Office Kitchen Etiquette

Platonic ideal of an office fridge at the end of the day. [Via Wikimedia Commons]

Platonic ideal of an office fridge at the end of the day. [Via Wikimedia Commons]

The office kitchen is often the cause of the greatest strain among coworkers. People steal other peoples food, people don’t wash dishes, the refrigerator is disgusting, and everyone gets fed up. Some simple rules will make everyone much happier:

  • Use the fridge for only the food you will eat that day. Bring your lunch, put it in the fridge, eat it, and bring everything home at the end of the day. Repeat. If you aren’t using the fridge for long term storage, food doesn’t have a chance to rot and make things disgusting. Besides, depending on how many people are using that fridge, there probably isn’t enough room for everyone to store a ton of stuff, so don’t take more than your fair share of space!
  • Label your stuff. It might not prevent people from stealing if they were going to, but it will avoid accidental stealing! Plus, then your office manager will know who to come after when your labelled tupperware starts growing mold.
  • Practice good microwave etiquette. Use a cover so your food doesn’t splatter in the microwave. If it does splatter, wipe it up. Don’t leave your lunch sitting in the microwave when other people are waiting to use it. Avoid heating up extremely smelly food. Avoid burning popcorn. Some of the more uptight among us might add to clear the timer if you leave time on it (but this is asking a lot, I know.)
  • Clean up after yourself. When you finish preparing your food or eating if you eat in the kitchen too, make sure you clean up all wrappers, napkins etc. If you used any dishes, put them in the dishwasher (if you are lucky!) or hand wash them and put them away. Wipe up any crumbs. Unless you work at a very chi-chi office where there is someone whose actual job it is to clean up after everyone, then you MUST clean up after yourself!
  • Be considerate with office snacks. If you are truly lucky, maybe your office provides snacks for you. If so, don’t hog things (like taking 5 granola bars are once or something). Don’t take stuff and bring it home. Throw out empty containers (also don’t leave two chips in a bag and think that you don’t have to throw it out because it isn’t empty.) Clean up spills and crumbs.
  • Refill the coffee pot. If it is empty, make a new pot! If you have a pod machine, empty the pod catcher if it is full! If you have some sort of coffee buying club, follow the rules and contribute your fair share. If you aren’t in the club, don’t drink their coffee.
  • Communicate. If the fridge is running out of milk, sugar, paper towels, or whatever, let the person who refills them know! On the flip side, don’t leave passive aggressive notes about kitchen problems, bring them up to everyone at an appropriate time, such as a staff meeting.

How Do I Deal With This Impossible Coworker?

Ok maybe not

Ok maybe not

Dear Uncommon Courtesy,

I have an impossible coworker! That is the best description. We sit in a big open office, and he is right across (a very short) partition from me and he’s driving me absolutely nutso. He’s extraordinarily loud and likes to yell all the time, either at the people around here, imaginary people, or will literally just yell out movie quotes or lyrics at nobody for no reason. When he’s not yelling, he’s got headphones in that don’t work very well as headphones. I’ve got a pretty stressful job, and I can’t hear myself think anymore.

I know that I should just TALK TO HIM, but there are a few obstacles:

1) I need him to do work for me, often, and he takes ANY criticism as a huge slight and will not talk to the person that “disrespects him” for WEEKS.

2) There is no HR department at my very small company.

3) The powers that be seem to be straight-up terrified of him, and won’t fire him or even reprimand him for anything, despite the fact that he actually recently stole a bunch of stuff from the office and now almost everything is under lock and key AS WELL AS previous incidents he’s been responsible for that I know the company lawyer is constantly being called in to deal with his shenanigans. I think they don’t want to pay him unemployment.

Anyways, essentially the guy is a huge pain in the ass and I don’t have ANY IDEA what to do here. I’ve narrowed it down to “quit my job” or “stew forever.” Help!




This is somewhat outside the scope of etiquette, but most etiquette experts would probably say to be polite and direct and go to your superiors about the problem and if all fails, then to grin and bear it. You might also check, a really great resource for questions about office politics and legal issues.


Jaya: Well, I do still think that talking to a superior is a good idea. And mention that the yelling makes it very hard for him to do his job. It seems like the letter writer has a higher up job, so that could help.

Victoria: And if they do fire him, they won’t have to pay unemployment.

Jaya: And if the letter writer wants to talk to the guy himself, and if he decides not to talk to him for weeks, that’s also something the letter writer can bring to higher ups if he doesn’t get work done.  Just say “well coworker for some reason is not responding to my many requests.”

Victoria: That’s true, and maybe even keep a log of incidents, which can be helpful when approaching management.

Jaya: If anything, perhaps he can request to move desks? I think in a lot of situations, the best advice is always to find what you can do for yourself, if there’s no way to change the other person. Which in this case, there probably isn’t. Move desks, get headphones yourself, something. Also, this coworker sounds like such a baby.

Victoria: Yeahhhhhhhh.