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 | 22 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 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

  22. 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

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