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My manager organized a team lunch for next week. The restaurant we will be going to is one where the only options are meat and fish. For medical reasons, I can't eat those things. In the past I was able to eat fish and I think that's the reason why the manager chose this restaurant (they always try to keep people's preferences in mind during these kind of events) without really informing me.

Now that everything has been organized and all, I think it is too late to ask for any changes. So my question here is: "Would it be unprofessional to go to a team lunch and not eat anything?"

I would still ask for something to drink so I have "something to do" while everyone is busy eating. According to other Q&As here, declining wouldn't be a good idea because these kind of team lunches can also be seen as team meetings.

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    The only options are meat and fish? Most places have some sides to go with that, some of which often appears separately on the menu, and, if it doesn't, they'd probably concede to a request to have only that anyway. – Dukeling Nov 2 '17 at 11:42
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    Really. OP is not the only vegetarian in the world, and to presume restaurants don't provide for them is defeatism. But we shouldn't drag OP through a defensive justification, just advise him to make sure of this. The restauranteur would feel badly if an information gap left a customer unhappy. – Harper Nov 2 '17 at 17:32
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    First day on a new job, the new boss took me out for lunch. I ordered, then the waiter turned to him and he said, "Coffee". That's all he had. (Come to find out, that's all he ever had.) It was one of the most uncomfortable work situations I've ever been in. Sounds like you know your co-workers, so it won't anywhere near as bad, and since they seem to know (mostly) about your situation, I wouldn't think it would cause any problem beyond the boss feeling bad about not giving you an option. She sounds like that kinda guy... – FreeMan Nov 2 '17 at 20:51
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    @Harper I eat vegan and manage to find something to eat in every restaurant. – Summer Nov 3 '17 at 9:25
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So my question here is: "Would it be unprofessional to go to a team lunch and not eat anything."

I wouldn't specifically label it "unprofessional", but some might. But it would likely be considered odd.

Check out the restaurant's menu ahead of time. Find something on the menu you can eat - if not an entree, consider ordering an appetizer, salad or soup. Unless this just a burger and fries restaurant, or you have an extremely unusually strict diet, there's almost certainly something you could eat.

If there's truly nothing you can find, call ahead and ask if the chef can prepare something specifically for you. This has worked in the past for a friend who was gluten-intolerant. He called the restaurant and found that the owner had a child who was gluten-intolerant too. While they had nothing great on the menu, the owner was happy to instruct the chef to prepare something suitable. This became my friend's go-to restaurant and the restaurant expanded its menu.

Put some effort into it rather than just assuming there's nothing you can eat.

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    And be sure to let your boss know your change in requirements ready for next time – HorusKol Nov 2 '17 at 11:13
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    But see if the restaurant can act all cool and spontaneous, so it's not like it was a big deal. ;-) – Strawberry Nov 2 '17 at 15:57
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    Good answer. I try to eat heart-healthy due to my coronary issues, and that means there aren't any restaurants that serve what I need (this is the US). So, I'm always asking for mods to avoid saturated fats and salt. Some restaurants actually don't have any options, but most have something. – Don Branson Nov 2 '17 at 18:06
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    It may be considered odd, but is that unprofessional? While it may be useful to "put some effort in it", how is that answering the question? – GreenMatt Nov 2 '17 at 20:46
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    +1 for Call the restaurant. The manager should be able to help you if the idea of a regular business lunch is on the line. – axsvl77 Nov 3 '17 at 10:47
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I don't think it would be particularly problematic. It's certainly not unprofessional. You'd very likely be asked a few questions about it, but if you're not worried about that and have a good response I don't think it's a problem. You can either provide a canned minimalist response, or provide more details, depending on your comfort level.

My team typically goes to a pizza place for team lunches, and for a while I was on a fairly restrictive diet (by choice) and didn't want to eat any pizza. I did eat a small amount of salad, but otherwise I ate my usual protein-and-fiber high foods after the lunch at my desk. The salad wasn't very healthy, hence only a small amount. Nobody asked beyond asking me if I wanted a piece, at which point I said "no, thanks, I'm alright".

After the first of those, my manager did ask me afterwards if pizza was a problem; I told him that he didn't need to worry about me particularly, but that I don't prefer pizza for diet reasons. He understood and let me know that if I wanted he could switch to something else, but I didn't push that as I'm entirely happy to simply talk and not eat.

I treat it identically to going to a bar for happy hour and not drinking (which I also don't do); I get a soda/water/etc. and just hang out. The important thing is that you're there and that you're conversing with your coworkers. The food is just something they provide in order to encourage you to come.

  • It is very unconfortable to eat something while there is another person chatting with you and not eating. You team deserve kudos for not making a deal out of this! – T. Sar Nov 3 '17 at 13:11
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    @T.Sar If it's one on one, perhaps. In a large group of ten or more people, I don't see how a single person not eating makes a significant difference. It certainly doesn't bother me, in any event, on the other side of things, and I have been there many times - for example, my regular lunch friends for a while years ago included a Muslim coworker who didn't eat during Ramadan, for example, but still came to lunch, and we were happy to have him (and impressed that it didn't bother him that we were eating!) – Joe Nov 3 '17 at 14:35
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It will not be a problem at all if your manager and coworkers are civilized. Just make sure to tell them that you enjoy their presence (you may have some starters which are appropriate?).

I had a case once (EDIT: twice, I forgot again recently) where I forgot I was having a team lunch and had lunch before. I went with them but did not eat and of course everyone was fine with this.

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Regarding the actual question: to some extent, "professional" seems to be in the eye of the beholder, so the real issue here is how would your colleagues view things if you don't eat during the lunch. If they know your diet is restricted and this restaurant has no options for you, I would expect that they wouldn't think anything of it if you do not eat. I've experienced similar issues before (see below) and haven't really encountered anything more than some good-natured ribbing. Also, I've had co-workers who are observing Ramadan who've avoided food during working lunches and never heard anyone accuse them of being unprofessional.

Other observations, some from personal experience: My diet is more restricted than many folks and I have encountered situations when dining out with co-workers where there was nothing on the menu from which I could make a full meal. I've never had to go completely without food, but I have had to settle for an appetizer or side dish and then get something else later. As noted above, if there is nothing on the menu, you can ask for alternatives from the wait staff; I've had mixed luck with that myself. Another proactive approach would be to make sure with your boss that it is too late to find another restaurant, explaining that this restaurant appears to be one where it would be difficult or impossible for you to get food and see if an alternative could be chosen - you might want to be prepared with an alternate or two when you do this. You could also skip the outing if this is a social event instead of a working lunch.

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    If there's a starter that is fine with you, most places will turn it into a full size dish if you ask for it. – gnasher729 Nov 2 '17 at 23:23
  • @gnasher729: That's great if it's something you want to make a meal out of. However, a lot of appetizers don't "scale up" to make an enjoyable (or nutritious) full meal. – GreenMatt Nov 3 '17 at 12:28
  • I once spent a whole week on a business trip in a very remote hotel with no car. The hotel specialised in steaks - was famous for waving steaks over an open fire and giving them to you still moo-ing. Every day I had soup-of-the-day and a side salad. – RedSonja Nov 3 '17 at 13:18
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    Indeed. Unless you are a professional eater, why would it be unprofessional to not eat? The professional aspects of the team event are spending extra time with the team. – Pete Kirkham Nov 3 '17 at 13:23
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If they are kind to you, go and tell them your eating habits. If they were truly kind, they would go somewhere all the team could eat. But if your coworkers are rude and treat you as a ghost, I would ask to not even go

  • So are you suggesting that all the team goes to another place just because one person can't eat meat or fish? I think that would be a bit rude, and I also suspect that OP is aware of it and also why they asked the question they did (which, you are not answering, mind editing your post?) – DarkCygnus Sep 6 at 19:00
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I would have something delivered. For the purpose of calculating tip, your company can add the cost of your meal to the bill.

  • @JoeStrazzere if the restaurant is unable to provide me food that is medically appropriate for me to eat, then what is the alternative? I would not be surprised if the ADA would classify it as "reasonable accomodation". IANAL but if I have to hire a lawyer then I don't really want to participate in the team activity. I don't have a seeing eye dog, but if I did I would not hesitate to bring it into a restaurant. What is the difference? – emory Nov 5 '17 at 12:08
  • @JoeStrazzere If I were dining alone, I would just go to a restaurant that serves the food I want to and can eat. But I am participating in a team activity. The restaurant has been chosen for me. – emory Nov 6 '17 at 9:57

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