Learn English – Proper use of “out to lunch”, “out for lunch” and “out at lunch”


Recently a co-worker and I debated the proper use of "out to lunch". The argument stemmed from conversation over the appropriate preposition to use, and became particularly heated when we tried to determine if lunch was a verb, or was short for "luncheon" — or some other, older word. (Yes, he referenced "lunchentach".) Convention aside, what is the proper usage of the phrase?

Best Answer

"Out for lunch" makes me think the person will be bringing the food back with them.

John went out for lunch.

John went out for sandwiches.

John went out for staples.

I have heard the other variations and they seem to mean various things:

John is out at lunch. Can I take a message?

We went out to lunch at the new burger joint.

Can I take you out to lunch?

I have also heard the phrase used to imply someone is "out to lunch" or not entirely there mentally. Context seems to be the only clue that this meaning was intended:

Why did he do that? Is he out to lunch?

When talking to someone while eating, I find this more common:

Can I call you back? I am at lunch.