A Few Simple Suggestions For Getting Along In The Office Kitchen

Yes, your pay stub says you work a 40 hour week, but you know better.  Lots of us have seen the alleged eight hour day turn into a hamster-wheel of deadlines: meet one, the next one comes spinning right at you.

That means we're eating at our desks a lot just to keep up.  And it means we're depending on the office kitchen more than ever.

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Too bad it's often in such lamentable shape!  Phantom slobs keep dropping crusty bowls in the sink, ghosts let deli meat or leftover pad Thai rot in the shared fridge, and some terribly thirsty person keeps emptying the coffee pot and neglecting to brew a new one.

Sound familiar?

So in the interest of interoffice harmony, a few simple suggestions to keep us all getting along:

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If you work in an office where everyone brings his own coffee mug, use your mug.  If you need to use someone else’s, wash it and return it so the rightful owner can drink from it later.

If you used the last cup of coffee from the communal pot, do NOT leave a few tablespoons to scorch on the bottom of the carafe.  Make a fresh pot for the people who come behind you.

 Using the microwave to nuke last night’s dinner for lunch?  Cover it with a plate or paper towel so the oven’s inside surface doesn’t look like a Jackson Pollack.  (And remember: if you bring a really fragrant—and not in a good way—lunch to reheat, be mindful that not everyone is fond of the smell of a good chitlin’cassoulet…Same with some fish dishes: great at home when you can close the kitchen door—maybe not so fab when you have to smell it for the remainder of the afternoon.)

 If your office has a dishwasher, rinse the dishes you use and stack them neatly in the machine.  That plate with tomato sauce crusted on it, the grotty bowl that’s still lined with the long-ago morning’s steel-cut oatmeal?  They shouldn’t be hanging around in the sink.

 If you put food in the communal refrigerator, label it clearly and remove it after its expiration date.  The leftover chicken salad you thought you were going to eat three weeks ago and didn’t is not only acquiring a life of its own, it’s probably starting to smell like something that reminds you of a scene in CSI.

 If you need something from someone else’s food stash, ask first.  Food theft (‘cause really, that’s what we’re talking about) is a sad fact of office life, but people are more amenable to sharing their salad dressing, peanut butter, etc if they feel as if they have a choice in sharing.  (Note to person who says “I only take a little bit” of jam, dressing, butter, whatever, unasked: After a month of “little bits,” the jar is empty, honey.  And should be replaced.)

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 Finally, that cup of juice that splashed on the floor, the dusting of sugar on the counter, the dripping sponge at the edge of the sink?  Unless you work at Disney, the sponge isn’t going to grow legs and whiz across the counter, singing and cleaning up the sugar.  So take a turn at tidying up every now and then, even if you didn’t make the mess. 

 Be our guest!

Have an etiquette emergency?  Write to us at askcomecorrect@gmail.com.  Your letter could be selected for publication.

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Karen Grigsby Bates is a LA-based correspondent of NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).

is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).