Did I ever tell you about the time a coworker of mine took my department out to lunch? At Hooters?
He was totally trying to show his appreciation for our hard work. I get it. But I’m pretty sure the restaurant choice was more for him than us. Especially considering there was only one dude in our department at the time.
This was doubly troubling for me. First of all, I don’t like my food with a side of boobs (sorry, ladies, they might be lovely and you’re just doing your job buuuuut…). And the selection wasn’t exactly up my alley: chicken wings, burgers, and fried food. All the fried food.
I remember feeling super awkward.
To be honest, feeling super awkward at restaurants, at working lunches, at happy hours, and at holiday parties was kind of my MO. Like, if I wasn’t feeling awkward, I felt extra awkward. It was just what I did.
And a big part of that was because I wasn’t eating, and I didn’t know how to not be awkward while not eating.
Did I order something and casually push food around on my plate like a sullen toddler who hates green beans and told you never to serve them to him again lest they all end up on the floor?
Was I supposed to decline the invitation and face the wrath of the organizer who had been so carefully planning the lunch outing for days?
What was I supposed to say if I choose not to eat anything and people started giving me sideways looks? Or asking questions? One of the questions I dreaded the most: Why aren’t you eating?
It seems harmless, sure. But I always felt like there was an undertone, an insinuation, an accusation.
And how do you really politely tell someone that you’d really rather just not eat what everyone else is eating because it makes you feel like shit? What makes you so special, you know?
Friend, if you’ve ever been in this situation, you’re going to like the tips I’ve got for you today. Armed with one of these strategies, I’ve got a good feeling your next lunch meeting might go a little smoother.
Have a drink.
Oh, the dream of having a mid-working-day adult beverage. (Did I ever tell you about how we used to drink at work? Not, like, get hammered, but surreptitiously take beer and wine from the catered parties and sip on them while we worked in to the wee hours?)
Except this isn’t the Mad Men era and it’s not exactly acceptable to knock a few back in the middle of the day.
No, friend, what I mean is to order something like tea or coffee, something that you can sip on. If the shindig is at the office, bring in a bottle of water or a smoothie. I guess tea or coffee would be acceptable here, too.
This way, you’re not sitting there without anything in front of you. And you’ve got something you can reach for when everyone else is eating.
Friendly reminder: You can always bring your own food if the meeting is at the office. I’m pretty sure there’s no rule that says: Thou shalt not bring thine own salad to company-sanctioned events.
Put the focus back on them.
Everyone loves to talk about themselves, right? Like your coworker who launches in to a 45-minute, play-by-play of his Sunday golf outing, including a shot-by-shot analysis of the notoriously tough 10th hole and what color his socks were…all because you uttered that polite-but-don’t-actually-care-to-hear-the-answer phrase on Monday morning: How was your weekend?
Look for opportunities to put the focus back on the people you’re with. Maybe everyone just finished ordering and you tried to quietly shoo the server away, but one of your coworkers noticed and starts badgering you with questions.
Give her a nice smile and say, “I heard you ordered the French onion soup. Have you ever tried to make it at home?”
Or: “You know, that was a really great point you brought up during the morning session. Tell me more about your vision for the logo design.”
You don’t have to play the game, friend. You can totally redirect the conversation and move the attention away from you without looking like a pretentious pansy.
Just remember to never be defensive and try your best to smile.
Have something in your hands.
This one works best at happy hours, holiday parties, or any gathering in the office where people are milling about.
A drink comes in handy here. (The alcoholic kind is a little more acceptable at the parties, but definitely don’t bring in a six-pack if your office is a dry office. Which…is that even a thing?)
Other options: a phone, a piece of paper, a camera, your date’s hand (again, more acceptable at parties where you get a plus-one…don’t go grabbing a random coworker’s hand because I’m pretty sure that, in an effort to not feel awkward, that move might backfire)…
You could always fill up a plate with a few selections and carry that around. But only do this is you won’t be tempted. I’m a see-it-and-eat-it kind of person, so making myself a little cheese tray or dessert plate for distraction’s sake doesn’t really work for me. But you do you.
Still getting weird looks and unprovoked inquisitions? Might I suggest you check out this article (written by me, of course) that gives you a few ways to politely decline when people start pushing food on you?
Now, I want to hear from you. Answer this question in the comments below: What is the most bizarre question a coworker has ever asked you?