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We are 5-6 coworkers (from different teams) that like to go out for lunch together.

The problem: For some reason, there are people joining us without being invited.

It just happens like this:

  • It's 12:00 PM, me and my friends (with prior arrangement) put our jackets and shoes, prepare to go out for lunch.
  • Suddenly some random coworker sees us and also starts preparing for lunch.
  • Another coworker sees us and also joins without asking.

And then we find ourselves in a group of 10-15 people. None of them invited in the first place. The lunch becomes annoying, silent and boring. We have a hard time finding a table for so many people. It's also a hard time for logistic reasons - we have to wait for everyone to finish eating, there is always someone that will be pretentious, another will want to do some personal things at lunchtime, etc.

We don't know how to get rid of all these people. Reasons:

  • Some of them think they are part of the group now (coming so many times with us)
  • Some don't realize there is a group, they just see people going out and join them
  • Some are people close to managers we work with and we don't want to have any trouble
  • It is a variety of people, we don't know how to state to everyone we don't want them

What we tried: Ignoring them (talking just between each other), but still acting friendly (after all we work together), they don't get the hint. We also tried going out unnoticed - it doesn't work, they still find us and join us. We tried to separate the group - they still join one of the parts.


Edit:

Software Company | Location: Bulgaria | Employees: 80 people | Office: Open space

Lunch hours: We can take a 1-hour lunch break between 12:00 and 14:00.

Lunch options:

  • Eating in the office conference room. It's shared space, we have no word who comes and goes here.
  • Nearest Mall - its the only place within walking distance, but the dining floor is still kind of open space. There is only 1 restaurant we can reserve a table, but it's really fancy and expensive.
  • Go somewhere further with a car - we rarely do this, because it takes too much time. We need at least 1 hour and a half to be able to eat properly.
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    Considering that lunch is normally unpaid and can therefore be considered your private-time I believe it should be ok to tell the 'unwanted' co-workers that you don't want them on board. Reasoning could be that you have to discuss private matters during lunch.. – iLuvLogix Jan 28 at 9:37
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    I think this question is better fitted for interpersonal.stackexchange.com – JayZ Jan 28 at 9:40
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    @JayZ To a certain extent it is work-related, since dealing with such an issue at work is different from dealing with such thing happening in your circle of friends, family or similar and should be handled a little different. The results can also be quite different when dealing with this at a workplace rather than in your private life.. – iLuvLogix Jan 28 at 9:54
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    Can you please edit your question to add details as to what country and profession you are in? I believe the answer will hinge on those factors more than anything else. – Giacomo1968 Jan 28 at 18:24
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    The title makes it sound like you are planning to advance your career via extremely drastic means. – Eric Hauenstein Jan 29 at 19:31

12 Answers 12

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It is rude of people to attach themselves to a lunch party without being invited. Lunch is not work time, and people can spend it how they want. On the other hand you have identified an issue, that other people in the office want to do lunch with colleagues, and they aren't getting the opportunity, and it would be good for the workplace if you do something about it. Also constantly avoiding colleagues who would like to socialize with you is not very friendly, and by letting this continue you have established it as "OK" that anyone can tag along with anyone going to lunch.

I suggest a compromise. Agree with your regular lunch crew that you will take a break from it for a week or so, and maybe not lunch together every day. Then you establish a new norm of how people do lunch if they want to.

Next time start to get ready for lunch, and then say to the office "anyone want to go to lunch?". The people who want to lunch will say yes, and you are establishing the principle of invitation, as well as your own credentials as a friendly person. Do lunch with anyone who wants to; have fun; be nice. Keep doing this for several days until it becomes normal.

When it's normal, it's time to do occasional lunches with your old crew. Arrange to meet them at a place you are unlikely to encounter the other people. Start to get ready for lunch, but don't issue the invitation, and if people try to join you say "I'm sorry, I'm lunching with someone else today. Go without me. I'll join you tomorrow." If more than one person has tried to join, point out that they can do lunch together and don't actually need you. Hopefully they will do that. Now you've established a norm, which is that when you want to lunch with everybody you ask, and when you don't ask it's because you are doing something else. And that they can lunch with their colleagues without needing you. With any luck other people will start initiating - getting ready for lunch and inviting other people.

Keep this up for a bit. You lunch sometimes with your team, sometimes with your buddies. Your team doesn't feel excluded, and hopefully the team sets a precedent of lunching together without needing you to enable it. If the team starts to do lunch even when you are not there, you can increase the number of times you take to lunch with your buddies, maybe even back to doing it most of the time.

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    This is the most correct answer. It's absolutely absurd to tell the OP that they're in the wrong to want to have lunch with people of their choosing. Everyone will have coworkers that they don't want to interact with socially, and that's fine. There's no reason to punish someone for having preferences in the work environment. – NegativeFriction Jan 28 at 14:11
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    I like the approach of behavioral therapy. Can be applied to other workplace situations – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Jan 28 at 14:42
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    I think this is the right solution in this case because it improves workplace culture/moral without avoiding people, hiding, or having to change your group's habits (to dinner, as some have suggested). It is fine not to want to eat with everyone in the office, people can plan their own group lunches if they like that. – Catsunami Jan 28 at 17:30
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    hmm this works well if you are going out to meet with outsiders but does have a high risk of creating negative feelings of feeling excluded if you are then seen with a good share of the regular group potentially even ending up in the same restaurant. So, certainly an approach, but it comes with a potential cost. – Frank Hopkins Jan 28 at 17:48
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    A friendly piece of social engineering. :) +1 – Karl Jan 28 at 18:28
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For at least a few lunches, pick a restaurant that is busy but takes lunch reservations. Reserve, in advance, a table for just the number in your group.

"I'm sorry, we only have a table for 6 people.".

As well as being an immediate excuse for not adding to your group, it conveys the information that it is a specific group planning to have lunch together, not just some random people happening to head out at the same time.

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    Or (if the group is six) choose a booth for four and pull two chairs up to the end of it. No more room. – WGroleau Jan 29 at 1:30
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    This would work, but OP may want to add "but we can do a group lunch some other time" so as to not sound antagonistic towards the other individuals. Just saying the suggested sentence with no followup will sound as if they take an exception to the presence of the uninvited individual, which would be bad manners in a workplace situation. – Chase Sandmann Jan 29 at 21:04
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The problem: For some reason, there are people joining us without being invited.

That really isn't the problem. The problem is that you are trying to have a clique in a bigger sphere of people - a workplace. In workplaces, the idea of cliquing is rarely positive as it leads to suspicion about company decisions, and feelings of being excluded for those "not in", and as such is something that will rarely be endorsed by the company, and you are not really going to get any help from them.

That leaves you with the option of telling those people to not join you for lunch. Obviously, this will work, but also is going to alienate those people, as who would like to get an in-your-face rejection from coworkers to join them for lunch? No one. Even if you will frame this in a nice way, explaining that this is not a company-wide outing, but just you few friends, it still will leave a sour taste for the others.

And I don't think that there is a way to un-invite those people, and also stay on fantastic terms with them because, as explained above, inner-circles, cliques, are not something that's welcomed in the most workplaces, so if you want to keep your going and keep it small and closed, you will have to deal with the alienation.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Jan 29 at 12:53
  • A solution to this, and what a lot of companies do, is having a "team lunch". Say once a month, or once a week, on a specific day the team goes together for a lunch. On any other day - people do what they want or need to do with whoever they want to do it (be it colleagues or not) as it's their personal time. – kiradotee Jan 29 at 18:19
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    -1. Having the ability to choose with whom you break bread does not "lead to suspicion about company decisions" and the suggestion is absurd. – Alex M Jan 29 at 18:20
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    Companies can be far too big to be friends with everyone. It is also their private time and they should be able to eat with who they want – Christy Jan 30 at 9:58
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    @Agent_L surely that depends on whether it is paid or not, which in turn depends on the contract.I've never been paid for time taken for lunch, so it's never been company time.It's a matter for national law, at least in the UK the law says that it must be uninterrupted, and any company business interrupting the lunch therefore resets the clock. – Pete Kirkham Jan 30 at 12:06
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I know how you feel. You want a small group for lunch. It is easier to coordinate, it is easier to talk, it is easier to find a table, it is more efficient.

My experience when getting a group together for lunch is they pick a place in the building to meet, and the longer they take at that central visible location, the more likely they are to be spotted. Adding people that way just makes the time before leaving the building even longer.

Don't make a production about getting out the door. Meet at the dining location at an appointed time. That way you aren't as noticeable. Everybody starts getting ready when they need to, and aren't gathering in a common location at the worksite while you are waiting on the last to arrive.

The risk of meeting at the location is that one person doesn't arrive because they get a phone call, or they get a question from their boss. But with everybody having a cell phone, they can at least let you know they will be late.

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    This is the best advice, if you ask me. The problem is that everyone is leaving at once, and it's obvious they're going to lunch. Change that, and you've solved your problem. – user91988 Jan 28 at 22:37
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    The last paragraph in the question states that going out unnoticed has not worked in the past. – knallfrosch Jan 29 at 8:20
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The easiest solution is to pack lunches and go somewhere that doesn't serve food for lunch. Anything else requires subterfuge or insulting people. This way people may follow but they'll soon leave looking for food unless they are committed and pack their own lunch. In which case befriend them.

The other very common solution is to choose places with fixed tables that cannot be moved. Then your group just takes a table. McDonalds for instance and many others have tables bolted to the floor.

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Although I agree wholeheartedly with @Tymoteusz, I'm not sure he answers your questions - so I will attempt to.

It's going to depend on the surrounding environment. If you're in the workplace cafeteria, for example, you will struggle to "get away from" those others. Same goes for if there is only 1 good restaurant nearby!

  • Someone in the comments suggested you meet up at dinner, this is of course one option, but I understand the idea is to enjoy your lunch break as a group rather than wasting that time, so why not try having a very late lunch? This obviously only works if your office allows flexible lunch breaks, but if you leave after the rest of the office has already gone for lunch then you shouldn't have an issue.

  • You could all try leaving one at a time and meeting in a predetermined spot

  • Bring your lunch in from home and all go and sit in a park together or in a communal area in the office. People may go grab a sandwich and join you after a short time, but it should reduce this and you will have a little time alone.

I'll just end by reiterating what @Tymoteusz said - It's not good to form a clique in an office environment (or anywhere). You're closing yourselves off to getting to know those other people and you are excluding people who are probably too shy to make lunch plans with each other. Think how happy they probably are that they don't have to sit and eat alone?

One last thought: If you're going to be exclusive in your socialising, it's probably better to leave it outside of working hours.

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    "If you're going to be exclusive in your socialising, it's probably better to leave it outside of working hours." Lunchtime IS outside working hours. – DJClayworth Jan 28 at 16:32
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    It's during the working day though @DJClayworth by working hours I'm referring to the fact it probably says on the contract "Office hours are 9-5.30 with a 1 hour unpaid lunch break" – Bee Jan 28 at 17:06
  • @DJClayworth This depends heavily on the company and position. For example, a salaried person might come into the office at 9, go to lunch for an hour, and still leave at 5. Technically the lunch was during working hours, since all hours are working hours. – user91988 Jan 28 at 22:38
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    +1 for "leave it outside of working hours." While @DJClayworth is right that lunch isn't work time, the point of time in which you start excluding people occurs at work. It's fine to have a closer relationship to a few coworkers, but at work, even informal interactions should be inclusive. It's really necessary to maintain a positive work environment, which is everyone's responsibility. – Bloodgain Jan 28 at 23:19
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    @dwizum I think you're taking my statement a bit out of context. I didn't say you have to be a doormat or have an open invitation to everyone for everything. I was making the statement in the context of having a "clique" at work that goes out almost daily and excludes everyone. I mean that it is generally necessary to maintain a good environment, and that means not making others feel excluded while at work. If you want to have a private meal, arrange it quietly and in such a way that you don't make others feel like you're specifically excluding them. Social balance is just difficult. – Bloodgain Jan 31 at 0:22
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Behavior Therapy

First, you should start with DJClayworth's excellent answer. The basic problem is that your coworkers aren't comfortable with organizing their own lunch, or your group is considered the coolest kids in the company. Either way, your group has become the "nucleation site" for the formation of group lunches, but you can probably help them form their own groups. Unless everyone eats at a large cafeteria, more smaller groups is usually more practical than one large one anyway, for logistical reasons.

Inconvenience

Of course, the reason everyone wants to join your group is because it's convenient. It's already started, so nobody has to go around and find other people to join them for lunch. If you want fewer people, make it less convenient. This is obviously a cost on your group, but perhaps a price you are willing to pay. One suggestion was to go to expensive restaurants. This doesn't scale very well, and comes off as elitist, assuming your group can afford it anyway (plus, it may well end up attracting even more of a certain kind of people to your group).

Another was to leave at a different time. This works much better and still gives you the freedom to lunch where you please. I think most people would rather lunch later than earlier, so taking an early lunch might be more successful and catch people off guard.

My favorite tactic is to include distance. A lot of office workers don't like to work hard for their lunch. If you pick a lunch spot that is 8-10 blocks away, you will discourage a lot of folks right off the bat. Another trick is to simply take a walk before lunch. "We're going to take a few laps around the park before we go to lunch." Of course, these tactics may also appeal to some folks outside your group, and thus, could backfire. Some people will object and try to steer the group towards an easier solution. That is great! Just welcome them to go to the lunch spot two blocks away, but insist that you are going to the distant one.

Designed Fragmentation

If your group is so inclined, a very effective solution is to play games during lunch. There are lots of short card/board games for 5-6 people, like Coup, Codenames, Zombie Dice, etc. You do need to take some care, as some of the games can accommodate more than 6 players. If you get a few games, then you can offer to let other groups borrow them. I think games are a good, casual way to build friendships anyway, but the built-in limitations of games are convenient when you want to limit group size.

Appropriateness

Some folks insist that perpetuating cliques is A Bad ThingTM. I agree that it can be a bad thing, but that it depends very much on the size of the company. If the company has less than 100 employees, then cliques tend toward the harmful end of the scale. If it has more than 1000 employees, then you can't realistically be friends with a significant portion of the company anyway, so in that case, cliques aren't just acceptable...they are inevitable.

Furthermore, the bigger the company, the more important it is to cultivate connections outside of your immediate team. Having a group of friends from different teams seems like an excellent benefit for each of you individually, as well as all of your teams. People who have only worked for smaller companies need to work at a big company to understand why this is so. You could even go so far as to promote this very idea as a kind of informal "networking club" where people sign up and get randomly matched with folks from various teams for small-group lunches like yours.

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  • OP can also fragment his own group for a time. This will force 5th wheels to learn to make choices and - most importantly - that there can be more than one group. – Agent_L Jan 30 at 11:32
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Wait for your coworkers to go to lunch first. Then you and your friends can go after they leave. If they invite you, simply say no thank you.

(Although, I personally believe you should remain welcoming to your coworkers.)

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Why not both?

It's important to have networking time with colleagues. It's also important to have socializing time with closer friends.

Where I worked, we'd have a one day a week where as a small group we'd "eat out" - we'd go out to a restaurant, just us few.

The rest of the time, we went with the mob.

By making it a regular, "themed" event, where only those who were in that theme would go, everyone was on board and no feelings were hurt. It's the "yorkshiremen" lunch, or "old Etonians", or whatever it is that brings you guys together.

When we'd get up to go, we'd say things like "group lunch day?" and just make it apologetically clear that we couldn't generally socialize with others that day because, well, it's Thursday.

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There are couple of things you could do to passively mitigate this.

Ask people 30 minutes before for lunch ideas, but don't suggest anything yourself. Once majority settles on one place, just tell them:

I don't feel like eating there today, just go ahead without me and I'll grab something else

Other thing is you can start getting ready and then walking outside but when you get asked where you are going just say you haven't decided yet, get everybody outside and wait for somebody else to take the lead. People will be inpatient and try to decide faster, somebody will suggest something and most people will agree. Apply similar tactic again:

I don't really want to eat there today / I don't really like their food, but since we are already large group I will just go to XYZ instead to have something fast to bite, please feel free to go without me

It's not bulletproof and some people might still switch to your group, but people don't like to change opinions and larger group already decided, so they are more likely to stick to their original plan, giving you option to do something else.

You can still even show up at same place here and there and just say that original place you were going to didn't had room.

Overall you will most likely push decision making to somebody else, so when somebody else starts going to lunch more people might join them, leaving you free to go later with smaller group. Good thing about this approach is you don't have to reject somebody from "your group", you just exclude yourself from "their group".

Getting rid of these people

This sounds a bit harsh to be honest. You should still try to have lunch with everybody from time to time, but I understand how it might be an issue to find place for more than 6 people in various places to eat.

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This answer depends on what type of person you are, but it really is a simple as saying to the unwanted people in the group.

"Excuse me what are you doing?"

If they ask why you are saying that simply reply saying your group has made plans and they're not part of it.

Your well within your rights to decide who to go to lunch with and where, within reason as long as it doesn't effect company time.

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  • If you're going to down vote at least have the decency to explain why? – Dan K Jan 30 at 10:55
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    I didn't downvote but I can only assume that somebody disagrees with this solution. It's condescending and puts a person in an uncomfortable position of answering a rhetorical question. It will likely cause them to avoid and exclude you in the office; if they're powerful enough then it's career suicide for you. Such a phrase may have been common in grade school but rarely sits well in the professional workforce. Unless you see someone about to put their hand through a band saw or run a destructive and irreversible server command then such a comment is best left in your thoughts. – MonkeyZeus Jan 30 at 18:51
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I presume that you are working for a security/spy software company if the escape inescapably persued by the other workers. If you are not working for an intelligence/security programming firm where employees use tracking devices and audio bugs, Then the solution is to congregate beside a car with 5 seats, or 2 cars, Drive to a place where the collegues don't go. have a laugh in the car, a laugh at the meeting places, and return.

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    How does masking the numberplate help? Most people look at the car and its characteristics when following rather than the numberplate, and making the numberplate is illegal in most places. – さりげない告白 Jan 31 at 3:20
  • Sorry I couldnt help but to be sarcastic, because, if 5 people in a car want to get away from 10 other people, they can do it 99% of the time, it takes considerable effort to arrange a persuit of 5 people in a car, including personal tracking, leaked knowledge of the meeting points, and a persuit vehicle ready to go, near to the escape vehicle :) the workplace must be a spy organization :) – aliential Jan 31 at 3:49
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    lovely answer 👍😂 – steros Jan 31 at 9:45

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