Dining Etiquette

In today’s market, employers are ready to hire well rounded individuals. You may have impressive answers and a nice resume, but unimpressive social skills and poor table manners can leave a lasting negative impression. Remember that confidence is important; try not to be unprepared or caught off guard. Yes, dinner is more relaxed than a formal panel interview but don’t get too relaxed- you are still being interviewed.

You know they are watching, but what are they watching for??

  • Conversation ability, social skills, etiquette and personality
  • Ordering interaction with the wait staff, eating, chewing etc.


Learn about where the dinner is taking place and who will be there:

  • Is it at a person’s home?
  • A local pub?
  • Five star restaurant?

Consider the Following:

Dinner Conversation



Ordering and Beverages

Cocktail Hour/Appetizers

Entree or Main Course

End of Meal

Dinner conversation

Do not mention work until everyone has ordered. Think of conversation topics you would like to talk about and things to discuss if conversations lulls.   Dinner conversations can often broaden beyond the focus of the the business or interview.   Be ready to ask questions about the company, the employer, the geographic location etc. Some questions you may want to ask are listed below.

Job history questions:

  • How long has the position been in existence?
  • Who preceded and what led to the success and/or failure?
  • What are attributes that make someone successful in this position?

The Company:

  • What are its management/operating style?
  • What do you feel this position adds to someone’s career? What skills does the person learn/acquire through this position?
  • How long has its present management been in control?

The Community:

  • Where can I get information on housing, cost of living, religious, social organizations, shopping, community, schools, libraries, educational and recreational facilities, etc?
  • How does the company interact with the community? What is the social life like?


Arrive on time; realize you are being interviewed as soon as you walk in. If you are arriving together, be aware that you are still being interviewed and observed at all times. Unless you have an urgent matter where you need to be reached, turn off all communication devices.


Research what is appropriate business attire in your field. Accounting firms and law firms, generally tend to be very conservative and have strict rules on how they want their employees to present themselves to their clients. On the other hand, “creative” industries such as public-relations and advertising firms tend to give their employees more leeway and opt for a more “business-casual” look. If in doubt, go conservative. It is also appropriate to ask your hosts ahead of time what the appropriate attire might be.

Ordering and beverages

  • Pick a moderately priced meal if the employer does not take the liberty to order for you. You can also ask the host if they have any recommendations in order to get an idea of the appropriate price range. You don’t want to order the most expensive thing on the menu but ordering fish and chips when everyone else is having a full meal could also make you stand out!!
  • Avoid all alcoholic beverages unless ordered by host. Drinking too much when dining could be highly damaging, so don’t do it. Beer is acceptable as long as you poor the bottle/can contents into a glass. Wine is acceptable; however keep it limited to one drink.
  • When you are not eating, keep your hands in your lap or resting on the table.
  • In order to make a good impression, it is important to sit up straight at the table.

Cocktail Hour / Appetizers

Oh behave!

  • If you are invited to cocktail hour prior to dinner do not assume it is less formal or that you are not being observed or evaluated.
  • If alcoholic beverages are available, you may have one drink and one drink only—and only if you are of age! The goal is not to impair your senses and abilities. Do you want to be remembered for the number of drinks you consumed or as the potential employee that the employer can’t live without.
  • If you have been invited to a social gathering, you will be meeting new people. Be sure to have room to set your drink on your plate in order to shake hands. Be able to handle both items in one hand because you will be shaking hands.
  • Keep your drink in your less dominant hand. The reason is so you can shake hands with someone quickly without having to transfer your drink to the other hand.
  • If you are to wear a name tag, place it on the side of your chest closest to your handshake. That way, when you extend your arm to a person, your nametag is turned towards that person for a better view.
  • Use the correct utensils. Make sure you have done your research prior to the event.

Entrée or Main Course

Time to eat!

  • Generally, it is a rule of thumb to wait until the host begins his or her meal before everyone else can take a bite
  • Mistakes happen; the focus will be on how you correct the mistake. Rather than complaining, simply suggest what you would like to have done. If you spill or make excessive noise with utensils or dishes, apologize and move on.
  • Imagine your plate is like the face of an analog clock. When you are done eating, place your fork and knife at 4:00PM to signal to the wait staff that they can take your plate.
  • Excuse yourself if you must blow your nose, if you are feeling ill, if you have an urgent phone call or if you need to use the restroom. Place your napkin on your seat or arm of your chair when you excuse yourself during the meal.
  • If the host orders coffee or desert, follow suit.
  • At the end of the meal, fold your napkin neatly on the table and place on the table.

End of the Meal

  • The person who extended the invitation (regardless of gender is responsible for paying the bill.
  • Thank the host. If this is the end of your interview process, (gather business cards, ask when you will hear word about their decision, find out if you need to send materials, etc.
  • Make sure to send a thank you letter to the host and all other members of the organization who attended. 

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