Office Kitchen Etiquette

Creative businesswomen discussing at kitchen island in office
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An office kitchen can be one of the biggest problem areas where you work when people don't observe basic etiquette guidelines. If you're fortunate enough to work for a company that provides a kitchen for your convenience, you need to be respectful of everyone else who uses it.

This is necessary to maintain good professional relationships. Take care of the space your company has provided for your convenience. A lack of respect for others who share your office kitchen can carry over to create conflict among employees on the job.

Basic Office Kitchen Guidelines

  1. Keep it clean. Remember that you are one of many, and if everyone left a little mess, you'd wind up with something you'd never want anyone to face. Take an extra step or two and put your trash in the garbage can, wipe up any spills, and remove whatever you brought in that day. You wouldn't appreciate someone else's sticky mess, so don't assume it's okay to leave one for others.
  2. Respect refrigerator real estate. When you have a large group of coworkers using the same refrigerator, space becomes valuable. Only refrigerate what needs to be kept cold. The rest can remain in a bag at your desk.
  3. Only eat and drink what is yours. No matter how tempting another employee's soda appears, it doesn't belong to you, so don't take it. Unless the person offers you some, pretend it isn't there. If you crave it, add the item to your shopping list and get your own.
  4. Label your food. Write your name in bold letters to make sure there is no doubt about who your food or drink belongs to. That way, someone can't honestly claim to accidentally picked up something that wasn't his or hers.
  5. Remove your food before it spoils. Ideally you should only use the refrigerator for what you plan to eat that day. However, there may be times when you'll need to keep your lunch or drink there for a few days. This does not make it okay to leave it there indefinitely. Take it out before it starts to stink up the place or grows green things. If your company has a policy about not leaving items overnight, honor it.
  6. Leave appliances as you found them or better than you found them. When you use an office appliance such as a toaster or microwave, check it afterward and make sure you didn't leave crumbs or splatters. Your coworkers will be annoyed if they have to clean up your mess before they use the appliances.
  7. Let someone know when the kitchen staples and supplies run low. If you see that the napkin dispenser is almost empty, either fill it or contact someone to replenish it. The same goes for paper plates, plastic flatware, sugar, coffee creamer, and anything else that is consumable.
  8. Brew more coffee. It's fine to pour the last cup of coffee as long as you prepare more for the next person.
  9. Be respectful of strong odors. No one wants his or her yogurt to taste like last night's fish. Avoid bringing food with smells that can leach and linger.
  10. Have good table manners. Even when you're eating lunch in the break room with coworkers, you should still treat it as a business lunch.
  11. Avoid floor hazards. If you spill something, clean it up. You don't want to be responsible for someone slipping and falling. Don't forget to test it after you wipe it clean. If there is any sticky or slimy residue, clean it again.
  12. Observe after-party leftover rules. After an office party, your supervisor may decide to store the leftovers in the refrigerator and on the counters in the kitchen with an open invitation to help yourself. However, don't assume that it's a free-for-all. If the supervisor doesn't post a message or send an email granting permission to take what you want, ask before grabbing.
  13. Join the cleanup committee. After the party, jump in and help clean up the mess. If enough people do this, it shouldn't take long to have the space spic-and-span. On the flip-side, walking away from the mess can leave you with a bad reputation for not carrying your share of the responsibility.
  14. Clean as you see the need. When you see something out of place in the kitchen or the trash can overflowing, do something about it. Most of the time, you can do it yourself. If your company has a cleaning crew or maintenance staff, call and request someone to take out the trash.
  15. Post some rules. If there isn't already a list of rules posted on the office kitchen wall, consider making one. Before you post it, ask for input from other employees and get permission from your supervisor before posting it.

What to Do When Rules Are Broken

If everyone is respectful of others, you don't have a thing to worry about. However, there may be a coworker who forgets. You don't want to strain your business relationship, but the person does need to be reminded.

If the company doesn't have set rules, get together with everyone who uses the kitchen to come up with a plan for how to handle this. You might approach the person one-on-one the first time, and if it doesn't work, let your supervisor deal with it. The goal is to maintain a professional office environment without hard feelings.