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Should Food be Acceptable in Meetings?

Q. Food is everywhere. We have regular 8:30AM meetings and people show up with coffee. Some people brought a muffin, then cereal and milk, then yogurt and now people are bringing fully cooked microwaved meals that smell. It’s distracting and annoying. Some people can’t participate because their mouths are full or even worse, they do talk. Our manager hasn’t said anything but I can’t imagine he thinks it’s OK. What’s the rule about food at meetings that aren’t supposed to be breakfast or lunch meetings?

A. The line between work and personal time has become more blurred as meetings are held over breakfast, lunch and dinner in an effort to increase organizational productivity. Many companies call breakfast and lunch meetings and serve food or ask people to “brown bag,” and bring their own meals.

The person who calls the meeting determines whether food is served or eaten. The meeting leader created the agenda, set the time and invited the attendees. If the meeting runs through a traditional meal time, meeting leaders will typically determine how food will be handled. If they do not mention this in the meeting invite, perhaps ask, “I see we are meeting from 11 to 2, I’m trying to manage my calendar, will you serve lunch? Should we bring it or just schedule lunch for after the meeting?”

Beverages are acceptable, and have been for many years as a staple of business meetings. If drinks are not served, it is acceptable to bring them to meetings. Moving beverages to snacks and full fledged meals might have gained favor in some environments at the same time casual Friday and Foosball tables were added to corporate cultures. Not all changes were incorporated to long term corporate culture.

Different companies accept different behaviors and different levels of “casual” activity. You can let your manager know you find it distracting at your meeting and would prefer people eat prior to attending the meeting. That may be all the encouragement he needs to put an end to a practice he may not favor.

Some of this behavior seems disrespectful to the meeting leader and colleagues. The priority of meetings is the content of the agenda and the work to get accomplished. If the 8:30AM start time is your work day, you should have eaten your meal and be prepared to focus on the topic and your colleagues, not your stomach.

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