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Every so often I have days that are very busy with no time to take a proper lunch. When this happens, I usually end up bringing my lunch to a meeting and eating while other people talk. These aren't lunch meetings (usually around 1 or 2pm), and I'm typically the only person who has brought food. This got me wondering if I was committing a faux pas without realizing it. So my question for you all is this:

Is it unprofessional to bring lunch to a meeting?

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This question appears to be off-topic because it is about regulations or agreements that are company-specific and don't have universally applicable answers. – CMW Apr 8 '14 at 8:01
up vote 28 down vote accepted

This is almost impossible to answer without being there, but I'll try and give some guidance from my Point of View:

Is it ever acceptable?

Absolutely - we've all got to eat and, despite best efforts and 'official guidance', sometimes our days conspire against us. It's something I've certainly done, especially with last minute meetings. And some meetings certainly have a food culture - I used to have a 9 - 12am Friday morning meeting, and we'd always grab breakfast at around 10:00am.

I also don't think anybody would look twice if you bring a drink and some sharing food such as cookies or doughnuts etc.

Is it ever completely unacceptable

I'd suggest it's never acceptable if there are clients, customers or senior (in comparison to yourself) colleagues in the meeting.

Also, I hope it goes without saying - but it should never done with "anti-social" foods. I.e, smelly foods, messy foods, hand food (Excluding sandwiches)

How do I mitigate the risk?

Following the culture is always the first rule. If your boss brings food, then that's almost always a cue that it's fine. You state that you're the only one, so this in itself is a warning sign.

Ask others and excuse yourself. If this is truly a once ever [x] meetings thing (Where x is a reasonably high number), then I don't think it's unreasonable to expect a bit of understanding. Especially for a 1:00pm meeting.

It also depends on the formality of the meeting - an informal catch-up with colleagues on your team is a world away from a formal board meeting.

In summary, however, if you're the only one doing it and these meetings don't fall into your local definition of "lunch time", then I'd suggest you avoid doing so.

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Eating behavior and expectations has many cultural differences, so it will be hard to answer your question without being familiar with your culture.

Any work environment that allows/accepts scheduling meetings through the lunch hour, should be tolerant of people eating during meetings. Personally, I try to avoid these scheduling messes, but I don't control my schedule and our working culture is very flexible with calling meetings. I have never had anyone complain about me bringing my lunch to a meeting, in fact, most times the reaction is sympathy for my schedule that day.

You should be cognizant of who will be in your meetings and the subject, and try to bring your lunch to the meeting where you will have the least interaction and fewest higher ups.

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Just to follow on from the two excellent answers so far, what hasn't been mentioned is WHAT you are having for lunch

There is a difference IMHO between eating a ham sandwich during a meeting and pulling out a bowl of extra spicy curry with some rice and naan breads.

I would say that consideration to other meeting attendees is paramount

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