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5 Ways to Turn Down Lunch with Coworkers

Updated on July 1, 2012

It seems like every day I am asked by coworkers to go out to lunch. Of course their intentions are good--they want to include me in office social activities. But little do they realize their efforts are pulling at the very fabric that holds my frugal lifestyle together.

My personal mantra is to spend money only if it will make me happier. Of course I'm going to need to eat, but it doesn't make me happier to eat a sandwich made by some mysterious cook for 5 times the cost. Not only are my packed lunches cheaper, but healthier.

Going out to lunch also takes much longer than walking to the break room. It certainly doesn't make me happier having to stay at work later to make up for a longer lunch. And it's not like I'm really missing out on socializing with my coworkers; we work in a cubicle farm where we are constantly chatting and interacting.

So here are some ways that I have gently (or not so gently) explained that I will not be joining my coworkers for lunch.


1. Explain Lunch Will Expire

Just bringing your lunch with you to work is a pretty good method for avoiding going out with coworkers. But once in a while a particularly persistent employee will come along. He will argue that your [insert food here] will still be there tomorrow, and he will be unwilling to accept that you want to eat it today.

For people like these I offer you two options: keep explaining you're just not going to join the lunch, or tell him the food will go bad. Good for you if you are eating fresh and healthy and the food will truly expire. But even if it is a frozen food, you can still say it won't last. While it is best not to lie, if someone will not accept the truth and leave you alone, a little white lie won't hurt.

2. Offer Alternatives to Going Out

Often times people are afraid to offend their coworkers by bluntly turning them down. So why not offer an alternative lunch ideas? Invite your coworkers to join you in the break room rather than always going out. There are a couple ways to make this more enjoyable for those who wouldn't traditionally eat a packed lunch.

Lunch Swap

This method works well for small groups of coworkers. Each day, one person prepares a meal for the entire group. Create a calendar to ensure each coworker is cooking an equal number of times. Casseroles are a good option due to their covering multiple food groups. If a large number of coworkers want to get involved, smaller groups coordinate to bring a more diverse lunch or do a...


Potlucks are particularly popular for office parties, but they can occur more often if enough people are interested. Each coworker brings a small dish. All the dishes combined will create a small buffet. Potlucks require a bit more planning and involvement from everyone, but they can serve many more people.

Either method provides the advantage of getting a variety of food, saving on costs, and cooking in bulk. Anyone who has lived alone or with one roommate has experienced the problem of recipes making way too much food. Consider a lunch swap or potluck so others can share in your cooking talents.


3. Defer Until Special Lunches

Once in awhile there are special occasions when I do want to go out to lunch with coworkers. These days usually involve a birthday, retirement, or new hire. It does make me happier to support my fellow employees so I don't mind the additional expense.

Next time you are asked to lunch, defer lunch rather than simply stating "no". Ask your coworkers whose birthday is next or if any other special occasions are coming up. Once you figure it out, assure them you will go to lunch on that date. It can be hard to repeatedly turn down lunch offers, and it might make the others feel like you don't care about them. This method will not only show you legitimately care, but that you are capable of saying more than "no". Just make sure you actually go to lunch when the day arises!

4. Suggest Dinner Instead

While more expensive than lunch, going out to dinner is a much more enjoyable experience for me. Lunches always feel rushed and restrained to restaurants near work. Dinners, on the other hand, offer much more freedom and act as a social activity; they are not just another part of the work day. Plus, other friends and family can much more easily come along!

As with deferring for special occasions, coworkers are much more willing to accept being turned down when alternative plans are made. And because people often have evening plans, dinners will be much less frequent than work lunches.

5. Be Honest

Lastly, don't be afraid to just be honest and upfront about your frugal lifestyle. Given today's economic situation, everyone should at least be aware that some people live frugally. Your coworkers may not fully understand why you chose to live this way, but they should respect your decision. If they are disrespectful, rethink why you would want to attend lunch with them in the first place.

In my experience, I must periodically remind my coworkers of this frugality lifestyle choice. But combined with suggesting the alternatives listed above, I have convinced them that I am not going to be persuaded to pass on my packed lunch. It's a decision that they've learned to not take personally.

Have you found any other successful ways to pass on lunch? Let us know below!


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    • MarloByDesign profile image


      5 years ago from United States

      I admire your idea to just tell your coworkers about your frugal lifestyle. Great idea!


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