Virginia Tech® home

Dining etiquette guidelines

Whether grabbing a quick lunch with colleagues or at a formal dinner, maintaining a professional image is important. Here’s a refresher of business dining etiquette tips to help you mind your manners and make a good impression at your next business meal:

  1. If you have a table host/hostess, wait for that person to begin eating. If you do not have a host/hostess, wait until everyone at the table is served. The main purpose of a meal is to pay attention to other people and be polite to them, not to pay primary attention to the food.
  2. Unfold and place napkin on your lap when seated, folded in half once, with the open end of the fold facing away from you.
  3. Take part in the dinner conversation, but avoid controversial topics like politics and religion.
  4. Put your phone away.
  5. Use your utensils from the outside in as you move through each course.
  6. For items to be passed, like a basket or break or salad dresseing, pass items using the serving dish. Offer to the person on your left, serve yourself, and then pass to the right. Never touch another person's food.
  7. As you eat from your plate, cut only enough food for the next mouthful. Eat in small bites and slowly.
  8. Never open your mouth while food is in your mouth. If someone asks you a question while you are chewing, you can nod, smile with your mouth closed, finish chewing and swallowing the food, and only then answer the question. That's when you'll be glad you took small bites. Don't hold your hand over your mouth and speak with food in your mouth.
  9. When eating bread, tear off a single bite-sized piece of bread, butter it, and eat that piece; then repeat. Don't slather a whole section with butter. Polite dining is not about efficiency or speed.
  10. When consuming soup, always move the spoon away from yourself. Bring the spoon to your mouth and drink the soup from the side edge of the spoon instead of putting the whole spoon in your mouth.  And, of course, do not slurp.
  11. When eating a salad, you may cut large pieces of lettuce with your fork and knife, one bite at a time. If you cut a cherry tomato, be careful so it doesn't squirt you or others! Practice at home first.
  12. When eating the main course, leave your plate positioned as it is presented to you. If you don’t care for something on your plate, you can discreetly move it a half inch, but never off the plate, and don’t discuss your dislike of any food!
  13. If you do not want coffee or hot tea, turn your cup upside down on the saucer; that indicates to the server you do not want those beverages.
  14. If you need to excuse yourself from the table, try to do so between courses. Leave your napkin on your seat; that tells the servers you plan to return, and you are not finished.
  15. Be sure to thank your host before leaving and send a handwritten thank-you note the next day.

Pro Tip: Order foods that are easy to cut and eat with your fork, such as chicken, small pasta pieces, or salads. Avoid dishes that can be messy, such as spaghetti. Avoid foods that are typically eaten with your hands, such as burgers and other sandwiches.

On-demand dining etiquette workshop

Do you, or does someone you know, need a dining etiquette workshop? You can watch our dining etiquette video, created by Career and Professional Development. Try watching it while having a meal, so you can practice techniques of eating politely while you listen.

More about dining etiquette:

Quick tip video:

Professional behavior at happy hour and meals (3 minutes).