I work in a reasonably small open plan office with around 20 people. For context, if it's relatively quiet, you can hear everyones' conversations.

General etiquette says that when I want a tea (or coffee) then I should ask my colleagues and get a round in.

However, what is the limit? Just ask the people in my immediate vicinity, or everyone within earshot? Is it bad form to not offer tea to everyone who can hear/see me about to make a brew?

P.S. I am British.

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    Anecdotally, we only tend to make as many cups as you can carry in one go, which means immediate desk neighbors up to a team of 4/5/6. Anything more than that gets a bit disruptive. Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 14:29
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    Now that you've talked about tea here you are going to have to go and make one for all of us too ;)
    – JamesRyan
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 14:52
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    "P.S. I am British" - I don't think you needed to add that. :-)
    – camden_kid
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 15:04
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    Maybe get a pot and make a whole pot, then tell people it's available Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 15:16
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    I can still remember when a "tea lady" came around the office with a trolley: tea/coffee/biscuits. Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 19:16

4 Answers 4


I have worked in a number of different offices in the UK and I don't think there is a cast iron rule. In some offices there is a rota and people take it in turns in others everyone just makes their own cup or one for their close team members.

I would avoid getting into a habit of making tea for a large group, you will find some people rely on you to do it (not interrupting their own work) and rarely if ever return the favour. If there are people who offer you a drink it is probably nice to offer to make them one in return when you're going to the kettle but don't stretch it too far.


There's no standard practice for this as workplace habits depend on several factors:

  • office culture
  • size of the unit / team / department
  • size of the office / room / floor
  • level of collegiality
  • available equipment for coffee (capsules, pot, industrial-size percolator, automated machine) or tea (individual bags, pot, automated machine)
  • price (some offices charge for coffee and tea)
  • presence of an admin or other support staff

As your main worry seems to be making a wrong impression in a new environment, the best strategy is to observe what your colleagues are doing and emulate them. As long as you didn't end up in a toxic environment or among your company's social rejects you shouldn't ever run into any problems doing that.

Aside from that, you would generally draw the line based on how much of your own time you're wasting. You presumably weren't hired as a tea brewer so it's not your job to spend an hour a day making tea, even if it saves your coworkers 5 hours. So it would be fine to make a pot of tea rather than individual bags but you wouldn't start serving individual cups, unless that's how you see your colleagues behave and everyone pitches in equally.


My working place has quite the same configuration, when I asked people on my first week, boss told me everyone do his own thing. If I want a coffee and my desk mate wants one too, I should just take one for me and let him do is own coffee.

That's actually how we work, and that's fine for everyone. Of course, if someone is next to me when I serve myself, I ask him something like "Which one do I put in ?" (talking about little coffe capsules) Or asking him "Do you go out ?" (a smart way to ask him if he will take a pause)

We have an espresso machine, this point may be important. If we had a huge "percolator", I would say something like "I made coffee" just to let them know they can serve themselves.

The problem is that if you begin to make coffee for everyone one time, then two, then three... It will quickly become a habit and they may even criticize you the day you won't do it.

When my boss takes a pause, he invites us to follow him like he is speaking to himself "Little cigarette pause..." "Coffee then go..." and if we want to follow him then when do, if we don't we just continue to work.

You shouldn't feel responsible for everyone, even if it's the "etiquette" of your country. But, of course, it depends on relations you have with all your mates and your boss.

Of course that may be a great conversation topic for your next tea-pause, there won't be anything better than your mates advices. Just them and you know really how that's work in your compagny.

EDIT: Funny fact : The second after I posted this, boss came to ask me which type of coffee capsules I want to re-order... :D

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    You seem to be contradicting yourself: REAL espresso is not made using capsules ;-)
    – anderas
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 10:37
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    Since English is not my native language, I just tryed to call the very little and noisy machine that makes coffee by just putting a colored-capsule in it, the darker the stronger. I know the difference about my kind of expresso and REAL espresso... It's something like 1$ ;) Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 10:42
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    Don't worry, I was just joking a bit. Just discovered coffee.SE, so I had to make that point ;-) See coffee.stackexchange.com/questions/1572/… for that point. (Sorry for being off-topic...)
    – anderas
    Commented Oct 29, 2015 at 10:44

If you try to offer drinks to everyone you'll end up being nothing more than tea boy rather than the career you wanted.

Where I am now when someone goes for a tea they will either ask the guys immediately next to them, or they will be part of a tea round.

There are a number of tea rounds going on in the office and it means people know where they are. In a round - you get tea for others in that round, not in a round? start one or just get your own.