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 Proper dining technique is an important executive skill that demonstrates modern manners. These skills make a meal more enjoyable for everyone. For individuals seeking to make a good impression at a business meal, here are 7 tips to wow your boss, gain confidence, and slay the meal-time business meetings that cross your path.

  1. The Formal Invite: Remember that the person extending the invitation is the host and is responsible for payment of the bill.
  2. Dietary Restrictions. When receiving or extending invitations, pay attention to special dietary needs. If you are the host, ask about food allergies or sensitivities, kosher, halal, gluten-free, sugar-free and dairy-free diets. If you are the guest, RSVP within 24 hours with a response and mention any dietary restrictions.
  3. Napkin Signals: You as a guest observe the host for signals, like placing your napkin in your lap after the host does. Hosts are the ones who start and end the meal. When excusing yourself between courses, the napkin is placed on the chair seat soiled side tucked in to avoid soiling chair fabric. When returning, the unsoiled side is placed on your lap. At meal’s end, place your loosely folded napkin on the left side of your place setting or plate after the host does. Don’t refold it.
  4. Fork & Knife Essentials: Once silverware is used, including handles, it must not touch the table again. Rest forks, knives, and spoons on the edge of your plate. Unused silverware stays on the table. If you are resting between bites, place your fork, with tines up, near the top of your plate. To signal the server that you’re finished, place your fork and knife across the center of the plate at the 5 o’clock position.
  5. Silent Service Service signals also include closing your menu to indicate you’re ready to order. If you are browsing an open menu, the server has the impression you are undecided or aren’t ready.
  6. Converse away: It’s the host’s job to keep conversation going during the meal, and guests must contribute with courtesy. Just don’t monopolize the conversation, rather ask questions and express interest. Light topics include books, travel, vacation, movies, and pets. Unless asked, avoid politics and religion. If you need to talk to the server, don’t interrupt the conversation flow. Rather catch the server’s eye if you need assistance, or slightly raise your hand. If they’re busy, softly call their name or “server?”
  7. A Tip for Tipping: The host is the person extending the invitation, and responsible for paying the bill. In the U.S., calculate 15-20% of to pre-tax bill bill to tip servers or bartenders. If the service was extraordinary 25% is appropriate. For a sommelier, 15% of wine bill; for valet parking: $2.00-$5.00 and for coat check: $1.00 per coat. The tip reflects the total price of the bill before coupons, discounts, or gift certificates.

The host didn’t invite you because they thought you were hungry or thirsty. There is a business agenda. It is always better to be prepared and know your executive dining manners.


Sharon Schweitzer and Sophie Echeverry co-wrote this post. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., is a cross-cultural trainer, modern manners expert, and the founder of Access to Culture. In addition to her accreditation in intercultural management from the HOFSTEDE Centre and the Intercultural Communication Institute, she serves as a Chinese Ceremonial Dining Etiquette Specialist in the documentary series Confucius was a Foodie, on Nat Geo People. She is the resident etiquette expert on two popular lifestyle shows: ABC Tampa Bay’s Morning Blend and CBS Austin’s We Are Austin. She is regularly quoted by BBC Capital, Investor’s Business Daily, and Fortune. Her Amazon #1 Best Selling book in International Business, Access to Asia: Your Multicultural Business Guide, now in its third printing, was named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2015. She’s a winner of the British Airways International Trade Award at the 2016 Greater Austin Business Awards and the 2017 New York City Big Book Award for Multicultural Nonfiction.

Sophie Echeverry is the Corporate Marketing Manager and Event Coordinator at Access to Culture. Born and raised in Colombia, she’s a 2018 graduate with a B.B.A. in International Business and Marketing from Hult International Business School in San Francisco, CA. Sophie has co-written more than 30 blogs since graduation. She’s a passionate foodie, and an avid e-scooter rider. Follow her foodie Instagram account or Connect with her on LinkedIn.