Dining Etiquette 101

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Hammed Hussain is from Pakistan and currently a Junior studying Math and Economics. He’s interning at a hedge fund and has previously worked at a tech startup and a macroeconomic database firm. Hammad is also a Wasserman Career Ambassador. He enjoys playing FIFA, football and sometimes table tennis with his friends.

So you’ve cold emailed NYU’s alumni network and heard back from someone who wants to chat with you over lunch. Congratulations on making it this far! Unfortunately, the battle is only half won. Don’t be misled by the word lunch. This is a huge opportunity for you to build your relationship with the professional. Charles Schwab’s CEO is famous for taking the company’s interns to lunch and messing up their orders to see how they would react (Hint: stay calm). Remember the Warren Buffet auction lunch that was bid up to $2 million. Turns out the person who won the auction twice by bidding over $2 million was offered to work at Berkshire Hathaway. A dinner with a professional is a chance for you to demonstrate to him/her why you’re excited to work in the industry, what sort of skill set you bring to the table and finally but most importantly it’s a chance for you to connect with someone who shares the same interests as you.

If you’re not super confident about American dining etiquette, then this guide will be very helpful for you moving forward.


1. Know what is yours and what is not
This may seem obvious but once you’ve sat down, chances are you’ll be overwhelmed by the wide array of utensils that are in front of you and you might make the fatal mistake of picking up someone else’s utensil. The picture is a good guide of what to expect at the table. Remember the fork is typically on the left side of the plate and the knife on the right. All things being equal those are the only two utensils you should care about.

2. Know what you eat
This should be obvious but never order anything that is likely to create a mess or is too complicated. This includes avoiding food such as burgers, spaghetti, ribs or anything along those lines; a salad should do just fine. Also, allow the host to take the lead when it comes to ordering, this way you’ll have a clue of what everybody is getting. Another tip, eat a little bit of everything you receive at the table, for example don’t just eat the steak and the potatoes without touching your vegetables.

3. Know your diet
I have seen people make this mistake so I will be direct about this one, don’t go to lunch/dinner with an empty stomach. It sounds counterintuitive but the main purpose of the dinner is for you to meet the professional. With an empty stomach, you’re more likely to concentrate on the food as opposed to the person you’re talking to. From personal experience and research, it is difficult to think clearly and have a conversation with someone if you’re hungry. My two cents: have a snack an hour before the lunch.

4. Know the person you’re talking to

If the person you contacted was willing to have lunch with you, clearly they saw some potential in you. Throughout the meal it’s essential that you come across as a professional. By that I mean you do not ask questions whose answers are Googlable; Try to do as much as research as possible by yourself to come across as intelligent. Side note: please don’t interrupt the person while he or she is talking; it is straight up rude and shows that you don’t have good listening skills.

5. Know what to do before, during and after
First off, come to the event in business attire to demonstrate your seriousness. Keep in mind the industry you’re aiming for, if its finance then your suit should be spotless, if you’re meeting a person in tech you can get away by going business casual. Be nice to the server, keep your elbows off the table and under no circumstances should you feel the need to use your phone. Finally, follow up with the person with a thank you note to show your gratitude.

As you can judge by the length of the content, this is by no means an exhaustive list of tips that you should keep in mind. The most important thing is to practice: this includes doing things such as learning how to use a fork and knife or how to engage in a professional conversation with someone.

Luckily, NYU has a great event coming up called Dining for Success that actually allows you to have dinner with a recruiter who will help you avoid the terrible mishaps that can happen to you if you don’t do your research. Due to the event’s popularity, interested students should go to the Wasserman Center to add their names to the waitlist, but don’t fear. This event happens in the fall and the spring!