The Top Ten Etiquette Tips For The Business Dinner or Interview

by Hank Coleman

I know what you are thinking.  Why do I need to learn dinner table etiquette? But, let me tell you, learning etiquette at the table can help you excel in business and also in landing the job of your dreams. Many of today’s business meetings, sales meetings, and job interviews take place over the dinner table. Sometimes these meetings are at a restaurant, and other times they are in a corporate dining hall. But, when the big deal or job is on the line, that is not the time to realize you do not know which fork to eat your salad with.

Top Ten Business Dinner Etiquette Rules

Rule # 1 – Start On The Outside.  On a properly set table you usually see a series of forks on the left side of your plate and spoons and knives on your right. The very simple rule is to always work from the outside in. The cutlery farthest away from your plate is for the first course.

Rule # 2 – Build Bridges, Not Ramps.  When you put your knives, forks, and spoons down, place the entire utensil on the plate (bridge).  Do not put it back on the table, and do not rest it half on and half off the plate (ramp);

When you are finished, place your knife and fork together in the center of the plate slightly turned to the five o’clock position. This well let your server know you are done eating.

Rule # 3 – Cutting Your Food.  You should always use both your knife and fork together.  You should not cut your food up at the start and then use your fork only.  You should only cut one edible piece of meat at a time.

Rule # 4 – Eating Soup.  When eating soup, push your spoon away from you starting to the farthest edge of the soup bowl. Bring the spoon to your mouth and drink the soup from the edge of the spoon and not by putting the whole spoon in to your mouth.  And, of course, do not slurp.

Rule # 5 – Napkins.  Your napkin should be unfolded and placed on your lap immediately upon sitting down at the table, folded in half once, and the open end of the fold facing away from you. It is never acceptable to tuck your napkin in to the front of your shirt in business dinner etiquette.

If you must leave the table before you have finished, you should place your napkin on your seat.  This tells the server that you plan to return.

Rule # 6 – Which Glass?  Normally you will have two or more glasses at the table. Your glasses are on the right upper side of your plate. You can have up to four glasses. They are usually arranged in a diagonal or roughly square pattern. The top left glass is for red wine. It will usually have a fairly large bowl. Directly below that you will find the white wine glass, which will be smaller. At the top right, you will find a champagne glass. Your water glass is on the bottom right.

Rule # 7 – Sitting.  You should not sit in your seat until your host or hostess has done so.  If there is no host, then you should wait for the senior or oldest person at the table to sit first before you sit in your seat. 

Rule # 8 – Starting To Eat.  The same can be said for eating as well.  You should not pick up your fork and begin eating until the host, hostess, or senior person at the table begins.  You must not start eating until everyone has been served even if your food is getting cold.  If there are a large number of guests, the host may indicate that you may begin before everyone is served. If this is the case, then you should begin.

Rule # 9 – Spitting Food Out.  If you take a mouthful of food which contains something you cannot swallow, you should remove the piece of food by which ever means it entered your mouth.

Rule # 10 – Bread and Butter.  When you begin to eat bread or any other food from a common bowl using business dinner etiquette, you should offer the bread basket to the person on your left and then begin passing the bowl around the table to the right.

If you are having bread with your meal there will usually be a small side plate on the left hand side of your place setting.  Bread should torn with your fingers and never be cut with a knife if offered in the loaf form. When you wish to eat it, tear a bite sized piece off with your fingers.  Use your butter knife to transfer a sufficient portion of butter for your bread.  One get butter from the dish once.  So, make sure that you get enough.  Place it on the side of your side plate. You should butter each piece of bread as you eat it, rather than buttering it all up front.

Other Great Etiquette Rules & Tips

  • Do not salt your meal before you have tasted it.
  • Do not discuss politics, religion, sex, or other controversial subjects at the table.
  • Some foods can be difficult to eat. Save yourself trouble and embarrassment by just not ordering those foods!!
  • Don’t blow on hot food to cool it down, just let it cool down by itself.
  • Don’t move or turn your plate after your meal has been served.
  • Be sure to say thank you to your host before leaving and send a hand written thank you note the next day.
  • Dress conservatively!

You might think that these business dinner etiquette tips are outdated, but I assure you that people are always watching how you handle yourself at the table. Even if you already have a job and are eating with your boss, continually dinning with business dinner etiquette will set you up for future success. You never know when the opportunity to make a sale or land the next job offer will present itself. And, in today’s challenging job market, we all needs as many tools and tricks in our bags to help us stay competitive as possible.

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Lulu May 22, 2009 at 10:44 am

I took a class on this topic in college as I was a business major and then we actually had a dinner with some business officials who were supposed to anonymously grade us afterwards. We did not know this beforehand but I suspected that was what would happen so I was very careful to follow the tips.

Some of my other classmates were not so careful and they got bad reviews…which affected their grades.

You might also want to mention the difference between Continental dining (fork never leaves your left hand) and American (switch fork to right hand) so that people who use one style can recognize the other and not think that the other person has poor dining skills.

Manshu May 24, 2009 at 5:56 pm

Very useful tips Hank. thanks. June 9, 2009 at 3:47 pm

Great additional content, and something that many people do not come across often. The dinner/meal interview is not as common today as in the past (cost prohibitive) and this article surely is the definitive.

Thanks for the great article!

gina September 14, 2009 at 6:18 pm

This was very helpful. I have a business dinner tonight and it is great to get quick tips I can implement immediately.

Raymond Lease November 10, 2009 at 9:49 pm

Dear Sir, Madam,

I am currently teaching Business English in Beijing, China. While I was doing research I found this web page….. would it be possible for me to have this page e-mailed to me as this will be very useful in my class. If it is not possible I understand, please contact me back wirh a decission.



nick December 31, 2009 at 1:22 pm

you are a dope, why dont you just copy/paste the webpage and print it or email it to yourself??

Finance February 8, 2010 at 5:07 am

Nice article content!

Foodie February 9, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Regarding Rule #7 and #8 : In Indian culture, the host never sits before the guests. Similarly, the host indicates the guests to begin eating first or begin to serve first.

Uma Lakshman April 27, 2010 at 12:20 pm

Nice Tips but there seems to be a mistake in the diagram. The salad fork and knife are closest to the plate and thats usually served first ?? what happens to Rule 1 then ???

Laan June 30, 2010 at 10:35 am

I just need to be invited to a business dinner now – thanks for the great guide.

Bryan October 4, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Uma: Generally at a fancy dinner the salad course is served after the main course. The reason is so the guests do not fill up on the less expensive salad and then can’t finish the more expensive main course.

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