Why do Brits eat lunch at their desks?

Photo of a desk lunch
Photo credit: Ella Olsson

Many Brits eat lunch at their desks because they feel that it is more efficient. The pressure to do as much work as possible while at the office is very high, and many Brits feel that eating at their desks – or simply skipping lunch altogether – means that they will be more productive.

Brits have been eating quick lunches at work since the Industrial Revolution, when the concept of “lunch” – a small midday meal – was first introduced in the UK. Before the Industrial Revolution, many Brits went home for a big meal in the middle of the day. This custom dated back to Roman times. But factory workers were not allowed to go home for a long, leisurely meal, so working Brits changed their eating habits.

In the 1980s, “power lunches” became popular in the UK. These were short lunches designed specifically so that workers could discuss business matters with each other while eating.

Nowadays, power lunches have largely fallen out of fashion in the UK. Many workers now rely on shop-bought meals or fast food delivered to their offices. Salads and sandwiches are easy to eat quickly in front of computers. Although UK workers are legally entitled to a twenty-minute midday break if they work for more than six hours, some Brits choose not to take a break because they feel pressured to work the whole day.

What is the etiquette for eating lunch at your desk?

There are a few unofficial rules that you should follow when eating lunch at the office:

  • Do not bring hot or smelly foods to the office. Curries and tuna fish sandwiches are delicious, but your teammates will not appreciate having to smell them. It is better to bring cold foods like sandwiches, salads, and cold noodle dishes.
  • Eat lunch with your teammates. Eating lunch with your co-workers is a good way to get to know them. It makes you feel like part of the team, and it shows them that you want to be a good team player. If your team invites you to go to lunch with them, you should accept.
  • Be sociable. If there is a communal area where people like to eat lunch, you should eat there, too. Even if you eat at your desk, you should expect people to come over and talk to you. By eating lunch, you are signalling that you are free to talk.
  • Clean up after yourself. If you get crumbs of flecks of sauce on your desk or lunch table, you should clean them up after you finish your meal. Leaving a mess behind is considered disrespectful.