Buchtel College of Arts & Sciences - Careers

Skills - Etiquette - Attire and Dining

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The initial intent of this section was to address the negative effects of poor dining etiquette during an interview luncheon. In the research process it became apparent that to present a comprehensive picture, a significant number of subjects must be covered as you will see below.

Often when an individual seeks employment and has interviewed exceptionally well at the initial meeting, company personnel will invite that individual to a second interview during a business luncheon. While the issue of appropriate attire has usually been put to rest through 1] early research of the corporate climate and 2] the actual first interview, there remains the nerve-wracking issue of dining in public with strangers who hold in their hands the key to your immediate employment!

As with the previous stages of a job search, a little research into dining etiquette, some planning, and much practice will alleviate your fears and prepare you to relax and enjoy the experience. In fact, how you make your way around a dining table may actually secure the position that will eventually put bread on your own table!


Because this is a second interview, the appropriate attire remains business professional. [If you are uncertain as to what constitutes business professional at a specific company, call their H.R. department directly before that first interview to ask.] It is always safe to wear a traditional dark suit, white cotton shirt, and silk tie or a skirted navy, black, or gray suit and professional blouse. This semi-formal attire will fare you well during any unspecified business function.

Remember, as with all interviews, to limit your jewelry and makeup and to forego cologne and perfumes. And ladies, place your handbag inside your briefcase or leave it in your car. Polish your shoes, your understanding of the target company, and your ability to make pleasant conversation at a dining table!

Remember also, the more comfortable you are in your clothes, the more relaxed you will be during the meal. The more relaxed you are during the meal, the better you will be at marketing your skills.


Men: Dark suit and conservative silk tie
Women: Dressy business suit, dresses or pantsuits of materials not normally worn to work, with a wrap or jacket - more formal = more coverage

COCKTAIL PARTIES [Yes, they are on the rise again!]
Men: Business professional with suit jacket always worn 
Women: Cocktail suits, shorter dresses, or dressy pants

Men: Black tuxedo coat/trousers, white tuxedo shirt, black bow tie with matching cummerbund
Women: Formal gown, preferably long or dressy separates

WHITE TIE [Ultra-formal. Typically official, government events]
Men: Long white tailcoat/trousers [Black is acceptable]
Women: Very formal gown, definitely long


If it is true that the way an individual behaves at a dining table is indicative of the way s/he will conduct business, your goal should be a display of good manners, courtesy, respect, and trust; a solid merging of social graces and business professionalism.

It should go without saying that you must arrive at least ten minutes early to check your appearance, to remove your coat, and to prepare to greet your host with a smile and firm handshake.

Once you have arrived, checked your appearance, stowed your outer garments, acknowledged your host, and been introduced to others at the table, wait to sit until your host has indicated you should or until s/he is seated.

When your host has opened his/her napkin, signaling the beginning of the meal, you may follow the lead. Open your napkin below the table without great fanfare. Remember, it is not a national flag to be unfurled ceremoniously. [And it should NEVER be tucked into your collar as a bib. Save that behavior for family seafood night, not business luncheons!]

Keep your napkin in your lap throughout the meal, using it to intermittently blot your mouth. If you must leave the table to answer a phone call [emergencies only, please--and NOT your own cell phone, which should be turned off!] or to visit the rest room [NEVER announcing that particular destination, of course], place the napkin, soiled side down, on your chair or to the LEFT of your plate to signal the server that you will be returning soon.

A cloth napkin should not be used to horde food that cannot be swallowed. If you discover you have ingested a bone or another less-than-tasty morsel, discreetly remove it from your mouth between two fingers and place it on the edge of your plate. If the sight of it will be displeasing, excuse yourself from the table and visit the rest room for disposal. Remember, whatever you place inside the napkin will be discovered, and perhaps displayed, by either the server or bus person during or at the end of your meal.

When you are officially finished with your meal and are leaving the table, place your unfolded napkin on the table to the RIGHT of your plate. This is an understood signal that your meal has been completed.

*Note:Napkins should not be crumpled at any time during the meal and should NEVER, EVER be used as a hankie! In fact, a hankie should never, ever be used at a table--excuse yourself to attend to such needs.


Once again, look to your host for direction concerning foods to order. If the host orders first, follow his/her lead. If s/he defers to you to place your order first, ask for recommendations.

If the host has not previously eaten in the restaurant and cannot make a recommendation, use common sense in ordering. If your menu carries prices, stay in the middle of the offered price range.

Avoid "saucy" foods that may drip on your clothing, such as spagetti, or foods that are new to you. This is not the time to be adventurous. Stay with the standards such as a fruit or vegetable plate, chicken breast, or steak and baked potato. Also, it is best to stay with conventional drinks such as coffee or tea, soft drinks or water. Do NOT order an alcoholic drink even if your host does or if you believe it would help "relax" you. Employers would rather an interviewee stay alert as well as top-side of the dining table!


Now that you are beginning to relax somewhat, you have a few minutes to look over your table. Try not to be overwhelmed by the placesetting and the utensils you find before you.

Hopefully, your luncheon setting will look much like the one below provided by waterford.com. Take some time now to familiarize yourself with the following diagram.

Tips to Remember:

  • When in doubt, watch your host and table mates to determine what to do.
  • Always use utensils from the outside inward to plate: forks = left, knives/spoons = right, dessert = above.
  • Keep blades of knives turned toward plate and bread knife blade turned downward toward yourself.
  • Cups are above plate; glassware set to top right of plate positioned by height beginning with water goblet.
  • Bread plate/butter knife is to top left of plate: each bite is to be torn, buttered individually on plate, then eaten.
  • Salad plates are sometimes found immediately to left of plate/silverware, below bread plate.
  • If napkin slips to floor, leave it and signal server for a clean one.
  • Once meal begins, elbows are forbidden on table; wrists can rest on table, idle hand/s should be in lap.
  • NEVER, EVER insult establishment's cook by seasoning food before tasting!
  • Do NOT reach for item on table = ask person nearest desired item to pass it.
  • Pass breadbasket, salad dressing, salt and pepper together, etc. to the right; pass food to the left.
  • Pass gravy/syrup/creamer conveyances with handles turned toward recipient.
  • Fill soup spoon with soup from cooler sides of bowl using a circular motion away from you, then tip soup into mouth.
  • Remember to say 'Please' and 'Thank you' to your server AND your host!


When should you begin to eat? If you are in a small group, wait until everyone at your table has been served. However, if it appears that there will be an extended wait for one or more of the meals and you are encouraged by your host to begin eating, please do so. The polite behavior would be to eat slowly while you wait for the others to be served. If the group is extremely large [eight or more], there is no mandate to wait. You begin as the meal arrives.

There are two basic styles of using your utensils during a meal. It would be beneficial to practice both to see which is easier for you to master.

The American Standard Style
This style is the most familiar to those of us in the United States. Using the hand with which you write, hold the fork tines up and balanced between the first knuckle of the middle finger and the tip of the index finger with your thumb steadying the handle. While most of your meal can be cut and eaten using only the fork, some foods will demand a knife. When cutting into a steak, for example, place your fork in the hand with which you do not write, tines down, and grasp the knife with your opposite hand. Cut only one or two bites at a time. Place your knife on the top of your plate with the sharp edge toward you [avoid touching the table please] and transfer your fork back to your writing hand. Continue with your meal. Remember that you will use the fork without help from your knife for even the most difficult foods, such as peas.

European or "Continental" Style
Many individuals prefer this style because it seems more sensible . The fork remains in the left hand and the knife remains in the right throughout the meal. The fork, however, is held with the tines down. Because it is already on the fork tines, once food is cut it can be popped directly into the mouth. The fork and knife also work in unison against such stubborn foods as peas.


  • Once you use your utensil, no part [even a clean handle] should ever touch the table surface.
  • If merely pausing during a meal, place fork with tines down.
  • Second servings necessitate placing both knife and fork on right side of plate to allow serving room.
  • When meal is completed, knife [blade toward you] and fork [tines up or down and to left of knife] should be paired together diagonally or horizontally across plate.
  • Make certain that all other utensils are placed on flat-surface dishes to avoid accidents during bussing.
  • Do NOT stack your plates or push them away from you - leave them as you found them.

Thanks to SUNY Oswego website, we have tips below on when to use fingers, forks, or spoons!

Stemmed berries
Caviar on toast
Cheese on crackers
Corn on the cob
French Fries [informal]
Crisp Bacon
Hamburgers/Hot Dogs
Hors d'oeuvres
Pizza [informal]
Onion Rings
Stemless berries
French Fries [formal]
Ice cream on Cake/Pie
Large chicken pieces
Pizza [formal]
Shish kabob
Berries with sauces
Ice Cream


Unfamiliar foods
French onion soup
Buffalo wings
Bony fish
Big sandwiches
Cheesy foods
Foods requiring special utensils

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