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Dining Etiquette - Important to Your Professional Health

by Kristin Eicholtz, Executive Director of Career Development Apr 4, 2022

Meals are obviously important to your personal health, but how important can they be to your professional health? It turns out they can be very important to your career. Every business meal is an interview, so table manners are essential to your professional success as you give attention to the tiniest of details. Oftentimes little details lead to big opportunities. You want people to focus on what you bring to the table and not what you are doing at the table.  After the past two years of limited (or even no) social interaction, it’s natural that some might be nervous about face-to-face professional engagements. That is why the Career Development Center has brought back the annual dining etiquette program and encourages students to work on positive ways to leave a lasting impression.

Here is a list of etiquette tips to keep in mind on your next interview or networking event held over a meal, coffee, or cocktails:

1. Show up on time: Showing up on time is truly a first impression. Don’t keep the person or people you’re meeting waiting, and certainly don't show up as they're halfway through their entrée or appetizer. Show them you respect them by valuing their time.

2. Be polite to the wait staff: Treat all restaurant staff with respect. Say “please” and “thank you”, as you would to anyone. Don’t complain about the service, it comes across as negative and could offend your host if you’re overly critical.

3. Screen Time at 0%: Your cell phone shouldn’t be anywhere visible. Keep it off the table, leave it in your bag or pocket, and put it on silent. You don’t want the people you’re dining with to think you wish you were somewhere else. Show your business partner, client or colleague that it's important for you to be there with them. 

4. Dress the Part: A good rule of thumb is to go for a “business casual” look for these dinners. There’s no need to come fully formal like to a business meeting, but maybe leave the college sweatshirt at home. Make sure your clothes are clean and nicely ironed.  Take a look at our Dress for Success brochure to learn more!

5. Remember there are things you just don’t do at the table: Don’t blow your nose at the table. Especially not into the napkin. Don’t pick your teeth. Don’t double-dip into a common dish, like a sauce or a salad. Chew with your mouth closed, and definitely don’t talk with your mouth full.

6. Drink in moderation (If 21+): There’s no rule against having fun, just don’t have too much fun. Pace yourself and drink slowly - even if your host or the others at the table aren’t. A good rule to follow is to drink a glass of water per glass of wine.

7. Serve others before yourself: If you’re pouring yourself some water, always offer it to others first. The same holds true for any other food or drinks. 

8. Practice proper table manners: Always take small bites of your food rather than large ones. Be sure to keep your silverware in the right order, and use it all for what it's meant for. For example, don't use your salad fork for meat.  Follow the host's lead over when to start your next course.

9. Take Out Box?: As a general rule of thumb, this will help you avoid embarrassment. You don’t want it to look like you only came to dinner for the free food, do you? Leave what you couldn’t finish. If you really liked the food, come back with a friend.

10. Who Pays?: If you’re the one who did the inviting, then you’re the one doing the paying. If you’ve been invited out, then it’s up to your host to pay. You can make the move to pay by reaching for your purse or wallet at the end of the meal, but ultimately let your host pay.

It is my hope that these tips provide you with a little more relief as you head into your next networking event or interview over a meal.  If you were unable to join us at this year's Etiquette Dinner, please enjoy reading up on some additional tips to guide you to your best professional health.

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