Career Center & Student Employment

Meal Interview Etiquette

Employers may want to see you in a more social setting to see how you act, particularly if the job you are interviewing for requires partaking in meals with clients and/or supervisors. Your table manners and use of etiquette could play a big part in getting a job offer. If you do not have good table manners, or do not use proper etiquette, you may get turned down, even if you are qualified for the position. Another reason employers may chose to interview over a meal is very practical. Interviews can last for several hours and may extend through meal times. The employer is acting as a gracious host to offer you a meal. Remember, the meal is a time to visit and interact. This is always more important than the function of eating.

Etiquette Topics:

place setting photo

After accepting a meal interview offer

  • Check out the restaurant beforehand. Try making the drive during the part of the day you will be making the trip for the interview. This will give you an opportunity to see what traffic is like and possible alternate routes should they become necessary. That way, you know what time you need to leave in order to make it on time. While there, be sure to look over the menu so you know what is on it and what you may want to order and also locate the restrooms. This also allows you to find out if there is a specific dress code.
  • Be sure to arrive for the interview at least 15 minutes early.
  • Turn off your cell phone before entering the restaurant. If you must leave your cell phone on for emergencies, set it to vibrate. Do not answer your phone at the table. When appropriate, excuse yourself, step away from the table, and check your messages.

Arriving at the table

  • Do not sit until directed to do so by the host. If the host does not invite you to take a seat, you may sit only after the host has been seated.
  • Immediately after being seated, discreetly unfold your napkin and place it in your lap. If is a small luncheon napkin, unfold it completely. If it is a larger dinner napkin, fold in half and place the fold toward you when laying it in your lap.
  • Do not cross your legs at the table. Instead, keep both feet on the ground. You may cross your feet at the ankle.
  • Remember to sit up straight and close to the table. Do not place your elbows on the table.
  • If water is on the table when you are seated, you may politely sip your water after everyone is seated and you have placed your napkin in your lap.

Which fork is mine?

If your table is set with multiple utensils per seat, it is important to know and understand a place setting.

  • Your dinner plate will always be in the center
  • Salad and bread and butter plates will be on your left and above your forks.
  • Your beverages will be on your right above your knife and spoon.
  • A dessert spoon or fork, possibly along with a dessert dish, will be placed above your dinner plate.
  • If seafood will be served, a seafood fork will join your knife and spoon to the far right.
  • Always use your silver from the outside in. So, if you have two forks, the outside fork is for your salad, and the fork closest to the plate is for your main course. Also, once a utensil is used, it should never be placed back on the table. Rather, rest it on the plate that is currently in use.

    TIP: If you put your finger tips to your thumb, then extend your pointer finger, you will make the letters "b" and "d." The bread ("b") will be on the left while the drinks ("d") will be on the right.

Rules of the napkin

  • Place your napkin in your lap as soon as you are seated.
  • Use your napkin only to blot the corners of your mouth.
  • If you must get up from the table during the meal, neatly place your napkin in your seat.
  • If you drop your napkin, and it is in easy reach, retrieve it. If you are unable to retrieve it without drawing attention to yourself, ask the server for another one.
  • Only after the meal is completely over should you place your napkin on the table. Only do so after the host has indicated he is finished. Place your napkin to either side of your plate. Never place the napkin on your plate.

Ordering your meal

  • Never order more than two courses unless the host indicates otherwise.
  • Stick to simple foods that are easily eaten with a fork and knife. Avoid foods like spaghetti, fried chicken, ribs, and large sandwiches.
  • If you must ask that some ingredients be excluded from your meal, discreetly ask the server to keep those items out.
  • Never order an alcoholic beverage, even if the host indicates it is ok. Sipping a single glass of wine may be appropriate in some situations. Never consume alcohol if you are underage.
  • Do not order after meal drinks such as hot tea or coffee unless the host indicates it is ok, and time allows for it.

Bread and Butter

  • If a bread basket is present on the table, the person closest to the basket will take the basket once indicated to by the host.
  • The person who has the bread basket will first offer it to the person on their left, serve themselves, then pass to the right. The same goes for butter, salad dressing and other communal items that are passed.
  • If an item is placed on a service plate, always pass the plate as well.
  • If you are not given individual butter packets, but rather a bowl of butter, your serving should be placed directly on your bread and butter plate, not your bread.
  • Do not spread butter on your entire roll. Instead, break off a bite sized piece, butter it, and eat it one bite at a time.
  • Do not use your roll to dip into your soup or mop up salad dressing or other sauces.


  • If the lettuce pieces in your salad are too large, it is appropriate to cut them. Cut a few bites at a time versus cutting the entire salad at once.
  • Before you use the salt or pepper, even if you always do, taste the salad first.
  • If drowning your salad in dressing is your normal habit, avoid it. Not only is it possible that you will be sharing the dressing with the others at the table, too much dressing could be messy.
  • When you have finished with your salad, place your fork in the 10:20 position with the fork tines toward you. This will indicate to the server you are finished.


  • When eating soup, bring the spoon to your mouth instead of your mouth to the spoon.
  • Gently dip your spoon into the soup bowl so as not to hit the bottom.
  • When removing the spoon from the bowl, you will remove it away from you instead of toward you.
  • Never sip your soup. To get the last couple of bites, you may slightly tip your bowl (away from you).
  • If a service plate is provided, place your soup spoon on the plate when you are finished. If no plate is provided, leave your spoon in the bowl.

Main Course

  • Do not begin eating until everyone is served and the host has begun. If the host invites you to start eating, you should oblige.
  • Ignore minor mistakes in your order and eat around them. If it is a major mistake like nuts and you are allergic, discreetly tell your server, but do not make it a topic of conversation.
  • Always taste your food before seasoning it.
  • Discreetly eat around foods you wish not to eat (such as onions), or move them to the side of the plate or bowl.
  • Anytime something needs to be removed from your mouth, remove it by the same means in which it entered your mouth (fork, spoon, etc.).
  • There are two styles of eating and both are acceptable - American Style and Continental Style.
  • When you are finished with your meal, place your knife and fork next to each other pointing to the 10:20 position of a clock. This signals the server you are finished.

Place Setting for a Formal Dinner Table

Place setting for a formal dinner table


Q: Is it appropriate to use multiple packets of sugar/sweetener in my tea or coffee?

A: Limit yourself to one or two packets. Tear one or both at the same time 3/4 of the way across. Leave the waste at the side of the plate.

Q: What should I do if the host uses the wrong utensil?

A: You should always eat correctly. If you are unsure of the proper way to eat an item, follow the lead of your host.

Q: What is the proper way of passing salt/pepper when asked?

A: Always pass the salt and pepper together. If someone has asked for the salt and pepper, it is rude to use it first.

Q: What do you do if there is a hair in your food?

A: You may discreetly remove it, eat around it, or politely ask the server to bring you another plate.

Q: What is the proper way to excuse myself from the table?

A: You can excuse yourself by simply saying, "Excuse me." You do not need to offer an explanation. Remember to place your napkin in the proper place.

Q: Is it ok to remove my jacket at the table?

A: As a general rule, follow the lead of your host. If the host keeps his jacket on, you should do the same. If it is extremely hot, it is appropriate to ask permission. Keep in mind that some restaurants require jackets to be worn at all times. Be sure you know the dress code.

*Adapted from the Missouri State University “Dinner Etiquette” feature of the Career Services website.