Networking over Food: A Game Changer

May 04, 2011 by Careerminds

When it comes to networking, food is a game changer – there is a whole new set of rules, and if you don’t follow them it is likely that someone will notice. Knowing the rules will help to ease your anxiety and allow you to focus on more important things – like networking, the reason you’re there in the first place.

Once you read through these rules, we would suggest printing this post or jotting down some notes that you can review just before going in to a networking event. The more familiar you are with these rules, the more time you’ll have to think about your elevator pitch rather than trying to remember which fork is the salad fork.

From the outside in: Above is an illustration of what the typical formal dining arrangement looks like. You don’t have to memorize this, but just remember to “always begin eating with the flatware farthest from your plate.”

Here is a compilation of the 10 most common Do’s and Don’ts in terms of table etiquette:

  1. The napkin: Open your napkin and place it over your lap soon after you sit down. Pat and blot your face during the meal rather than wiping, and never use it as a handkerchief.
  2. Bread: When taking bread from the basket, take a single piece or slice at a time and place it on your bread plate. Once you have touched it, it is yours; do not return bread to the bread basket.
  3. Butter: Place 1-2 pats of butter on your bread plate, or if the butter is in a dish, take enough for your piece of bread and put it on the edge of your bread plate rather than going back and forth to the butter dish. Tear off a bite sized piece of your bread and hold it on the plate while you butter it. Place the piece in your mouth rather than biting in to it.
  4. Beverages: Do not chew on your ice – it is a distraction and will likely be noticed. Pat your lips before taking a sip of your beverage to avoid soiling the edge of your glass. Do not slurp.
  5. Main Course: Do not begin eating until everyone at your table has received their meal. If a knife is necessary for cutting meat, only cut off enough for one bite at a time. Use a knife to help place food on to your fork, not your hands.
  6. Utensils: Try to remember which utensil to use for which course. However, more importantly is where you place your utensils after use as it serves as a way of telling the server whether or not you are finished. Never place used utensils directly on the table; place them diagonally on the side of your plate, not propped up against it. To the right is the code for being finished, indicating to your server that he or she may take your plate
  7. Coffee & Tea: Do not dip anything other than your spoon in to your hot beverage. Do not use ice from your water to cool your beverage. If the coffee pot is placed in the center of the table, the one closest to the handle should pour, serving him or herself last.
  8. Grooming: Do not groom yourself at the table. Excuse yourself and find the nearest restroom.
  9. Excusing yourself: Unless you do not plan to return, an explanation of where you are going is not necessary. Simply excuse yourself. When excusing yourself, neatly place your napkin to the left of your setting.
  10. Cellphone use: Do not use your cellphone for calls, text messages or e-mails while at the table. If you are waiting for a call or have it on in the case of an emergency, place your phone on vibrate and keep it out of sight excusing yourself if you must.

Remember: you are there to network, not for the food. It is polite to eat, and if it is a long event, it will be important that you do. However, make sure not to fuss or concentrate too hard on the food. Don’t forget to talk – but never with your mouth full!

A final, personal word of caution: whatever you do, stay away from the cherry tomatoes.



Careerminds provides scalable, strategic solutions to organizations seeking affordable, web-based outplacement services. Using a Web 2.0 e-learning platform that delivers affordable, online career transition services, Careerminds provides a high-tech and high-touch blend of on-demand career transition education supported by senior-level career consultants to help displaced workers reenter the workforce quickly.



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