Most of the time, I find that lunch time is the one time that some bond occurs with between colleagues. There is a canteen onsite which we go to. We get to know a bit more about the person we are working with.

However, about once a week, a group of them would go out to lunch to a local restaurant. I am reluctant to go along for a couple of reasons; financial and the choice of food at the restaurant.

How can I politely decline without looking like a non-team player?

  • 28
    Workplace etiquette is surely on topic here? Besides, there's more than just etiquette at play here.
    – John N
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 12:33
  • 2
    Can you explain upon this a bit, is the lunch with colleagues, your boss, clients?
    – anonymous
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 12:44
  • @chad, thanks for the edit. Definitely an improvement on my original phrasing.
    – tehnyit
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 13:30
  • 7
    Go anyway, get a beer! Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 17:24
  • 1
    Try saying this: "Man, I don't like the food there, and it's way too expensive. Let's go to _ _ _ guys!"
    – Fattie
    Commented Jun 10, 2017 at 18:39

8 Answers 8


The best way is simply to be open and honest about why you don't want to go - this makes it clear that you are not making up excuses to hide something else.

Nobody worth knowing is going to think less of you for not wanting to spend money on food you don't like. As long as they don't feel that you're trying to avoid the team, then they've no reason to take offence.

  • 30
    The only thing I would add is that IF a place exists that is either more reasonably priced or with a more amenable selection, then you could suggest it as an alternative. Commented Apr 18, 2012 at 15:49
  • Be sure to suggest it intermittently, so that you respect others' desire to go to the place you don't like. Also, plan to start having lunch with the others that bring their own. Commented Apr 9, 2014 at 4:16
  • I am honest about why I don't eat out with my coworkers - I don't want to spend the money. Most of them took my answer with grace, and sometimes they even get their food to-go and eat with me back at the office.
    – MackM
    Commented Jul 8, 2016 at 19:06

If your work-group has decided that it will have a regular weekly lunch and you choose not to participate you are missing an important part of your team's experience. Often times at lunches business is discussed as well as strategies for dealing with issues that come up. It is also an important time to network and build relationships with your coworkers.

If the primary problem is financial then when you go order water and something light and inexpensive. This is a sacrifice you make to integrate yourself with the team. This investment in your team camaraderie usually pays for itself especially when it is once a week or less.

At most restaurants there is some menu item that is tolerable to pretty much anyone. If the problem is a religious dietary restriction or other person conviction issue then you can choose between conveying your issue with the team or making the decision to miss out on the opportunity. Perhaps you could even suggest an acceptable location some time.

In the end the event is optional. Most teams I have been on do not feel that anyone is less a part of the team because they choose not to join for lunch. But there is also no doubt that regular lunches build stronger relationships with your coworkers. Even if you only join occasionally.

  • +1 for the notion that it's sometimes a necessary sacrifice. Plus, if you integrate yourself well into the Lunch Group by going with them frequently, they shouldn't have a problem with your suggesting an alternate restaurant.
    – hairboat
    Commented Apr 17, 2012 at 17:09
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    +1. Go, find something that fits the budget and diet, and be part of the team. Then, after a few times, you could say "hey, how would y'all feel about going to $other_restaurant this week?" and see what happens. Commented Apr 18, 2012 at 21:46

You've got clear, understandable reasons; tell them. Not everyone likes the same restaurant. If you're afraid you'll sound cheap by bringing up the financial aspect just say you don't like the food.

Let them know you'd love to tag along if they try a different restaurant sometime to let them know you're interested in them, just not the food. You might even suggest a different better/cheaper restaurant if you have a good alternative. Often times once a habit has set in, groups just always go to the same restaurant, but if you suggest different people are willing to try something else.

It's pretty common for people to decline these sort of things. And as long as you're eating with them on-site they'll get the hint that the restaurant is the problem, not them.


It's vital to be a team player, but being a team player doesn't mean you have to roll over for everyone. Being a part of team lunches once in a while shows that you have the professional courtesy to be a part of the group, but that you recognize that you have your own priorities as well.

If you always take part, you run the risk of becoming entangled in groupthink. If you never take part, you run the risk of being alienated from the group entirely. Part of being a professional is knowing both how to lead and how to follow. Even the best managers have to listen to their subordinates, and team lunches are a great way to hear and be heard. Make the most of your time with them, and respectfully bow out when you can't do it. Staying removed but accessible gives you the ability to contradict ideas discussed at lunch if you feel they're a poor decision, as well as keeps you connected with your coworkers' lines of thinking.

Most of all, it's important to be honest: tell your team, "Sorry guys, but I'm on a budget." They don't have to know that the chili gave you intestinal distress or that you thought you saw the fish filets moving; being conscious of your own responsibilities is excuse enough.


I am a bit of a snob when it comes to food, but my experiences in my career have shown that the benefits of going to team lunches far outweighs the downsides. Avoiding the group lunches means that you will end up outside of the team, and I've never figured out how to counter that effect.


I do this commonly and I am upfront about the decision I make. Don't lie!

I typically state: "Sorry guys, going out right now does not fit into our family budget. But thank you for inviting me, and maybe in a few weeks I will plan to join you!"

If I do not care for the food, I just tell them like: "Oh you are going for Mexican? I am not in the mood for that right now, but I will join you if you decide to go somewhere else!" If they want you to join they will typically be flexible and say: "No problem, where would you like to go?"

In the end if they are good team members you will not be judged for having a tight budget (especially if everyone knows the employer pay is sub-par!) or if you don't like a certain type of food.


Of course it's acceptable to decline, but be prepared to accept the consequences of your actions that this may occur.

Such as

  • missing out on team bonding
  • mising out on discussions of work activities
  • not being around to make some decisions on a topic
  • not being around when a new idea arises (some of the best ideas start over a lunch or cold beer)
  • not being in the loop of office politics
  • not being aware in general of what's happening in the office
  • and to me one of the most important, not getting to know your colleagues a bit better outside the office environment

The impact of going to regular outings with co-workers greatly depends on your potential influence in the company and where'd you want to go. The size of your company also matters a lot. In small businesses where the place is tightly knit and everyone knows each other, you would feel more pressure to participate. Here is when being part of a team is even more essential, and when the place is still small enough to do easy planning for get-togethers. We used to go almost daily, as a lot is talked about on how to grow the business and how to win the next client.

Then I've been at the other end where I was at a larger company (~200 people) and the only people I stay in direct contact with are the developer team. My role was less significant to the whole operation and usually we had interns and juniors pass on our bi-monthly lunches with no problem.

So far you haven't said that you want to decline lunch for reasons related to your co-workers, so I'm assuming that you don't have any conflicts within your team. If your cohesion with the team doesn't sound at risk, go ahead and say you don't want to participate. However the better alternative is to suggest an alternative restaurant to go to another week, to show that you have interest in going with them.

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