The Dos and Don'ts of Gracious Dining

04/30/2015 08:41 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2015

The candidate was ideal for the role. In the post-interview debrief of the lunch, the CEO's only con was that she did not "at least offer" to help with the bill. I asked if he (the interviewer) had invited her (the applicant) to lunch, and he was still baffled. He had mentally penalized the candidate for his own faux pas. He had invited her to the lunch. Regardless of gender, in both personal and professional situations, the person who does the asking does the paying. Here are some helpful hints for gracious dining.

Do Ask In Advance - When hosting a meal, it is best to ask in advance about any dietary restrictions. The steakhouse might be your favorite venue, but arriving with a vegan will prove to be challenging and uncomfortable.

Don't Go Too Casual - Find a venue which will match the gravity and focus of the meal. For a reunion with college buddies, someplace with live music and lots of finger foods on the appetizer menu might work well, but for an introductory meeting you will want soft background music and entrees you can politely consume with a fork and knife.

Do Guide Your Guest - As part of the pre-meal small talk, mention what you plan to order to allow your guest to follow the symmetry of dining (everyone should be ordering the same number of courses). If the restaurant has any specialties, be sure to mention that as well.

Don't Move Too Fast - Here in the States, we do often begin discussing business about 10 minutes into the meal or after the first course has been cleared. In social situations, the meal conversation is kept light and far away from business topics. Be prepared to chat about current events, entertainment, travel and hobbies.

Do Mind Your Manners - Take small bites, chew with your mouth closed, swallow before speaking, sit up straight and elbows off the table... the long list of other admonishments from your parental units comes into play now. No one wants to dine with a slob.

Don't Ever Use Your Napkin As a Tissue - This goes double for cloth napkins! As an adult, you should be carrying with you a handkerchief at all times. At a minimum, some clean tissues. While you may dab your drippy nose at the table using your handkerchief, if you need to give your nose a good blow, you must leave the table.

Do Employ Silent Signals - Where you place your utensils sends silent signals to both the waitstaff and your tablemates as to where you are in the meal. Imagining your plate as the face of a clock, fork tip at 12 and handle at 8, knife tip at 12 and handle at 4 indicate that you are still enjoying your food. Fork and knife parallel on the right side of your plate indicate you are finished.

Don't Be Hostile - When the serrated blade of your knife is facing out, away from your plate, you are signaling open hostility to your tablemate. The sharp edge of your knife should always face in towards the center of your plate.

Do Keep Your Wits About You - No one has ever become more interesting or more professional with the consumption of alcohol. While liquid lunches these days tend to refer more readily to caffeine consumption than martinis, it is best to maintain your composure.

Don't Engage in Contentious Debate - Even skilled trial attorneys know to put their oratory skills on pause during a meal. It is perfectly acceptable to bring up timely topics and current events as part of your table talk. However, if any of your guests start getting hot under the collar, it is time to turn the conversation away to more amiable subjects.

Do Handle the Bill in Advance - The savviest of hosts know to avoid having the bill ever arrive at the table. After all, the check is often the most awkward part of the meal and not a good way to end a positive interaction. When you are hosting, be sure to speak with the venue in advance so that they will hold the bill until after your guests have departed. Or, have them run your credit card through in advance and email you the final bill.

Overtly or not, your actions provide clues and cues to others. Be sure your observable behaviors are saying what you want them to say about you.

The 2nd edition of From Clueless to Class Act: Manners for the Modern Woman & From Clueless to Class Act: Manners for the Modern Man now available at Barnes & Noble!