At my workplace, every galley (kitchen, not quite a break room as there is very limited seating) seems to have a table in it where stuff just appears. It seems to be accepted that this is the "I don't want this anymore, please take it" table. My first question is this a common thing? It is not explicitly marked as such, but stuff just appears on it (books and food), and then it disappears soon after (in the case of books it may take time as the books are usually very old).

Is it OK to take 2 cookies when they appear there? 20? 1 per trip? Does it change for fruit? Books?

  • 1
    "It seems to be accepted..." Don't assume that this is the case. Ask your manager. – sf02 Feb 15 '19 at 21:23
  • Consider "take some" AND "Contribute something" be it books or food or whatever - may not seem valuable to you but someone else may find it useful... – Solar Mike Feb 15 '19 at 22:02

It's typically customary to take a small amount. If cookies are left out, for example, take one. You can return later if others have had a chance.

The same thing applies to anything else, be they books or any other item left there.

When you first see it, take one. After an ample time (hours, or the end of the day), it's usually fine to take what you want.

If it's about to get thrown out, then you can take whatever is left.


This is very common.

Usually food left out in public is a fair game, and it's first come, first serve basis. That being said, you don't want your co-workers see you as someone who is eating a disproportionate amount and not leaving any for them. You can have a cookie or two, but make sure others have a chance to get some as well. You can come back later for more, if after a couple of hours there is still food, you can have as much as you want.

Books are a bit different. I would take whatever interests me because they are usually not very sought after, so it's usually OK to take 2 - 3 book and your colleagues will not think any less of you.


The first answer is that it's tricky. It's going to vary from workplace to workplace, and it's usually entirely unspoken, which means it's often going to vary from person to person. Still, there are some useful tips.

This is about social capital. The lines are fuzzy. In general, though, it's a matter of largesse/charity. Take small quantities, and then back off and make sure that everyone has a chance at it before you take more. If you are inclined to be greedy, then also be generous - almost no one will be upset with how much you take if you're contributing noticeably more than that (though quality versus quantity can get fuzzy). Lower-ranking employees (ie, the people who aren't making as much money) often have a bit more leeway than those that are better paid. In the end, though, it's a very gut-instinct animal-brain thing, and should be treated accordingly. If it feels like cheating to you, it'll likely feel like cheating to them, too.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.