Is it Bad Office Etiquette to Eat Fragrant Food at Your Desk? 

In the fast-paced world of modern workplaces, finding the perfect time and place to enjoy a meal can be a bit of a conundrum. On one hand, your desk might seem like the only sanctuary amidst looming deadlines, but on the other, that aromatic meal you brought in could make your coworkers squirm in their seats. Let’s dive into the nuances of office dining etiquette and uncover when it’s okay to eat at your desk and if it’s acceptable to indulge in fragrant fare.

  1. Desk Dining Dos and Don’ts:


  1. When work can’t wait: It’s generally acceptable to eat at your desk when you have a workload that demands immediate attention. However, be mindful not to make it a habit pending the office culture.

b. Light snacks: Munching on a discreet, non-messy snack like nuts or a granola bar is usually well-received.

c. Minimal noise: Opt for quiet, non-noisy foods to avoid becoming a source of irritation to your colleagues.

d. Designated safe zone: Whenever possible, use a lunch room or break room, where it’s fair game to eat fragrant foods. 


a. Overly aromatic meals: Avoid bringing in dishes that emit strong odors, like fish-based dishes. These can be disruptive and affect your coworkers’ concentration.

b. Messy meals: Anything that’s prone to spillage or requires elaborate utensils is best saved for the break room or outside the office.

c. During meetings: Avoid eating at your desk during meetings (even virtual), as it can be seen as disrespectful and distract others.

2. Pungent Palate Pleasures:


a. Consider your surroundings: If you must bring in a fragrant meal, choose a well-ventilated area like the break room or a designated eating space.

b. Be considerate: If your meal has garnered positive attention and is making colleagues hungry, offer to bring in a shareable portion of the dish the following week. Sharing is caring!

c. Clean up promptly: Dispose of any food containers or waste immediately to avoid lingering smells.

d. Consider the work environment: Sometimes it’s all about the culture you are in. Observe your surroundings- are you in a very corporate environment where nobody else is eating at their desk? Alternatively, does everyone eat at their desk? Is it a casual office or one where everyone is dressed in suits and very formal? Are people conducting client meetings near your desk? Is it an open-floor office with lots of space between desks or do you sit in close proximity to everyone else? All of these are questions you may want to ask yourself to help you determine if and when it’s appropriate to eat certain foods.


a. Bring in highly pungent foods: Foods with overpowering odors should be enjoyed offsite to avoid causing discomfort to coworkers. Something you think smells delicious may make someone else feel nauseous- so be conscious you are eating in a shared workspace where others don’t have the ability to get up and move their desks to avoid a certain smell. The most common food-offending dishes contain fish, strongly scented fermented or cooked vegetables such as Brussels sprouts or cabbage, dishes with heavy amounts of onion or garlic, hardboiled eggs, and sometimes even heavily fried foods.

b. Ignore feedback: If someone politely suggests that your meal is too fragrant, you may want to take it as a sign to adjust your dining habits. In a work environment, sometimes you may want to “pick your battles” as the famous saying goes…

c. Microwave mishaps: If you use the office microwave, make sure to cover your food with a microwave-safe lid or cover to contain odors.

In the world of office dining etiquette, striking a balance between nourishing yourself and being considerate of your coworkers is key. While it’s acceptable to eat at your desk occasionally when work demands it, opting for quiet, non-fragrant meals is the courteous choice. If you do bring in something aromatic, be mindful of your surroundings and coworkers’ reactions. After all, a harmonious workplace is built on shared respect and understanding, even when it comes to mealtime.

HOT TOPIC: Is it okay to eat a burger and fries at your desk? Here is what hundreds of people had to say about whether it’s okay or not, by clicking here. 

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