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Let's Talk Dining Etiquette For Professionals

Updated: Oct 6, 2021

I will be the first to admit that apart from professional training in the culinary industry and learning from my own personal reading time of books such as, Change Your Habits, Change Your Life: Strategies that Transformed 177 Average People into Self-Made Millionaires by Thomas C. Corley, I did not grow up practicing proper dining etiquette. Whether dining out with family, friends, or networking, it never really came to my attention that there were protocols to dining and eating. Most of us are taught as children the more common pleasantries such as no talking with food in our mouths, or saying please and thank you. I have been seated in rooms with individuals more wealthy and affluent than myself and I did not have the knowledge of proper etiquette to properly make a good impression. For those of us who did not grow up with a silver spoon, access to formal parties, or associations with circles of affluent people, we are often unaware of just how much our actions in every way are being observed and judged by those who have the power to help us progress and excel to the next level in our lives. I had to learn the hard way that simple manners can make or break you. In this post, I would like to reinforce rules for dining etiquette that will be useful when socializing in group settings where dining is concerned.

Food and beverage are a major part of how people associate with one another in order to forge partnerships and relationships of all sorts. I think it is important for us to understand how to conduct ourselves while engaging with others over food and drink. Whether you are a student, employee, or business owner, at some point in your life you will need to understand the rules to conduct yourself while dining. These habits could be pivotal to you gaining access to opportunities when you are seeking to impress and finesse your way into larger territory in your career and business. Proper etiquette is key for making a favorable first impression during lunch/dinner interviews and social business situations. It will always be best to use your best judgment to guide your actions however, according to an article written by Kent State University about career exploration and development the following suggestions will help you stand out as professional and polished:

Reception/Social Hour

  • Reception or social hours are typically for the purpose of networking for jobs and entertaining clients. Follow the lead of the majority of individuals in the room and the following basic tips:

  • Keep at least one hand free. If you are standing, have only a drink or food in one hand, never both. Hold a drink in your left hand so that you have a dry hand to offer a firm, not crushing, handshake.

  • You can eat and drink while sitting, but it is always better to stand and greet.

  • Make good eye contact. Don't forget to introduce yourself to the host/hostess and don't interrupt conversations.

  • Avoid approaching two people engaged in deep conversation. Wait until there is a break so you can introduce yourself. Look for visual cues to join the conversation.

  • Make eye contact. Ask people questions about themselves and the work they do.

  • Always offer your contact information and know when it is time to go. Move on to the next group or individual, follow up with promising contacts, and assess how you can improve your performance.

Dining Etiquette


  • Arrive on time and call ahead if you know you will be late.

  • Do not place any bags, purses, sunglasses, cell phones, or briefcases on the table.

  • Have proper posture and keep elbows off the table.

  • Wait 15 minutes before calling to check on the arrival status of your dinner partners.


  • When presented with a variety of eating utensils, remember the guideline to "start at the outside and work your way in". For example, if you have two forks, begin with the fork on the outside.

  • Do not talk with your utensils and never hold a utensil in a fist.

  • Set the utensils on your plate, not the table, when you are not using them.


  • Typically, you want to put your napkin on your lap (folded in half with the fold towards your waist) soon after sitting down at the table but follow your host's lead.

  • The napkin should remain on your lap throughout the entire meal. Place your napkin on your chair, or to the left of your plate, if you leave the table as a signal to the server that you will be returning.

  • When the host places their napkin on the table, this signifies the end of the meal. You should then place your napkin on the table as well.


  • Do not order the most expensive item from the menu, appetizers, or dessert, unless your host encourages you to do so. While it is best not to order alcohol even if the interviewer does, alcohol, if consumed, should be in moderation.

  • Avoid ordering items that are messy or difficult to eat (i.e. spaghetti, French onion soup).

  • Wait for everyone to be served before beginning to eat unless the individual who has not been served encourages you to begin eating.


  • Eat slowly and cut only a few small bites of your meal at a time.

  • Chew with your mouth closed and do not talk with food in your mouth.

  • Pass food items to the right (i.e. bread, salad dressings). If you are the individual starting the passing of the breadbasket, first offer some to the person on your left, then take some for yourself, then pass to the right.

  • Pass salt and pepper together, one in each hand. If someone has asked you to pass these items, you should not pause to use them.

  • Taste your food before seasoning it.

  • Do not use excessive amounts of sweeteners - no more than two packets per meal is the rule of thumb.

  • Bread should be eaten by tearing it into small pieces, buttering only a few bites at a time. Do not cut bread with a knife or eat whole.

  • Gently stir your soup to cool it instead of blowing on it. Spoon your soup away from you.

  • You do not have to clean your plate. It is polite to leave some food on your plate.


  • Continental or European Style: Cutting the food with the right hand and using the left hand to hold the food while cutting and when eating.

  • American Style: Cutting the food with the right hand and holding the food with the left, then switching hands to eat with the right hand.


  • When you are finished, leave your plates in the same position, do not push your plates aside or stack them.

  • Lay your fork and knife diagonally across the plate, side by side, pointing at 10:00 and 4:00 on a clock face. This signifies to the wait staff that you have finished.

  • The person who initiates the meal generally pays and tips appropriately (15% for moderate service, 20% for excellent service).

  • Always remember to thank your host.

Chef S. Nichole is the owner of Gorgeous Green Chef a personal chef and catering company. Learn more by visiting

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