Is It Lunch Theft?

You forgot to bring a lunch today, and you don’t have time to run out and get anything.  Time constraints aside, you also forgot your wallet.   You’ve got a long day ahead of you, with a client presentation in the afternoon. You need to get something in your system to stay on top of things.  There are a few lunches in the fridge, and they’ve been unclaimed for a little while.  What do you do?

  • Grab one of the unclaimed lunches.  Check to make sure the green parts are supposed to be green, and chow down.  They’re probably going to get thrown out later this week anyway – so where’s the harm?
  • Skip lunch – you can afford to miss a meal or two.
  • Find the owner of the best looking lunch, and beg them to share.
  • Send an email out to the team, asking everyone to give you part of their lunch.
  • “Accidentally” eat whichever one you want – even though the name is clearly on it.
  • Send the office intern out to get you a lunch, with your promise to pay them tomorrow.

Since I’ve experienced “lunch theft” on more than one occasion, I’m curious to know what you folks think.

What would you do?

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After spending way too long in the corporate world, Jason has switched to full-time freelancing. With any luck you enjoyed this article - and if you need one of your very own, give him a shout! @brandscaping on the twitter, or at


  1. Jeff on the 7th July

    Ask someone who is going out for lunch to pick something up for you, and pay them the next day. If you dont have a coworker willing and happy to do that for you then you realy need to figure out why you have no friends at work. However if your one of the people who chose one of the theft options then I supose I undertand why people wouldnt like someone like you.

    • Yeah exactly. I completely agree with Jeff here. I mean I have never seen a friend who would turn down your request for a ‘loan’ for ‘one day’ to ‘eat lunch’. I mean it’s a no brainer, just ask your friend and say you will pay tomorrow.

      And regarding ‘Find the owner of the best looking lunch, and beg them to share.’ I would do this, but it would actually be the other way around. The friend would offer me lunch, as they would say that you couldn’t bring lunch today, so you could share it with me. That’s basic and normal in friends.


  2. radicalxedward on the 7th July

    The day isn’t THAT long, I’d probably just skip lunch or borrow a $10 from someone.

  3. Rondal on the 7th July

    Luckily we have have an honor system at work where you simply mark off whichever items you’ve eaten or drunk and at the end of the week the office manager comes to collect. It’s come in handy quite a few times actually.

  4. Brandon Martinez on the 7th July

    PayPal can be a life-saver (well, lunch-saver) here. I’ll just ask someone if I can borrow $X, or go out to lunch with friends, and PayPal them back as soon as we’re back in the office.

  5. isaiah on the 7th July

    really? you would consider begging and stealing before just skipping the meal? do you really need to even ask this question? ethics clearly isn’t a course requirement, is it?

    skip the meal. you’ll live.

    if you think that you can’t skip the meal, then get over yourself. most of the world skips meals all the time and has done so in much more trying situations.

    and let the hunger be a reminder that next time you need to grow up, be a professional, and not find yourself so unprepared for life.

    if eating is really that critical then the responsible thing to do is be prepared: keep a cup of noodles in your desk drawer, a powerbar and a spare credit card in your briefcase.


    • LQ on the 9th July

      Asking a friend to buy lunch for you is begging?

      I think you have dysfunctional relationships with your co-workers.

  6. Andrea Bravo Balado on the 7th July

    I would ask someone else to buy me lunch and then transfer the money to his/her account 😀

  7. Carl on the 7th July

    There probably are boundary cases where theft isn’t theft due to need. This isn’t one of them, and it certainly isn’t Les Misérables.

    I’d borrow money from a friend to buy myself a quick lunch, and pay them back the next day and *also* take them out for lunch as a thank you for saving my butt.

    I hope an employer would take proper disciplinary actions against any employee who can’t respect the personal property of their colleagues. Certainly not the type of person I’d want to be working with!

  8. Elizabeth on the 7th July

    I think it’s great that so many commenters are against stealing – but we all know that people frequently steal other people’s lunches from the office fridge.

    I’ve had my frozen burrito stolen before. Now I have to hide them in plastic bags so people can’t tell what they are.

  9. Jason Finnerty on the 7th July

    Thank you all for your comments – and from the look of things in other offices, it was a good thing for me to switch to full time freelancing. Your offices seem to be quite different than the ones that I have worked in.

    My lunch has been stolen, borrowed, misappropriated, or just mistaken for someone else’s, so I wanted to know what kind of situation would cause someone to think this is acceptable behavior.

    I like to try and put myself in the other person’s shoes, to imagine what the circumstances might be to condone this type of activity – but I haven’t figured it out. With the great minds that read workawesome I thought maybe a bit of light could be shed on the subject- but it looks like we all think the same.


    • Mike Vardy on the 9th July

      These short “hypotheticals” are going to show up over the next couple of weeks as we give them a whirl here. At the minimum, they’re getting people talking about right, wrong or indifferent – and their own ideas of what that might be.

      Having worked for a large company for many years, I definitely experienced lunch theft. After all, with so many employees there it was impossible to source out who took it when it did happen. To be fair, it also happened by mistake on occasion.

      I take any change I have left in my pocket at the end of the day and leave half in a tin in my desk drawer and put the other half in a coffee can at home. That way I rarely come across this problem at work and I end up gearing up some savings at home.

      Thanks for all the comments!

  10. Winston Muller on the 8th July

    Perhaps the easiest solution of all, and what I usually do, is to have a backup lunch kept in my desk drawer…

    Instant noodles, instant soup, can of tuna (a bit strange, I know, but I love the stuff), anything that doesn’t go off in a hurry. Change it once a month or so.

    Always keep 2 or 3 items in your desk, just in case, for days when you forget lunch, don’t bring enough, or are just plain hungry!

    • Brandscaping on the 8th July

      I’m with you on the tuna – and the nice thing about storing this kind of rations in your desk is you probably won’t be inclined to snack on them.

      werthers hard candies – probably not a great idea to keep in your top drawer if you don’t want to regularly change your belt size…

  11. Rob Mason on the 8th July

    Tear off a colleagues arm *pref. the interns) and eat that. Mmmm…tasty.

    • Brandscaping on the 8th July

      i do like free food….hmmm – intern tartar…

  12. Robert on the 8th July

    Stealing never happend to me, nor did I perform that. So I think it is really unfair to get your lunch taken away. I think it’s also important to know whether anyone would acutally split their lunch? I’d give half. Would you?

  13. Will Greene on the 8th July

    word to the #firstworldproblem. anyone who spends more than 1 nanosecond thinking about how to remedy such a trivial problem shouldn’t be doing more than painting hte lines on the road.

    Option 1: stash a 12 guage, disposable bbq and some pigeon decoys in your desk (skinning is faster than plucking)

    Option 2: build a little falcon perch on the lid your macbook pro out of bic pens and duct tape and head on down to your local vendor of all things Peregrine


    Option X: cultivate a miniature salad garden and some pot plants on your window cill and head up to the roof for a feral pigeon caesar salad and a smoke.

    • Brandscaping on the 8th July

      Will – gotta say I admire your ingenuity and ability to think outside the box.
      that being said – I can’t even kill a fish that I’ve caught – so pretty sure the pigeons are safe….

      from your option x – i’m guessing you must be a fellow Canadian….

  14. Michael Kieloch on the 8th July

    Services like Foodler and Grubhub come in handy in this type of scenario because (if you’re in a metropolitan area) you can order delivery from just about every restaurant within 30 miles that delivers and you can even tip your driver on your card.

    And some of these online delivery aggregator sites also store your CC# for quick checkout, meaning if you forget your wallet you can still order: without a card, without cash. It’s also a good reminder why it’s nice to have a scan of everything in your wallet –credit cards and their #s included– stored somewhere securely in the online cloud. Grab your CC#, order delivery online, and save yourself time and hassle.

    That having been said, if those sites aren’t an option where you are, and you don’t have a rapport with your colleagues you can borrow lunch money from (perhaps that’s an even bigger issue), you go without. Personal integrity is more important than lunch.

    • Brandscaping on the 8th July

      love the concepts – I will look to see if they are available here. Well, I probably won’t look now, as I’m self employed and currently sitting on my deck with an ice cold beer – but if things don’t work out, I will look into them.

      thanks for sharing

  15. Thera on the 8th July

    My colleagues know my rule on that matter: you can pick in my stuffs without asking as long as it’s not the last piece: e.g. if I have a whole pack of bread, I don’t care at all if you take two slices for a sandwich if you forgot to bring lunch, as long as it doesn’t become a habit either.

    My client and I have an agreement that I’m on site and mainly work on their projects, and in exchange, I have an office under their name that I can use both for working on their projects and on my other freelance works; a bit tight money-wise at times (and being on-site offers less freedom), but it’s pretty good on the PR side as they’re leader in their field (like if you’re a Flash designer and work at Adobe); so that’s why I always have 1-2 week of food at the office because that’s where I spend nearly all of my time.

    • Brandscaping on the 8th July

      like the concept Thera, and the policy. I prefer not to have an office to go to, but some days I think I might be a bit more productive.
      your solution looks fair and provides good benefit on both sides


  16. Kelly on the 8th July

    I don’t think I’ll ever understand what’s going through someone’s mind when they choose to take a lunch that’s not theirs in the company fridge. I enjoy my co-workers, but frankly, I don’t know how “clean” they are when they’re preparing their lunches, so the thought of grabbing someone else’s food kind of freaks me out.

    I pretty much don’t put myself in the position of “no food” if at all possible. I have a substantial stash of non-perishable food in my desk should I ever find I’ve forgotten to bring my lunch – I have meal replacement bars, mixed nuts, dried fruit, etc. No excuse for me to go snatch someone else’s lunch.

    It’s interesting, though, I have yet to meet anyone who will fess up to stealing lunches at the office. it almost makes me think it’s some strange, secretive cult. Or maybe all those lunches go missing in the same place where your socks go when you put a pair in the dryer and only come back with one. Some voo-doo spooky lunch-stealing conspiratorial black hole, and no office is safe!

    • Brandscaping on the 8th July

      Interesting theory, Kelly. Perhaps we should start wearing our tin foil hats in the office now, to ensure we are never victims again…


    • Nathan Nash on the 9th July

      Your comment makes me wonder if corporate freegans exist for some reason. I only know one freegan but he’s proud of it.

  17. Ares on the 8th July

    What about “Hey, can I borrow 10 bucks and I will get them back to you tomorrow?”

    Most people would understand unless you do it to often!

  18. Bryan on the 12th July

    The first comment is the right answer—Jeff nailed it!

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