Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Eating and Drinking At Your Desk? Keep The Noise Down!

Pay Attention To The Noise You Make While Eating and Drinking.
No, That’s Not Being Picky.

On the Ask the Workplace Doctors site, a frequent complaint involves coworkers who eat and drink noisily–especially those who do it almost constantly during the workday or shift. We hear about food odors as well as noise.  This summer I’ve heard complaints about the noise of thermal sipper cups. (First is the slurping-sipping sound, then the “ka-thunk” as the ice falls back into the cup.) It sounds picky, until you have to listen to it all day, every day. It’s distracting and irritating–and it is unncessary.

One employee said, “I’m surrounded by people crunching carrots, rustling food bags, guzzling drinks, chewing ice, slurping hot chocolate, blowing on soup then sipping it repeatedly from a spoon, munching on celery sticks, glugging from a bottle, and at least three or four people who politely but obviously, burp.  Right at this moment I can smell said chocolate as well pizza, egg rolls, burritos, leftovers of something and a hot dog–and it is not lunch time. With some of them, the eating never stops. One coworker consumes a bag of carrots a day, so the chomp, chomp sound is almost continuous. I want to scream!”

A reality of worklife is that working in close quarters requires some adjustments. Every employee has to have the courtesy and good sense to realize that to the person who isn’t eating, the sounds of eating can be very noisy and very irritating. The solution is easy:

1.) Use the break room as the eating area, not your desk or work station. 

2.) Pour your beverage into a glass or cup, if using your thermal container makes noise.

3.) Stop grazing all day–or leave the desk to do it.

4.) Be courteous and mannerly about the impact you have on those around you when you eat and drink.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask! But, an employee told me when he asked a coworker to please stop chomping ice all day, the coworker gave him a pair of earplugs and brought in an even bigger cup of ice. That is when it becomes obvious that peers are not always able to get cooperation. The supervisor is responsible for the workplace environment and supervisory intervention may be necessary.

If you are a supervisor or manager, consider talking to employees individually (not in a blast email) about the noises and smells caused by eating at desks or work stations. Then, informally monitor it when you are walking around the area. You don’t have to create a tough rule and enforce it, simply remind people of the potential for bothering others and ask for courtesy. Let employees know they can talk to you if there is a distracting or irritating situation developing.  That means you may need to do something about it–the tough part for many supervisors.

If the situation is more than minor (chewing carrots all day, chomping on ice or making other eating or drinking noises), and requests for courtesy aren’t helping, you will have to tell the bothersome employee to stop. Don’t worry, the employee won’t starve or die of thirst. But a bunch of other employees will probably silently thank you!


June 25th, 2013 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Food, Fitness, Fun, Supervision and Management | 32 comments


  1. Oh yes, I know exactly what you mean by this. A woman sat next to me for ten years and kept food on her desk for 8 hours a day every day. I could hear eating or drinking noises constantly and got to where I hated her for it. I didn’t complain to anyone because I didn’t think it would help.

    Comment by Sailor53 | June 26, 2013

  2. We can’t have food at our desks because of the electronics. Drinks are OK in covered cups and we haven’t had problems about the thermal kind, although I know what you mean about the noise. BUT we do have a problem with people heating terrible smelling things in the microwave in the break room and the odor is everywhere. Even good things like popcorn smell gross if you’re not the one eating it. Common courtesy isn’t so common anymore!

    Comment by R.J. | June 26, 2013

  3. This fits my office exactly, except the noisy person also talks with food in her mouth. There is never a time when she’s not eating something! I’m her supervisor, so I guess it’s up to me to talk to her, but it’s going to be awful when I do.

    Comment by Gracie | June 26, 2013

  4. OK< but what about the person who is so picky that everything anyone does is disturbing to her? We have a woman in our office who is bothered by everything, from coughing to eating to rustling papers to just walking. She says I walk so loudly it shakes her desk! Someone made a "gift" for her that had ear plugs, a sleep mask, a clothespin (for her nose) and a pair of gloves. She complained about that and we all got an email about it. I think she's got some sensory overload problem!! Why should the rest of us have to go into silent mode for one person?

    Comment by Mike | July 13, 2013

  5. We have a young woman in our office who pops, cracks and chomps gum for hours at a time. Several of us asked her to stop and she got an attitude and said there was no rule against it. We went to our manager and he said for us to work it out. I think he should have done something about it himself, because she won’t listen to us.

    One of the older employees who is an angel to everyone, talked to her nicely and said it would show that she wanted to work with the group if she would stop making so much noise, but this young woman (I won’t say lady) laughed in her face. I wanted to bring in a radio and turn it up loudly when the gum chomping starts but I told no radios were allowed. If I was the manager I would make her stop, but I don’t have that authority. It’s ruined work for all of us!

    Comment by G.H. | July 13, 2013

  6. I don’t think most people realize the noise they are making, unless things are quiet and maybe if it gets called to their attention. I was drinking a fast-food soda and didn’t realize I was absent-mindedly pulling the straw back and forth through the lid and making a noise. Someone asked me to stop, in a polite way, and I apologized and stopped. I think the biggest need is for people to find ways to be polite with their requests and not assume that the other person is being offensive on purpose. Work

    Comment by Sasha | July 13, 2013

  7. Tina, I have one those “can you top this” comments, I think. A woman in our office (not here anymore, thank you Lord)ate and drank loudly and obviously. But what was so irritating was that she talked TO her snacks all the time. Here is how it would sound: “Well, well, aren’t you just a nice looking little bag of chips? I think I’ll have one or two of you. Yes I will! (munch, munch, munch) Mmmmmmmmm, you are just the best ever. I’m thinking I need some more.” Sometimes this would go on for twenty minutes, several times a day. Our supervisor talked to her about it and she said she just enjoyed her food. She was ordered to stop and things went downhill from there until she quit before she was fired. Now and then one of us will imitate her and we’re all so glad she’s gone!

    Comment by Shark | July 13, 2013

  8. Courtesy, kindness and patience would go a long way toward solving most problems at work.

    Comment by Patience | July 13, 2013

  9. Dear Tina, isn’t it nice to work out of our homes so we can make as much noise as we want now??? :-)

    Comment by DFEB | July 13, 2013

  10. My cube neighbor found religion in a weight loss plan that promotes grazing fruit and vegetables all day. Celery sticks at 10:00am. Soup at noon. An apple at 2:00. Orange at 3:30. In between it was hard candy. He ate none of it with his mouth closed.
    Apples are one of the most obnoxious things to listen to somebody eat, particulary when the person is within spitting distance from you.

    Comment by Angerrrred | September 11, 2013

  11. I understand this frustration. I work in very close proximity to a grazer… all day, every day. Every morning it’s yogurt with granola/fruit in a glass bowl with a metal spoon *scrape, scrape, CLANG!* (clangs spoon into the bowl, clangs bowl onto the desk), over and over until every bit is gone. Then mid-morning snack of carrots or rice cakes. Lunch is usually some kind of soup, stew, or pasta — another *scrape, CLANG!* session… then after lunch it’s time for GUM — thankfully there’s no cracking or bubbles, just lots of little chewy-noises. then mid-afternoon snack will be carrots and rice cakes, or, like today, grapes and cheese complete with squishy chewing sounds – at first I thought it was more gum, but nope, cheese and grapes! Less than 1.5 meters separates us… some days… some dayssssss…! ;)

    Comment by Dee | September 18, 2013

  12. I just had to leave a comment … because it made me laugh. I sit near a lady who eats a yogurt pot every day for morning tea. When she’s finished it, she keeps scraping the bottom of the yogurt pot for ages and ages to get every little bit. I want to say to her “Its over, its done, its gone. Leave it alone now! Please! for the sake of my freakin sanity”

    Comment by Jane | March 27, 2014

  13. I sit across from a grazer. She does not eat at lunch time but prefers to eat at her desk it is driving me absolutely insane. Right now she is eating the bag of chips she eats every day at 2 o’clock. She has been here way longer than I have and I don’t feel like I’m in a position to say anything. But as seems to be the general theme with this thread, my inability to speak up about this awful crunching is making my irritation fester and I am some days I feel like I am going to implode

    Comment by Alex | July 16, 2014

  14. OHMYGOSH! I thought I was alone and I was over reacting but it’s not just me! There is a guy who sits next to me and eats chips, apples and carrots all day. Munching and crunching all day long. He is also loud and over bearing and turns around to face me when he is on a call and talks so loud I can’t hear my customers on the phone sometimes. When he eats yogurt he scrapes the bottom of the container WELL after he is finished. He once ate a chip off of the floor with his bare feet (which I can smell when he takes his shoes off)and curses like a sailor all day long (even on the phone with customers). He digs in his mouth and sucks on his fingers after he eats then has the nerve to touch my papers. He sticks his finger in his peanut butter jar and makes a loud disgusting sucking noise to lick it off of his finger. We went out to eat once on a company dinner and he was digging in his mouth and picking his teeth the whole time and when the bread basket came around he physically grabbed a piece of bread and said, “Here you go.” knowing I don’t like when people do that as I have told him SEVERAL times I found things like that disgusting. Needless to say I did not eat any bread that night! I get mad at myself when I get annoyed with him because I feel like maybe I’m not a good person or over reacting for feeling this way until recently I just asked my boss if I could move to a new desk so I can get some peace. Hopefully I will be in a new seat soon and while I can still probably hear him at least I won’t be next to him! Whew!

    Comment by Tasha | September 23, 2014

  15. I sit next to a chomper who likes to wait til 1 PM or so, then chomp and crunch, open and close bags etc at her desk. It sounds like she is chewing gravel.
    I cannot stand to hear her eat, it makes me HATE her.
    Go to the cafeteria to eat like everyone else does!!!!!

    Comment by kathy | October 28, 2014

  16. I love the story about the woman who talks to her snacks-ha ha ha ha ha…..!
    The guy next to me slurps–doesn’t matter if the drink is hot or cold as long as it’s liquid. And after he slurps he gasps for breath as though he’s nearly asphyxiating in the few moments of ingesting his beverage. I’ve seen conversations in which people opine that rude noises are cultural, or parents didn’t teach little Johnny better manners. In this case I’m convinced it’s because “little Johnny” is a beached whale, i.e., grossly obese, with so much extra tongue, lips, cheeks, larynx, etc., that this is the result. Ugh. I could also go a long time without the belching noises, thank you…

    Comment by snark | November 11, 2014

  17. People don’t always realize the noises they’re making, because they think they’re just hearing their own chewing noises but no one else can hear it.

    I had to stop chewing gum because a new employee complained that I popped it in my mouth and it bothered him. Then I found out, other people had complained too. I sincerely did not know that people could hear it, I just thought I heard it in my head as I chewed. It was like a rhythm for my work and I miss it, but I don’t want to bother people. When I read this, I realized how many complaints there are about personal activities like eating and drinking at work, so I guess I wasn’t the only one, which makes me feel a little better.

    Comment by Chewy | November 21, 2014

  18. We have a new employee (temporary?) I hope. She drinks tea and slurps the whole damn cup. Not the just the first few sips cause it’s hot, but the whole bleeping cup. And she drinks tea all day long and slurps every cup. We are beginning to believe she has some kind of tea obsession. it makes her look like nobody taught her to eat. the frustrating part is that she wasn’t even supposed to be in our office but somewhere else but she begged to be in that office. It’s making me dislike her and that’s against my nature, but her horrible eating habits are making her come off as a piglet.

    Comment by Lola | November 26, 2014

  19. why do people have to eat all day long anyway? jeez. be adult. you’re at work. an occasional snack every now and then fine, but seriously, stay away from the f****n food all for all day long.

    Comment by Lola | December 3, 2014

  20. Mike, I know there are annoyances, but that woman is ridiculous. yes most of us on here are talking about a few over the top things, but if the woman you’re talking about is that picky than she just needs to find another job or work from home because if you’re going to work with other people in a work environment, then yes, there will be rustling paper, walking,etc to get your damn work done. and it’s funny you all get an email, yet she doesn’t get one for being so damn OCDC and autism spectrum acting. you’re right, no one should have to go into silent mode for her.

    Comment by Lola | December 3, 2014

  21. I have gotten to the point where I swear I am going to go postal. This old guy next to me keeps fridge under his desk and he eats ALL DAY LONG. Not quietly either. He has this huge ceramic cup he pours stuff into then bangs a metal spoon around in it the whole time he’s eating. He bangs this huge cup on his desk about 20 times while he’s using the spoon. He has this ginormous thermos that makes these big gurgling sounds. Then he has a whole bunch of bags of candy and chips he keeps in his drawers which of course he bangs every time he opens or closes them. He’ll sit and eat trail mix out of the bag and then crunch the bag up and throw it away. To top all of this off, he then belches and blows his nose really loudly about 50 times a day. It has gotten to the point where I dread going to work in the morning. My manager refuses to allow anyone to move saying that you just to learn to live with it.

    Comment by Mike | December 19, 2014

  22. I suspect I might be similar to some of the people described above and promise myself and my colleagues (mentally) that I will be way more careful and cautious of distracting them in future.

    When this article came up I had actually just realized that eating apples was a loud business and trying to see whether there was any etiquette set against taking loud crunchy bites – but having read the article and ALL of the comments, I realized that there needs to be no rule against it.

    The fact that it distracts others alone is good grounds to discontinue immediately.

    Thank you all :)

    Comment by Really sorry (I come in peace) | February 6, 2015

  23. Follow-up by Tina
    Isn’t it amazing how many issues can arise from eating at work?

    I wanted to follow-up, to suggest that many foods that might be noisy can be eaten more quietly if they are cut into small chunks or slices or peeled or taken out of packaging, at home. Using plastic containers and spoons would be less noisy than a ceramic bowl. Drinking water out of a paper cup would be less noisy than one of those crinkly water bottles. Unfortunately, nothing seems to reduce food odors or unpleasant sounds.

    The challenges of working together continue!

    Comment by TLR | February 8, 2015

  24. I don’t agree with the statement “they don’t know” when it comes to people making sounds. I would understand if this was infrequent or if the person was clinically deaf. It is called courtesy. A behavioral attitude to be sensitive to others and respectful. I understand that I make noises, and occasionally eat at my desk. However, I make a conscious effort to avoid certain foods or activity that would not be condusive to a work environment.

    With that, I had a former co-worker that clipped his fingernails. 1) this is an activity that should be restricted to home, bathrooms, and outside. It is disgusting to do this at work since clippings could fly or be left on floors/surfaces. 2) How many frickin times does a normal person clip their nails? I do regularly, but not daily, several times/day.
    Recently, I had a guy in the cube next to me who ritually ate an apple around 9:30 EVERY DAY. Thank God for earbuds and Pandora. He was so loud (cubes are 6ft high) that I can still hear him with music in my ears. He also did the yogurt scraping every afternoon. Seriously, How many times a day do people eat? I am no model, but some of these people have weight issues, and they are not helping themselves. Apples/carrots, chips, and anything in a bowl with spoon that clangs should not be considered work-appropriate.

    I thought apple-guy was bad until he moved and the next neighbor I had chomps his gum every afternoon. Gum chomping is one thing, but this is seriously LOUD!! I recorded it on my phone from my cube, and it is louder than someone talking on the phone next to him. There is no WAY I should hear someone through a partition or overhear someone talking when they FACE AWAY FROM MY DESK!!

    I would not mind some food/gum restrictions at work even if I am subject to them.

    Comment by Matt | April 2, 2015

  25. Potato chip bags make a lot,I mean a LOT of noise. Add to that,the person eating them–hand goes in to retrieve one chip at a time, then a loud CRUNCH!! Then hand goes back in bag for another chip. Can’t they just open the bag and pour everything out onto a paper plate? Is it that hard to do? Same goes for candy/chocolate bars in plastic wrappers.

    Big offenders are the yogurt diggers – you know, they’re not truly finished with that empty plastic container until they’ve scraped the living daylights out of the inside so fast and furious it sounds like they’re going to explode if they don’t get the last 1/100th of a teaspoon of yogurt.

    Other offenders – women with long fingernails typing on keyboards. It’s just flat-out annoying and inconsiderate of those around you..you know you’re annoying, just stop with the press-on nails.

    Cell phone ring tones – rule #1 at all companies should be: put your cell phone on vibrate. No one wants to hear ding! ding! from your iphone everytime you get a message from a friend.

    Honorable mention – people using cell phones in restrooms. Dude,you’re standing at a urinal, you don’t need to be texting at this exact moment. People on the toilet talking or texting on a cell phone are the worst of the worst. Can’t it wait till you get in the hallway? Every time I hear a person on a cell phone while on the toilet, I will flush every urinal and toilet, and run every single faucet I see, just to make enough noise that he can’t hear what the person on the line is saying to him.

    Comment by Mike | May 5, 2015

  26. OMG, I am so glad to read these complaints to know I am not alone or being totally unreasonable!! My Cube Mate is the most Annoying Person!! From eating Breakfast and Lunch at her desk in glass bowls, clanking with the spoon or fork!! And, she is like clockwork!! Every day, same thing … day in, day out. She NEVER leaves her Cube, is NEVER out of the office … I am losing my mind!!!!!

    Comment by GF | May 12, 2015

  27. Feel a little better now knowing I’m not the only one that is annoyed with clanking of a spoon or fork in a bowl!

    Comment by JB | May 26, 2015

  28. It is my manager who sits next to me in a open office sitting that eats all day – a bag of carrots, nuts, potato chips and coffee. She never leaves her desk but grazes all day believing that is the most effective way to work and eat. I’m in no position to complain as she is my manager and has had this habit for years at the office without issue. I use ear plugs which help some but also I can’t hear when people say hello to me – which makes me appear antisocial. I tried listening to music through headphones but that looks unprofessional. Her consent eating is very distracting and drives me crazy but what can I do?

    Comment by MEM | June 25, 2015

  29. I have now nicknamed (in my head) my coworker who sits on the other side of the cubicle wall from me, “The Hobbit.” The man literally eats 5 times a day. When he’s not eating, he’s talking about food! It starts usually around 8am with something stinky in a glass bowl of which he has to clang the spoon against very loudly every time he takes a bite. Then there is the lip smacking and wet chewing noises with heavy nose breathing. He will then SCRAPE his bowl for a full minute trying to get every last molecule of food left. Not even an hour later he is eating something else. The things he eats are often smelly and loud. He literally keeps a small crockpot on his desk and cuts up a damn salad nearly everyday for one of his “snacks.” The noise is so bad that (and I wish I was exaggerating) I brought in 33 decibal earplugs for myself to try to ease my suffering…..I could still hear him!!! I used to actually like this guy before his desk was moved close to mine, now I’m starting to hate him. I also know why the people where he used to sit were so glad to see him go. Oh and for the record…during the time I’ve written this…he’s eaten twice…he’s now clanging his f***ing bowl! I’m like 2 seconds away from lobbing something at him.

    Comment by Charlotte | August 12, 2015

  30. Tina says: Charlotte, I’ll write to you personally, but wanted to put this in a comment for others to see.

    I usually advise a direct conversation with someone like The Hobbit, especially since he once seemed more tolerable to you. Here is the way I figure it: If I’ve come to detest someone because of their behavior and they don’t like me well enough to be sensitive to the impact of their behavior, I’m not losing anything by talking directly. And it will finally get it out in the open.

    “Greg, I never thought I’d have to talk to you about this and I wish I didn’t have to, but I do. On a daily basis you eat five or six times a day, making so much noise each time I can’t concentrate. And the smell is bad too. The only thing that will make this better is for you to stop eating at your desk and that’s what I’m asking you to do. There. I’ve said it and I should have said it a month ago.”

    Then, stop talking and make him talk. There is a temptation to talk to cover up nervousness, but he is the one who should feel the pressure. Don’t apologize, minimize or say you think he probably doesn’t realize how much noise he makes. Of course he does–he just figures no one minds. Once you’ve said what you want to say, he’ll know. You shouldn’t sound angry, you can even sound concerned about him, but you should be direct and stick to it.

    If he argues, denies or gets upset, you have done your part, so you’re clear to go to your supervisor, to whom you can say you have tried to deal with it and now are asking for help. According to your organization and the culture, as well as your closeness to the supervisor, you may have to insist rather than request.

    If he was moved once, you can bet his noisy eating was part of it. Your supervisor knows about it and may have noticed it also. So, why should the Hobbit be allowed to get by with it again, at your expense? I feel indignant on your behalf!

    If you are a good employee who doesn’t complain a lot, does good work and is known to get along with most people, you are certainly in a strong bargaining position for insisting that this can’t go on. (Now you see why many companies forbid any food or drink in the work area. It’s a shame, because an occasional snack is nice, but some people don’t have good judgment about it.

    Best wishes to you as you work through this. If you find a positive solution, let me know. Tina R.

    Comment by TLR | August 13, 2015

  31. I am glad I found this site. I’ve been feeling like the messes up person for being irritated by the constant overstimulation of working in a cube farm. My boss recently outlawed ear buds, which was helping me get through 8+ hours of Ice Crunching and constant laughing and giggling over nothing and everything! Laughing after stupid stuff like announcing,, “I guess I’ll go to the printer, a hee hee tee hee.”. Now this is OK in small doses. Kinda like the bacon double cheese onion burger I like to use as a paper weight sometimes… But we all have to snack or eat around others at some point. I try harder now to ask my cubie mates and for permission to have certain foods out and apologize for making too much noise or being irritated by it.

    Comment by 2insane4work | September 8, 2015

  32. My supervisor disgusts me. He eats his carrots with his mouth open using the opening of his mouth as a sound amplifier. I am led think he actually tries to maximize the noise he makes because he eats less crunchier things with mouth closed.

    He is my supervisor. He makes me crazy. What can I do. I’m thinking about taking antidepressants.

    I just read in a previous post about ear-plugs. I’ll try that.

    Comment by funnyfranky | October 7, 2015

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