Everyday lunch hour at work is like an olfactory overload. From one side you are treated to a whiff of rajma-chawal, from another, gobhi masala with a bit of raw onion for extra zing. And this is not the office cafeteria. All this is served desk side, thanks to a number of colleagues dining al-desko.

Even though most companies have cafeterias and are now setting up rules that eating at the desks is not allowed; dining at the desk is increasing. Image consultant Sheena Agarwaal explains why. “With the race to complete more in less time, people are increasingly seen eating at their desks in most workspaces. In some organisations, it’s expected of employees not to waste time by leaving the desk,” she says.
A UK study has found that packing your own lunch actually saves you £2,500 (`211572.82) a year. But more packed lunches leads to more complex etiquette issues: what to pack, how and where should you eat – in a group, at your desk or alone.
Corporate grooming coach and soft skills trainer Raell Padamsee says it’s not a good idea to eat at the desk. “One, the smell of food surrounds the area, which gets uncomfortable for others. Two, it takes away the chance of socialising,” she says.
In a previous office a colleague gleefully opened his lunchbox to reveal paya (or goat’s trotters soup). Now the wonderful benefits of paya notwithstanding, it’s not one of the most appetising looking dishes. Vegetarians can tell you horror stories about their non-vegetarian colleagues’ choice for office lunches. The non-vegetarians on their part rant about the vegetarians’ heeng ka tadka, smelly mooli paranthas, pungent gobhi sabzi. However, this is not a veg-non-veg divide, but a considerate-inconsiderate debate.
The word is out there that Indian food is smelly – a reason why it usually ranks high in ‘the worst things to eat at your workplace’ lists. Etiquette coach Sunaina A Hak says employees should avoid bringing smelly foods to work.
Don’t pack: pickles, fish, chicken, seafood, eggs, food with garlic or raw onions; or vegetables like gobhi, broccoli and radishes. “Sandwiches or wraps are a great picks for office lunches,” she suggests.
Usually non-vegetarian food is more offensive to sense and sensibilities. Pack right by using ziplocks, foil and odour-preventing plastic containers. Padamsee stresses on post-lunch clean up. “Wash and clean hands thoroughly post-lunch, pay attention to pickle and haldi stains,” she says. Food is a personal issue, and you can’t really tell people what to eat and how to eat it. But the offender is not always the lunch box next to you.