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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
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I would suggest scheduling your lunch break as a meeting on your Calendar. Then always leave the building to take it so that people become accustomed to not having you available at that time of day. Working straight through without a proper break is not only bad for your health and contributes to burn out, but it also against the labor laws in many jurisdictions. So if your company is pushing you to work through lunch that is often illegal behavior on their part. – HLGEM Jun 30 at 17:13
up vote 37 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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One minor disagreement: Sometimes meetings include feeding the clients/customers in the meeting room (a "working lunch"), and those generally involve feeding your own company's participants as well. This falls under the category of "boss brings shared food", of course. I'd also add some raw fruit/veg/nuts to the category of non-anti-social hand food... though a crunchy apple or carrot can be a distraction. Sometimes allergies are also an issue. As @Dan said, the real answer is to ask your boss/co-workers about local culture and adapt appropriately (which may mean shifting your lunch schedule). – keshlam Apr 8 '14 at 3:17
    
Organization behavior is ALWAYS most important. 2nd is the possibility of disruption from smell or noise. I have and have seen people bring breakfast, lunch, dinner at any time. While it may not technically answer your question, is it possible to do some meeting(s) as a call/web meeting, where you can be at home or your desk? Could the meeting have actually been an email? – MikeP Jul 20 at 18:55

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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I have a completely different list of what makes it acceptable or not. It's unacceptable, if:

  • It makes noise.
  • It can spill.
  • It smells.

It's acceptable if in the meeting you are a consumer. If you're supposed to answer questions during the meeting, making everyone wait until you finish chewing before every question is exceptionally rude.

If you have so many meetings where you're a consumer that you regularly eat during the meeting, then you can improve your standing by getting rid of, or streamlining, these meetings - this will help your reputation far more than eating during such a meeting could ever harm it (unless your food makes noise, smells, or spills).

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"It makes noise" cues memories of a lunch meeting we used to have over the phone with colleagues where we would hear the deafening sound of chips being opened right next to the speakerphone every 2-3 minutes. Chips are generally a bad idea for any meeting even if it's acceptable for you to be eating lunch there. – Conor Jul 20 at 17:49

Generally, in most workplaces where I have worked, if a person is working completely through lunch (When the other attendees are not or lunch would be provided), the other meeting attendees will be understanding if you eat your lunch, but only if you explain that you have had back to back meetings and ask if it is ok. I have seen a lot of people do this through the years and have never seen a group say no. If you don't mention it and just pull put your lunch and start eating, that would often be considered rude.

It is also a good thing to ask if you have to eat your lunch during a conference call.

In general though, I do not accept meetings that are during my lunch hour, I suggest a different time unless the issue for the meeting is quite critical. If you block off lunch as a meeting on your calendar, you will get far fewer meeting requests at that time.

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I generally find it distasteful.. there's a time and place for eating. Aka not when you're supposed to be actively participating in a group.

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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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