Eating lunch at your desk: sign of the hard worker, or 'too familiar'

By Sarah Gilbert 
Feb 19th, 2007 

Even though I work from home, I often eat at my desk; and I'd say I gobbled down breakfast, lunch and dinner at my desk many a day while working in previous jobs as an investment banker and a dotcom wonk. And while I've heard many critics of long lunches I've never, not once, heard a criticism of the keyboard-accessorized lunchtime.
Until this weekend, when the Sunday New York Times took up the subject. Stephen Viscusi (owner of a Manhattan headhunting firm) finds it not just annoying and occasionally smelly but "too familiar." Next thing you know, Stephen, your employees will be putting pictures of their spouses on their desks and talking about how cute their new babies are. Or, YIKES, seeing one another outside the workplace. I mean, really. You'd hate to have familiarity at the office!

Putting aside the germiness of the average desk, really, how does it affect a person's economic output? Assuming you're not able to bill hours for lunches and you're not chatting up clients, which is more effective: eating out or dining al desko?
Having done lots of both, I'd say that, while the occasional break from my office (usually to run to the coffee shop for 16 hot ounces of Guatemala Finca del Puente) does me good, going out for lunch nearly always cripples my productivity. Before I leave, I'm rushing to gather my things and plan my outing; then there's travel time to and fro; and, when I return, it's always a good 20-40 minutes of catching up on IMs and emails and scrambling to see what happened while I was gone (the stuff I would have done between reading my friends' blogs as I ate at my desk). I usually don't do a ton of work while I eat, but I'm present and available -- and it's a boon to my to-do list.

What do you think? The article brings up a final facet to the debate by noting that eating at the office brings your food choices into the set of characteristics by which your manager, and your colleagues, judge your competence. While many might see this as a negative I can only answer: then eat well, both in the presence of your colleagues and away from the watchful eye. And anyway: I've eaten out with colleagues (and bosses) often in all the jobs I've ever held, so how is this a point of argument as to whether to eat at one's desk?

Do you eat at your desk? And if you do, do you see it as a badge of your work ethic, or a guilty pleasure?