Whither goeth the office lunch?

Two women chatting in the office kitchen
A scene from the distant past
Photo: Johner Images (Getty Images)

It’s been six months, so I’m not sure if I’m remembering right, but I faintly recall that the Takeout world HQ office, which we share with The Onion and The A.V. Club, contains a large kitchen space with several refrigerators, a couple of microwaves, coffee machines (drip and espresso), and a sink. There were also several tables and a long counter where people could sit with their laptops when they grew tired of their desks, but their real purpose was so people could gather and have lunch together and maybe exchange ideas that would grow into projects that would make the company more money. To encourage this, management would order in food several times a month. This part was always very exciting.

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Now everyone is working from home, and I imagine that kitchen is sad and empty and unloved, just like office kitchens all across America. Even in offices where workers have started to come back, the kitchen remains off-limits because of social distancing. Salon talks to workers at one such company, Square Foot, a New York–based commercial real estate firm that has offices around the country.

Workers have adapted to not being able to use the office kitchens by bringing in lunches that don’t have to be refrigerated (“it’s a lot of peanut butter and jelly,” one employee reports) and eating lunch alone in their cars.

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“I think the absence of shared lunches with coworkers has made the biggest difference post-COVID,” an employee in the Louisville office told Salon. “It feels like we are a little less cohesive as a group, and maybe it’s partly the economic strain on our business, but I think the absence of shared food makes us feel less secure in our positions.”

It’s hard to know exactly what the future will hold for office kitchens, but the folks at Square Foot suspect that instead of using extra square footage for eating and reheating meals, companies will want to use it for other purposes, maybe for keeping desks at a social distance. Or maybe workers won’t go back at all. Whatever the case, it’s going to be a long time before we see people crowding into the kitchen to grab a slice of pizza and happily complaining to one another about the toppings.

Aimee Levitt is associate editor of The Takeout.

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DISCUSSION

murrychang
Murry Chang

The worst part is the food in vending machines. The stuff in ours was already almost expired when they would put it in so I’m sure it’s all bad by now.