Demonstrating Correct Dining Protocol

When dining with professional colleagues, you should follow some basic dining protocol. The following table outlines specific behaviors you should and should not entertain.

Correct   Incorrect
Napkin Correct As soon as you are seated for dinner, the first action you should complete is placing the napkin over your lab. When putting your napkin on your lab, be sure to position it with the fold toward your knees. This will allow you to use a corner of the napkin in the occasion you need to wipe your mouth. Do not use your napkin in the following ways:
  • Tucked in your collar
  • Shaken out before placing on lap
  • Laid on the table while eating

Napkin Incorrect
Correct Utensil Holding Method Do not place your elbows on the table when dining in a professional setting. Instead of placing your elbows on the table, you can rest your forearms on the side of the table. If you would like to give your arms a break during eating, place your hands in your lap.

Elbows on Table
Correct Utensils Not in Use When not using your utensils, rest them on your plate. You should place your knife horizontally across the top of your plate. Also, when not using your fork, place it in the center of your plate. Do not place utensils that have already been used back on the table--even if this means just the handle is touching the table.

Untensils Not in Use Incorrectly
Leftover Food Remaining on Plate At the end of a professional dining experience taking place at a restaurant, do not ask for a to-go box. Even if you did not eat your entire meal, leave what is left on your plate.

Correct Signal to Server At the end of dinner, you should place your napkin and utensils in certain positions to signal to your server that you are finished with your meal. You should place your knife and fork together, parallel, across the top of your plate. Additionally, place your napkin to the left of your plate.

Incorrect Signal to Server
Correctly Passing the Shakers If someone you are dining with asks for you to pass the salt or pepper, be sure to pass both the salt and pepper shakers together--regardless if they only ask for one. Do not just pass one or the other.

Incorrectly Passing the Shaker
Turning Down Cell Phone Before sitting down to dine, be sure to turn your phone off or to turn down your phone's volume. Do not use your cell phone when dining in a formal setting. This is rude behavior towards others that are dining.

Rate Yourself
Does your dining demeanor need some revising? Use the scale listed below to analyze your behavior using the listed criteria:


How often do you:
  1. Place your elbows on the table when dining?
  2. Text while eating dinner?
  3. Eat without your napkin placed on your lap?
  4. Place your used silverware back on the table?
  5. Pass only the pepper shaker and not the salt shaker when someone asks for pepper?
  6. Shake your napkin out before placing it on your lap?

If you had any 1s or 2s when analyzing your mannerisms, you should work to overcome bad habits to ensure you dine properly when you are in a professional setting. Even when dining in casual settings with friends, be conscience of your actions. Practicing in an informal setting will allow you to practice and refine your skills.