The Professional's Guide to Basic Dinner Etiquette
Sharing a meal is an excellent way to build interpersonal relationships. In fact, you can learn a lot about a person by the way they eat. It is rumored that President Ronald Reagan once said, “You can tell a lot about a fella by his way of eating jellybeans.” While you most likely won’t be eating jellybeans at a formal dinner, it is worth noting that your actions, going as far as the way you eat, matter.

Throughout your career, you will be invited into homes for formal dinners or have the opportunity to attend special galas. I wish I had understood dinner etiquette tips before attending these events. I look back and realize I might have looked immature with my lack of formal table manners.  

Having proper dinner etiquette will leave a lasting impression on potential employers, your current boss, and your peers. Being a courteous dinner guest at an important event, or in someone’s home, demonstrates your respect for the host and other guests. 

Here are a some ways you can exercise proper dinner etiquette.

1. If you are a guest at a dinner party, bring a small gift for the host.

The dinner host has spent countless hours cleaning their home, preparing food, and contacting guests in order to throw a successful party. Bringing a small gift, like a bottle of wine or flowers, is a nice gesture to demonstrate your gratitude for the host’s hard work. 

2. Do not be the first one to start eating.

At a dinner event, the guest of honor at a table will be the first one to eat. Once they begin, everyone else at the table may proceed. If there is not a specific guest of honor, then the host or hostess of the dinner party assumes that role. If you are at a gala or other event that does not have a guest of honor or host at your table, you must wait until everyone is seated with their food to begin eating. 

3. Never touch your food!

Unless you’re eating fried chicken or bread, using silverware is the only way to politely eat your food. Eating with your hands looks quite animalistic. Need I say more?

4. Hold your fork and knife properly.

When cutting meat (and other foods), it is customary in the United States to hold your knife in your right hand and your fork in the left hand, tines down. The fork should be used to hold the meat in place as you cut off one small piece of meat. You should then place the knife on the right side of your plate and shift the fork to your right hand to eat the piece of meat. Repeat this process for each piece of meat that you eat. Yes – that means cutting and eating individual pieces at a time. Never cut up several pieces of meat at once.

5. Introduce yourself to the other guests at the table.

Personally, I find few things more awkward than having to eat a meal next to someone I have never met. Also, it’s rude to sit next to someone and not acknowledge them. Upon arriving at the table, introduce yourself to guests who you do not know. Not only is this polite, but it also creates an opportunity to expand your professional network.