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Tips about Dining Etiquette + FAQs

Tips about Dining Etiquette


  1. the customary code of polite behavior in society or among members of a particular profession or group.

Dining etiquette can be critical to job search, career advancement, and personal success. Employers want to observe your conduct during meals and social situations, particularly for jobs requiring specific behavior when interacting with clients and superiors. Your dining etiquette is an opportunity to make a good impression.

Everyone's experiences with table manners vary, and that's okay! We have gathered details below on dining details, answers to your questions, and what to do if something goes not quite as planned. Put these into practice during the 2023 Professional Development Dinner. 

A room filled with round tables, covered in blue table cloths. People are paying attention to an individual speaking at the front of the room.

Your salad plate and bread and butter plate are on your left, above your fork. Your beverages are on the right above your spoon. Tip: Remember, solids on the left, liquids on the right.

We understand that all the forks and spoons can be stressful. Always use your flatware from the outside in. So, for example, if you have two forks, the outside fork is for salad and the fork closest to the plate is for your main course. The flatware will be removed as you finish each course. There may be a third fork outside the salad fork for appetizers. Usually no more than three utensils are placed on each side of the place setting. If a fourth utensil is needed, it is placed above the plate and is usually for dessert and/or for coffee to be served with dessert. Tip: Once you sit down, don't play with your utensils or make them a topic of conversation.

Placement: As soon as everyone is seated, unfold your napkin and place it across your lap, folded, with the fold toward yourself. If you need to leave the table, place your napkin on your chair, folded loosely (never wadded). Only after the meal is over should you place your napkin on the table to the left side of your plate (never on your plate!).

Usage: It is considered poor etiquette not to use your napkin. The purpose of the napkin is to keep food off your face. Use it frequently to discreetly dab or wipe (no ear to ear swiping, please) your mouth. Replace the napkin on your lap loosely folded, not wadded and not stuffed between your legs.

The napkin is on the floor -- now what? If your napkin falls on the floor and it is within easy reach, retrieve it. If you are unable to retrieve the napkin without drawing attention to yourself, ask the server for another one.

If water is on the table as you are seated, it is appropriate to sip your water after you have placed your napkin in your lap. For other beverages and foods, wait until everyone is seated and has been served. 

If you pick up the bread basket, hold the basket and offer to the person to your left, then serve yourself, and then pass the basket to the person on your right. The same applies to butter, salad dressings, and other condiments that are passed. 

Tip: If you're asked to pass the salt or pepper, you always pass both if one is requested. 

Be polite and appreciative. Never criticize or state a dislike for a food that is served to you. Simply eat foods you do like, and make an attempt to taste unfamiliar foods or at least make it appear as though you tried the food. 

Tip: If you're asked if you like something, answer "It's different," or "I'm not used to this flavor, but I'm glad for the opportunity to try this food.
The answer is yes. Do not spread your butter on your entire roll at one time. Do break off a bite-sized piece of your roll, butter it, and eat it, one bite at a time. 

Tip: If the piece you break off is slightly too big to make one bite, it's fine to eat it in two bites, and much better than stuffing a too-large bite into your mouth.
Put the knife across the top of your plate when you are eating, blade facing toward you. Picture a clock face; the knife should be approximately at the 2:00 (handle end) to 11:00 (blade end) position.
Take very small bites, so you can quickly finish and swallow the bite before speaking. Never speak with food in your mouth; keep your mouth closed and wait until you've swallowed your food.
Your fork and knife should be placed parallel to each other in the ten and four o'clock position (as on the face of a clock), with handles at 4:00 and tops of the utensils at 10:00. The fork is placed nearest to you, with the knife placed just behind it. The knife blade points toward you. Never place or rest any portion of the used utensils on the table.
A great resource for all types of etiquette is Etiquette, which includes:
  1. Table manners 101
  2. How to eat everything from pasta to watermelon
  3. International dining etiquette
  4. ...and much more!
Please note that the Office of Career & Professional Development does not own or maintain the above website and we have no control over their content. This link was provided as a service to students.