Bad workplace table manners? 5 signs you're an offensive office eater

The statistics don't lie: desks are the new tables. According to a new survey from the American Dietetic Association, 62 percent of the American workforce eats lunch at their desks, 27 percent also do breakfast there and 4 percent stay for dinner. Blame the recession for a leaner business model with employees working around the clock. But when it comes to our offensive eating habits on the job, we've only got ourselves to blame.

Instead of elbows on the table, the big offense these days is crumbs on your keyboard, and instead of playing with your food, it's gnawing on a smelly tuna sandwich while your fellow cubicle-mates gasp for fresh air, as the Wall Street Journal reports. While you can't please everyone, you can curb some co-worker complaints. Rather than waiting 'til you get a call from HR, consider these five warning signs you've got offensive office eating habits.

1. Your keyboard looks like an everything bagel
The reason your 'p' key isn't working: there's a sesame seed stuck in it. Remnants of last week's breakfast shouldn't linger on your desk, but statistics show even the cleanest people are slobs at the office. In the ADA's 2011 Desktop Dining Survey about 64 percent of people cleaned their desktops less than once a month. "I eat at my desk a lot. I've never cleaned my keyboard. Most of the crumbs just fall in between the keys," one New York City graphic designer admitted to the Daily News. "I've got a whole ecosystem going on at the bottom of my keyboard right now."


A crusted-over desk isn't just bad office etiquette, it's a health risk. The average desktop has 400 times more bacteria than the average toilet seat, according to a University of Arizona study. That bacteria can spread to your cubicle neighbors desk and cause a foodborne illness outbreak. Do you really want to be the guy who started that?


Since our desks have now replaced our kitchen counters, we need to keep the kind of cleaning supplies we've got under the sink in our filing cabinets. Disinfectant wipe-downs after every meal, air neutralizer after a particularly stinky lunch. The Journal even found office eaters wrapping their keyboard in Saran Wrap. If your desk is going to be your kitchen, you might as well keep it just as clean.

2. People walk into your office and then immediately turn around
Sometimes you just need to eat a smelly lunch: homemade tuna fish sandwiches are cheaper than the average $10 take-out salad. And a Tupperware full of hard-boiled eggs and steamed broccoli may be the only way you'll stick to your diet. The trick is to get rid of the offending smell as quickly as possible. And not in your desk garbage can.


A perfect example of this problem was offered up by someone on the Chowhound message board: "I used to work in a place where I would get this amazing vegetarian gyro and lentil soup from the local Greek place each day for lunch. One day I was pulled aside by the Human Resources person and told someone was complaining about my 'body odor.' I was amazed because I've never been accused of that. But one day she was at my desk around lunch time and smelled my thrown-out wrappers from lunch, which were quite pungent." Consider that a cautionary tale: Take your trash to the office kitchen or shared workplace waste bin to avoid this level of humiliation.


3. You eat lunch for breakfast
Food that might not be particularly smelly at lunch reeks if opened before 11a.m. "I sit in a small room with one other person," writes a Weddingbee.com message board user. " One morning [my office mate] popped open a bag of Doritos at 9 a.m, so not only did I get to hear her breakfast, but I got to smell it, too." Food odors are stronger and more noticeable in the early morning hours. Ever head of morning sickness? The same snack you might crack open at 4 p.m will smell a lot more nauseating to your fellow office-mates if you're eating it before noon. Skip the spicy, garlicky stuff before lunch time if you want to keep the peace.


4. Everyone around you is wearing headphones
There is such a thing as noise-phobia, and it's more common than you think. Some people just have a hatred of a certain sounds, specifically related to chewing, lip-smacking, or crunching. Yup, they've got a Facebook group. Part of the problem is that when you're overworked and confined to small spaces with the same people, you're going to get agitated, but a crinkly bag of chips or loud slurp can increase the tension. Be courteous and chew quietly on that cookie or bag of pretzels, or face the passive-aggressive glares of your office-mates.


Even if you've managed to sneak out for a quick lunch at a restaurant, be careful what you order. If you're unsure about your ability to slurp soup quietly, save it 'til you're in private. The Village Voice's food writer Lauren Shockey pegs noisy eaters as one of the most offensive types of people to be seated next to in a restaurant. "Sorry, soup slurpers and dribblers, loud chewers, and gurglers of the world," she writes. "It's really hard to enjoy a meal in peace when it sounds like you've got a mild case of the flu."

5. People don't order lunch with you
One of the bigger breaches of etiquette is leaving out a nearby co-worker during a lunchtime order-fest. But sometimes those outcasts bring it on themselves.
You know that person who always points at what you're eating and then examines it, sometimes even letting out a "ewww what is that?" They're really not fun to eat around. Another surefire way to be an office eating pariah is by giving the "why didn't you order with me?" guilt trip. "Can't I eat in peace?! Get your own food!" writes one exasperated Yelper. Eating in the office already comes with enough baggage, why add more?

Related links:
Office horror stories: paging HR
Deck out your desk at work
5 office etiquette rules
6 ways to glam up your home office