Dining Etiquette for Summer Associates

  • During your summer associate experience, know what behaviors to steer clear of while eating
  • Be sure to order carefully, be polite, and drink responsibly
  • Remember: This summer is basically a long job interview

Your time as a summer associate will necessarily include many meals, from casual breakfasts to huge lunches to fancy dinners.

When having a meal—whether with a partner, associate, or any other higher-up—there are several things you should avoid doing at all costs. Some make you look unprofessional and messy, some are ill-mannered, and some set you apart from the crowd in a negative way.

Don’t go into the meal starving.

If you’re famished, you’re more likely to not be able to focus on the conversation and to feel “out of it” or dizzy. You’re also more likely to scarf down your food, which never looks good. It’s much better to have a light snack—a granola bar or some crackers—before heading to an important lunch to avoid the possibility of appearing disinterested or acting like a ravenous animal.

Don’t order anything that might stain!

Dishes with long pasta noodles, red sauces, or greasy foods can be close to impossible to eat without some sort of spill. A stain on your cheek due to your spaghetti splattering or on your shirt due to the oil dripping from your hamburger isn’t the most professional look. Instead, try ordering something less likely to drip, or that you can eat in bite-sized pieces.

Don’t forget your manners.

Put your phone away for the entirety of your meal—unless, of course, you’ve been instructed to wait for a specific email to come in. Use good judgement and err on the side of not checking your phone while eating. Make sure to keep your napkin on your lap and chew with your mouth closed. Remember the basic table manners your parents taught you. When eating bread, don’t put butter on the entire piece and try to stuff it in your mouth; instead, tear off small pieces. Lastly, and debatably most importantly, be polite to the servers. Remember to say “please” and “thank you” or else you risk coming off as bad-mannered and disrespectful.

Don’t order food that’s difficult to eat or that must be eaten with your hands.

Anything on the bone (such as chicken wings), or that must be picked up by hand (corn on the cobb) is to be avoided, as well as anything that can easily get stuck in your teeth or cause a mess. By ordering “safer” food, you don’t have to worry about potential food faux pas and can focus on the discussion instead.

Ok, let’s say you’re going out for a long lunch with a bunch of higher-ups. What are some things that might be safe to order?

Don’t be the odd one out.

If your superior orders a Caesar salad, don’t order the most expensive steak on the menu. Instead, play “follow the leader” even though you’re not the one paying. If no one else is ordering an appetizer or dessert, don’t be the only one to do so. The others will be staring at you eating and waiting for you to finish so they can get their food or leave the restaurant and get on with their day.

Don’t get drunk.

This goes without saying, hopefully. In fact, you shouldn’t order any drink unless your boss recommends one to you or you’ll be the only person at the table conspicuously not drinking. If you do decide to get a drink, make sure to nurse it over the duration of the meal. Becoming boisterous or sloppy is extremely unprofessional and can ruin your prospects at the firm.

Remember that this summer serves as a long interview.

The way you behave inside and outside of the office will be judged by those deciding if they think you deserve an offer. Any behavior that would be unacceptable in the office is still inappropriate whether at lunch, dinner, or any other summer event. So have fun, but keep it low-key and professional.