August 5, 2014

When do Americans Eat Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner?

While a majority of the families in the U.S. follow particular mealtimes, there are others who have erratic mealtimes. This is mostly due to varied work schedules and other commitments that conflict with ‘normal’ mealtimes. 

I grew up in central New York. The culture that existed there during my childhood still exists in the north east part of the U.S. 

Hungry for more?
  1. Dining Tips (including payment) 
  2. Eat with hands? Yay or nay? 
  3. Role Play/Preparation for Onsite 

Breakfast: 6:30am - 7:30am  
Breakfast is anywhere between 6:00am - 7:30am depending on when one goes to school or work. Nowadays, some schools offer breakfast so, children may not have breakfast before going to school. They eat breakfast at school between 7:30am – 9:00am. Working individuals may not eat breakfast at home. They may eat it ‘on the go’ by stopping at fast food drive-through and having coffee and/or some handheld sandwiches. Know more about the different kinds of foods Americans eat for breakfast. 

Eating with hands - tips for Indians
Lunch: 12:00pm – 1:00pm 
Lunch is typically between 12:00pm – 1:00pm. Of course, there are exceptions. Some schools schedule lunch starting anywhere from 10:00am – 1:00pm. If possible, office-goers leave their offices by 11:30am or 11:45am to avoid long lines at 12:00pm. Some people may have lunch after 1:00pm, but, that is rare. Rarer still is to see people have lunch after 1:30pm. Generally, those who have not eaten lunch by 1:30pm will skip lunch. At work, some may elect to eat at their desk while working. This is called a 'working lunch.' 

Coffee, Tea, or Snack Time: 3pm – 4pm
If possible, working people may take a ten (10) minutes break for coffee or some snacks. Many children return from school at this time, and generally are greeted at home or day care with snacks (crackers, cheese, fruits, sandwiches, and others) and drinks (milk, juice, soda, and others).

Happy Hour: 5:00pm – 6:00pm 
Working people who do not take a break during their office hours may choose to go to a bar or restaurant after office hours for ‘happy hour.’ Although happy hour is well-known for alcoholic drinks, it is not always so. Drinks (cocktails or mocktails) along with salty snacks are had while socializing with colleagues or friends before going home.  

Note: It is not necessary to get drunk if one drinks. It's common to see a person have the same drink in their hand for up to 30-45 minutes. This happens because, they walk, sip, talk to people, walk, sip, talk. This is called 'social drinking.' 

Dinner: 6:00pm – 7:00pm 
(or until 8, depending on the family, small town vs. city)
Dinner time used to fall at 5:00pm or 5:30pm but due to the chaotic traffic and the change in office hours, dinner time has moved to a later time in the evening. This being said, it’s rare to hear of Americans having dinner on a regular basis after 8:00pm or 9:00pm. If they have dinner after the ‘normal’ time, it’s considered an exception to the rule.

Midnight Snack: 12:00am
Because Americans eat dinner so early, they may sleep early, wake up in the middle of the night, and have a snack and go back to bed, or eat a snack just before going to sleep at 9:00pm or 10:00pm.  

Other Mealtime Etiquette

  • Avoid burping at the table. It's considered offensive. Say 'excuse me' if you burp. 
  • Other noises like sneezing (others say 'god bless you'), coughing (you say 'excuse me') are handled accordingly. (Tips for when and how to say sorry are found here.)
  • Say excuse me, even if your colleague is your friend
  • Avoid slurping off spoons, out of bowls, cups, or straws when with colleagues.
  • Know a little about cutlery and mealtime mannerisms (see the video in this post for more).
  • Rinsing one's mouth after eating in a public area is not common in the U.S. Some may keep tooth brushes with them and brush in the restroom when no one else is around. 


Note on Indian vs. American English: The terms “office timings” or “work timings” are popular in India. The American equivalent to this phrase is “office hours” or “working hours”.


Author, Jennifer Kumar provides cultural preparation for business professionals preparing onsite visits with their US or Western colleagues and clients. Contact us to prepare your team for onsite success or offshore with virtual teams. 

Chris Sufi is a freelance editor who lives in Bangalore, India. Her personal interest in language and communication inspires her to contribute through proofreading and editing. She can be contacted here.  


Related Posts:
Pleasantries with Americans 
Expectations in American Restaurants 

Updated Feb 2015, May 2016
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