Top 10 Rules of Break Room Etiquette


The office break room is a place for employees to get away from their desks for a few minutes and enjoy their lunch and a conversation with their coworkers. Whether written or unwritten, there are several rules of etiquette that must be followed in order to make everybody’s breakroom experience an enjoyable one.

  1. Clean up after yourself. Chances are very good that your mother is not in the office, so you are responsible for cleaning up any mess that you make. This includes food that exploded in the microwave and any spills or crumbs that you left behind. Also load your dirty dishes into the dishwasher. Do not leave them for later or assume that someone else will take care of it. Even though someone does eventually clean up the mess, that person could be resentful and may be plotting their revenge.
  2. Do not pester coworkers about work. The break room is a place to unwind and enjoy an uninterrupted meal. The last thing people want is to have a coworker barge in and start asking questions about a current project or whether or not they received a certain email. Clearly they are in the break room to get away from the computer for a while, so respect that and save any work-related questions until after the break.
  3. If you empty it, you refill it. At one time or another, everyone that has worked in an office has come across an empty coffee pot or water cooler jug and has cursed the person that took the last drop and left the empty jug behind. It is just common courtesy to brew the next batch of coffee if you have emptied the pot or replace the jug on the water cooler. This rule also applies to refilling condiment packet holders and napkin dispensers and holders.
  4. Everything is first come, first served. Everything in the office break room, from the microwave down to the chairs, is considered common property, so no one person is more entitled than the next. This means that things can get a little hectic at lunch time when everybody decides to warm up their leftovers at once, but be patient and wait your turn, just like you learned in kindergarten.
  5. The refrigerator is for short-term storage only. The break room refrigerator is not the same as the fridge in your home, so don’t use it to store a week’s worth of groceries. You should generally only store that day’s lunch in the fridge, and bring any leftovers home at night. Over time that leftover casserole will resemble a science experiment gone wrong.
  6. Do not gossip. Gossip is inevitable when working with the same group of people for an extended period of time. Though it should be avoided as much as possible, some people just cannot help themselves. But the break room is not the best place to share the juicy details about your weekend or talk about the new cute coworker. Save it for after work.
  7. Do not steal someone else’s food. If you did not put a food item in the refrigerator, keep your hands off. Sometimes it helps to label the food with your name to discourage hungry, desperate scavengers. Any food that is up for grabs will usually be placed on the table with either a sign or email advertising “help yourself”.
  8. Leave the seafood at home. For a lot of cultures, fish is a major meal item, and most fish dishes smell relatively tasty when first prepared. However, leftover fish, especially oily fish, becomes rather pungent and “fishy-smelling” once reheated, and that fishy smell can linger for hours in the break room and surrounding area. Though it may smell good to you, if coworkers look like they are ready to vomit, you should leave the seafood leftovers at home next time.
  9. Learn how to make popcorn. Burned popcorn is almost as bad as leftover fish. Though it rarely makes people gag, that pungent, burnt smell can linger for hours. Luckily, most modern residential microwave ovens have this special button labeled “popcorn,” which makes the process of making perfect popcorn virtually idiot proof. However, some conventional microwaves do not have that magical button, so you will have to stay and watch the bag puff up and wait until there are only a few stray pops, a clear indicator that the corn is done popping.
  10. Take the whole cookie. One of the best things about working in an office is when someone decides to bring in treats for everyone. However, either for diet or current hunger-level reasons, some people only want half a cookie, or half a piece of cake and only take that portion, leaving the rest behind. Nobody wants to eat food that has been handled by somebody else. Either take the whole thing or split it with someone else on the spot. If you are on a diet, then you probably shouldn’t be eyeing that cookie anyway.

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