Has Fast Food Become Socially Unacceptable?

At lunch, during the work day, many of us have different options for what we can do.  Some people regularly bring lunch from home every day.  Other people might work someplace with a cafeteria on premises, and might go that route occasionally.  Still others might go out to eat once in a while.  Clearly, there are many different ways that we can handle lunch during the work week, and many combinations of how our weeks might look in that regard.

With respect to the latter option – going out to eat – we might also have a variety of options from which to choose.  One of these options is fast food.  However, in recent years, I haven’t seen as many coworkers eating fast food at lunch – or, at least, making it known that they eat it.  It leads me to ask the question: has fast food for lunch become socially unacceptable, and something to avoid for your career?

It might sound silly, but in the workplace, perceptions often matter more than reality.   While people are generally entrusted with responsibilities based on qualifications and past performance, one’s image at work can matter – even if it shouldn’t.  In a white collar, corporate setting, multimillion dollar decisions are being made all the time.  Would you think more favorably about the guy or gal who brings a healthy lunch to work every day or buys a salad from a quick casual place, or the person who regularly dines on an unhealthy value meal of a burger, fries, and soda from the local fast food joint.

Keep in mind, I’m not saying it’s fair, and it’s not necessarily how I view things. However, people can be fickle, and personal impressions do have an impact for better or worse.

I liken this to how smoking was once viewed in society.  Supposedly, news broadcasts way back in the past had cigarette smoke swirling about, as a fairly decent percentage of the overall population smoked.  It wasn’t unusual or a big deal.  I vividly recall years of going to restaurants that offered both smoking and non-smoking sections.  Smoking even happened on airplanes!

Now, smoking doesn’t happen on the news, or in restaurants where I live, and certainly not on airplanes.  People don’t smoke in the office, at work.  While it isn’t fair to judge the character of a smoker vs. a non-smoker, in the professional world it’s simply not socially acceptable.  Smoking is simply not a part of the workday.

Keep in mind I’m not equating smoking to eating fast food, just thinking about perceptions of social acceptabilty.  I wonder if this concept is starting to apply to fast food lunches?  Maybe it’s a stretch, but I just don’t see people eating these lunches, or talking about how much they like fast food.  They may eat it otherwise, but it seems to be less accepted.

So as funny as it might seem that flaunting an affinity for fast food lunches might be bad for your career – and your finances – well, it just might be.  Not to mention the health impact, which in the long run hurts our finances too!

My Questions for You

What do you usually do for lunch during the work day?

Do you notice people eating less fast food these days, or being less anxious to admit to it, with co-workers?

Do you think that fast food for lunch during the work day has become less socially acceptable, and something that can be detrimental to how one is perceived?



  1. says

    I bring my lunch every day but there is no shortage of people that leave and come back with a McDonald’s bag or Subway lunch, both of which have locations right by the office park. I think people have cut back from what they may have done in terms of frequency versus a few years ago, but I don’t think it’s going away. I would say that drinking soda has actually been more likened to the smoking frowns than anything else.

    • Squirrelers says

      MoneyBeagle – interesting, I suppose different locales have different unique norms. Here, I don’t see much true “old school” type of fast food being bought. At least, openly that is:) However, people do buy soda, which is certainly not a health food. It’s something I’ve battled to cut out, actually.

      • says

        A friend of mine cut out the soda and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup)-laden foods in his life, like certain breads at the grocery store and so forth, and lost a good 20 lbs. He tells me it was really hard for him to do, but also the best move health-wise he ever made in his life.

        • Squirrelers says

          That’s actually pretty interesting. Just making a few moves like that can make a big difference in health for some people. It’s often just a few things that we’re overlooking.

    • Squirrelers says

      Kurt – it’s almost like it’s just considered bad form in some circles. Now, I wouldn’t put fast food in the smoking category in terms of health, because there are some options that probably aren’t quite so bad to have sometimes. But other items…well, they aren’t exactly the best, that’s for sure! I’m not interested in eating too much fast food.

  2. says

    Funny, I just mentioned this in my post this morning! In my office, you’d get funny looks if you came back from your lunch run with a McDonald’s bag. I remember one of my former coworkers would get Taco Bell every now and then and a few people teased him about it. I try to limit my fast food intake anyway, but every now and then when I’m craving some greasy fries, I’ll eat them in my car before coming back into the office to avoid comments from coworkers. It may be partly because I’m in the health-obsessed SF Bay Area, but there definitely is a stigma attached to eating unhealthy food in my office.

    • Squirrelers says

      Ha! Similar thoughts, I suppose? I can totally see that in the Bay Area, there might be even more of a stigma. I know someone in the area who made a comment like that about how people out there are more health conscious, and having visited probably 20+ times in my life, I would tend to agree based on observation alone.

  3. says

    I bring my lunch and have for over 40+ years. I work across the street from an In ‘n Out burger joint. The smell of the food is getting to me and not in a good way. I think it is the smell of frying that bothers me. I have reduced the fast food in my life years ago. I am real carefull about what I eat.

    • Squirrelers says

      krantcents – that’s great, you’re controlling what you eat each workday and having done that for 40+ years, I’m guessing that’s paid off compared to what contemporaries have done.

  4. says

    I bring my lunch to work daily and so do most of my co-workers. In fact I think we all secretly compete to see who has the most impressive home-cooked meal leftovers. Fast food would be out of the question. One co-worker has instant oatmeal for lunch occasionally and is very embarrassed when caught making it!

    • Squirrelers says

      Dar – interesting, competition regarding bringing food from home! As for the oatmeal, I’d give that individual a pass…after all, oatmeal tends to be healthier than many other options!

  5. says

    Hmm, interesting questions you’re asking… I bring my own lunch every day for nearly a year now. I’ve saved close to $3000 bringing my own lunch but I’m sure nobody cares. Some co-workers are surprised that I can keep it up day after day after day and say things like “I should bring my own lunch too” or “I gotta learn how to cook” yet they NEVER do. Every day they eat some take out food, and not that I judge or anything (if they can afford it, good for them) but I am certainly not going to be persuaded to join the lunch crowd. As for smoking, I think it’s got a long road ahead (at least here in California) Everyone seems to smoke!

    • Squirrelers says

      Veronica – good for you that you’re bringing your own lunch! That sure seems like a better financial alternative, and possibly healthier too.

  6. says

    I usually go to the company cafeteria or stock up my office with microwavable options. I have a mini fridge, so I can do some storage and bring stuff to make my own lunch in the office.

    I have noticed fast food becoming less acceptable, which I believe is helping lead to the rise of places like Chipotle, Noodles and Co, and Tokyo Joe’s. People are going to fast food less and are going to “fast casual” as a convenient, and sometimes healthier, alternative.

    • Squirrelers says

      Eric – very true, I’ve seen the same thing about fast casual. Those places don’t seem to have the same negative perception as more traditional fast food places among workplace professionals.

  7. says

    We were close to a chicken rotisserie, so you’d see lots of workers with chicken and fries for lunch. You’d also have a mix; some people would go for the Thai, some people would go for the Burger King, and some would go for the seafood place. In other contexts it can have a stigma with it, though I’m not sure if it’s actually about health. Smoking can be associated with the lower class and so can fast food depending on the context, and the stigma actually seems to come from that rather than anything else. Take for example getting drunk at a club versus drinking at home — both are damaging to one’s health but one is more socially acceptable, for better or for worse!

  8. AmAnda says

    I tend to eat at the cafeteria at work. I live by myself and find it easier that way. They have ok prices and there is no mess to clean up. One of the biggest reason why I dont like bringing a lunch from home though are the comments. I never realized how much people judged you by what you eat. I just want to eat my lunch and get on with my day. I dont need someone questioning it or making comments about it. Good or bad.

    • Squirrelers says

      AmAnda – I do agree, there’s no reason for people to make anyone uncomfortable based on what they eat. We each need to do what works for us individually.

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