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For example, while having lunch with your coworkers and you have to attend some matter soon, what would be a natural way to leave the table? I think that in this case saying お先に失礼します would be wrong.

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Why do you think it is wrong? –  sawa Jul 2 '11 at 17:30
    
I think that it is wrong because お先に失礼します is something you say when you leave work before others after overcoming the KY thing while they are still doing work, thus its usage context is very different in my opinion. –  wallyqs Jul 2 '11 at 19:07
    
If you think that attending the table is part of the communication required for work, then it shouldn't be different form the appropriate usage you have in mind. –  sawa Jul 2 '11 at 19:59
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5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I won't say お先に失礼します is completely out of place, but you should at least mention why you're leaving, so as to assure that you're not offended or anything:

すみません、片付けたい仕事がありますので、先に失礼します。

Abruptly announcing お先に失礼します is probably too closely tied to the idiomatic usage (when leaving work).

先に戻ります or 先に行きます can also work as a substitution for 先に失礼します.

すみません、やってしまいたいことがあるので、先に戻ります。

If you're unsure about which verb to use, just cut it short with a trailing ellipsis (see Axioplase's and Dave's answer):

すみません、ちょっと用事があるので...

If your colleagues already know you have something to attend to, or your KY radar is all clear, you can get as brief as:

じゃ、お先です。

Some people may think it's too informal for work, but you'll be ok as long as other people around you are using it.

ごちそうさまでした works best when you're eating your bentos together. See Dave's answer for a complete explanation.

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お先に失礼します may not be ideal for this situation, as it is what you say when you leave work before others (see: When is it appropriate to use お疲れ様 (otsukaresama)?).

ごちそうさま[でした] is the closest you could get to a meal-closing expression. It can be "dangerous", in that it has the implied sense of being treated by whoever you are saying this to (and would therefore be extraordinarily rude, if that is not the case, like saying "thanks for inviting me" when the bill comes, and you were not invited). However, it is perfectly fine in a casual context where it is clear nobody's treating anybody else, such as a work cafeteria lunch.

In your particular case, perhaps a simple short excuse ("会議がありますので...") while getting up might do.

It is also very common (particularly for younger people and women) to do a very small bow-with-praying-hands at the end of a meal (usually while saying ごちそうさま[でした]), similar to the way you open with (bow-with-hands-together, saying "いただきます"): this is the way children are taught to behave at a table, but I think it's still perfectly OK as an adult (albeit played down a little not to sound too childish) and does send the message you are getting up from the table.

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Why would お先に失礼します be limited to a work context? –  repecmps Jul 3 '11 at 2:55
    
I think there's something wrong in that "otsukaresama" thread. I've commented there. –  repecmps Jul 3 '11 at 3:08
    
@repecmps: much like おつかれさま, it does not have to be restricted, but it will sound out of place, unless you know exactly what you are doing with it. For instance, while it would be understood, I think saying 先に失礼します when leaving a lunch with colleagues (and going back to work, therefore probably seeing them again during the day) could be a bit confusing/odd (but certainly not outright wrong)... –  Dave Jul 3 '11 at 3:31
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I usually say something like "あ、すみません、あのう…少し用事があるのですが…". When I get visual acknowledgement, I stand up, bow and go away saying, "あ、では、失礼します。"

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お先に失礼します is appropriate. You can drop the お if there's something before 先に失礼します:

-(今日は仕事が忙しいので or any other reason)先に失礼します

-Or you have the obvious ごちそうさまでした

In any case, both sentences are a little abrupt. Saying 皆さんゆっくり食べて(ください)ね works well.

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Would Gochisousama deshita be inappropriate here?

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It wouldn't be inappropriate, but they might think you're 付き合いが悪い -- not too friendly. –  Rei Miyasaka Jul 3 '11 at 21:34
    
It can only be used when you are treated by the person there. –  sawa Jul 4 '11 at 0:33
    
@sawa: just to extended, also if they have made the food for you. is when gochisousama would be appropriate. –  Mark Hosang Jul 4 '11 at 2:26
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