleton crew” where 50% could be off. The first ones with the requests would get approved until that 50% mark was reached, and then any subsequent ones would be denied. The next year, anyone who had the time off prior year would be put to the bottom of the stack (in order received), so no one worked the highly desired days off every year unless by choice. A whole lot better than the prior boss’s policy which had been strictly by seniority–in a place with virtually no overturn, so that I had been working there for over seven years before being “senior enough”.

      1. Feckless Rando*

        I worked at a place once that was coverage based that closed for exactly zero public holidays and did vacation time 100% by seniority. The team was about 1 quarter “lifers” who had been there 10-20 years and 3 quarters college students who had been there about 6 months-1.5 years. It was an amusement/attraction kind of place, not saving lives or anything. I’m still extremely bitter.

      2. Two Weeks*

        “Order received” always seemed unfair to me. But I am typically one of the first to submit, especially for school holidays. My wife and I like to plan ahead. You might say the pandemic was my fault, because I made a request 18 months beforehand for a week off in July 2020, thinking no way would my plans get canceled.

        That said, first come first serve is better than something like “everyone submits their request 2 months before no more no less,” because I often do need to book tickets, especially for the week between Christmas and New Years, and 2 months is too close to get a decent price on tickets for that busy season.

    5. AnonRN*

      My “normal” work schedule is published by the manager about 6 weeks in advance, but due to union rules and coverage needs, I have to request my April vacation the previous July. However, that means that I *know* those dates in April are mine and I don’t have to wait for the schedule to come out to buy plane tickets or whatever. (Come February, we put in our requests for May-September, then in July we do the rest of the year.) Since it is a 24/7 job and we work 8 or 12-hour shifts that does mean most of us only work 4 days out of 7, so it’s usually possible to request which 3 days we’re off within a week for short-term needs that come up. We’re also allowed to trade shifts with co-workers.

      This system works reasonably well for us (and it is entwined with all the other union agreements about our schedules and weekend coverage etc…) but it would seem a little unnecessary for desk workers? If there are a small number of employees, would your manager be open to you all handling it yourselves? Maybe based on seniority (most senior person gets first choice to pick a vacation block in the next X time-frame assuming they have PTO to cover it, then the next person, etc… Or rotate who goes first quarterly?) Then as long as a day is unspoken for, anyone can claim it (maybe up until 2 weeks before the day except for emergencies?.) Block out certain dates for giant projects if need be. This would take the whole thing off her plate if you all are able to do it without squabbles. If the real problem is that the office can’t operate without everyone there, then no one can use their time and you need more employees.

    6. Irish Teacher*

      It’s just occurred to me how difficult the gender neutral honorific is in English. In Irish, you’d usually use “chara,” which is “friend,” but in English that sounds a bit childish. In Irish, you even start formal letters with “a chara” (and when I was writing letters of application, I just used that and signed off in Irish; this is an acceptable convention in Ireland even when writing in English and it avoided the issue somewhat). Irish also has “a dhuine uisle,” which means something like “noble person,” but that is pretty formal and sounds even more so in English, to the point of sounding downright medieval. Even the British queen used “a chairde” (friends) when addressing people in Ireland (and impressed everybody by her pronunciation).

      1. Nina*

        In New Zealand it’s acceptable to do something similar in Te Reo Maaori (salutation and closing in Te Reo, body of email in English) and the common salutations are usually gender-neutral but unfortunately many are very specific about how many people you’re addressing (you use a different address for one person, two people, a few people, many people you know well, and many people you do not know well).

    7. BKB*

      My husband is an ER doctor. At his job (and the other ones he’s worked at) you generally have to request time off 3 months in advance. The entire schedule for the month is made at once, and your time off is not approved until the schedule is made.

      It would not work to wait until one month ahead of time, because it’s better to know your work schedule pretty far in advance (the schedule is so irregular that it takes some work to figure out weekend/evening/overnight childcare).

      If you have a last minute vacation you want to take, you can try to find someone to cover your shifts but it’s hard to manage. If an emergency comes up (family funeral, hospital stay, etc) people will step up to work extra to cover your shifts.

      1. Mrs. MD*

        My husband is an ER doc, too, and it works just like this. It’s a pain at first, but once you get used to it, it’s kind of nice to plan ahead. The worst was residency, when he had to pick his 3 vacation weeks for the whole year in advance, and they HAD to be Sun-Saturday weeks (so you couldn’t even plan a full weekend away!!)

    8. Carrots*

      My husband is a doctor. By next week we have to make our vacation requests for April-June. We made our requests for Nov-March loooong ago. Frankly, as people with kids, we plan that far in advance anyway.

    9. Donkey Hotey*

      Adding to the chorus: The early request doesn’t phase me but the month gap between requesting and knowing whether or not it was approved is the deal killer for me.

      1. HonorBox*

        I totally agree about the month gap. If you and I both put in for time and a couple of those days overlap, one of us may be denied. Then what? If the director wants those requests so early, the best solution is to approve them early so people can adjust if necessary.

        I’m wondering if there’s a split the difference area that the staff could encourage the director to land on. Longer request need to be made farther in advance, but if you get a call from a friend because they have an extra concert ticket in two weeks, you should still be able to figure out how to take the day.

    10. Daisy-dog*

      My boss’s spouse is an anesthesiologist and they have to request vacation for the entire year in advance. So my boss is planning his 2024 vacation now. I think it’s only for the week-long or longer periods, so long weekends or one-off days for a kid’s field trip (or sports team goes to the playoffs or whatever) may be approved later. (Sick time is separate.)

    11. Don't Hate The Office*

      At my Spouse’s old job, you had to put in your vacation requests for the entire year, within the first two weeks of the fiscal year (October 1-October 14). They were the only requests that would be guaranteed. After that, if more that two people (of 120ish) had a time off request for that day, you would be denied. It was a terrible job and a terrible policy.

    12. sdog*

      I used to work for the US fed govt, and we had 2 “open” periods per year to put in our requests for vacation lasting more than one week for the upcoming six-month period. Similar thing, we had a deadline, and managers would approve/deny by a certain date after. Beyond that, we could try but it wasn’t guaranteed. This was only for vacations of more than one week, though.

  4. Magenta Sky*

    LW #2: Why not consult with your catering service on how much extra of the halal and vegan dishes to bring in for those who don’t *need* them but like them anyway? They’re probably used to that sort of thing, and should be able to make specific recommendations.

    1. TCO*

      It sounds like this office is hiring a second caterer to provide these special meals, because a different caterer is already under contract for the rest. Coordinating/blending two catering menus for everyone is probably unworkable. It’s also very possible that these special meals are more expensive, and the company is happy to pay that added expense for those who need it but not for those who don’t.

      I think it’s very reasonable to serve special “reserved” food in cases like this. People with dietary restrictions so often have to get less food, limited choices, etc. at meals like this without special measures. I don’t feel sorry for folks without restrictions who “have” to eat the regular mac and cheese this time even if the vegan one looks better to them.

      1. OP2*

        Yes, this. We are adding a second caterer this time at an additional expense. The employee didn’t ask for this particular event, just as a general ‘it would be nice if’ comment, but there’s no time like the present! Moving forward, we’ll be sure to work with caterers who can supply all our needs, but it definitely is more expensive!

        1. Nebula*

          Can I just say, I really appreciate you going ‘no time like the present’ here. I think plenty of people would just think ‘Oh we’ve already got caterers for this one, maybe we’ll think about it next time’ so kudos to you for actually getting in gear on this now.

          1. OP2*

            I appreciate that! But honestly, I feel like it’s the least we can do for not being more thoughtful about this up to now.

        2. Arctic Tern*

          Who looks after the buffet once it starts? Can the caterers be requested to hold back some vegan/halal/gluten food to be refilled at set intervals?

          Then you could add a sign near those containers saying something like: “Let Wakeen know if we’re out of the food that matches your dietary requirements”.

          1. OP2*

            Yes, that is a great idea! We will have someone at the table to help monitor and resupply as needed, so we can make sure that if they are running low, we don’t replenish until someone requests it for dietary reasons. We’ll have to play it by ear a bit this year, but this should work and ensure the food lasts long enough.

            1. Nynaeve*

              I have had to do this with caterers for a similar sized event in the past, and it worked well! Another thing to ask is that they only ever refill the trays half-full (if it’s a dish where you are scooping out of a larger supply like pasta or salad). Or, have them always leave an empty tray on the table. People generally don’t like to take the last of something, so if you feign even more scarcity than there is, you can encourage people to go for what there’s a ton of!

            2. Beth*

              OP, a thought inspired by my friend’s experience at a recent event–make sure the specialty meal area is well marked!

              My friend is vegetarian and signed up in advance for a vegetarian meal (which was an option on the RSVP for the event). But when she arrived, she only saw a buffet centered around Texas-style barbecue. She managed to fill up on sides, but was pretty disappointed that there were no vegetarian entrees out. It was only later, when dinner was ending and she happened to be chatting with another vegetarian, that she was told that there were actual vegetarian meals set aside that she would have been able to eat if she’d asked a server. Since there was no sign up or marked table for it, she hadn’t known that was an option.

        3. Beth*

          OP2, I just want to add my own accolades to the choir. THANK YOU for being so willing to put in the necessary thought and effort on this!

      2. Kara*

        For one thing, because it normalizes the ‘special’ food so that it just becomes regular food, which makes it more likely that it’ll be served without someone having to specifically ask and minimizes the social impact of those who need particular foods. Consider two scenarios. In one everyone is eating…say, beef stroganoff and Barney had a special meal ordered in of vegan stuffed winter squash. It singles Barney out and leaves them open to ‘oh, but you’d love the stroganoff if you’d only try it, come on it’s only a bite!’ In the other scenario there’s a large pan of beef stroganoff and a second pan of stuffed winter squash sitting next to it with everyone free to have some. Odds are pretty good that Barney isn’t going to be the only person sitting there eating winter squash, and they no longer have a figurative big sign over their head. They’re not going to have to deal with comments about ‘must be nice having the company order a meal just for you’; in fact most people aren’t going to realize that there’s any particular reason for the squash’s presence. It’s just there. Plus, food has a social aspect, and now Barney gets to eat the same food as at least some other members of the company. They’re no longer an afterthought, but part of the greater whole.

    2. Formerly Ella Vader*

      For pizza, I’d suggest a guideline of count how many people need non-meat pizzas and how many pizzas that equates to. If it’s 3 non-meat pizzas, get two mixed-veg and one cheese. Then order 2 or 3 x that much non-meat pizza (maybe 5 + 2).

      A vegetarian friend was always in charge of ordering pizza for their workplace, and was mystified about how there was never enough. They had never realized that, presented with a meal of various pizzas (especially without a vegetable tray or salad as a possible side dish) many people without food restrictions will include a slice or two of vegetable pizza to make a more balanced meal, and to show solidarity with their vegetarian colleagues.

      If it’s necessary that only the people who signed up as vegetarians eat the vegetarian choices, say so explicitly. Otherwise, people will help themselves out of curiosity or virtue-signalling or a thought of bonding with their colleagues.

      1. Buzzybeeworld*

        Plenty of omnivores just like cheese or veggie pizza. It’s not curiosity, virtue-signaling or bonding that has them select veggie pizza, it is simply that they enjoy it.

        1. yvve*

          yea– plus there’s people who eat very little meat or try to avoid animal products, but aren’t fully vegetarian/vegan. They might be willing to eat meat if that’s what’s available, but if given the choice will pick vegan food. Its frustrating when no one makes it clear that btw, this specific food is limited in quantity and we only made enough for the vegans! if it’s a buffet i usually assume I’m allowed to take whatever is on the buffet

          1. Emmy Noether*

            That’s me: I try to restrict my meat intake, and specifically try to restrict it as much as possible to locally farmed/organic, high-quality meat, which office catering mostly isn’t.

            1. Phryne*

              Same! I buy very little meat myself and when I do I am selective. At a buffet, I would go for vegetarian food unless there is no other choice (especially if the caterer says vegan/vegetarian food is more expensive, like OP says above, because if the veggies are more expensive than your meat, yikes).
              I would be sceptical of any professional caterer in this day and age that can not deliver on special diets such as halal/kosher, vegetarian/vegan or gluten free in the 21th century tbh. There are some difficult to cater for special needs out there but these surely are all mainstream by now.

              1. Emmy Noether*

                A colleague of mine had a very enlightening and depressing conversation with the cafeteria manager one day on why the veggie meals were smaller and more expensive. Turns out that fresh vegetables* are indeed more expensive to source and prepare for big kitchens than highly processed frozen meat products. Yikes indeed.

                *Why they thought vegetarian food had to be 80% vegetables is another mystery to me. Vegetarians like simple carbs too, and those are fairly cheap.

            2. Falling Diphthong*

              I just like vegetables! I eat a lot of them. Figuring out how to pack them in while traveling is a routine challenge, since I’m trying not to starkly change my food intake.

          2. Quill*

            This, and also, especially with a pizza or sandwich ordering catering setup, sometimes the vegetarian option is the only way to make sure your meal includes a vegetable, something I’m pretty sure we’ve all been told we should be doing.

        2. Jeff Vader*

          Yep, people like variety and choice.

          If they think that eating the only food that I can eat shows solidarity with me then I cannot help them.

        3. UKDancer*

          Yeah. I eat meat but processed meat on pizza doesn’t agree with me. Also I like cheese. If there is a choice of pizza I will go for the cheese because I like it. Obviously I don’t eat peoples’ special meals and if there’s a special bit that’s for people with a dietary need then I leave them to it. But if there is a choice of pepperoni or cheese, I’d go for the cheese mostly.

          I’d also say mass catering can be weird. I’ve been to a few conferences and events where the meat option on a hot buffet looks unpleasant (usually a brown stew resembling sludge). The vegetarian option is sometimes a safer bet especially if it’s something like vegetable curry or gnocchi with cheese. If there’s not a restriction or meals set aside, I’m going to go for the one I think will be least bad.

        4. Falling Diphthong*

          Yes, omnivores are not obligate carnivores.

          I guess I’ve encountered people who are like “meat, and brown simple carbs, at every meal; and nothing else” but most of us omnivores are actively interested in eating salads, roast vegetables, pasta in tomato sauce, falafel, etc.

          1. londonedit*

            Yeah, you get a few people who are oddly invested in the fact that they ‘don’t eat vegetarian food’ (I presume they never have a cheese sandwich, or scrambled eggs, or jam on toast, or cereal, or eat a piece of fruit…) but most of the time people who eat meat will eat meat alongside a whole range of other food. Which is why you get the ‘Ooooh I love veggie pizzas, I’ll have a slice of that and a slice of pepperoni’ issue.

          2. L.H. Puttgrass*

            I guess I’ve encountered people who are like “meat, and brown simple carbs, at every meal; and nothing else”

            I see you’ve met my extended family. (They’re from the south.)

            1. Billy Preston*

              ha ha ha lots of people from the south eat vegetables or are vegetarians, so just stop with this type of humor

              1. L.H. Puttgrass*

                And I’d ask you to stop trying to “invalidate my lived experience.” My extended family is very much a “meat must be in every dish, including the vegetables” kind of family, and they (including my dear mother, about whom I can assure you I am not casting aspersions and I would ask of you the same) are in fact from the south—where, yes, that kind of attitude seems common—just try eating at a Cracker Barrel sometimes. Sorry if that bothers you.

                I’ve had some lovely vegetarian meals in the South. But if you think it’s not harder to find good vegetarian food in most of the South than it is in, say, New York City, well…you’re a lot better at finding the vegetarian places than I am.

                1. Corgisandcats*

                  I mean maybe? I have no trouble finding vegetarian foods/restaurants in my area, it’s not NYC but in WNC I’m happy to find all sorts of different cuisines, plenty vegetarian/vegan or not.
                  It’s funny because gardening culture is huge here and in WNC our growing season is incredibly long compared to NE so it results in lots of vegetables. I’m a casual gardener and even I am able to grow a ton of my own food and forage plenty from the woods. Veggies/fruits are a huge conversation starter here and we love talking about heirloom varieties and where you got your seeds. Good food is universal if you know where to look and keep an open mind.

            2. Y'all come back now, ya hear?*

              As a Southerner who is currently eating scrambled eggs with spinach and homemade pumpkin bread, I understand the stereotype, but we also grow a lot of veggies that I eat.

              Also, as an intelligent Southerner who has a strong accent that people make suppositions about, please stop with this kind of humor. We are people and aren’t all to be painted with the same brush. My state isn’t a backward state, we are a heavily gerrymandered state and we are working hard to change that.

            3. Falling Diphthong*

              Extended family from the south, in fact.

              We were at a buffet (in the south) and I was impressed that the food was really good–like, I wanted the recipe for multiple dishes good–with lots of not-brown options, and then when I got back to the table everyone else had plates of brown.

              (I like simple carbs! AAM has taught me that you should be very careful around teaching your office mates to anticipate simple carbs, because they arouse passions unlike mini zucchini!)

        5. Lady_Lessa*

          I’m one like that. Pizza at work, (our one vegan gets a special one), I will take a meat heavy piece and depending upon the veggies on other options may take one of that kind too. (If mushroom or heavy on them, I avoid because I don’t care for them)

        6. The OG Sleepless*

          Vegetarian food is colorful and tasty-looking. A lot of people who aren’t vegetarian or would never order a vegetarian meal, when they actually see it, will think “oo, that looks good!” I’ve seen this happen many times. If you don’t hold the vegetarian food for the people who need it, it will indeed be gone before the people who requested it get there.

      2. Mel99*

        What a bizarre thing to say.

        It’s got nothing to do with bonding, virtue signalling or curiosity for the most part – different people just have different preferences. Personally I don’t like meat on pizza, and even when I order it on my own I tend to get vegetarian options. It’s really not that deep.

      3. MK*

        Eating meat in general doesn’t mean you never eat anything plant based. In most cultures’ diets the proportion of meat and dairy is overall much lower than other foods.

      4. amoeba*

        Yeah, pretty sure the most common pizza choice in Italy is actually plain Margherita, so… cheese. Also other vegetarian options are super common (funghi, spinaci…) And certainly not because of the high number of vegetarians or any kind of solidarity – just because they’re classics that people like! Even when I was an omnivore without any thought about my meat intake, I don’t think I’ve ever ordered a pizza with meat on it – it’s simply not the one I like most.

        Acting like omnivores only ever eat the option containing meat is such a bizarre thought to me. It’s not like we’re, I don’t know… cats?

      5. Green great dragon*

        I generally prefer veg to the sort of meat you see on pizzas, and also if the food’s been sitting out I think I’m less likely to get food poisoning from veg

        1. UKDancer*

          Yes this is a key thing. What I eat at a buffet isn’t the same as what I’d eat if I were cooking it freshly from scratch. If I am away at a conference I want the thing that is safest, least likely to upset my insides and least messy (especially if it’s a buffet to eat standing up).

        2. amoeba*

          Although I’ve recently learned that the worst risk for food poisoning actually comes from… salad. (Because it’s often not washed properly, and also contaminated from cattle excrements on the field). There’s a John Oliver clip on it…

      6. TechWorker*

        For pizza my workplace has started asking ‘veggie’, ‘meat/veggie’ or ‘meat’ (as well as vegan/GF etc). That way the die hard carnivores can say so and the people who are like ‘meat/veggie’ we can make sure the amount of veggie is enough. (Also if you know it’s pizza and hate processed meat just… mark yourself vegetarian..?)

      7. Media Monkey*

        i used to order pizza for my previous workplace. for 15-18 people, we’d order say 8 pizzas, one vegan, one cheese gluten free, one veggie gluten free, 1 chicken, one meat, one normal veggie, one normal cheese. the vegans/ gluten free people would choose first and then it would be put out for everyone. the gluten free person (who was also nut free) spoke to the restaurant to make sure she was happy with their allergy policies and once she OKed it we always ordered from there.

        1. What The*

          Thank you for this! I have a new group either a variety of diets and this seems like a perfect starting point.

        2. Billy Preston*

          yay thank you for including chicken! I eat meat, but not beef so I can’t eat most pepperoni pizzas anymore. So people always include meat but it’s often pepperoni (which pretty much always has some beef in it). So different meats (not just pepperoni, supreme, meat lovers) is very good.

      8. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        For pizzas specifically this is a solved problem. For the general population (so not a vegetarian or Jewish group or something else with higher levels of dietary restrictions), the first pizza is plain cheese. The second is pepperoni. After that, half are plain cheese, half of the rest are veggie, and the other quarter are meat of some kind. Twenty pizzas? Ten cheese, five without meat, five with. Cheese isn’t a lot of people’s first choice but nearly everyone will take some. Have a vegan pizza or two off to the side.

        1. Barb*

          Also you might consider gluten free. I was always unable to eat at work lunches – my boss simply didn’t care that I was gluten free.

      9. Nancy*

        People who eat meat also like and eat vegetables, some may even prefer it! It has nothing to do with bonding with colleagues or virtue signaling, that’s silly.

        1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

          But they’ll also eat plain cheese, which is why when you consider that a lot of standard pizza veggies are things some people dislike (onions, peppers, mushrooms) having lots of plain cheese is a safe bet.

      10. Esprit de l'escalier*

        Someone ordered pizzas for a group dinner recently and people were unhappy that there wasn’t more veggie pizza — it was the first to go. And most of these people would not describe themselves as vegetarian. Remember that this choice is not helpful for gluten-free folks or those who can’t tolerate dairy unless you special-order for them.

  5. Coin Purse*

    I’ve worked a lot of places with vacation policies like #3…and far worse, like a year in advance. That’s been in health care as an RN and in an office setting where desk coverage was mandatory. However it makes no sense in less urgent environments. It forces people to plan very far out and risk having plans upended by unexpected illnesses or emergencies.

    1. fueled by coffee*

      Came here to say this. A close relative is a doctor, and while they get generous leave, it does all need to be requested nearly a year in advance – not really the counterexample LW was expecting. This is for coverage purposes, and to be able to schedule patients for their 6-month/annual follow-up.

      They do have the option to swap days as the need comes up, but it causes scheduling hassles so they try to avoid it to the extent possible.

      That said, I don’t see the need for this extensive planning in non-coverage/schedule based roles.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        That’s funny, because a friend was just telling me that their long-scheduled doctor’s appointment had recently been cancelled because of the doctor’s vacation!

        1. Y'all come back now, ya hear?*

          Sometimes these things happen – we had to abruptly schedule a “vacation” because I had emergency surgery in a different city as a child. Doctors are people too.

          When my grandmother was actively dying, patients were infuriated that my physician parent abruptly took time off to be by their mother’s side. We are in a small town and I was getting angry Facebook messages. It was exhausting as we were grieving.

          That being said, your friend’s appointment should have been rescheduled, not cancelled. That’s poor management on the part of the front office!

        2. boof*

          If it’s like my job, it could be the doc scheduled their break 6 months in advance but somehow it didn’t get blocked in the clinic right
          That or else something urgent came up and it’s just called “Vacation” for privacy reasons- generally they should move it slightly not just cancel it for months tho!
          I guess rarely it could be a late “omg need vacation now” but I’d say that’s not the norm

    2. Vacation time*

      Yup, my dad was an air traffic controller and all vacation was planned a whole year in advance. Well, submitted with a complicated priority system and then the whole year schedule was put out at once.

    3. WS*

      I’m also in healthcare and the length of time you need to plan ahead varies hugely by how easy it is to replace you! Doctors at least a year in advance. This sometimes works out poorly when, for example, one of our doctors had leave but there was a natural disaster and their replacement couldn’t get here, and they just lost that chance entirely.

    4. amoeba*

      It’s actually pretty common in Germany as well, for jobs that require coverage – planning ahead for the full year. I think there’s usually some room for unexpected emergencies and plan changes if it can be accommodated though. More like you’re supposed to plan your big trips in advance (we typically get six weeks, so it can get complex if everybody wants three weeks during the school summer break or a week for Christmas!)

      I’d be pretty annoyed if they did it for zero reason though.

    5. Ane*

      Yup. It is impossible to plan vacations with friends when it has to be accounted for a year in advance. It was hard enough with family (parents and siblings).

    6. Springtime*

      Both my father and father-in-law worked in large-scale blue-collar union environments that required coverage every day of the year. They put in for all their vacation and holiday time at the beginning of the year and weren’t necessarily going to get their first pick. Requests were granted by seniority and there were limitations, like you couldn’t get *all* the holidays. At least some of the process had been negotiated by the unions, for a process they thought was fair. Obviously, that kind of system isn’t needed everywhere (the department I head has very little coverage requirements and I grant most last-minute requests). But yeah, it’s not weird if you think about all the people in the kinds of jobs where they aren’t on Ask a Manager.

    7. Love to WFH*

      In Pittsburgh, I’ve noticed doctor’s offices no longer scheduling appointments more than about 3 months in advance. I assume that is so that doctors don’t have to lock their schedule in to such a ridiculous degree. As a patient, it means that I need to pounce on the day that the next block of appointments opens up.

    8. ErinWV*

      My husband (works in banking) used to work in an office that wanted him to schedule all vacation days for the year at the beginning of the year. He didn’t mind it so much when he was single and he could do whatever, but when we got married suddenly it was, “Call your mom and find out if she’s having Thanksgiving on the Thursday or the Friday.” “Um, it’s January 1st?”

      There were some anti-fraud weirdnesses built into his time off, but it was definitely not what Coin Purse above calls an “urgent environment” and there was no need for this dumb policy.

  6. Observer*

    #1 – Office work and temper tantrums.

    I’m with Allison. Just tell her that you don’t want her gifts and do not accept them.

    However, I wonder if there is any way to adjust the way the office is set up to make the effects of the noise easier for everyone. Even some sound deadening partitions can be helpful. And if the space is going to continue to be used for the long term it may also be worthwhile to create actual office space if you don’t have it.

    This is not about “rewarding” Fay. Because changing around your office to placate someone who acts this way is not a winning strategy. This is about recognizing a way that your relatively new space can be improved.

    1. lyonite*

      Yes, the fact that other people are putting on headphones shows that it is at least somewhat of a problem, even if everyone else has found a better way of dealing with it. Which doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t say something to Fay–she clearly already knows she’s in the wrong, and now she needs to know that her current solution isn’t cutting it. (I have some sympathy for her; my misophonia makes me subject to irrational bursts of angry feelings, but I know I have to control them, because they people making the noises aren’t doing anything wrong.)

      1. MK*

        Or Fay could try headphones herself. I disagree that because other employees occasionally use headphones means there is a noise problem in the office necessarily. If it’s a daily occurrence and/or lasts a long time, sure, they can explore other options. But OP says doesn’t describe a noise problem, she describes an employee who can’t manage her temper.

        1. andy*

          Other employees putting on headphones systematically in this situation means this situation is an actual issue.

          Them putting on headphones here and there randomly or to listen to kusic would be normal. Then always doing it because need to block out the noise means the office is actually too noisy.

          1. Myrin*

            OP also says the louder-than-normal situations happen “occasionally” and that the “normal” in this case is literally the quietest office she’s ever worked in. Spaces with humans in them can become loud on some occasions and the reception of that can range from “slightly annoying in the moment but no big deal overall because it happens once every three weeks” to “massively disturbing event that should be put to a stop immediately”, and how one can reasonably react to the two – and everything in the middle – differs greatly.

            1. LoudNoises*

              I work as a noise specialist. The space being too quiet most of the time might be part of the problem since noises can be perceived as louder if the background is too quiet. A certain level of “white noise” or background noise can be helpful for a good office environment.

              1. Mayor of Llamatown*

                I’m fascinated by “noise specialist” as a career! I bet that’s very interesting. And noise is something that impacts everyone. Alison, interview this person!

            2. Lana Kane*

              I used to work in an office that was quiet – until a team congregated outside a conference room, waiting for the prior meeting to be over. Then the headphones came out. They weren’t yelling or anything, but several conversations going on at once definitely builds. Noise happens. (We never could get people to simmer down while they waited!)

          2. Not Fay*

            I choose to work in the office at my mostly hybrid company. The days when the rest of the company are in the office can get quite loud, especially when they all come out of their daily, morning “stand-up” meeting chit-chatting about their work for the day, sportsball, or whatever. It drives me nuts TBH (which doesn’t contradict that it is an actual issue) but I put on headphones or go for a 5 minute walk.

      2. Mel*

        The OP could try suggesting to Fay that when the noise becomes overwhelming she should take a 5 minute break outside until she feels level again, and then when she comes back in she should use noise cancelling headphones. Sometimes removing yourself from the situation that’s causing you to become overwhelmed, upset or irrational until you’re calm again can make an enormous difference.

        1. Panneni*

          That seems like the best advice to me, since you can’t look inside Fay’s head to see what’s going on there. Pointing out that several other colleagues use it as a way to deal with the noise (with the right tone) could also show her that it’s okay for her to do that.

          Why approach Fay so friendly, you might ask. I’d say that her reaction seems out of proportion to how the average person would react to noise. There may be some neurodivergence going on with Fay that we (or even she) don’t know about. The fact that she puts effort into her apologies points to her being overwhelmed in the moment, and not able to reign in her reaction, and being genuinely upset about how she acted afterwards.

          Without more context on her behavior in general I’m inclined to think Fay might be having (neurodivergent) meltdowns due to sensory overwhelm. If that’s the case, she may very well have been trying to avoid using headphones because she has learned to mask her peculiarities. And she might not even be aware that she’s doing it, since the majority of neurodivergence in women goes undiagnosed. So now she’s exploding once or twice a week, and doesn’t know why. She doesn’t want to stand out even more, since that has had negative consequences for her her entire life. Though I’ve heard first hand accounts of neurodivergent women explaining how things went while undiagnosed, the above comments are purely hypothetical in Fay’s case of course.

          A firm but friendly comment might help her at least see that it’s okay to put on your headphones as soon as the loud people enter the office.

          Absolutely set your boundary, because Fay needs to know that she will have to work on herself beyond just apologizing every time. But maybe throw in some general comments about how to prevent these outbursts in the future, because she might genuinely not be able to figure it out herself.

          1. K*

            Yes this! As a late diagnosed neurodivergent woman myself, this makes a lot of sense. She might not realise that she can ask for accommodations or use different strategies, or be afraid to becuase she has been treated as “different” her entire life. But clearly this is not working here. Of course OP can’t and shouldn’t armchair diagnose her, but a friendly suggestion of some possible strategies, and encouragement that it is okay to do this, might go a long way.

            1. Panneni*

              Exactly! No need to voice any suspicions on possible diagnoses to Fay. Just name a few options to deal with the outburst before it starts and/or what to do when she feels them coming and can’t head them off anymore.

              I’m not from the US, but maybe it would even be possible to ask for accommodations by explaining that you can’t handle the noise of the outside crew, without mentioning any diagnosis. I’m guessing any (reasonable) manager would be happy to hear that an employee was actively thinking of solutions to their problem, and would be inclined to accommodate the solutions that they come up with themselves.

        2. Overit*

          Agreed. I have misophonia and tinnitus so I can feel that rage and anger well up. Please note that I have never had a temper tantrum and I have had these conditions since middle school. I then leave the area, do some breathing exercises and return.
          When I return, I ask if the noisemakers can cut it or put on headphones.
          In my last job before retirement, I had an AH Boss who could get VERY loud on her endless personal phone calls (consisting largely of her monologing with interspersed hyena laughing). Talking to her about it did nothing. “I am thr BOSS so I get to do whatever I want. Don’t like it? Leave.” I would turn up the sound on my video production programs. Waaaay up so I could hear it. She would then come out and complain. I would say innocently, “Oh, I am sorry. Did you want me to stop working while you are on the phone? I can do that.” Note that only she had a door to her office — one that she refused to close because “that isn’t friendly.”

        3. Momma Bear*

          This is what I was thinking. If headphones aren’t working for Fay, a walk might change her mood/perspective/sensitivity. We all have moments. The difference is how we handle them. I’ve literally gone and sat in the bathroom or my car when I really needed to regroup. Fay needs to find a better coping mechanism or a different work environment.

      3. LabSnep*

        I was about to say this. Other people having to block the noise out means this is a bigger problem than just Fay.

        Have people asked the pack of Buddies McOutsideVoices to keep it down because people are working in here?

        I’d be really resentful if I was interrupted by that every day as well.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          It’s not every day, though. OP says it’s only occasional. My guess is that, because it’s normally extra-quiet in that office, any disruption feels like it’s super noisy–even if it isn’t actually that bad.

    2. Three Handed (left, right and a little behind)*

      I’m a chronically tardy person,– since forever; so I’ve done a lot of apologizing in my life. One of my high school friends finally said (pleasantly enough), “If you’re not going to change it, don’t keep apologizing.” It’s not that I don’t still, once in any new situation, but I did take it to heart that an apology is no substitute for improvement.

        1. Meryl*

          I have a relative who has Misophonia and Fay’s reaction sounds completely the same. It is an intense reaction to certain noise which is incredibly difficult to control. Not acceptable in the workplace, but understandable.

          1. Zweisatz*

            As a person with misophonia: Fay is out of line. Yes I can get short with people if I’m caught off-guard and don’t know how to politely extract myself from the situation, but that’s the worst it gets.
            Not because I don’t occasionally feel intense bursts of anger, but because I learnt a long time ago that to react like Fay is not a option and that I need to think through strategies before I’m in the situation.

      1. Mongrel*

        This has always been my line, apologies come with the implication that you’re going to try and do better.
        Far too many people regard an apology as some sort of auto-forgiveness and slate wiping combo which gives them free rein to repeat the error in the future.

        1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

          Yes. I’m sorry means I made a mistake I will try to correct it and not make it again going forward. A scented candle because you had another outburst doesn’t address the issue.

      2. Turquoisecow*

        Yeah this is my reaction to apologies – if you were truly sorry for yesterday’s outburst, you wouldn’t have done it today. It doesn’t seem like Fay is making a huge attempt to not have these outbursts every day, as they keep happening (or whatever she is doing isn’t working), so she needs to try something else. Maybe OP could suggest taking a walk or something else, maybe just pointing this out will be enough, maybe the boss needs to get involved. But apologizing for repeat behavior to me always comes across as insincere.

      3. Mrs. Hawiggins*

        I once said something similar to a boss who was a complete powder keg but would send flowers after the next outburst. I told him his change in behavior would be the real apology, not cheap ass rolls every time he blew up over nothing.

        Rolls = flowers.

    3. JSPA*

      I’m not diagnosing misophonia, or PTSD, or any other specific condition.

      I am, however, noting that such conditions exist.

      And that the people suffering from them

      a) may or may not be aware that they have the condition and

      b) may or may not be aware that this constitutes something that they can ask for in accommodation around.


      c) If they have asked for an accommodation and has it denied, or found a work from home job that meets their (admittedly unusual) needs, only to have four years of work from home become a hundred percent in office, with the dangled carrot of eventual hybrid…the idea that this is entirely on them–does not sit well with me.

      No, we (the commentariat) should never presume a disability. But we should also not presume, “not a disability.” Especially in someone who is otherwise kind, competent and responsible, and clearly already feels horribly guilty over the explosions.

      Telling people to just not have symptoms is right up there with telling blind people to just go ahead and see, or deaf people to just go ahead and hear.

      Her boss can’t suggest that there’s something medical going on. but I see no reason that a coworker can’t say,

      “Being forced to be in the office where there can be unexpected noise seems unusually rough for you. Any chance this is something diagnosable? If it were a medical thing, boss would probably have to let you work from home again, or pre-warn you about noise or whatever.”

      1. mreasy*

        Fay needs to use noise cancelling headphones rather than shift the impact of whatever it is she’s dealing with onto others. I say that as a person who is very sound sensitive.

        1. It Takes T to Tango*

          Noise cancelling headphones don’t always work. I get bad headaches and nausea if I wear them for any length of time.

            1. Lauren*

              it may be medical, the way mom burnout and rage work – noise can be a trigger to the entire system causing an outburst and its not something she can control well. This happens with grief responses too. Fay probably needs a corner desk, wall or office when the team comes in – or let her WFH on those days. What is triggering for one person isn’t for another.

              1. Observer*

                it may be medical, the way mom burnout and rage work

                And she *still* needs to find a way to deal with it that doesn’t shift the burden on anyone else.

                Fay probably needs a corner desk, wall or office when the team comes in – or let her WFH on those days.

                Which is fine. But she needs to make this happen. Just apologizing is not going to cut it. And if she is actually actively working on real and realistic solutions, then she owes it to her colleagues to to know. Not all the nitty gritty details, sure, but overall.

          1. Lauren*

            I’m deaf in one ear and the pressure of them give me actual pain, but try telling that to my HR because they occasionally hear my kids singing in the background.

          2. Generic Name*

            Yeah, I was bummed to learn that the (very effective!) noise cancelling mode on my air pods makes me feel seasick. Luckily, I can turn that mode completely off and just listen to music/a podcast. It still blocks ambient noise enough to not be distracting when I need to concentrate.

          3. lilsheba*

            Here here! I HATE wearing headphones and they hurt my ears after a while. I shouldn’t have to do that to drown out office noise.

      2. Teacher, Here*

        Strongly agree with JSPA — I came here to try to figure out how to say the same thing. This is great advice and wording.

      3. ecnaseener*

        “Telling people to just not have symptoms” isn’t what’s happening though. When Fay feels the rage coming on (whether or not it’s a symptom of something), she has options other than just staying in the office to have her tantrum. She has the option to remove herself from the situation, both to escape the noise and to work her anger out in private.

        1. Bit o' Brit*

          Another symptom of some of these conditions is alexythemia, which means you don’t feel the rage coming on. Again, we don’t know whether Fay has any of these conditions, but that’s still in the remit of presuming disability status.

          1. socks*

            I think you’re too hung up on the wording. Fay knows these outbursts are a pattern, and she should step out for a walk or take a bathroom break or something when it starts getting difficult to concentrate. She doesn’t need to be able to feel and name the buildup of rage to know that trouble concentrating due to noise = time to leave.

            1. ecnaseener*

              Yes, thank you. “Once she realizes it’s happening” is obviously what I meant, and it’s happened enough times that she should realize it’s happening pretty early.

          2. Observer*

            Again, we don’t know whether Fay has any of these conditions, but that’s still in the remit of presuming disability status.

            It’s not really relevant here. At this point, it’s not on anyone to ask about disability, it’s on Fay to figure this out. Now, if she *does* have a disability, the company should *absolutely* do whatever they can to be accommodating. But things have gone well past the point where it’s reasonable to cut her any slack absent evidence that she is actively working on the problem.

            It doesn’t matter at this point if she has all of these issues and really doesn’t feel the anger coming on. She *knows* about the problem and pattern. She *knows* that it’s highly disruptive to others. Now, she needs to *know* that she has to figure out what to do about it.

          3. Starbuck*

            It doesn’t really matter what potentially valid reason she might have for feeling this way; her behavior isn’t acceptable and can’t continue.

        2. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Yeah, just because you have some kind of condition that causes you discomfort or pain doesn’t give you blanket permission to be a jerk. Is it okay that she is having issue with all the noise? Absolutely. Is it okay that she throws a tantrum every time she is having this issue? Absolutely not. She needs to figure out what her noise threshold is and talk to the boss about how to help her get her work done when her threshold is reached. Can she work from home on days or partial days when there are meetings she’s not part of, so that she doesn’t have to be distracted by the noise? Can the office be set up differently, as others have suggested, so that the noise is minimized? Is there a quiet space in the office far away from the noise that Fay can use? Should she just wear headphones all the time? (Note: I am very noise-sensitive myself but also my ears hurt after a couple of hours of wearing headphones, so this is not necessarily all that great of a solution.)

          But you, the OP, can certainly tell her she needs to stop with the tantrums. If you wanted to help her out, you could make some of the suggestions to her that I’ve made above, but it’s not really your place to do so if you don’t want to. And if she continues with the tantrums, escalate to your boss.

        3. JSPA*

          the unexpectedness and zero-to-100 in 2 seconds reaction is (in many cases) an integral part of the symptoms. Not for everyone! But the fact that some people with diagnosed, disability-grade reactions to sound can predict and avert or channel their response, does not mean that anyone / everyone can.

          Taking a work-from-home job IS a responsible choice!

          Assuming that people who have taken a work from home job are as likely as any other randomly selected group of people to do well in an office setting? That’s the predictably irresponsible choice, IMO.

      4. Chickadee*

        I have misophonia and I’m sympathetic to Fay, but while it’s okay to have symptoms, it isn’t okay to take it out on other people. Fay has options – if she was the one writing in, I’d suggest a combination of loop earplugs, noise cancelling headphones, and stepping outside for a walk. (Or asking for work from home accommodations, but some jobs are terrible about that.)

        1. jane's nemesis*

          Yes, same. My noise sensitivity is off the charts, and my misophonic rage is intense. But I have never once cursed out my teammates who didn’t do anything wrong. Or even my teammates who WERE the ones being loud. I internalize the rage, put on headphones, go for a walk, or, eventually, change jobs to be fully remote forever so that I don’t have to suffer from other people’s sounds anymore.

        2. zelavie*

          Exactly! I work in a mostly quiet office, but there’s one person who comes by daily and has this extraordinarily loud and persistent laugh that makes me absolutely RAGE inside. But the worst I’ve ever done is passive-aggressively put on my headphones while staring daggers at his back.

          Thankfully, my coworker who shares the open space with me suggested that I just put the headphones on as soon as Loud Hyena comes in the door so I never hit the point of rage. It’s such a simple solution, and I don’t know if I would have ever gotten there on my own. It’s made a world of difference.

          All that to say – Fay’s reaction is extreme and not good. She sees it after the fact, but may not see it in the moment, and she clearly doesn’t know how to address it. It would be good for her to have a conversation with someone who can give her tools for how to handle this, and it might be super simple things she’s never considered before.

      5. I'm A Little Teapot*

        I’m not telling them to not have symptoms. I’m telling them they can’t be an asshole because of their symptoms.

        An explanation is not an excuse. If someone has a mental illness, sensory processing issue, or anything else, that sucks for them but they have a responsibility to deal with it in whatever way is possible/appropriate so that they don’t negatively impact other people.

      6. sulky-anne*

        It seems like something is going on here that is causing an intense reaction, and Faye is aware and feels bad about it. I do sympathize with her, but also the solution can’t be that her coworkers get yelled at once or twice a week. At this point, she knows that it is a problem that occurs pretty regularly. Perhaps she needs some additional support or resources to manage either the noise or her reaction, but something has to change.

      7. I'd Really Rather Not Share*

        I’m not the LW, but I am extremely sensitive to sudden noises or loud levels (music, talking, crowds), due to PTSD suffered during the pandemic (involved the unaliving of my husband), so I totally get where Fay is coming from. My “outbursts” look like “suddenly bursting into tears” or “holding myself and rocking”. I’m in therapy and medicated for the PTSD, but it’s not something I can control. I would absolutely apologize, because I know that such reactions are not normal or rational, nor are they something that the office needs to police themselves for.

        I’m currently WFH, with a RTO expected soon, and I have in-ear earplugs and noise-cancelling headphones, but they don’t filter everything out. It’s entirely possible that Fay has such an issue that has been diagnosed, and if it’s possible to put her as far away from people as possible (if working in-office is REQUIRED), then I’d advise her to seek that accommodation. I went to a training meeting and almost had to run out of the room, due to the noise level and cheer-outbursts. Fortunately, my manager knew my situation, and allowed me to self-distance, and attend what I could.

    4. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Especially since part of the reason they’re having everyone in the office full time for the time being is to figure out processes and how they work together. Being in a physical space is also a process! One that currently isn’t working for everyone, so it’s worth figuring out how to make that work the same way as you would figuring out who needs the TPS reports and by what date every month in order for XYZ to happen.

    5. Distracted Procrastinator*

      I agree. There might be something done to help with noise level over all. Does the office have a sound masking system in place? Many offices use them to reduce the effect of the general office noise.

    6. ScruffyInternHerder*

      I work in the industry the LW mentions.
      I have worked in small firms with open office layouts.
      I work in a particular department where deadlines are a thing. Like to the minute deadlines, and being done one tenth of one second after the deadline means that 6 weeks of work is worthless.
      The level of noise, tone of noise, and suddenness of noise in this type of office can be….a lot, even without considering the language included. Its far worse in a small space with an open layout.
      There were days where its drove me to shout back “Hey @$$holes FFS shut the actual F up!”.
      I’ve gone rounds with supposedly grown men who informed me that they could not in fact modulate their voices because they’re men and I’ve informed them that they missed biology class.

      Its the apologies and “gifts” that are weird, honestly. My experience has always been that we politely pretend that these tantrums never happened. Only the most egregious situations required apologies because honestly, the industry is a bit of a powder keg in general.

      That others are donning headphones make me think its an environment problem, not a Fay problem. And it may be an overall improvement to the space if some sort of noise mitigation is done. One office, my general department did deadlines in a closed office with sound deadening. It was absolutely for the betterment of the rest of the office. Another location had a “headsets only” rule; that was a special sort of hell for me, as I could hear and see talking but couldn’t mentally reconcile “why”.

      In the construction industry, doors > no doors, always.

    7. Luna*

      I absolutely agree with this. I worked in offices, I have worked in office-space-rental offices (basically, the place you go to if you need to book a meeting room or have an office space to go to because WFH is not a valid option [lack of privacy/space, internet connection not good enough for work, etc]) and people holding meetings in the same room as people that aren’t supposed to be taking part in that meeting are loud and it is disruptive to everyone.

      If the meetings are really necessary, and they are if it’s about establishing processes in a newer company, go and book a meeting room somewhere else. (And not a coffee shop or anything like that, please! A proper office space designated for this type of stuff, even hotels have conference rooms you can book as a non-guest.)

      The place is still establishing itself somewhat from the way it reads, go ahead and realize that there is a problem here (noise polution) and while you only have one person complaining, that does not mean nobody else would be very happy if there was a proper meeting space or something to separate things. Not everyone is a loud complainer, after all.

      I do have a bit of sympathy with Fay, if this is a case of having sensitive hearing. But given the frequency of it *and* the whole apology gift routine, I’m not sure if this is just a behavior thing that has been left to get out of hand.
      OP should put their foot down on not taking apology gift/bribes, but to request she deal with her issues in other and better ways.

    8. Tiger Snake*

      If its super quiet usually, then the sudden loudness would be even more jarring.

      I do wonder if Faye is on the spectrum – it is not in any way an excuse for her behaviour, but the way LW1 is describing things makes it feel like suddenness combined with the noise is the problem, and that would make a sensory overload more likely because it’s not something you’d been prepared for.

      Whether that’s a factor or not, new strategies need to be employed. Is there a reason Faye feels that she can’t step out for a few minutes to calm herself down?

  7. Daria Grace*

    Have been working at a job where leave requests only open twice a year (so you’ve have to apply for January leave in May or June). You could apply later if there was space left over but there rarely was because the number of people allowed on leave at once was quite low. Whatever that system saved in efficiency and more even staffing coverage they absolutely lost in impacted moral and the leave situation contributing to people’s decisions to leave

  8. Stephen!*

    I suppose “Hey you there in the blue jacket… you dropped something” is specific enough to get their attention, but not great.

    Time for the denizens of AAM to come up with a perfectly cromulent new word!

    1. amoeba*

      Is it only about getting people’s attention though? I was more wondering about something like “Good morning/Thank you/etc., Sir/Madam”, where sure, you could just leave off the honorific, but I can see how it would feel less polite and you’d prefer to substitute it with something to just dropping it. (At least in French, I was explicitly told that “Bonjour” without “Madame/Monsieur” sounds impolite and brusque! So I can see how it feels hard to change that habit…)

      1. TechWorker*

        I feel like if you overcompensate with a smile then it’s unlikely to feel brusque. ‘Good morning! How can I help you today’ (smile) – I’d struggle to see how that can be impolite.

      2. Tess*

        In France it’s not actually that rude to just say “Bonjour”. Adding the madame/monsieur is extra but just a cheery Bonjour is usually what is expected in customer service. That’s for France though, I imagine it’s different in other French speaking countries just like it probably varies between states in the US!

        1. amoeba*

          I’m in Switzerland, so who knows! I think the teacher was French though. Might be regional or maybe he was just extra polite, haha.

        2. Emmy Noether*

          My husband, who is French, insists that the monsieur/madame is absolutely necessary to be polite to strangers. My private opinion is that it is a dying custom.

      3. Falling Diphthong*

        I think getting someone’s attention is the main one. If I was walking away from a cash register and someone behind me called “Sir! Sir!” I would be confident that they were talking to someone else. Whereas for “Ma’am!” I’ll turn around to see if I left my prescription from the pharmacy sitting by the register.

        I’m feeling “mate” is the closest in English. I like “gentleperson” which has a fun steampunk feel but would require a transition period. If another language has a good gender neutral honorific we could try to borrow it, like croissant.

      4. Turquoisecow*

        I worked as a cashier/customer service clerk for almost ten years and I don’t think I ever used “sir” or “ma’am” to greet someone. It was always just “hello” or “good morning,” or “hi, how can I help you?” Now maybe some of this is regional (I’m in the Northeast US and not the Deep South where I know language can be more formal and honorifics are used more frequently), but I don’t think gendered salutations are necessary.

        The only time I did feel like I needed to use sir or ma’am was in the situation OP describes – someone is walking away and left their purchases/wallet/phone/etc behind. Usually a “oh! Excuse me!” was enough to get their attention. If the store was quiet, they knew I was talking to them as there weren’t many other people around. If it was busy, often someone else would see I was trying to get their attention and alert them “is that your wallet?” “Oh! Yes!” Adding on a sir or ma’am feels necessary, but I’m not sure that it is.

        1. Turquoisecow*

          Also, if there are other men around, shouting SIR would not necessarily catch the attention of the particular sir you were calling to.

        2. no formal address necessary*

          If you’ve ever seen Gavin and Stacy, the Nessa “Oh!” rang in my head when you mentioned that strategy of catching another person’s attention. =)
          I’m from the Upper Midwest where the variation, “Ope… excuse me” is frequently the opener used to gain someone’s attention without a gendered honorific. I can’t remember the last time I used Ms/Mrs/Miss/Ma’am/Mr/Sir when speaking with people.

      1. DawnShadow*

        This reminds me of reading sci fi by Andre Norton as a child, and her futuristic honorifics “Gentlehomo” and “Gentlefemme”. These were books that were YA or younger in category so she was truly just trying to imagine what people might use in the future – funny how different it sounds now than what she imagined, I’m sure.

        1. Gracie*

          Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers books have M. as a collective title for all humans, no matter their gender (and also has characters using they/them and neo-pronouns)

          I think M. [name] to collectively replace Miss/Mrs/Ms/Mr/Mx does work very nicely in English, but doubt it’ll catch on

            1. Gila Monster*

              And the Radch books by Ann Leckie feature a culture in which everyone uses she/her pronouns, the respectful title of address for citizens of the empire is Citizen, and a respected non-citizen is addressed as Honored [Name.] I wish we had an Honored title equivalent.

          1. Lenora Rose*

            M. in French is Monsieur (Mister), so it can hit differently if you speak or spoke the language, or even just read a lot of books with French folks in them. And French is a language a lot of English speakers do share.

            (Once a book is set in space, it’s easier to see it as a different context, so it probably works for Chambers – I’m saying why it might not land so well as an option on Earth Today.)

      2. münchner kindl*

        I think “Gentlebeings” was used in an EU Star Wars novel, since the aliens present weren’t humans.

    2. Looper*

      I use exactly this in precisely these types of situations in my retail job and it works great. People know you’re talking about them right away. Otherwise I don’t use honorifics at all unless I’ve had a lengthy (positive) interaction with a customer in which case I might refer to them as “friend” as in “here is your purchase, friend, enjoy!”

  9. nnn*

    Two thoughts for #2:

    1. Make as much of the food as possible happen to be vegan or halal, even if it isn’t a specially designated vegan or halal entree. For example, when doing this kind of a meal for a large family gathering with a combination of vegetarian/vegan/omnivore, the only thing with meat in it is the actual meat. Cheese sauces and cream sauces and gravy are prepared separately and can be added to the dishes, but aren’t baked in. Eggs, cheese and bacon bits are placed beside the salad as condiments, but aren’t mixed in. The result is that as many foods as possible are meet the dietary needs of as many people as possible.

    2. Put the foods that not everyone can eat first in the buffet. That way, people who can eat the ham are more likely to go “Oooh, ham! That looks good!” and fill up their plate with the stuff they can eat but others can’t before they even get to the vegan lasagna.

    1. Martin Blackwood*

      #2 is genius. Who hasn’t wanted to go around the buffet a second time just to try the one thing at the end that you literally couldn’t cram on your plate. OP should do this (in combination with letting those with dietary needs go first)

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        except that the people who need to eat that food have plenty of time to panic that the caterers have forgotten them by the time they get there! We’re so used to being forgotten, it doesn’t take much to send us into a panic.

    2. John Smith*

      A problem though is that not everyone agrees with halal meat (or rather when the animal is not stunned before slaughter) and if all the meat is from animals not stunned, you may be restricting what some people will be willing to eat. I’m not wanting to start off a debate about the rights / wrongs / ethics of different slaughter methods – that’s a different discussion. I’m merely pointing out that there are differences in practice that some people object to.

      1. BubbleTea*

        The suggestion is that the halal food come at the end – so people with an issue with halal food will be less likely to eat it.

        1. John Smith*

          The suggestion was to make as much of the food halal (or other dietary requirement) as possible. If all the meat is halal, it doesn’t matter when it’s served to someone who won’t eat halal meat. They are being excluded.

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            If you know that your group’s dietary restriction is that people don’t eat halal, then you accommodate that.

      2. nnn*

        I was thinking more that halal food isn’t just meat, so you could make sure most or all of the vegetables, starches, desserts, etc. also meet the needs of a halal diet.

    3. AllVegDoesntWork*

      Plenty of people are allergic or have sensitivities to things that are common in vegetarian and vegan dishes. I’m allergic to raw tomatoes and have sensitivities toward mushrooms and avocados. I know people allergic to raw onions, raw peppers, and a few other common vegetables. So veg != universally edible.

      1. amoeba*

        But those things are not any less common in dishes containing meat or dairy? Unless your meat is literally just… meat and nothing else.

        But sure, it makes sense not to have the same kind of ingredients in every dish, and also probably to just ask people for their allergies before ordering.

        1. Marvin O’Gravel Balloonface*

          In my experience, food containing meat is less likely to contain raw vegetable garnishes of various sorts. I think caterers feel like meatless food looks boring and zhuzh it up with diced tomato/pepper/onion.

      2. Wings*

        Any of those could be in dishes containing meat too? Of course no single dish is going to fit every dietary restriction on the planet but having a separated salad instead of a mixed one is an easy way to make it more accessible to most (including those that just don’t happen to like X). I’m myself what could be described flexitarian (so I’ll eat meat if that’s the only choice but I’m not going to pretend I like it) and allergic to nuts which are a very typical ingredients in many catered vegetarian dishes so I totally get you but the solution to your problem isn’t to limit vegetarian/vegan options but to have a variety in the offering overall.

    4. Enginerd*

      Similar to your #2, LW’s suggestion of having a separate table works great even if it’s not labeled “only for special diets”. Most people will want to go through the main buffet line and not bother hitting up the special table once their plate is full.

    5. Rosie*

      I came here to say something similar to #2. Lots of people fill their plates with the first few dishes that are offered so by the time they reach the food that accommodates dietary restrictions they either don’t have room or only will take a small portion.

    6. OP2*

      These are some good ideas! We have servers for the food, though, so people seem to be a little more likely to try things they might not have served for themselves if it were self-serve.

  10. nnn*

    #4: In the specific instance of trying to catch people’s attention, it’s actually more effective to lead with “You forgot your keys!” This will make everyone within earshot pause and check for their keys, whereas leading with “Hey!” might make people think you’re about to say “Hey, nice ass!” or “Hey, I’m going to harass you for being insufficiently gender-conforming!” (Even “Excuse me, ma’am,” might be about to lead to “Excuse me, ma’am, I’m trying to get you to donate to charity”)

    Then, once you’ve gotten the room’s attention with “You forgot your keys” you can catch the eye of the right person, or say “Customer in the red shirt” or whatever is an accurate description.

    1. Oui oui oui all the way home*

      This is brilliant!
      I was going to suggest “you hoo!” but your suggestions beat that by a mile.

      1. stratospherica*

        I support “yoo-hoo” but only when waving a handkerchief and speaking in an old timey mid-Atlantic accent, personally.

    2. Noblepower*

      Oh, I like this – I was thinking that I often ignore versions of “hey, you” thinking that they’re either talking to someone else or it’s a prelude to a “nice ass” sort of harassment statement. the specificity of the word “forgot” definitely would get my attention faster.

    3. londonedit*

      I wouldn’t ever use ‘Sir’ or ‘Ma’am’ to refer to anyone anyway (it’s not a thing where I live) so what I do is just say ‘Excuse me, you’ve forgotten your keys’ or ‘Sorry – think you’ve left your coat behind’.

    4. 1LFTW*


      This has the added benefit that once everyone has checked their own stuff, they’d usually look in the direction I was looking. On the off chance that person hadn’t heard me, someone else would usually wave that person down and ask if they’d left their keys/wallet/whatever.

  11. Msd*

    No honorific if someone comes up to the desk or you obviously have their attention just “may I help you”. If trying to get their attention “excuse me, customer in the you forgot your keys”. Replace red jacket with some benign identifier not “customer with the big nose”.

  12. Msd*

    Oops my comment got messed up. My example was “excuse me customer in the red jacket, you forgot your keys”

  13. Not A Manager*

    “How may I help you, Fellow Human?” – “Excuse me, Human Person, you dropped your keys.”

    Is it arch? Sure. But I think it works. I also like “friend.”

    1. DawnShadow*

      I used to work with someone who used these with customers! It really worked, for her. She was drop dead gorgeous and also … marched to her own drummer? Like, when the store hired her they had to let her know she needed to wear shoes. Eventually she left to live vanlife. As far as I know, she’s still out there somewhere enjoying herself.

      Being a much more prosaic middle aged person, I’m not sure I could get away with it. I’d like to try though!

    2. AndersonDarling*

      I’m imagining Matt Berry saying “Excuse me, Human Person” and I love it.
      I fall back on using a term relevant to the shop. When I’m talking about make-up, then I refer to people as Beauties. When at a spa or hotel, I use the term Guest. I’m not sure what it would be at the grocery store.
      Occasionally I’ve also used Sweetums. It’s like a modern twist on sweety that doesn’t sound so infantile. And Sweetums is my favorite Muppet.

      1. Czhorat*

        “”I fall back on using a term relevant to the shop. When I’m talking about make-up, then I refer to people as Beauties. When at a spa or hotel, I use the term Guest. I’m not sure what it would be at the grocery store.””

        This is the answer – there’s no good generic (yet!) so it’s the context-dependent “Attention, K-Mart shoppers!”

        I sometimes forget not to open with “ladies and gentlemen” but would usually follow up with ” the gender-neutral “citizens of the park” (this only works if you’re in a park).

    3. ACLooper*

      I used “fellow human” pretty frequently during my long and relentless stretch in retail (2004-2014), and never got a negative reaction. Most people were amused by the novelty of the phrase, and occasionally other genderweirdos clocked what I was doing and we gave each other a silent nod of recognition.

      1. ACLooper*

        A gas clerk I see regularly calls everyone “friend” until he gets to know you, then it’s “stranger.” Not really broadly applicable, but it makes me smile.

    4. Some Dude*

      I came up with
      Friendo (which is what I call my kids friends, who also are across the gender spectrum)

      But in all seriousness, it is kind of an issue when you want to use an honorific because there aren’t any widely accepted non-gendered ones that I am aware of. Although people hate “Ma’am” so maybe there was never a good option to begin with.

    5. Laser99*

      Every time someone has approached me with, “Hello, friend!” they want cash/a “donation” or for me to sign a petition. I love “fellow human”, that is inspired!

  14. ENFP in Texas*

    LW#1 – Look up the article titled “An Apology Without Change Is Manipulation” and give it to her. She’s not sorry, she’s trying to manipulate her co-workers.

    1. Non non non all the way home*

      The first article I found on Google with that title appears to be clickbait that needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt. It lost me in the first paragraph with the almost certainly incorrect claim that every mental health professional IN THE WORLD agrees with the author’s belief that “apologies without change are manipulation”.

      1. duinath*

        and even if it were less inaccurate it would probably damage the working relationship beyond repair…

    2. andy*

      That is not an accurate description of human behavior. As such, framing it that way would be actually manipulative – you lie to the person in order to make them feel manipulative when they are not.

      1. Irish Teacher*

        I agree. I think it can be true, for example in the case of an abusive spouse that apologises with flowers and perhaps a hint of “I’m sorry I overreacted but it was really your fault.”

        In this case, it sounds more likely that Fay is genuinely embarrassed about her lack of control over herself and wants to let people know how sorry she is, but for whatever reason, just cannot maintain her equilibrium in a noisy environment. I do think it’s possible that the outcome can nonetheless be manipulative, as it makes it hard for the coworkers to get annoyed at her, but then, getting annoyed is unlikely to help anyway.

        That is not to say that Fay’s reaction is OK. She needs to find a way to deal with this, whether it’s by headphones or getting help for any underlying issues that may be causing this or leaving the room when things get noisy or job-searching for a job that includes a quieter environment or where she can work from home. Continually getting overwhelmed to the point of yelling isn’t a reasonable option and given that she is aware enough to apologise and start buying gifts because she realises it is happening too often and really inconveniencing others, she should be aware enough to try to deal with the issue.

        But I definitely wouldn’t assume she’s not sorry. Being out of control like that is very embarrassing and upsetting and I would assume it is something she is really struggling to control.

        1. JustaTech*

          Yes! The assumption of the “apologies without change are manipulation” is also that the change is instant and permanent, which is a really high bar when you’re talking about someone reacting to an external stimulus.

          Should Fay change her behavior? Yes, absolutely. But re-training your brain takes time as well as effort and people slip up. If you assume malice for honest mistakes that’s unkind, unhelpful, unfair, and unlikely to improve the situation.

      2. Dinwar*

        It depends on the trend.

        If I apologize for something and make the same mistake again, but am clearly actively working on it and just slipped up, that’s not manipulative or dishonest–I’m really trying, but it takes a while to re-wire a brain via internal software updates. The gift and apology is me acknowledging that I’ve done a bad, and that it was bad, and that I’m taking responsibility for it.

        On the other hand, if I use an apology or gift as a way to avoid changing my behavior, that’s another thing entirely. Well, it could be a few things. Sometimes it’s inevitable, due to the nature of the job–“I know coming in at 5 am sucks, there’s nothing I could do about it, but I brought doughnuts and coffee for everyone.” Again, I’m making an acknowledgement that this is an inconvenience and a bad thing, and making a token attempt to make amends. It’s a sort of social lubricant, a way to let folks know you understand what you’re putting them through. I’ve seen parents do this with kids on flights, too–they’ll give out “I’m sorry my kid’s going to scream” gifts.

        On the third hand, if I’m doing the bad thing, there’s no real reason for it, and I’m making no attempt to change my behavior, the gifts and apologies are hollow. They are attempts to buy forgiveness and acceptance of the behavior, essentially. I don’t actually care if you’re inconvenienced or if I’m causing a problem; all I care about is making sure my behavior doesn’t come back to bite me.

        Fundamentally that’s the question: What is the purpose of the gifts/apology? It’s manipulation if the apology is intended to prevent people from calling you out on your bad behavior. It’s transactional and internally focused. If the gift is to communicate regret or acknowledgement of your screw-up, it’s not manipulation–it’s communication.

    3. Ray B Purchase*

      A middle school teacher of mine used to always say “‘Sorry’ is a promise to change. Are you planning to change your behavior?” when I’d get caught talking during class. (and sadly no, I was not).

  15. Educator*

    I’ve seen Mx. as the gender neutral honorific. Said like mix. It slides into our existing sentence structures easily enough that even folks who have not heard it before will probably be able to figure out what you are doing.

        1. amoeba*

          I’d probably just be confused because while I’ve read it (and would be completely fine with it in writing), it’s not common enough when spoken, and I’d be like “mix? What? Did they just misspeak or did I hear them wrong? Who’s mixing what?”)

          Would be nice to have a word like that around though, but I think it’d need to get more known before being really useful in everyday life…

          1. Agent Diane*

            I think it will take a while for Mx to be accepted but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored as an option.

            I’ve used Ms since the early 1990s, and I still have to correct people who use Miss or Mrs instead. I’m so tired of politely saying “No, it’s Ms. – Mrs Agent Diane was my mother.” Fully expecting my kid to be doing a variant of that in 30 years (“no, I’m Mx Agent Diane – Ms Agent Diane is my mother.”)

          2. Falling Diphthong*

            I’m going to assume it’s someone with a name that sounds like “Mick” and continue walking away. (In the context where I left my keys at the register.)

        2. ACLooper*

          Most people are pretty unhappy to be misgendered, Anononon. That doesn’t mean there’s anything inherently wrong with “Mx” being used as an honorific.

          1. Twix*

            Worth pointing out that “Mx” is intended to be gender-neutral, not specifically non-binary. While binary-gendered people may prefer more traditional honorifics and that’s their prerogative, it’s not misgendering to use it for binary-gendered people.

            1. Me...Just Me*

              … creating a word that mis-genders as “neutral” isn’t wonderful. Intention, as we all know doesn’t mean much — otherwise we wouldn’t be having such fraught conversations. I don’t want to be addressed as Mx any more than I would want to be addressed as Mr. — even if well intentioned.

              1. jaybh*

                That’s because you’re interpreting “gender neutral” as “non-binary” rather than “lacking gendered context.” Which to be fair, is a reasonable assumption to make for Mx as it tends to be associated most with non-binary individuals. But the whole point of gender-neutral terms is that it isn’t migendering anyone. If I were to say “Me…Just Me is a great person” I wouldn’t be misgendering you, because I’m not communicating any information about your gender. In the same way, a gender-neutral honorific would not communicate or presume anything about the gender of the person being addressed. We have a bunch of gender neutral honorifics that are profession based (captain, chef, coach, your honor, etc) but we’re sadly lacking in one that works more universally.

            2. Nina*

              Ehhhhh I’m fairly firmly binary-gendered, but I don’t always present in a way that random strangers find legible, so while I’d understand getting Mx-ed up, I wouldn’t exactly be happy about it and I would, yes, experience it as misgendering along the same lines as when I get ‘sir-uh-ma’am’ed.

      1. liisa*

        OP4 – just leave off the honorifics. They’re not necessary. “Excuse me, you forgot your keys.” “How can I help you today?” These are perfectly polite and don’t run the risk of misgendering anyone. Signed, a nonbinary person who is quite tired of having honorifics shoved at them

        1. Ann O'Nemity*

          Generally I agree, but it can be difficult to catch someone’s attention in a loud and crowded place without using some kind of address.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      This doesn’t work for the question. Mx would need more universal usage/acceptance before it’s going to work verbally especially with strangers.

      Like it’s fine to introduce yourself that way to a classroom or teach a classroom of kids to use it for you/them (if you are using honorifics for students which is quite rare in the US). Verbally in public people are going to hear “miss” or something else or just think you misspoke.

      1. MicroManagered*

        Or just not hear it at all. I would never assume someone is referring to me as Mx. If a cashier called out “Mix, you forgot your keys” I probably wouldn’t register that they even *could* be talking to me. I can’t imagine anyone who doesn’t proactively use this honorific responding to it.

    2. Donkey Hotey*

      The general response to Mx seems to be on par with the response to Latinx. sounds like a good idea but falls flat in execution.

      1. Educator*

        Woah, no. There is no linguistic imperialism happening here. That is a totally different conversation.

        People can like or dislike a particular way the English language is evolving, but ending a word with x in English is a natural evolution. That’s completely different than a bunch of academics imposing the English x ending on a Spanish word when that is not a thing in Spanish.

        1. Lana Kane*

          The latinx discussion is a way bigger/fraught one than can reasonably be debated here. (I say this as a latina).

      2. Lenora Rose*

        I don’t think it’s the same. Mx. works well with non-binary people but using it as a general case is actively misgendering all men and women (and while even cis people like me like to be gendered correctly, this can be extra fraught with a binary trans person).

        Whereas Latinx is usually more objected to because it’s often seen as people outside the culture imposing it on the culture.

    3. Lenora Rose*

      I think this works much better as an honorific for a specific person than as a general case, for the same reason as calling everyone “ma’am” would be seen as rude. My friend Frances is Mx. Frances, for instance, but I’m Ms. or Mrs. ; call me ma’am if you must, but please don’t call me Mx.

    4. sara*

      I’m reading (well listening to the audiobook) “A Closed and Common Orbit” by Becky Chambers right now. Everyone uses M. (pronounced “em”). So on these ships, they would call out “M, you forgot your keys” or “M. LastName, so nice to meet you” etc.

      It would be hard to transition to that now but I like the consistency and genderless of the honorific, it’s familiar looking and feeling to people who are used to Mrs/Mr/Ms. No need to decided for a stranger what honorific to use, etc.

      1. LemonDrops*

        This made me laugh thinking of my best friend Emily who is really called “Em.” It’d drive her nuts!

    5. Jessica*

      Mx. is for people who are actually agender/NB/etc., just like neopronouns. (Singular “their” is kind of an exception, since it has a long history of use as a pronoun for when you don’t know someone’s gender.) It’s not actually enlightened to treat everyone as if they’re NB–that is also misgendering.

        1. Nina*

          At the end of your second link it does mention that only 37% of non-binary people would choose Mx as an option if offered it.

          To me (binary cis woman with gender presentation a lot of people have trouble parsing), ‘Mx’ means ‘I have decided that you are not presenting woman enough and I am going to flag that for anyone within earshot’. Some people love it. Some people hate it. It’s not a universal safe option at all.

    6. CallMeByMyName*

      As an AFAB non-binary person, the “ss” sound at the end of “mix” makes it too close to “miss” to be a good alternative for me. Being addressed with any honorific that ends with s or an s sound is triggering regardless of what the first few letters are.

  16. MsJaytee*

    LW1: I can’t work in an office because of the noise. It’s why I stopped and why I will probably lose my current job. I don’t know if Fay is like me but I can’t tell you what it’s like for me and maybe you can see Fay’s behaviour in a different light.

    I have auditory processing disorder (thanks neurodivergence), my hearing works differently. I can’t tune anything out, I hear everything and I mean everything, every conversation, every machine. Headphones can override some of it but not everything, and I can’t wear ear defender. It’s exhausting, even painful, it wore me down, the result could be meltdowns, which to most people look like tantrums. The difference is a meltdown can’t be controlled. And it’s mortifying when that happens in front of anyone.

    And for decades I didn’t realise it was happening, I had no idea people can tune out some noises, and apparently most people can’t hear electrical devices. I didn’t connect the noise to how tired I was and why my head was thumping after some days at work.

    I started working from home before the pandemic and it’s the best move I’ve ever made. The few times I’ve been into the office I have to go straight to bed when I come home I’m so exhausted.

    Like I said I don’t know what is going on with Fay, this is just my experience, maybe it’ll give you a different perspective on Fay’s behaviour, maybe it’s not relevant, you’ll know either way.

    1. Jeff Vader*

      Have you tried noise cancelling headphones ? They’re not perfect but they have helped me.

      I explained to my colleagues that some sounds irritate me – creaking doors for example so I wear the headphones if I need to concentrate. Yes it’s a bit antisocial but it’s necessary for me.

      Working from home is a joy in comparison.

      1. Alexis Rose*

        I also have sound sensitivities, and yes I have noise cancelling headphones. The problem then becomes that my ears hurttttttttt so much after a full day of wearing them. I’ve tried every style under the sun and have not found ones that are comfortable for long periods of use repeated day after day.

        For me, headphones just create a new problem, while sometimes not even fully solving the original problem (noise and distractions).

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          My ears also hurt after a couple of hours of wearing noise canceling headphones. I’m lucky in that I work from home and live in a fairly quiet neighborhood, so that when the leafblowers show up a few times a week I can wear the headphones and not be completely ticked off by them, but the leafblowers are only around for 30 minutes or less and then I can take the headphones off again. If I had to wear the headphones every day I would lose my mind.

          And actually, at my last job there was construction going on for a few weeks on the first floor of our three story building. I wore headphones all day for that period but I knew it was a temporary situation so I just dealt with it. It’s very different when it’s a regular thing that you know won’t be ending soon.

        2. madge*

          This plus I wear a behind-the-ear hearing aid. So far, the only headphone pads large enough to not crush the hearing aid into my head are Bose. Translation: not in my budget unless they’re 80% off for Black Friday.

        3. Weaponized Pumpkin*

          Right, the same sensitivities that make noise hard also make headphones hard. In addition to the pressure on head/ears, the noise-cancelling hiss itself bothers my brain after a while.

    2. GythaOgden*

      It’s not Fay’s underlying issues that are the problem here, however — it’s the way she handles them. I’m sure you don’t rant and rave at people when you get distracted or disturbed, and she chose to be in a field where there’s going to be some noise because construction is noisy. So while what you say is fairly true, I’d expect Fay to find different ways of expressing herself and using the apologies and gifts as a springboard to change, rather than just plonking herself down in the middle of things and declaring that she’s neurodivergent and so people need to pander to her needs even if their own get ignored. In reality, her current behaviour is the problem, and she needs to be told it’s unacceptable even if she does have auditory processing issues or whatever.

      As neurodivergent but British, I’m used to open offices (they are basically the norm over here) and work in maintenance/facilities where you really have to put up with some noise. There are times when I’ve had to actually go upstairs and tell a noisy team having a party to please keep it down because their balcony (!) looks over onto reception. But I did it in a polite way and I spoke to to the admin who’s in there quite often rather than yelling at the people who were just hanging out at this office.

      It’s possible for even the most stubborn neurodivergent people to adapt to certain circumstances. It’s possible to ask for accommodations if you can get them — on reception it really wasn’t an option to get a quieter place, so I had to work through acoustics meant for a full office that were bad for a three quarters empty one, and that was stressful (and I was considering going to an audiologist before someone suggested it was because I’d spent two years in a very quiet atmosphere but now people were returning my brain was having trouble upscaling again). But I managed it with consideration for the needs of my job and my fellow employees, and it took a few months to get back up to speed. From my years using headphones at loud volumes (‘plugged in’ as my mum used to say) I may well end up with dicey hearing, but that’s my lookout to fix and sort out with my employer, not a licence to howl at other people.

    3. WS*

      My partner has a similar condition – musician’s headphones and a lot of therapy worked for her (though it’s still far more tiring for her than for an average person), but that’s not the case for everyone. She was in the same position, not realising that she had a processing difference, and assuming everyone else just handled it better! This doesn’t give Fay free rein to have tantrums at people, but it does mean there may be more to it that “Fay loses her temper”, and it’s up to Fay to try to work on that, and up to the workplace to support her.

      1. Flossy*

        Exactly! There’s a massive difference between Fay being neurodivergent and Fay being neurodivergent and also ancting inappropriately for office norms.

    4. Bit o' Brit*

      I have the exact same issue, also needing a nap after going in to the office. Pre-pandemic I thought I was really depressed because I needed to sleep so much from the exhaustion of working in an office.

      My go-to now is earplugs designed to block out background noise while minimally affecting voices, but they still only take the edge off most things.

    5. Pink Candyfloss*

      My work space is open plan office and we have brought in some modular soundproof pods for people to step into when they need to do focus work, take a call, or otherwise account for the extra noisy times. I too struggle with distraction from noise and it is VERY frustrating. I would probably react as Fay does in my own imagination, but seethe openly and quietly in real life. Looking into ways to accommodate or reduce noise for everyone seems like something your employer might look into if enough people bring it up.

  17. Exile from Academia*

    LW4: I’ve also been trying to cut gendered honorifics out of my idiolect. (I’m a zilennial, but my family is Extremely Southern). I’d love it if ‘friend’ was widespread and socially acceptable, but since it’s not:

    Not saying anything feels brusque and awkward to me, so I’ve been adding in an extra phrase of ‘fluff’. So instead of saying “How may I help you, sir?” I say “Good morning, how may I help you”, or “Pardon me, you forgot your keys!”. Is it weird and maybe unnecessary? Yeah, kind of, but it soothes the itch in my brain I get from just saying “You forgot your keys!”, so it’s worth it.
    Similarly, saying “thank you much” instead of “thank you sir/ma’am” is somehow much easier for me to achieve than trying to just say “thank you!” without something tacked on the end.

    1. Grogu's Mom*

      My default in these situation (as an Xennial, if it matters) would be, “Hi there, how can I help you?” and “Oops, wait, you forgot your keys.” I think it takes most people’s brains a second to realize someone is talking to them, so the exact words don’t matter as much as that the relevant information they need to take in is in the second part. I also default to “thank you very much,” or “great/perfect, thank you” as I agree just “thank you” sounds too abrupt. I almost never say sir/ma’am; I grew up military and that is too associated with military culture in my brain to use in everyday life.

    2. Donkey Hotey*

      Oooh, I like this a lot. I’m going to try this out. It allows that extra bit of audio processing time.

    3. Going Against The Flow*

      I admit when I hear “Friend” I immediately think Quaker, so it’s not something I would use. I recognize that association isn’t strong everywhere and it’s not meant religiously by most, but I’d still avoid it

  18. Reality.Bites*

    I kind of have a halal buffet story! I’m from a Jewish family that’s never kept Kosher and I’ve known a lot of Jewish and Muslim people with varying degrees of adherence or non-adherence to dietary (and other) rules, so I make no assumptions about what people do or don’t eat based on their religion.

    So one time at a department pre-holiday lunch at a Chinese buffet I noticed one of my co-workers adding ribs to his plate and thought nothing of it. Days, weeks or months later he mentioned that he doesn’t eat pork. Needless to say I clammed up! (Since I don’t keep Kosher I can clam up all I want!)

    I don’t have any actual advice to offer beyond Alison’s

    1. Non non non all the way home*