Microspeak: Brownbag

Remember, Microspeak is not merely for jargon exclusive to Microsoft, but it's jargon that you need to know.

The term brownbag (always one word, accent on the first syllable) refers to a presentation given during lunch. The attendees are expected to bring their lunch to the meeting room and eat while they listen to the presentation.

A brownbag could be a one-off presentation, or it could be a regular event. The speaker could be an invited guest, or the presenters may come from within the team. In general, the purpose of a brownbag is to familiarize the audience with a new concept or to share information with the rest of the team. Sometimes attendance is optional, sometimes attendance is mandatory, and sometimes attendance is optional but strongly recommended, which puts it in the murky category of mandatory optional.

You can learn more about each team's plans in brownbags that we will kick off the week of 2/17 and continue regularly through the month.

Are you going to the brownbag? I'm heading to the cafeteria, want to come along?

It is common for the slides accompanying a brownbag to be placed on a Web site for future reference. Sometimes the presentation is recorded as well.

The term brownbag is sometimes extended to mean any presentation which introduces a group of people to a new concept, whether it occurs at lunch or not.

Virtual brownbag on widget coloring.

That's the (redacted) subject of a message I sent out to our team. The message described the process you have to go through in order to get a widget coloring certificate. It could have been a brownbag but I was too lazy to book a room for it, so I created a virtual brownbag.

Due to scheduling conflicts, we will have to move the presentation to Friday at noon. We apologize for the last-minute change. This is now really a brownbag, so grab your lunch in the cafeteria and join us for a great talk and discussion!

The above is another example of how the term brownbag was applied to something that, at least originally, was not a lunch meeting.

Comments (22)
  1. Brian_EE says:

    According to Washington State law:

    "You are entitled to a meal period of at least 30 minutes if you work more than five hours in a day. If you are required to remain on duty during your meal period, you must be paid for that time."

    There are no rules forbidding you from working during your lunch period since it is law that they must pay you if you are "ON DUTY" during your meal period. The state recognizes that some people work during the lunch break – so it can't be illegal to work during the lunch break.


    Washington State Department of Labor and Industries

  2. 12BitSlab says:

    Every company I have ever worked for — as an adult — had similar types of things although they were not referred to as brownbags.  Where I work now, if we have such a meeting, the company buys the lunch.

  3. pqr says:

    Intel calls these brownbags too.

  4. alegr1 says:

    @Brian EE:

    There is a difference between salaried employees and those on hourly wage.

  5. Boris says:

    Four words: Outlook/Propose New Time.

  6. Mark says:

    @alegr1: I think you'll find that salaried employees still have rights under employment law, including a right to reasonable – albeit a little more flexible – work hours, and adequate rest and meal breaks.

  7. dave says:

    And there's probably nothing to prevent you from eating your lunch before or after the brownbag.

    (We have brownbags where I work. I usually take the meal-break before-or-after option, since I'm not fond of food-in-my-lap. Lunch is not a fixed time for me).

  8. Anon says:


    I think you'll find that no one actually enforces any rights for * employees unless said employees sue.

  9. John Ludlow says:

    We have these where I work as well, though they are strictly optional and we call them Lunch & Learn sessions rather than brown bags.

    The legality of whether the company can force you to go to will vary largely depending on where you and your company are based, and your working arrangements. I think that if our sessions were "mandatory", no one would turn up.

    Usually (for us, at least) these are used to plug somebody's own side-project or a new tool from outside the team. I recently did one on VS2013 (we mainly use an – ahem – "older" version of Visual Studio) and someone else did one on a VM automation tool they'd been working on.

    The company provides a selection of snacks.

  10. CatCube says:

    When the military does this type of "mandatory optional" thing, it's usually referred to as "mandatory fun."  "Volun-told" (the opposite of "volunteered") is used, as well.

  11. Karellen says:

    Interesting, particularly when compared to the linguistically similar but non-Microsoft jargon "brown paper bag":



    (Huh, look at that. A non-snarky reason for posting an LKML link to an MS blog!)

  12. Real Mode says:

    Interesting that the virtual brownbag is the one that can't involve paging and swapping…

  13. Jim says:

    Are all our arm forces Volunteered??

  14. Ken in NH says:

    Brian_EE and Mark,

    IANAL, but I will offer my inexpert opinion anyway. There is a reason that salaried employees are called "exempt". They are generally exempt from wage and hours laws federally and in most states. That is why having a salaried employee work more than 40 hours, even regularly, is not prosecuted. These items are generally governed by your employment contract.

    Now, as a salaried employee you may always terminate your employment (within the confines of your employment contract and state law, of course) if you do not like the conditions. In my opinion, mandatory bring-your-own lunch meetings would be a deal breaker. Optional ones, well, I haven't found one compelling enough yet, but I remain open-minded. (And yes, I have quit a job with unreasonable demands on my time without adequate compensation.)

  15. UK law is something along the lines of: you have a minimum of a 20 minute break if you work 6 hours or more, the break must be in the middle of the working day and not at the beginning or end, and you won't work during it.  If your employer tells you that you have to go back to work before the 20 minutes has elapsed, it doesn't count as a break.

    As far as I can remember anyway.

  16. william-ml-leslie says:

    If someone used that term in a conversation related to software, I'd be sure they meant this:


  17. emzed says:

    The term “brownbag” dates from at least the late 1980s, such as when I was in graduate school at the University of Massachusetts. Back then, the social psychologists held a weekly “brownbag” at noon on Fridays, and, yes, I’d bring my lunch in a brown bag. Two peanut butter sandwiches, fruit, and a baked good, if you must know.

    In contrast, the cognitive psychologists held their weekly presentations in the evening, going as late as 10:00pm. There was at least one case of a professor audibly snoring during the question-and-answer portion. This led my girlfriend to refer such an evening presentation as a “sleeping bag.”

  18. Boris says:

    I don't feel at ease without a lunch that takes an hour or so, at a time of my own choosing, starting with mineral water and ending with coffee and desert. In a restaurant, on a table designed for that purpose, and preferably served by waiters. This 'brownbag' scenario would make me feel rushed, on the clock, like I'm still in high school waiting for the bell to ring.

  19. rioki says:

    Since we are throwing in laws in that would make this practice difficult/illegal… This would not go over well in Germany. If you work more than 6 hours you are *required* to take a 30 min break and if you work longer than 8 hours you are required to take a 45 min break. This does not matter what form your employment takes. In many places this is not really checked/enforced, but if ever something goes wrong, like an accident and you did not properly take a break, have fun sorting out the insurance issues. (It is the employer's job to enforce brakes.) The upshot is that the break does not need to be at noon, just "more or less in the middle" of the work period.

  20. foo says:

    I'd contend you haven't lived if you haven't made a brown-paper-bag-bug. { In limited scope, of course }

  21. alienllama says:

    We have a similar thing, it's usually in the afternoon and called "brown bottle" meetings. As in brown beer bottles. Although attendance is not mandatory, the turnout is high ;)

  22. Gabe says:

    For the first time ever I heard the term "brown bag" used as in this article, just yesterday. Were it not for this timely article I would have had to ask what he meant. In this context it was the completely voluntary type, where people would discuss whatever cool project they were working on while other people ate.

    I would distinguish this from the "lunch and learn" format, where lunch is supplied by those doing the teaching.

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