Business Dining Etiquette
Frequently Asked Questions


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If someone sitting directly to your left asks you to pass something, do you have to pass it all the way around the table to your right?

NO! If they're right next to you, it is acceptable to pass it to the person directly. The rules of etiquette are not absolute - common sense should be used in situations where the "rules" may make a situation more awkward.

What do you do if you want a refill of your beverage?

In most settings, the wait staff should be attentive to offer refills and it is acceptable to flag a member of the wait staff. However, if you are in a large, formal setting, wait staff may be busy, in which case you'll need to wait until they come by your table - at that point you can politely ask for a refill.

How do you call a waiter or waitress?

Try to catch your wait staff's eye through eye contact or a slight wave. It is not acceptable to whistle or shout to get their attention.

How do you get rid of food stuck in your cheeks or at the corner of your mouth? What do you do if you have something stuck in your teeth? Use your fingers? Don't talk for the rest of dinner?

If you can't remove the piece of food easily with your tongue, excuse yourself to go to the restroom. It is not acceptable to use your fingers, dental floss, toothpicks, etc. at the table!

Which hand should you drink with?

Because drinks are placed to the right of your place setting, it is appropriate to pick up all glasses with your right hand.

After the meal is finished and silverware is placed parallel on the plate, should fork tines be facing up or down?

Tines should face up.

Where should baggage (purse, files, etc.) be kept during a meal?

Place items on the floor, close to your chair. Be sure they are out of the flow of traffic as well as other people's feet. Be aware of where your neighbors' belongings are located as well.

Is there a special way the napkin should be unfolded/folded if you have to wipe your lips?

Unfold the napkin and place it in your lap when you are seated. It is best to lightly dab your lips with the napkin when you feel it is necessary. Do not strenuously wipe your face with your napkin. During the meal, replace your napkin in your lap. After the meal, place it on the table, next to your plate.

If dining Continental style, how do I keep the knife and fork on the plate while taking a drink?

Knife is placed at an angle on the right side of the plate. Fork is placed at an angle on the left side of the plate. Never place utensils back on the table/tablecloth.

Can we switch between American style and Continental style during a meal?

No - once you have selected a style to use, it is appropriate to keep that same style for the duration of the meal.

What is the right way to eat long noodles or pasta? Is it appropriate to roll them with a fork and spoon?

Twirl the pasta with a fork either by rolling it around a provided spoon or just use the fork alone, keeping the fork tip in contact with the plate without making noise. You wouldn't think that there would be controversy about how to eat pasta noodles, but some feel that a spoon should not be used and some also feel that cutting the pasta into small bite-sized pieces is not proper.

However, it should be fine to cut the strands to shorten them slightly before twirling.

Slurping pasta is the only method that is NEVER proper. The best rule of thumb is this: whenever possible, try to avoid difficult-to-eat foods such as this when you are in an interview setting.

Which knife is used to cut large pieces of lettuce in a salad?

Always remember the rule - "start from the outside and work your way in." If only one knife is provided, you may use it if necessary and your server should replace it when the main course arrives. If there are two knives, use the one placed to the outside.
At a steak and seafood restaurant there could easily be four knives at the initial place setting (dinner knife, steak knife, seafood knife, and a salad knife - not to mention a bread and butter knife on the bread plate). The butter knife should never be used to cut any food on your plate.

Please explain ice tea spoons.

Ice tea glasses are generally tall, so long-handled ice teaspoons are provided so that you can stir in sugar or sweetener more easily. If no saucer is available, place the ice teaspoon on your bread plate or, as a last resort, it can go back on the table.

How do you eat peas, rice, or other very small pieces of food?

If eating American style, you may scoop the food onto your fork tines up. If eating Continental style, you should try to spear the food with the fork tines or use your knife to push them onto the back of your fork (this works best if you have another food, such as mashed potatoes, that you can use as "cement"). It is not acceptable to eat these foods with a spoon.

What do you do if there is a foreign object in your food or drink?

Quietly try to get the attention of your server and they should replace it for you. The important thing is not to draw attention to yourself.

Can you drink white and red wine at the same time (go back and forth), or do you need to have one at a time?

Generally, only one wine will be served at a time. If there are different wines being served with different courses, it is best to drink the wine that came with that particular course. It is NOT necessary for you to drink all of the wine for each course!

If you have more than one beverage, is it okay to drink out of one without finishing another first?

If multiple beverages are served at once (i.e., iced tea and water or water and soda) it is appropriate to drink either or both throughout the meal.

What do you do if you drop some food on the table while eating?

If you drop a small piece of something, try to push it under the edge of your plate. If it is a major spill, you may need to ask a server for assistance. Again, the important thing to remember is try not to draw attention to yourself.

If something (pitcher, bread basket, etc.) is in the middle of the table, do I bend over and get it? Call for a waiter or waitress?

Ask the person nearest to the item if they could pass it to you. If you are the person nearest to it, it is acceptable to reach for the item. Ideally, a server will place it within reach of someone at the table.

What do you do with chewing gum that is in your mouth?

Ideally, you won't have gum in your mouth in the first place! If you find yourself at the table with gum, discreetly remove it (you can use a tissue, sweetener packet, or paper napkin) and discard it. Do not place the discarded gum on the table or hide it under the table.

What is the appropriate way to drink from different glasses/cups?

If it is a stemless glass, simply grasp the glass by the sides. Stemmed glasses should be picked up by the stem, fairly close to the bowl of the glass, so it doesn't topple. Coffee cups with handles should be grasped by the handle. Pinky fingers don't have to be raised as you see in the movies!