Office kitchen etiquette

Office Kitchen Etiquette

Whether your company’s office kitchen is small with few amenities or spacious with multiple microwaves, you need to abide by certain office kitchen etiquette considerations. These considerations include everything from cleaning up after yourself to brewing more coffee when you drink the last cup and not taking up all the available space in the refrigerator.

Along with the refrigerator and the coffeemaker, the microwave is one of the most-used appliances in the office kitchen. According to office microwave etiquette, you should follow various do’s and don’ts, such as cleaning any food you spill and avoid heating any foods with powerful smells.

Office Microwave Etiquette

Many workplaces include office kitchen etiquette signs that outline the basic rules employees should follow: Don’t eat food that doesn’t belong to you and clean the microwave if you make a mess. Another common rule is “Your mother isn’t here to wash your dishes, so do them yourself.” Whether your company has these written rules or not, you’ll need to be considerate of your colleagues when using the microwave in the office kitchen — unless you enjoy finding passive-aggressive notes directed at you.

Discover the most important do’s and don’ts to follow when using the office microwave.


Most of this office microwave etiquette is common sense, but you can easily forget about or skip these basic rules altogether when you’re in a hurry.

Reset the Microwave Settings

The world won’t end if you forget to do this step, but it’s common courtesy to clear the microwave from the settings you used after you’re finished heating up your food. This point is especially true if you lowered the microwave’s power level or changed to the defrost mode.

Others in the office may be tired, in a hurry, or otherwise distracted by the time they arrive for lunch, and they may not notice the changes you’ve made. They’ll be unpleasantly surprised when they cook their microwavable meals for the time indicated and find that it’s still frozen.

If your colleagues notice that you’ve changed the settings, they’ll need to clear those settings before heating up their own lunch. While readjusting the settings is not a big deal sometimes, they’ll get irritated when this reset needs to happen every time they come into the office kitchen. Take the extra few seconds to reset the microwave settings after you’ve finished using it.

Clean Up Any Spilled Food

Do you diligently clean up the microwave when your soup overflows, or do you look around to see if anyone’s looking and then walk away from the mess, whistling innocently? If you’re the cleaning type, you can move on to the next section. If you’re not, well, if you want to be messy, be messy at home. Consider changing your behavior when you’re in the office kitchen.

Even if a dirty microwave doesn’t bother you, other people dislike it intensely. Not too many people want to heat up their food in a microwave that has bits of crusty dried-up soup on the turntable from the day your minestrone boiled over. Nor does anyone appreciate the pizza sauce splattered over the microwave sides from that day your microwavable pizza snack exploded. Most of all, nobody wants to clean up your mess. Spilled food may not seem too bad when it’s yours, but it is 10 times more unappealing when the mess is from another person’s food.

Make sure to clean out the microwave if your food overflows or splatters inside it. Food comes off easily with a paper towel and some water or cleaning spray. To prevent messy explosions, try covering your food with a paper towel or a plastic microwave cover the next time you heat up your lunch. When heating up soup or stew, try using a container with extra space at the top so that the soup is less likely to overflow.

Keep the Cooking Time Minimal

Unless you’re taking your lunch break before or after everyone else, you’ll need to share the microwave. Three minutes is a reasonable amount of time to heat up your meal. Taking more time isn’t fair to your colleagues if they’re waiting to use the microwave. If for some reason you need extra time to cook your meal, let others go first.


Certain actions raise more ire than others. The following list outlines some of the biggest complaints in the office kitchen. If you want to show good office kitchen etiquette, refrain from the following bad habits.

Leave Your Food in the Microwave

You may occasionally leave your food in the microwave after it’s finished cooking. Maybe you received an important phone call on your cell, or maybe you got caught up in a fun conversation with your friend at work. Everyone gets distracted sometimes. However, you should keep an eye on your meal and remove it from the microwave as soon as it’s finished warming. Forgetting to remove your food can hold up the wait time for others or put them in the uncomfortable position of removing your food for you.

Even if you’re tempted to leave the room “just for a minute” while your meal heats, don’t do it. Is checking your email, returning a phone call, or whatever else so urgent that you can’t wait? If so, let someone else go ahead of you. Otherwise, stay in the same room, so you can take your lunch out of the microwave immediately.

Take Out Your Colleagues’ Food Early

OK, now the following considerations are basic manners. You shouldn’t remove someone’s meal from the microwave before it’s finished and then put your own inside. While they may have left the room, and maybe you can cook your lunch and leave without them noticing, it’s not a nice act to do.

Employers shouldn’t have to post office kitchen etiquette signs explaining this fact but, sadly, many find posting these signs necessary.

What if the person is being inconsiderate and sets the timer for 10 minutes? In that case, you may as well quickly heat up your lunch, but that’s the exception to the rule. If you’re still there when the individual comes back into the room, you may want to explain what you did and why. Your explanation may make the person think twice about using the microwave for such a long time.

What if the microwave beeped and your co-worker’s food is sitting inside? In this situation, the proper office microwave etiquette is to wait 30 seconds so that the person can remove the food from the microwave. If the person doesn’t remove the food after the heating time is up, go ahead and remove it yourself.

Heat Up Strong-Smelling Food

Yes, this rule may not seem fair when you can’t heat up your leftover fish from dinner last night. However, cooking it isn’t fair for your colleagues who share the office kitchen with you and have to smell your lunch. If the office work environment is close to the kitchen, the smell can spread as far as the work area, and your peers who sit in that section won’t feel happy. You may also have the pleasure of listening to them complain for the rest of the day.

While seafood is the main culprit, you should also avoid heating up eggs, heavily spiced foods, or vegetables such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts. If you enjoy a spicy meal, consider leaving out the seasonings while reheating it at work and adding the spices to your meal after you remove it from the microwave.

Can’t give up your seafood? In a larger office kitchen, you might get away with using the microwave in the farthest corner. If you’re lucky, the smell won’t drift into the main working area. Otherwise, consider adding cold, precooked fish to salads or packing tuna sandwiches. You could also go out for lunch and order seafood at a restaurant.

You may not spend much time in the kitchen at work, but treating your peers with consideration makes for a better workplace environment. This point is true whether you’re working in a traditional office setting or renting a desk in a shared office space. If you’re not sure what to do in a given situation, think about how you would want others to treat you.

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