Modern workday lunch habits have completely transformed. The two-martini lunch died decades ago, and the formal sit-down lunch has all but disappeared.
These days, more entrepreneurs and office workers are choosing to eat at their desks rather than step away from the office for an hour. While it's hardly an ideal situation, and may even result in lower productivity, it's become the norm.
But just because everybody's doing it doesn’t mean everybody's doing it politely. Before you dig into your desktop lunch, keep these office etiquette tips in mind.
Avoid pungent foods. It's a good idea to stay away from foods that contain garlic, onion or heavy spices -- especially if you work in close quarters. Pungent foods like curry and chili can quickly permeate an entire office suite as well as your breath.
Time your meal. It's best to eat your lunch at your desk during the typical lunch hour. If everyone around you is eating, you’re less likely to annoy people or distract your officemates.
Tolerate interruptions. Don't expect your boss and co-workers to leave you alone while you eat. Especially if you work in a cubicle, it will be difficult to notify others you are unavailable. You can set your IM to away, but when you are physically in the office, others will assume you are available to talk.
Turn off your phone. Your lunch hour can be a great time to catch up on work and e-mail while you eat, but do yourself a favor and put your phone on silent and take a break. Besides, it’s best not to talk to others over the phone with your mouth full of food.
Beware of bacteria. Your phone, desktop, keyboard, mouse and other office supplies can get messy when you regularly eat at your desk. Clean and disinfect your space daily and don’t let leftovers and messy wrappers linger in your trash can overnight for the insects to enjoy.
Keep the office kitchen clean. Clean up after yourself. If you share a kitchen with others in your office, be cognizant of any mess you accidently leave behind. Clean any dishes you use right away and don't let your plates, utensils or coffee cups sit in the sink for hours. Purge old food from the refrigerator regularly to avoid repugnant odors.
Ask if people mind. When in doubt, ask your office neighbors if they mind you eating at your desk. I always ask this question of my seatmates when I want to eat something on an airplane. It’s important because some people are sensitive to certain foods such as peanuts.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach. She is also the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).