July 1, 2008
Stop lunch-stealers and coffee-drainers
The Associated Press
AP Photo / Stace Maude
Smashing someone else's lunch in the refrigerator to make way for your own. Draining the last of the coffee in the pot and not refilling it. Leaving your dishes in the sink.
While it may be OK to do these things in your house, it's bad form in the workplace, say etiquette experts. After all, the office kitchen is a communal space. But if there's a slob or a food stealer among your ranks, don't despair. Sometimes all it takes are some firm kitchen rules. Here are some tips from etiquette experts on how to make the office kitchen a clean and friendly place.
Put someone in charge. That doesn't mean the person has to do the cleaning, but he or she can make sure it's done, whether it's creating the cleaning schedule or enforcing the rules, says Jodi R.R. Smith, owner of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting.
Be courteous. Don't fill the fridge, freezer and pantry with so much food, no one else has space, says Lizzie Post, author of "How Do You Work This Life Thing?" and Emily Post's great-great granddaughter.
Don't smash someone else's sandwich to make sure your Tupperware fit, says Post. Take the time to reorganize the contents of the fridge to make way for your containers.
Label all food, including unopened soda cans (someone might think they are left from a meeting) and condiments, says Smith. Labels also help coworkers know who to ask if they want something that's yours, adds Post.
If it has no label, ask around to see if you can find out who it belongs to and then ask the person if you can have it, says Post. This goes for condiments as well, whether it's mustard or skim milk for coffee.
Don't store anything super smelly, says Smith. Someone's desk may be close to the refrigerator, which means a strong whiff in his or her direction each time the door is opened.
Check the rules before sticking something on the fridge, such as fliers, classified ads or sign-up sheets, says Smith.
Be responsible. If you know you are going on vacation for a week, do something with your food, whether it's taking it home or giving it away, says Post.
Clean the fridge regularly. How often depends on how big the office is, but Smith recommends at least twice a month. Post the date and time the fridge will be cleaned out.
The rule is: If you drink the last of the coffee, make a new pot, says Jacqueline Whitmore, author of "Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work."
Know the rules on popcorn. Many offices have banned microwave popcorn because of the smell and the propensity to set off the smoke alarm, says Smith.
Be conscious of other foods that have lingering smells.
Do not cook meals in the microwave. "Office microwaves are meant for heating food - not cooking it," says April Masini, author of the advice column AskApril.com.
When you are done microwaving, check to make sure nothing spilled. If food seeped or exploded out, clean it up immediately, says Smith. "It is much easier to do when the food is warm than after it cools and bakes to the walls," she says.
Etiquette experts were split on one rule: Smith says people should not put their food in the microwave and walk away. Post says she sees no problem with that. But never stop the microwave while someone else is using it, she says - unless you are warding off a potential disaster.
Do not leave dishes in the sink unless there is someone hired to wash dishes, says Smith. The rule applies to coffee mugs as well. Wash your dish after using it and put it in the drying rack immediately.
Throw your trash away. Make sure you are not leaving crumbs behind.
Don't use the counter to thaw frozen food, says Whitmore. It's a cleanliness and health issue, she says.
If someone is stealing, talk to the boss and then bring it up at a staff meeting, says Smith. Say something like, "Someone is stealing my lunch and I'm going to ask that it's stopped." If you think the lunch stealer is in another department or office, ask everyone to keep their eyes and ears open.
Get mean. Post a sign on the refrigerator door. "DO NOT TAKE FOOD OR DRINKS THAT DO NOT BELONG TO YOU!," says Whitmore. Make a decoy sandwich like egg salad and peanut butter, says Smith.
If all else fails, there's nothing wrong with bringing a cooler, says Whitmore, who compares it to people who have a fan or heater at their desks.
"It would be a shame if it comes to that," says Whitmore. "Because that's not the point of having a community refrigerator."
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