University Manners: Job Interview Dining Etiquette


“Stay away from the spaghetti.”

Did you know that second job interviews are often conducted over a meal?

For the past 15 years I have had the good fortune of working with some of the best universities in the country, conducting their annual “Dining Etiquette” dinner. Career Service Counselors, Law Schools and MBA programs understand the importance of strong executive leadership skills and strive to give their students the competitive edge.

Why is interviewing a new graduate over a meal so important?

The dining interview offers the interviewer some additional insight about the applicant on a different kind of playing field. The new graduate’s success is based on several factors, including their confidence level, how they treat the server, their professional attire, and their ability to maneuver their place setting. Make no mistake, the lunch interview has very little to do with the food!

15 Job Interview Dining Etiquette Tips for the University Student/Graduate:

  1. Don’t show up to the interview hungry. Eat a small snack before you arrive so you can focus on the conversation rather than your growling stomach.  Arriving ravished will leave you distracted, making it difficult to focus on the conversation.
  2. Don’t dive into the bread basket. Always allow the host to lead; your interviewer is considered the host of the meal. Only after he or she offers should you take the first piece of bread. (Leave everything set at the table until your interviewer arrives.)
  3. Men, keep your jacket on and your tie down. Although you may not be as comfortable eating your meal, you are at a business lunch or dinner and you must maintain a professional image throughout the meal (you’ll leave a better impression).
  4. A woman’s handbag belongs off the table and chair.  Place the handbag on the floor, underneath the table (between your feet). A small wallet or purse may rest on a woman’s lap with her napkin placed on top to cover it. Avoid wearing a “wristlet” to a job interview.
  5. Think of your dream car…B-M-W. A good way to remember which is your water glass is to visualize Bread on the left, Meal in the middle, and Water on the right.
  6. Stay away from the spaghetti.  Spaghetti falls under the category of “difficult to eat” foods, right along with cherry tomatoes, BBQ ribs and whole artichokes.  If you plan to order pasta, select a pasta that you can eat in one to two bites such as penne or bow tie pasta.
  7. If you are offered liquor…the answer is, “No thank you.” Your interviewer is testing your good judgment and by saying “yes” to the offer, you just unintentionally communicated a lack of discernment.
  8. Pass food counter clockwise around the table. Bread, salt and pepper and other food items are passed around the table counterclockwise. The exception would be if someone directly to your left asked you for an item on the table directly in front of you.
  9.  If you drop your utensil on the floor, you may leave it on the floor and ask for a fresh utensil. Make sure and move the utensil out of the aisle or away from traffic and discreetly ask your server for another clean utensil.
  10.  The napkin is placed on the seat of your chair when leaving the table temporarily.  It is placed back on the table again at the end of the meal, left side of the plate or center of an empty place setting.
  11. It is not necessary to thank the server every time he or she brings food or beverage to the table. While you want to be polite to the server at all times, an occasional smile, nod or comment is all that is necessary, and not every time he or she comes to the table. Your main focus of attention should remain on the interviewer and the interview.
  12.  When the interviewer pays, it is not expected that you offer to leave the tip. The etiquette of paying the bill is the person who extends the invitation also pays and leaves the gratuity.
  13. Do not stop at the toothpick dispenser when you are walking out the door.  It is never professional to clean your teeth with a small stick.
  14. Turn off your technology. Your smartphone should not be visible, in your hand, on the table, or in your lap, during any part of the dining interview. That includes hearing the vibrating noise of a cell phone that has been silenced – it’s a huge red mark against the interviewee.
  15.  Skip the doggie bag. Even if you are left with a heaping plate of food, forgo asking for a doggie bag during a business lunch or dinner.

Ultimately, the employer is interested in observing how the potential employee will conduct themselves at the table with their most valued client. University etiquette dinners are designed to empower the student, boost their self esteem and focus on the interview rather than the food.

Good Luck,


Diane Gottsman

Diane Gottsman is a national etiquette expert and modern manners professional, sought out industry leader, television personality, accomplished speaker, Huffington Post blogger, author, and the owner of The Protocol School of Texas, a company specializing in executive leadership and etiquette training. Diane is routinely quoted in national and international media including The New York Times, The BBC, CNN, Bloomberg Business Week, Kiplinger, Huffington Post Canada, U.S. News and World Report, and Forbes. She is the resident etiquette expert for two popular morning talk shows, SA Living and Good Day Austin. She has been seen on The TODAY Show, HLN Headline News, WGN Chicago, and CBS Sunday Morning. Her clients range from university students to Fortune 500 companies and her workshops cover topics ranging from tattoos in the workplace to technology at the dinner table and the proper use of social media.


  1. says

    Great tips Diane!! . Business etiquette has become very important today. I just want to include that sitting also matters. We should always sit at 90 degree to our interviewer not cross to him. If there are three people than 90 degrees to one and cross to another. This is usually important on host’s part, but should always be taken care of for healthy discussion.

  2. says

    Thank you, Diane for these great tips! Many seem so obvious, but are easy to forget when you are in an interview. Re: #3: I would never remove my jacket during an interview or lunch, but I usually unbutton mine until I am standing up again; hope that is correct!

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