Another great part about speaking at the Doster Leadership Conference last weekend was that I was able to participate in the activities the entire weekend. Thanks, Purdue University! One of the activities was a dining etiquette lunch where we learned about dining etiquette for job interviews and business meetings. The speaker was Anthony P. Cawdron, Events Coordinator and House Manager for Westwood at Purdue University (and former butler).
One of the things he emphasized was that a lot of business happens across the table so you HAVE to look good while you are doing it.
I thought it was interesting that the word “etiquette” means label (once it’s attached, it sticks). Bad reputations travel much farther than good reputations so know the rules beforehand. I also didn’t realize that many hosts try to trick job candidates over the meal and use it as a way to discover how you truly are.
Here are some of those sneaky dining etiquette tricks to watch out for!
Before The Event
Not many people actually do it, but please ALWAYS RSVP. Speaking from my wedding planning experience, I can tell you that this is true. But it was mostly the men.
Get in the habit of wearing business attire more frequently during the week so that you are comfortable in it once the time comes where you have to wear it. Be on time or let someone know if you are going to be late. If you are hosting, always be early to greet guests. Practice makes perfect so practice dining in front of a mirror and watch yourself to see how you look eating.
During Cocktail Hour
If you have a name tag, write your first and last name clearly. Always try to keep your right hand free to shake hands. Hold your plate and napkin in one hand with your right hand always free (practice at home). Never put your hands in your pockets. Have a memorable handshake, not a weak handshake. Introduce other people. If an appetizer comes around, ask yourself if you can eat it neatly and cleanly. If not, say no.
While You Are Eating
Food is normally served on the left and taken away on the right. Take out your napkin first and put it on your lap. Be polite and courteous and always say thank you. The host may ask the server after the meal how you did, so you might be being spied on! Don’t blow on soup, just wait for it to cool off. Eat soup quietly and spoon it away from you. Bring the soup spoon to your mouth instead of leaning over the table (this one was too hard for me, I would rather not spill).
Don’t blow on soup, just wait for it to cool off. Eat soup quietly and spoon it away from you. Bring the soup spoon to your mouth instead of leaning over the table (this one was too hard for me, I would rather not spill).
Don’t choose the most expensive thing on the menu. Keep your menu open but down. Don’t immediately shut it because that puts pressure on other people. Ask questions about what other people are ordering so you don’t order something extreme or not as much.
Wait for everyone to get their food before you eat – this could be another interview trick to see if you have good manners and if you watch out for others on your team.
Put your phone away and silence the ringer. If you might have an emergency where you have to answer your phone, let them know beforehand. At a buffet, only take what you can eat. Put the silverware down when you are not eating don’t gesture with silverware in your hand.
Pace yourself through the meal. You don’t want to have a full mouth when you get a question. Always taste your food before you decide to put salt and pepper on it.
If you immediately reach for the salt and pepper, it shows that you don’t analyze a situation before making a decision. People are always watching you! If you didn’t give advance notice about dietary restrictions, you are out of luck. Be adaptable and flexible.
The interviewer may be looking for people who want to learn and try new things so don’t be afraid to try something new. Eat what is in front of you or go through a drive through later on the way home. Don’t make the host feel bad if you don’t like something. Keep pace with the rest of the table’s eating speed.
Ration your drinks. Best to err with water unless you are comfortable with one glass of alcohol and other people at the table are drinking as well. Don’t drink soda because it is sometimes thought to be a children’s beverage. Iced tea is better. If you are the guest, you may be asked first what you would like to drink. If so, go with water and if everyone else picks a wine, you can change your choice at the end. Wait for the host to drink first.
After The Event
Make sure that you have enough money with you so that you could pick up the bill if you have to. Some interviewers will play the trick of “forgetting” their wallet in the car to see if the other person is flexible and willing to step up for the team. Always offer to pay even if you know the other person will be paying. Offer to split 50/50. Always write a thank you note within 24-48 hours.
You can stand out a lot by writing a handwritten thank you note. Get in the habit of writing them right away. If they like you, they will want to spend more time with you which will lead to a favorable ending and many more future dining opportunities!