When do Americans Eat Lunch?
Lunch: 12:00pm – 1:00pm
The lunch hour 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.’
Eating with hands – tips for Indians
Going out for lunch in the USA
In many areas, lunch service may start around 11am and last until 1 or 1:30pm. It would be rare to have lunch served past 2 pm especially in some restaurants that close after lunch (and may reopen for dinner). Note that there are cafes in some areas that serve only breakfast and lunch. These type of eateries tend to close by 2 or 3pm.
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.’
When do Americans Eat Dinner?
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.Going out for dinner in the USA
While some restaurants that cater to senior citizens may start dinner service as early as 4:30pm, most restaurants start dinner service by 5:30 or 6pm. Typically dinner service will last up til 9 or 9:30pm. If you prefer to eat dinner later than 8 or 8:30, check up on the restaurant’s website or call them to ask about when they close. Some restaurants in some towns may close as early as 8pm, while on average many may close between 9-10pm. Some may also close earlier on the weekdays, staying open later on Friday and Saturday. And, note, some restaurants may close completely on Sundays or on one particular day of the week.
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.