Can your agents eat and drink at their desks?


Last week’s topic on agents eating and drinking at their desks caused quite a stir (no pun intended). Responses ranged from lukewarm to boiling hot. The exploding coffee cup amused us most.

At the Contact Centre Planning conference Nigel from the Metropolitan Police outlined an interesting dilemma that his management team were faced with. Very simply, it was whether call centre agents should be allowed to drink at their desks. In the end the Met Police decided that they should let their agents drink what they wanted and provided their agents with spill-proof mugs.

I did a straw poll of a number of call centre managers and found the topic was a bit of a hot potato and one that occupied a surprising amount of management time. Some allowed just water, some allowed hot and cold drinks at the desks and others only allowed spill-proof mugs and bottles with sports caps.

What is your experience? What is your food and drinks policy – and how do you enforce it?

Published On: 7th May 2008 - Last modified: 9th May 2018
Read more about - Call Centre Life


54 Comments
  1. We allow employees to drink hot and cold drinks (no booze) at their desks.

    We also provide a kettle and free tea and coffee to all our employees.

    jamesportcullis 30 Apr at 2:44 pm
  2. Diet coke can be a bit of a problem. I have been caught out a few times as if you drink it too quickly it has a tendancy to make you burp. It can be a bit embarrassing to hold it in while you are on a call.

    Ted Smith 30 Apr at 2:47 pm
  3. We allow water at desks but nothing else. In the past we have had coffee in keyboards and ring marks on paperwork. This is not professional.

    Staff are provided with free tea, coffee and sugar and have paid breaks away from their desks in a staff room where they are encouraged to stretch their legs and socialise. This means that when they are at their desk they are not permitted to socialise and they give good value for money to our clients.

    Julia Scott - Base Connections 1 May at 8:06 am
  4. We are allowed to have any hot or cold drink (except alchohol, of course) at our desks. Only once or twice have I witnessed a colleague have an accident – usually resulting in soggy paperwork and a ruined keyboard

    Richard Jennings 2 May at 7:50 am
  5. Our call centre staff may also drink any hot or cold drinks.

    We have a bit of a problem with snacks though. We have a trolley that visit our call centre agents twice a day with snacks (chocolates/chips/etc), but find that some agents will have a full meal at their desk.

    Worst case scenario has been a full plate of fish and chips, enjoyed by hand, no less.

    Its difficult to draw a line between a snack and a meal.

    Any suggestions?

    Nita 2 May at 8:53 am
  6. hi. this is a challenging subject matter. within my department, we have designed a green room for agents to have their tea/coffee during tea breaks. however during the times when one is not able to leave the desk, agents are allowed to have tea/coffee on their desk.

    MARGARET 2 May at 7:55 pm
  7. We let our agents eat and drink at their station.
    It does get messy, so everyone is to clean up after themselves. Third shift is supposed to make sure everything is clean for the morning.

    Brent W 3 May at 1:09 am
  8. we’re allowed to eat sandwiches, chips (but not soup) at our work station. being adults, we are responsible in cleaning up the mess that we make.

    lynne 4 May at 8:22 am
  9. We provide a free vending machine that provides tea, coffee, hot chocalate, water, and squash however only water is permitted at the agent’s desks unless they have a spill proof cup but we will not supply new ones if the agents are too lazy to clean their own cups which in turn end up in the bin – you have no idea how often mouldy cups are found – one agents lid from her cup blew off when she left a certain diet mixture in it for a couple of days – we are all adults but it doesn’t mean we all clean up the mess we make!

    We also give our agents 2 15 minute breaks and a 45 minute lunch, so there is plenty of time for them to grab a drink away from their desks but we only deduct them 30 minutes in wages for breaks.

    Emma M 5 May at 8:28 pm
  10. We allow agents to drink at the their desk providing they have spill proof mugs or sport caps on. Eating at the desk is not permitted.

    Julie Whitehead 6 May at 7:05 am
  11. We provide free vending machines with Tea,Coffee cold drinks and soup, we do allow agents to drink at their desks they are allowed snacks but not picnics, however we still have the odd one or two who slip through the net.

    I think the idea of the spill proof cups are a really good idea.

    claire church 6 May at 3:05 pm
  12. I think any callcentre that wants to retain their staff, needs to keep them happy and with the feeling of being in a relaxed environment.

    Having easy access to refreshments when needed is all part of that, and office should be laid out and designed with that in mind.

    This will help avoid accidents that could damage equipment.

    peter hume 7 May at 1:52 pm
  13. At my Contact Centre, agents are allowed to drink only water at their desks when they are in spill proof containers and or bottles with tight coverings.

    Thelma 12 May at 7:37 am
  14. I allow my agents to eat or drink as they wish. I do not limit them on the types of food or drink they are allowed to have. Their job requires them to sit in one spot for several hours at a time which can cause fatigue and a lowered mood. I believe that they deserver to be treated like adults as long as they act like adults. If they are caught talking on the phone with a mouthful or leaving a mess at their desk, they lose their privileges for a period of time and it never happens again.

    Christopher 13 May at 6:23 pm
  15. We allow agents to drink hot/cold beverages at their desk and this is particularly nice as some people cant start the day with a nice cup of coffee in the mornings while checking their work.

    The downside about it is that they start storing cups and saucers underneath their desk which is usually picked up when agents starts looking for cups.

    Juliaj 14 May at 12:09 pm
  16. I think that staff should be allowed to eat and drink at there desks, as it makes you feel like your being treated like the adult you are.

    When your told you are not allowed to, it kind of makes you feel like your being treated like a child.

    I used to work at company that allowed all its staff to eat and drink at their desks along as we cleaned up at the end of the day.

    We had a rota so it was a different person who cleaned the pots every day.

    kelly thurlow 22 May at 6:52 pm
  17. Our guys are able to eat and drink at their desks, however when we have visitors in we would ask that they didn’t eat hot food – due to the smell.

    Lesley 29 May at 11:15 am
  18. We try and encourage advisors to drink plenty of water at their desks, tea and coffee is allowed but not really encouraged. Eating is also allowed as long as it doesn’t take a knife/fork/spoon to eat it. I personally disagree with eating at desks, and something that I would never do myself – there’s nothing worse that talking to someone with food in their mouth – Yuk !

    Deb Evans 13 Jun at 5:49 pm
  19. I allow my staff to drink as much as they like on floor it keeps them refreshed. What works really well when motivation is below par is to get them drinking Red Bull or another alternative stimualtive drink … Sit back and watch them FLY.

    Junaid Q 17 Jun at 10:35 am
  20. At this call center, food and drinks are allowed on the floor. They can have parties on the floor as well. Personally, I hate this policy: it attracts too many insects in this hot summer time.

    I’ve been in call centers where only drinks were allowed on the floor, as long as they were in spill-proof containers.

    Ann Onimous 17 Jun at 7:26 pm
  21. We allowed drink and meal in our call center. Our floor assistant used to clean all the dirts that we make. But it really messy after a heavy meal. So it should not be a precatice to have a full meal in the desk.

    nusrat 22 Jul at 8:14 am
  22. We allow people to eat/drink what they want, however, we strongly encourage bottles with lids and discourage very large meals. However it is just a rule of encouragement and advice, no one is ever going to get in trouble for spilling a drink. The few rare times that someone spills their drink or food we just remind the agents that they should consider bringing in bottles with lids so this doesn’t happen. But regardless like I said no one would get in trouble for this.

    I think that management that prohibits this is really pathetic. Most of the time people try to sneak things in anyway, and it’s incredibly awkward to right someone up just because they are human beings and wanted to have a snack. We are designed evolutionary to be constantly eating, you shouldn’t dictate your employees eating habits, my prohibiting this you’re basically forcing employees to take huge breakfeast meals before coming in, and eat huge meals for lunch, this only encourages obesity and disrupts metabolism, medically it is proven optimal metabolism is achieved by eating small portions of food sporadically throughout the day rather than giant meals 2 or 3 times a day.

    But it does not surprise me, you are the call centres that give all the rest a bad name.

    Jeff 3 Aug at 5:36 pm
  23. agents shoudl be allowed to eat & drink at their desks,if this gets abused then by all means take away the privillidge, at the end of the day you hired a responsible person to do the job, therefore they should be responsible enough to know not to eat a curry at their desk , not to answer the phone with a mouth full of food and to clean up after themselves, centres that do not allow eating & drinking are quite simply employing monkees to do monkees work! not giving your agents responsibility goes a long way to show the type of business you are! and is part oif the reason call centres are given such a bad name! can i go to the toilet please sir!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    nicholas 8 Aug at 9:57 am
  24. Mouldy cups (green stuff growing)are a no, no. They get thrown out but staff complain that they would still use them after a wash. Amazing!!

    caroline 14 Aug at 7:51 pm
  25. The issue I have with food is that the assumption is every one cleans up – that’s not the case. It’s especially unpleasant when multiple shifts share a desk – invariably person 1 is a slob, and person 2 is fastidious, and they both get very frustrated.

    A snack is no concern. People eating meals at their desks is a worry.

    Jeff: Call Center agents typically get 2 15 minute breaks and a 30-60 minute lunch. That’s at least 5 meal periods (before work, break 1, lunch, break 2, after work). If someone can’t hold off on a full meal for the 2 hours (max) between time off, then I’m a bit concerned.

    Additionally, you get in to issues with agents taking their lunch at their desk, which at least here in the US is a big issue if they’re still working at the time, but not getting paid.

    Derek K. 15 Aug at 2:48 pm
  26. “Additionally, you get in to issues with agents taking their lunch at their desk, which at least here in the US is a big issue if they’re still working at the time, but not getting paid.”

    Now I’ve heard everything! So you’re actually trying to make us believe that you are against eating at desks because you care about staff welfare? Pull the other one.

    The Masked Contact Agent 16 Aug at 9:28 am
  27. I am a Call Center team leader.

    We allow the agents to drink and hot and cold drinks at their desk, but it has turned out to be a nightmare.

    Coffee will spill on the keyboards, some will leave the desk dirty and house keeping is a problem with our agents.

    Kabelo M 25 Aug at 10:44 pm
  28. Agents are allowed to drinks and food at their workstations-BUT are advised not to eat or drink whilst busy on a call as this is unprofessional to be chewing and swallowing in the client’s ears.

    Lesedi 26 Aug at 2:13 pm
  29. Masked Contact Agent: You should try working at some nicer places. 😉

    There’s the reasonableness issue, and then there’s the legal issue. A lot of US companies have been sued for FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) violations. Typically it’s things like requiring unpaid overtime, but even not allowing breaks makes companies nervous. I’ve worked at places where managers were *required* to hustle agents away from their stations during break time, to ensure no one suspected they were working over their break or lunch.

    But beyond that, yeah – people need breaks. If you’re working 8 hours straight, hours 2-3 tend to be fairly useless. If getting you away from your desk for 15 minutes will keep you alert and useful (and keep you employed) then I’m absolutely going to do it!

    That’s not to say I’m going to let you wander off whenever you want to watch butterflies – I’ll give you scheduled breaks and lunches, and send you on your way, but I’m sure gonna hassle you if you don’t take them when I told you to. 😉

    Derek K. 26 Aug at 9:46 pm
  30. I have worked in telesales for a good few years now and currently run an inbound and outbound call centre. Many moons ago or at least it feels like it I began my career as a telesales agent. Having sat both sides of the table I can see the food issue from the agents angle and of course management point of view.

    As a manager now, I do allow my staff to eat at their desk the untidiness annoys me at times and I occasionally make my annoyance felt but it is all easily cleaned and we soon settle back into call centre life.

    Yes I agree with others that the staff get two 15 minute breaks and a 60 minute lunch hour but eating at their desk isnt just about filling their faces.
    Agents if allowed will eat for many reasons,To stave off hunger To pass the timeTo make themselves feel betterand of course because they can

    Having worked in numerous centres it doesnt help when agents are told no and management and admin are sat scoffing at their desks.

    Call centre staff are often the heart of the company what happens in the call centre determines the success of the entire business, Yet at times this is easily forgotten.

    Their jobs can be soul destroying they are spoken to as if they were worthless individuals and not worth a breath. Told by Joe Public to go and get a proper job called all sorts of names, belittled and humilated….and you would deny them the right to console themselves in a cup of tea or a sandwich?

    Personally I couldnt and dont. I have walked in their shoes and done their job they deserve a hot drink and they deserve the right to choose for themselves whether to eat at their desk or not.

    When agents are given a choice you will find that 95% of them will act responsibly around expensive equipment with fluids and food.

    Yes it can get messy and you have to stay on top of the situation but as a manager i am responsible for the retention of staff and their well being. My staff are happy, long serving, responsible and extremely productive. They deserve the right to choose for themselves. 

    Angela 12 Sep at 9:47 pm
  31. Our agents can have tea, coffee, pop or water at their desks but not food.
    We even have a fantastic tea trolley which comes round twice a day so the agents don’t have to leave their desks. On the occassions where there is no tea trolley our Team Leaders will make drinks for everyone

    Julie-Ann 25 Sep at 3:17 pm
  32. I am the phone tech for a call center. I personally hate that they can eat at their desks. I am constantly replacing phones because the phones have “sticky” buttons. well when you allow them to eat anything, even chicken wings and pizza at the desk, it is not surprising. Barbecue sauce and phones dont work together well.

    Drinks and light snacks are ok but full meals should be out.

    Phone tech 2 Oct at 12:16 am
  33. No they cant eat at their desks

    Danush 2 Oct at 11:12 am
  34. No

    Stewart 11 Dec at 2:41 pm
  35. This sounds crazy! I’ve never worked in an office where we weren’t allowed any food or drinks we wanted at our desks. Although I’ve never worked in a call centre it seems to me that anyone who is old enough to work should be sensible enough not to spill drinks or talk with a mouth full. Its just common sense.

    Phil Meup 15 Dec at 3:51 pm
  36. I provide all the agents with coffee, tea and water which they of course can have at their desks (they talk all day, it is important they have a drink) Although not mandatory, I do encourage spill proof cups (I also believe that to be good practice not just in a call centre)
    I do not allow food at their desk (we have a beautiful cafeteria for our staff)

    Simone Webb 15 Dec at 3:56 pm
  37. My experience is to have an area close to their desks where they can get away from the phones to have a break and enjoy a cup of coffee or a sandwich.

    The problem comes when you have to work with a high volume of calls. In my previous company we would provide sandwiches and a soda when it really got busy and you could not afford agents to take excessive break. This was usually over month end and it was well communicated to staff that it was an exception not a rule.

    I personally feel that your environment will ultimately be the deciding factor here.

    Cobus 16 Dec at 6:26 am
  38. I have just taken a Contact Centre Manager role and immediatley put in place a no eating rule. I have no problem with hot and cold drinks, but potentially munching down the phone when a call is offered is a big no no!! It took a little persuasion but we have a great cafe and rest area, I find it difficult to understand why someone would want to sit at their desk and eat when you have good facilities and we pay them to use them!!

    Ria 5 Jan at 3:03 am
  39. I work in a call centre as an agent.

    We are allowed to have food and drink at our desks, and we are asked to clean up when done. Beverages are encouraged to have a spill proof lid on them of some kind.

    Most people are considerate enough not to eat foods on the call centre floor with alot of odors that can stink up an work area fast (things like fish, garlic, etc) and they know to eat that stuff in the break/lunch room.

    We are told we can be deducted heavily on quality monitoring scores if eating or drinking by us are heard by the supervisor silently monitoring us on the phone with a client.

    I usually keep some snacks at my desk to nibble on periodically during the day due to my work schedule & unusual times I am scheduled for breaks and lunch time. Many other people I work with do the same.

    The supervisors do not have an issue with snacks at desks at we have 3 different vending machines for snacks/food in the break room in addition to several vending machines for cold drinks.

    Free coffee is supplied in addition to the option of hot water from the machine for the free hot chocolate and hot tea packets. Cups with lids are provided for those who do not have their own cup with a lid with them.

    Janet 10 Jan at 6:44 pm
  40. I like to hve drinks on the call center floor.

    Being an adult we should know how to keep our place clean.

    PLEASE DONT REST YOUR LEGS ON COMPUTER SYSTEM….

    godfather 12 Jan at 7:51 pm
  41. Yes, we are allowed but I’ve never spotted a colleauge trying to eat or drink during working hours in the working place. We are very lax when it comes to taking breaks (we can take our alotted breaks whenever we want during the shift) and at the same time, we are very serious during crunch time. Maybe it’s because our pantry is very cozy and stocks up on good food so that employees don’t want to part with it. lol 🙂

    Hannibal 13 Jan at 6:14 pm
  42. They serve alot of chili and pizza to us at our desks in my call center. They serve it to us when we have an overall, good sales day.

    Will Thompson 18 Jan at 3:47 am
  43. Yes, i allow my team to have drinks of all kind on their desks.What i have avoided is the eating thing since we spend much time talking about cleaning and thats not really what we are here for to talk with adults about.

    Franky 18 Jan at 1:32 pm
  44. I work in a call centre and we are not allowed to eat or drink at our desk. Management also if we missed break at the particular time that was given then we loss our break completely for the morning, this happened many times because we are on the phone with tenants at that time.

    Mrs> Lee 7 Feb at 11:23 am
  45. Yes, I allow my team to have drinks and some snacks on their desks while they are in break.

    Hussain Al-Abdulmohsen 7 Feb at 11:25 am
  46. I think it is fair to say that the environment and demands on individuals should determine any policies around consumption at your work station. Added to which, consistency is essential. Guidance on “variations” within rules i.e if you need a knife and fork you cant eat it – refer to the fish and chips with fingers incident.

    To me, keep it simple and easy to understand so it does not create an issue.

    A discussion point I have found very useful in allowing teams to set their own standard in this area is – A question to everyone who has said “yes, eating at your desk is fine” and you are in a call centre. How would you feel if the next time you were at Tesco, a mobile phone shop or booking your summer holidays for example, the person helping you was munching down on some lunch and dealing with you and your query?

    I would suggest very few of us would tolerate it.

    The only difference is in one instance, you can see it, in the other, there is the most likely chance someone will hear it.

    Not looking forward to a call with someone munching an apple and trying to answer my next billing enquiry!

    Nick 12 Feb at 12:17 am
  47. At the call centre I’m at at the moment anything goes. There are only 4 of us though, and we all have our own desks.

    At my previous job though it was only water in a sports bottle allowed. Our calls just came to us with no warning so there was no chance to eat while on duty.

    Jackie 15 Apr at 8:11 am
  48. we are allowed food and drink at our desks, but as with many offices some people dont like to clean up after themselves which can resort in some dirty stick desks,
    we are also allowed to order take away out of hours as we are a 24 hour call center.

    onstream agent 28 Apr at 4:00 am
  49. My company (pre-need investigations and financing) sent me to the philippines to assess the situation there are see what the working conditions were, since we outsourced a portion of our customer service there. I just have to say, these agents are appalling! don’t get me wrong, i’m practically part filipino, which was why they sent me, but good grief, the agents were absolute slobs! they would remove their socks and put up their feet on the stations, with a plate of unfinished food and a drink or two at the side, which has a decent amount spilled in various places. i couldn’t help but cringe. i snapped some pictures and sent them back to the mother company as proof. this is just sad. i know a lot of filipinos and they are not like this. truth be told, a lot of filipinos are even more cultured and well-mannered than most americans and brits. they don’t cuss readily, they certainly bathe more often, and their oral hygiene puts most foreigners to shame. these agents, however, are the worst of the lot. we have at least three accounts in three different contact centers and i am recommending a thorough review of just how the agents behave and maintain office decorum in the country. if they don’t care to act professionally, then i don’t think they should be representing our company.

    Marcus 4 May at 2:08 pm
  50. I work part-time at a local hospital. We received a memorandum last week stating that we are not allowed to bring in outside food which forces employees to eat in the cafeteria at the hospital which is unsanitary and is only open during the day hours but employees work shifts around the clock. An employee was terminated last Friday for bringing Popeyes chicken in. Several employees were not aware of this policy. This weekend most staff members were sneaking to their vehicles to eat lunch. Is this legal? And if not is there some place I can reference the law that prohibits this cruel and unusal policy?

    Keye 14 Sep at 6:58 pm
  51. Spillproof cups and frequent breaks have eliminated our problems. My partner and I enjoy coffee at our desk and believe our employees should enjoy the same.

    David Wright 25 Feb at 11:37 am
  52. From a management perspective… A keyboard costs me less than a happy employee.

    Tyler 3 Apr at 2:12 pm
  53. Call center reps need to have drinks at their desks. That’s common sense. We allow sodas and water at desks. Coffee must be kept in a spill proof, leak proof container.
    No food is allowed at the desks. Our reps never work more than two hours without a ten minute break. We tell our reps that “Mom doesn’t work here” so no one is going to pick up after you. Any containers or cups left in the common areas are thrown away immediately.

    Steve in Arizona 3 Apr at 8:12 pm
  54. I do not allow food in my Contact Centre. Agents have 2 15 minute breaks and one 30 minute break to eat or grab a snack.
    Water and soft drinks are allowed in spill proof containers.
    It is unprofessional to speak to customers with food in your mouth, especially when calls are unpredictable.
    Once a while especially on birthdays we have a meal in the centre.

    Gwen 28 May at 9:46 am
Get the latest exciting call centre reports, specialist whitepapers, interesting case-studies and industry events straight to your inbox.