March 5, 2019

Having a meal during an interview can be a nerve-racking experience. Employers use this time to see how you conduct yourself in a social, professional setting, to be sure you can represent the company in a positive way. Knowing table etiquette can alleviate some of your nerves and allow you to focus on the interview. Leadership in Action has created a video that goes through each piece of a sample table setting. 

Beyond understanding which utensil is where and how many courses there will be during the meal, there are plenty of other dos and don'ts when it comes to a meal during an interview. Remember, the focus of the evening is on the interview, not the food.

According to St. Mary's College and The University of Kansas Career Centers, you will want to research the business and people with whom you will be dining before going into the meal. Be prepared to be conversational, reading national and local news, beforehand, will help with being able to discuss current events. 

First impressions are essential. While the interviewer, who invited you to the meal, will have already met you, other guests might have not. Arrive at least 10 minutes early unless otherwise specified. Make sure you are dressed appropriately for the dinner; wear what you would to an interview--business or business casual. When you introduce yourself or address the host or any guests, use proper names, i.e. Mr./Ms. Smith, until they give you permission to use their first name.

During the meal, table conversation should be led by the host. Only bring up and discuss business when the host does. Good conversation topics include sports, current events, common interests and the weather. Common topics to stay away from discussing during the meal are religion, politics and money.

While these meals will focus on the interview and the conversations, know some simple proper dining etiquette is important because you will be enjoying a meal. Below are some tips that will ensure you are properly prepared for the meal.

Napkin Use:

  • Once everyone at the table is seated, place your napkin on your lap.
  • Place your napkin on your chair if you are temporarily leaving the table.
  • When you are finished with your meal, lay your napkin next to your plate.

Utensil Etiquette:

  • Use the utensils farthest from your plate, first, and work toward your plate. The wait staff will remove any utensils that you will not be using.
  • When not using a utensil, or you are finished with your meal, place them on the edge or top of your plate.
  • If a utensil falls on to the floor, tell the wait staff that you have dropped a utensil and ask for a clean one.

Ordering and Table Manners:

  • When ordering your meal, order something that will be easy to eat with a knife and fork and not messy. 
  • When your meal arrives, wait for everyone at the table to receive their meals and for the host to begin eating.
  • Salt and pepper, the bread basket, butter, etc. are all passed to the right. If you are the first to take the bread, butter, etc. offer to your left first, take your piece, then pass to the right.
  • Your food should be cut into one bite-size piece at a time. Salad leaves can be cut if they are too large.
  • If there is something on your plate you do not care for, simply do not eat it.
  • Always be polite and gracious to the wait staff.

After the meal is concluded, shake hands and say goodbye to everyone at the table, and thank the host again. A thank-you card should always be sent the following day to thank the host for the interview and the meal.

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Take the Leadership in Action Challenge! After watching the Table Etiquette Video above, create your own place setting, mimicking the place setting in the video. Get creative and use what you have around you, i.e. a pen can be used as a fork. Upload your photo to earn 2 Leadership in Action Points.