Having a meal during an interview can be a very nerve-racking experience. However, by knowing some of the manners that are expected at this time, you can alleviate some of the nervousness and stress when your napkin falls to floor at a nice restaurant and you are not sure what to do (Answer: politely and unobtrusively, ask the wait staff for a fresh napkin, do not pick yours up off the floor).


Overall Tips

  • Steer clear of ordering anything that is too expensive or too cheap (chicken and vegetable plates are always safe).
  • If you are unsure about what to eat, follow the lead of your host.
  • Avoid discussing dietary restrictions, downplay your food preferences.
  • Be careful not to order anything you need to twirl or lick to avoid splattering or wearing a bib.
  • Cut one bite at a time.
  • Do not drink from the soup bowl.
  • Never slurp or make sounds while enjoying your food.
  • Eat at the same pace as your host or hostess.
  • Taste your food before you add salt.
  • Do not blow your nose in your napkin.
  • Eat as you normally would, not too much but not too little.


Utensil Etiquette

  • Work from the outside in when you have more utensils than you know what to do with. The flatware furthest from the plate is correct and the wait staff will remove those which you will not be using.
  • Used utensils should never touch the tablecloth again but lay knives across the top of your plate and keep forks and spoons at the 4 and 8 o’clock positions.
  • Do not leave a fork or spoon in a bowl but place them on the serving plate provided underneath the bowl.
  • When finished, place your knife and fork together on the plate at either the 4 or 8 o’clock position with your knife blade facing toward you.


Napkin Rules

  • Place your napkin in your lap as soon as you are seated. At really formal restaurants, sometimes the wait staff will do this for you.
  • Treat your napkin gently during the meal, do not crumple or wad it up.
  • When you use your napkin, gently dab at your lips.
  • When you are finished, your napkin should lie next to your plate, do not refold it or leave it on the chair.


Handling Awkward Moments

  • When something unpleasant happens during a meal (the olive has a pit, the meat is too fatty, you have a bone in your mouth), keep a straight face and think through the situation.
  • Generally, if food needs to be removed, it can be done so the same way it went into your mouth (fork, spoon, or fingers).
  • Use your hand to politely spit the olive pit into.
  • Use two fingers to remove the fish bone.
  • You may actually want to use your napkin to remove the piece of meat as it may disturb those you are dining with to see it on your plate.


A Word About Alcohol

While you may be 21 and your interviewer may be 21, drinking alcohol during the interviewing process can often be a touchy subject. You will need to think about how you want to present yourself during an interview and whether drinking a glass of alcohol will help you portray that image. You never know who is sitting across from you and what their personal views on alcohol may be. If you do choose to drink, then one drink is plenty. You are still being interviewed and critiqued even if the employers you are with seem more relaxed. Just ask yourself these two questions when making this decision: “When I drink alcohol do I usually make my best decisions?” and “When I drink alcohol, do I usually sound more intelligent than when I have not had any?”

An interview is a time to present yourself in your best light. It is up to you to make a decision about alcohol but the safest way is to avoid it for the night. Everyone at the meal or company happy hour is an adult and therefore, their opinion of you will not change if you refuse it. You are in charge of managing your own first impressions that people have of you.


Final Do’s and Don’ts


  • Go prepared to be conversational
  • Read national and local newspapers ahead of time to be able to discuss news and events
  • Skim the menu quickly
  • Order a medium priced entrée
  • Relax and keep the conversation focused on business-related casual topics
  • Say “please” and “thank you” to the wait staff


  • Talk about personal relationships, parties, politics, sports, or religion
  • Drink alcohol if you are under 21
  • Don’t have more than one drink if you are over 21
  • Get too comfortable. Even if the meal isn’t technically an interview, you still need to be on your toes


Additional Online Resources