Dining Etiquette

Meals are a common part of both the job search process and working with clients in the business world.  Below is a list of tips to keep in mind when dining for business. 

When/Where to Sit:

  • If you are someone’s guest, wait to sit until you receive a signal.
  • If you are a host, point out chairs for your guests.
  • If you or someone you are dining with is left-handed, it is best for the left-handed person to sit at the left end of the table or at the head of the table.  This arrangement helps ensure that everyone has adequate elbowroom to eat comfortably.  However, if the person you are eating with is not familiar with the fact that you are left-handed, do not mention it.
  • Sit up straight at the table.

During the Meal: 

  • Wait for your host to begin to eat.  If you are at a table of 8 to 10 being served by waiters, wait to eat until all at the table have been served.
  • Offer to the person on your left and pass everything to the right.
  • Pass the salt and pepper together.  Also, do not season your food before you have tasted it.
  • Used silverware should never touch the table; rather, they should rest on your plate.
  • Place your napkin on your chair if you leave the table during a meal.  Place your dirty napkin to the left of your plate only when everyone has finished and you are ready to leave the table.
  • It is best to order food that can be eaten with a knife and fork.  Finger foods can be messy and are best left for informal dining. When eating, cut 2-3 pieces at a time. 
  • When you are not eating, keep your hands on your lap or resting on the table (with wrists on the edge of the table).  
  • Never chew with your mouth open or make loud noises when you eat.  Although it is possible to talk with a small piece of food in your mouth, do not talk with your mouth full.
  • If a piece of your silverware falls onto the floor, pick it up if you can reach it and let the server know you need a clean one.  If you cannot reach it, tell the server you dropped a piece of your silverware and ask for a clean one.
  • Never spit a piece of bad food or tough gristle into your napkin.  Remove the food from your mouth using the same utensil it went in with.  Place the piece of food on the edge of your plate.  If possible, cover it with some other food from your plate.
  • Say “no thank you” if you don’t like or want something.
  • Eat at a moderate speed and don’t make others wait for you to finish.  Remember—you’re first priority is the business, not the food.  You can always eat more later if needed.
  • Do not slurp soup from a spoon.  Spoon the soup away from you when you take it out of the bowl and sip it from the side of the spoon.  If your soup is too hot to eat, let it sit until it cools; do not blow on it.

General Tips:

  • Do not order alcoholic beverages.  Drinking too much when dining out is one of the most disliked behaviors.
  • Do not smoke while dining out.
  • You should not leave the table during the meal except in an emergency.  If you must go to the bathroom or if you suddenly become sick, simply excuse yourself.  Later you can apologize to your host by saying that you did not feel well.
  • Have some general conversation topics ready at all times.


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