Ask The Salty Waitress: Any Tips On Ordering Lunch For The Office?

Dear Salty Waitress,

At my office, we bring lunch in for the whole group (let's say 10 or so people). I know prepping 10 to-go orders during lunch rush is no server's favorite thing to do.

I'm rarely put in charge, but when I am I try to be so super-diligent that it's probably annoying (faxing the orders in a day ahead, then calling to confirm receipt of the fax, that sort of thing). Other people's systems are so lackadaisical that it drives me nuts (you're not even going to bring a print-out of everyone's orders to double check?!)

I know it depends on the restaurant, but I would love to get a Salty Waitress cheat sheet of etiquette when ordering big to-go orders.

-Ten Sets of Utensils


Dear Ten Sets Of Utensils, My, am I glad you asked! (I don't know why your office doesn't put you in charge of lunch orders more often—you sound highly organized and committed to not mixing up someone's pad Thai with someone else's pad see ewe.) Ordering out for lunch is becoming less personal now, what with those online apps and all, but I still think it's smart to know how to organize and order for a large group. Here's the Salty guide:

  1. Designate a point person. "Hey, we're ordering lunch!" can be like a cattle call in a big office. Instead, say "Hey, Mary is organizing lunch orders today. Please have your pick to her by 11 a.m." Deadlines are your friend.
  2. Have an up-to-date menu. Post or attach a menu so everyone in your office can read it, and make sure it's current. If you've been ordering from the same place for years, it can't hurt to ask for a new menu every six months in case some dishes on it change. Then you're not stuck calling an audible when they don't have what one of your coworkers ordered.
  3. Organize the orders. Group the same dishes together ("Six roast beef sandwiches, one with no mustard, five with everything"); if there are multiple menu sections, try to group those together too (all the salads together, all the soups together, all the noodle bowls together). It'll hopefully make it less likely that something gets left out.
  4. Double-check orders. If you have time and your office is relatively centralized, a quick review of the orders can't hurt. At the least, count them up to make sure you're not forgetting anyone.
  5. Think about the extras. Are you going to need forks? Napkins? Spoons? Extra plates for sharing? Chopsticks? Drinks? Cups? Do you need a certain meal labeled as "no-cheese" or "no meat"? Asking for those details up front saves time later.
  6. Work ahead. The more time you give a kitchen about a big order, the better. If you can get your lunch order in early—or like you mentioned, the day before—then any potential substitutions or questions can be asked ahead of time. If you fax or email in an order and don't receive a response after a while, there's no harm in calling to double-check that it was received.
  7. Be a regular. If you get in the habit of ordering from the same places, they'll get to know your office. They'll remember that you never need plates but always spoons, or that your order typically comes in on a Tuesday night for a Wednesday meeting. At least, they should.

It's not rocket science, but as with most things, being organized and flexible helps. If your office consistently can't get itself together to order efficiently, you might consider ordering something like pizza or sandwich trays that doesn't require everyone to pick their own meal. Or just get smarter coworkers. And hey, don't forget to tip on takeout.


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