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The dos and don'ts of dining etiquette in business

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

If you have a business dinner coming up and you want to impress your boss or a potential client, you can avoid dining blunders–and ensure business success at the table–by following these dining etiquette tips.

Business man and woman having a business lunch

The Dos

  1. Do eat something before you go to dine with a client or someone higher in rank in your organization so that you won’t appear too hungry.

  2. Do avoid talking with your mouth fill. Take small bites, and you’ll find it’s easier to answer questions or join in table talk.

  3. Do wait until you have swallowed the food in your mouth before you take a sip of your beverage.

  4. Do remember that with place settings, spoons and knives are on the right and forks are on the left. Solids (food) are always on your left and liquids (beverages) are on your right. An easy way to remember which plate or water glass is yours is to think B.M.W – From left to right it’s bread, meal, water (B.M.W.)

  5. Do leave your plate where it is when you have finished eating–with the knife and fork in the 10:20 I am finished position. Place the tips of the utensils at 10 o’clock and the handles at 4 o’clock.

  6. Do look into, not over, the cup or glass when drinking.

  7. Do butter bread on the plate, never in midair.

  8. Do remember your posture at the table. Sit up straight, and keep your arms (including elbows) off the table.

  9. Do leave dropped silver on the floor. Quietly signal the wait staff to bring another piece.

  10. Do remove an object such as a bone or gristle from your mouth with your thumb and index finger and place it on the rim of your plate.

The Don’ts

  1. Don’t, in serving, overload your plate.

  2. Don’t, in eating, overload the fork.

  3. Don’t mop your face with your napkin.

  4. Don’t saw the meat in a back and forth motion. Stroke it toward you.

  5. Don’t touch your face or head at the table.

  6. Don’t reach across the table or across another person to get something. If it’s out of reach, ask the closest person to pass it to you.

  7. Don’t pick your teeth at the table, either with a toothpick or with your fingers. If something gets caught in your teeth, excuse yourself and take care of the problem in the privacy of the restroom.

  8. Don’t push your plate away from you when you’ve finished eating.

  9. Don’t gesture with your knife, fork, or spoon in your hand. If you’re not using the utensil, put it down.

  10. Don’t eat your neighbor’s bread or salad. A right-handed person reaches to the left across the dinner plate to eat salad. The bread and butter plate is placed slightly above the salad plate. (Remember, solids [foods] on the left.)

Etiquette knowledge has always been a valuable business tool. Being able to handle yourself well at the dinner table is at least as important as your skills in a boardroom.

“They don’t teach etiquette anymore, but if you ever have to choose between Incredibly Advanced Accounting for Over Achievers and Re- medial Knife and Fork, head for the silverware.” Harvey MacKay


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