Ask Miriam | Birthday Lunch With Coworkers Concerns Employee


Dear Miriam,

My office mates have arranged to take a coworker out to lunch for her birthday. The restaurant they’ve chosen is a place that I find morally reprehensible, and a business where I won’t give my money, not to mention the fact that I won’t eat there because it’s not kosher. How can I get around this without lecturing my coworkers, putting myself in an unacceptably uncomfortable situation or shunning the birthday culture at work?


Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is


Dear Money,

Despite office politics and practices and anything else, you’re not required to give money to a cause or a business that you find morally reprehensible. You are required, though, to treat your office mates with respect, which is essentially what makes so many work conundrums so difficult.

On the day of the birthday lunch, you can have an “unchangeable appointment” on your calendar and be unable to join everyone. Send your regrets, and give your coworker a card later in the day. This is classic avoidance, and it is totally permissible when awkward coworker interactions are at play.

If you’re willing to step foot in the establishment but not eat there, you could offer to bring a cake to the restaurant. Bring your own lunch, or eat before or after if your schedule allows, and then when everyone is done, present the cake purchased elsewhere. While this is a more social option, it will likely lead to more questions, and having a stock answer like, “I keep kosher and can’t eat the food here,” or “I have food sensitivities,” will be crucial — as long as you will be consistent for future gatherings with whatever restrictions you espouse.

You can get away with anything once. My bigger concern for you is how to handle future birthday gatherings if this restaurant is the norm, including if, some day, they all plan to take your out for your special day. I suggest figuring out who takes the lead on organizing these gatherings and getting yourself involved in planning. More work for you, yes, but then you can control what the food expectations are around the office and make sure that you aren’t seen in an unflattering light.

Finally, if you find a restaurant morally reprehensible, and it’s because of well-founded reasons and not just a hunch, you’re probably not the only one who has at least heard of boycotts against such a place.

There is a chance you have an unexpected ally somewhere among your co-workers, which can be a validating thing to figure out in a low-key sleuthing kind of way. If you find such a person, the two of you together may be more likely to shift the culture away from this place, or at least roll your eyes together when you have to come up with an excuse next time.

Good luck, and be well,



  1. Sometimes, a restaurant doesn’t allow outside food to be brought in, so this eliminates the cake option. I’m a now-retired, non-observant Jew who doesn’t insist on a kosher meal. But as a fussy eater, I had some issues when various co-workers went out to eat or brought in food for a special occasion or just because it was a fun thing to do. My biggest problem — I am just about the only person in the world who can’t stand pizza. And what is the #1 celebratory food in our society? You guessed it — pizza. When a project milestone was marked by bringing in pizza for everyone, I felt excluded. Hey, you’re a vegetarian (which I’m not)? No problem. We have a veggie pizza. By the way, as someone who is not only not a vegetarian but also doesn’t particularly like meatless cuisine, going out to a vegetarian place or bringing in a vegetarian spread of food (more common in recent years as we had an influx of people from India who were vegetarian, which I respected) also made me feel excluded. Ironically, because I do eat and love most types of fish that fit the laws of Kashrut, when a family group took me to a kosher dairy restaurant once, I found a delicious fish entree on the menu.


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