Last week I hosted an etiquette dinner at a college in New York City. About 30 students came in their best business casual attire, networked during a “mocktail” hour and then sat down to a formal business dinner. Believe it or not, we had a lot of fun talking about which fork to use when and how to properly butter your bread.
It’s likely that you’ll be asked to have a meal during the job interview process, so be sure to brush up on your etiquette skills as these students did.
Here are some of the top etiquette rules for job interview-related meals. Some of these are common sense and some are a little more complicated, so review them carefully. When in doubt, take a peek around the table and watch what your hosts are doing for clues.
- Always use basic good manners. Say please and thank you, don’t reach (ask for items to be passed to you), keep your elbows off the table and don’t speak with your mouth full. A good tip is to take small bites so you’ll never have a big chunk of food in your mouth when an interviewer or client asks you a question!
- Do not start to eat until every at the table has been served.
- Use silverware from the outside in. The spoon and fork at the top of your plate are for coffee and dessert.
- Be sure to sip from the correct glass and eat the right roll. Your place setting is arranged with your bread plate to the left of your plate and your beverage to the right. I like to remember this by thinking “BMW,” like the car: Bread, Meal, Water.
- Bread should be buttered by breaking off one piece at a time and buttering that piece. Do not cut your bread into lots of pieces or butter the whole slice or roll at once.
- It’s best to avoid drinking alcohol during the job interview process. Water, iced tea and soda are all appropriate. If you’re over 21 and you find yourself in a situation where a drink seems acceptable, be very careful about how much you consume. One glass of wine is a safe bet.
- Be polite and kind to servers. (Many interviewers watch your interactions with waiters and waitresses as an indication of your personality and manners.) Say please and thank you, and if you need to get a server’s attention, make eye contact and politely say, “excuse me.” Never wave your arm or shout out.
- When you’re finished with your meal, place your utensils together, diagonally across your plate. Place your napkin to the left of your plate, not directly on your plate. If you need to get up at any point during the dinner, the correct place to put your napkin is on the seat of your chair.
- Turn off and store all cell phones, iPhones, BlackBerries, etc. in your jacket or bag. It is never okay to text, email or answer a call during a business meal, especially if you are on a job interview (and even if your host is checking his or her own device!).
- If anything goes wrong — you drop your fork on the floor, you spill your water, etc., remember that good etiquette is about being discreet and making other people comfortable. In other words, don’t make a scene! If you drop a utensil on the floor, politely get a server’s attention and ask for a new utensil. If you have a pit or bone in your mouth, discreetly remove it with your fork or napkin (no toothpicks at the table!). If you spill a beverage, apologize to the table and get a server’s attention for help. The more comfortably you handle any snafu, the more quickly your tablemates will forget it ever happened.
Do you have any other favorite etiquette tips? Please share!