Snack Stealer: Confronting the disappearances from the fridge

by epi on February 7, 2012

Q: I work for a 30-person company.  Many of us eat lunch at the office.  The problem is that the firm’s owner often raids the fridge, then leaves a dollar in place of what she took!  Even if we put our names on items, she appropriates them.  She doesn’t pick on any one person or group: top sales people are as vulnerable as the company receptionist.  The owner doesn’t react well to criticism or suggestions.  Any ideas?

A: Always pick your battles carefully with any boss — especially a difficult one.  First, decide if it’s worth talking to her at all.  Next, discuss with your co-workers the idea of approaching her about the problem.  If you’re all in agreement, pick a time when it’s quiet at the office and ask to meet with her as a group.  The goal is to resolve the situation without annoying her, so take pains to avoid being confrontational: “Mrs. Food-Stealer, there’s an issue we want to discuss with you because it’s making all of us uncomfortable.  It’s about our lunches…”

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Ashleigh February 7, 2012 at 11:09 am

If you were ever to catch her in the act I would say something like “Oh no! The label must have fallen off of my lunch! I’ve been packing lately to try to cut costs.” What if it was the end of the pay cycle and you couldn’t afford to run out and get something else? This behavior is totally unacceptable.

Reply

Erica February 7, 2012 at 11:57 am

Pick your battles? It’s COMPLETELY inappropriate for someone to steal another’s lunch , no matter what position they’re in. I would be telling her right away that that’s my item she’s taken out of the fridge, return her dollar, and take the food back.

Reply

Jerry February 7, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Erica: I agree with EPI and Laura’s advice. (I might add that the employee should consider looking for a new job given that her boss has so little regard for others.)

You are absolutely correct that it is completely inappropriate to steal someone’s lunch. And while I personally would act as you suggest (indeed, I would probably present the boss with an invoice for the stolen lunch), it would be irresponsible to advise someone to go in with one’s proverbial guns blazing without also advising of the potential consequences. The employee has got to realize that her boss could respond in any number of unpleasant ways.

Reply

Just Laura February 7, 2012 at 12:07 pm

Erica,
The reason I agree 100% with the EPI on this one is because in the private sector a person may be fired for any reason at all, or no reason at all. Confronting an owner who doesn’t take criticism well may be inviting a pink slip, and in this economy, most of us are afraid of that.
I was laid off from a small firm several years ago because I dressed nicer than the owner (I wore suits much of the time since I met with clients regularly, and she wore outfits more focused on comfort, to phrase it delicately.) Also, she didn’t like that my top-tier private school wasn’t Ivy League as hers was, and was therefore lesser. She told me in the exit interview that our “differences” in background and dress simply made for an uncomfortable environment.
Most of my work in the private sector has been extraordinarily positive, but one must always remember that unemployment may be one annoyed owner away.

Reply

Ellen February 7, 2012 at 12:40 pm

I had a boss that did this except she didn’t even leave a dollar. We all just brought small lunch boxes with ice packs in them and kept them in our workspace. If you weren’t careful to eat hunched over your food she would still take it by eating off of your plate as you ate in the break room. She did this because she was on a diet (always) and was skipping lunch.

Reply

Country Girl February 7, 2012 at 1:29 pm

I honestly think a simple solution would be to start bringing a home cooked meal/left overs and using a non-see-through container. I can see it being easier for her to justify to herself taking something store-bought, like a frozen dinner from a stack or a meal shake from a case, than it would be for her to take and eat a single Tupperware container of home-cooked food. I simply can’t image anyone feeling comfortable to take your last night’s chicken alfredo or a homemade sandwich and carrot sticks and return your container with a dollar attached.

Reply

Ashleigh February 7, 2012 at 4:32 pm

Agreed. Our office has troubles with people taking Lean Cuisines and such out of the freezer. I, on the other hand, have never had a problem with someone reheating my old mac and cheese :)

Reply

Elizabeth February 7, 2012 at 1:35 pm

Of course, the more pro-active strategy would be to intentionally sabotage some food. Spike a sandwich with incredibly hot pepper or loads of salt or even laxatives, and watch as she runs for the bathroom. This behavior is bullying, no question about it. She’s abusing her position of authority to STEAL her employees LUNCHES for goodness’ sake! (And it’s laughable that a dollar covers the cost of food, not to mention to anger and humiliation, not to mention the cost of then having to then buy lunch!) She gets whatever is coming to her. Just make sure that the item can’t be traced back to you!

Reply

Jerry February 7, 2012 at 8:35 pm

Elizabeth: I like you more and more with every comment you make.

Reply

Alicia February 8, 2012 at 8:20 am

How about something simple like a typed sign. ” Theft of food has been noticed! Please, do not remove food from this fridge that you did not place in the fridge! “

Reply

Lilli February 7, 2012 at 2:14 pm

It depends on your relationship with your boss whether or not you want to confront her. I would personally pack lunches that didn’t need to be refrigerated or use an ice pack and keep the food in my desk or my bag. Although I have to agree that the laxative idea would be a little tempting hehe.

Reply

Chara February 7, 2012 at 2:57 pm

There is a really great book called, “How to Disagree without Being Disagreeable” by Suzette Hayden Elgin. There is actually a chapter on a work situation that would really apply well to this type of situation.

Also, maybe you should all start taking turns making her a lunch with her name on it and placing it front and center in the fridge. Either she will pick up on the subtle and non-confrontational hint, or maybe she’ll just start eating the food that is labeled hers.

Reply

Katherine February 7, 2012 at 4:15 pm

My colleague and I were just discussing this question, and she offered a great solution: bring your own mini-refrigerator or pack a small lunch box with a cooler block (like the kind children take to school) and keep your lunch at your desk. No confrontation needed.

Reply

Jody February 7, 2012 at 6:51 pm

I think Katherine’s solution is very good. The meeting mentioned by EPI is good in theory, but is it possible the boss will retaliate against the spokesperson? If the boss questions why people aren’t leaving lunches in the refrigerator, you could say something along the lines of “I’m not sure about others, but I’ve had a problem with my lunch disappearing. Since I’m on a restricted diet I need to make sure I can eat what I bring.”

Reply

Kristina L February 7, 2012 at 10:17 pm

Makes sense to me. Having a mini-fridge sounds like the best idea. I’d also recommend thinking about looking for a new job. A boss who does this sounds like a boss who might overstep boundaries in other ways.

Reply

Sandra April 22, 2012 at 4:18 pm

Someone really blew it at an inopportune time for the first time in years. They yelled a very mean statement that is memorable before entering their apartment front entrance. To make matters worse, a very important person just moved into the building to get a feel for the living situation of someone there. What should this person do?

Reply

Just Laura April 22, 2012 at 4:27 pm

We’re going to need more details. What person in this situation needs advice?

Reply

Alicia April 23, 2012 at 8:24 am

I’m confused. Who needs help?
My undersanding
Person A works for an apartmement or condo and lives there too. Person A swore or said something mean. Person B is a temporary resident ( no one resident can ever be any more important then any other) Person B saw and heard the yelling swear. ( I am unclear if person B was teh sworn at or just an observer.
If this is the right situation then
Person A should when they see person B in hall next say sorry for my rudeness the other day in screaming. Then move on and be a less loud neighbor.
Person B should do nothing and pretend they heard nothing.
But I am not sure that is what happened

Reply

Zakafury April 23, 2012 at 9:50 am

I’m quite curious about the VIP. Current or future in laws? Social worker? Land lord? Boss (in a very odd circumstance)?

I expect that whomever is having his living situation looked into should be the one checking in with the VIP. If it comes up he should simply explain that this incident was out of character.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: