The Basics: Business Meal Etiquette

Whether for a PDO Mentor Lunch, dinner with a faculty member, or a job interview meal, you must master the basics of dining etiquette. In this article, you will learn the basic rules of business meal and restaurant table manners. Learning these rules so will not only make you and your host more comfortable, it will set you apart from other students and job candidates.

Before you even sit down

Dress: Follow whatever dress code is requested on the invitation or suggested by the host/hostess.

Be Early: Arrive just a few minutes early unless otherwise specified. Never arrive late!

Phones/BlackBerrys: Turn off your cell phone or switch it to silent mode before sitting down to eat, and leave it in your pocket or purse. If you are on an interview or mentor lunch, you should never answer your phone or check your email while at the table.  

Napkins, Silverware, and Place Settings

Napkins: When you sit down, unfold your napkin and place it on your lap. When you are finished, place it loosely on the table, not on the plate

Use the silverware farthest from your plate first: Starting with the knife, fork, or spoon that is farthest from your plate, work your way in, using one utensil for each course. The salad fork is on your outermost left, followed by your dinner fork. Your soup spoon is on your outermost right, followed by your beverage spoon, salad knife and dinner knife. Your dessert spoon and fork are above your plate or brought out with dessert. Just remember –work from the outside in!
Eat to your left, drink to your right: Any food dish to the left is yours (usually the bread plate or dessert), and any glass to the right is yours.  Of course, if your hosts start off using the wrong glasses and plates, follow suit (don’t duel them for the same plate of bread). 
Fork and knife: Usually, knife in right hand, fork in left hand holding food. After a few bite-sized pieces of food are cut, place knife on edge of plate with blades facing in. Eat food by switching fork to right hand (unless you are left handed). A left hand, arm or elbow on the table is bad manners.

Used utensils and dishes: Used utensils should not touch the table again. Rest them on the side of your plate or in the bowl. For more formal dinners, from course to course, your used utensils and dishes may be taken away and replaced as needed.  Do not push your dishes away from you or stack them for the waiter when you are finished. Leave plates and glasses where they are.

To signal that your are done with the course: Rest your fork, tines up, and knife blade in, with the handles resting at five o’clock an tips pointing to ten o’clock on your plate.
receiving and passing food or CONDIMENTS

Food service: Expect that food is generally served to you from the left.  Always use serving utensils to serve yourself, not your personal silverware.  Dishes are removed from the right.  Say “thank you” to your server and busser after they have removed any used items.

Passing food and condiments to others: You should pass food from the left to the right. If asked for the salt or pepper, pass both together, even if a table mate asks for only one of them. This is so dinner guests won’t have to search for orphaned shakers. Set any passed item, whether it’s the salt and pepper shakers, a bread basket, or a butter plate, directly on the table instead of passing hand-to-hand.  Never intercept a pass. Snagging a roll out of the breadbasket or taking a shake of salt when it is en route to someone else is a no-no.

Butter, spreads, or dips: These should be transferred from the serving dish to your plate before spreading or eating.

Requesting food or condiments: Always say “please” when asking for something. Don’t reach across the table, crossing other guests, to reach food or condiments.


Talking and other noises: Never talk with food in your mouth. Avoid loud eating noises.  

Tasting, seasoning and cooling your food: Always scoop food, using the proper utensil, away from you. Taste your food before seasoning it. Don’t blow on your food to cool it off.  If it is too hot to eat, wait until it cools. If the food served is not to your liking, it is polite to at least attempt to eat a small amount of it. Don’t make an issue if you don’t like something or can’t eat it.

Cutting and eating food: Cut only enough food for the next mouthful (cut no more than a few bites of food at a time). Eat in small bites and slowly.  Do not “play with” your food or utensils. Never wave or point silverware. Do not hold food on the fork or spoon while talking, nor wave your silverware in the air or point with it.

Timing: Wait until all are served at your table (at each course) before beginning to eat. Try to pace your eating so that you don’t finish before others are halfway through. If you are a slow eater, try to speed up a bit on this occasion so you don’t hold everyone up. Never continue to eat very long after your hosts have stopped.

Table Manners

Body Parts: Keep elbows off the table. Keep your left hand in your lap unless you are using it.

Conversation: Do your best to mingle and make conversation with everyone. Do not talk excessively loudly.  

Spills: Don’t worry too much—they happen to everyone. Don’t clean up spills with your own napkin and don’t touch items that have dropped on the floor. You can use your napkin to protect yourself from spills. Then, simply and politely ask your server to clean up and to bring you a replacement for the soiled napkin or dirty utensil.

Grooming, coughing and sneezing: Never blow your nose at the table. Excuse yourself first.  If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with your napkin to stop the spread of germs and muffle the noise. If your cough becomes unmanageable, excuse yourself to visit the restroom.  Do not use a toothpick or apply makeup at the table.

Excusing yourself:  Say “Excuse me,” or “I’ll be right back,” before leaving the table. Do not say that you are going to the restroom.  When you get up, place your napkin on your chair not the table.  (The napkin only goes on the table when you leave at the end of the meal.


Declining Wine: Never turn a wine glass upside down to decline wine. It is more polite to let the wine be poured and not draw attention. Otherwise, hold your hand over the wine glass to signal that you don’t want any wine.

Wine with each course: Where a different wine is served with each course, it is quite acceptable to not finish each glass.