You are how you eat

Entry originally appeared in Peter Post’s E Word blog for The Boston Globe.

When you are eating with other people, how you eat your food affects the way the people think about you.

I learned this lesson when I talked to a group of women about things men do that are really gross, especially at the dinner table. I asked them specifically, ”What could a man do that would guarantee he wouldn’t get second date?” They were unanimous: “Chew his food with his mouth open.” Ugh. Disgusting. Right up there with chewing with an open mouth was talking with a mouth full of food. Not only are both these behaviors gross, worse yet they’re memorable—and not in a good way.

That’s one of the interesting things about etiquette. Some manners are simply things we do or don’t do, but they aren’t deal breakers. Eating with the wrong fork is a perfect example. Honestly, it really doesn’t matter which fork you use. No one is really going to notice if you use a salad fork instead of a dinner fork. And if they do, they wouldn’t (shouldn’t) make a fuss about it.

However, a major faux pas like chewing with your mouth open really is a deal breaker. Do that on a date with any of the ladies in my focus group and you won’t get a second date. Now imagine you are at a lunch that is part of a job interview. (No, they’re not taking you to lunch just to be nice.) The interviewer will be assessing your dining skills, and how you will represent the company when you are with clients, prospects or suppliers. Yes, you might get dinged a few points for using the wrong fork; but chew with your mouth open and the interview’s over. Guaranteed, you won’t get the job.

Here are seven deal breakers to watch out for when eating with others:

  1. Chewing with you mouth open.
  2. Talking with your mouth full of food.
  3. Shoveling your food into your mouth as though you are in a race.
  4. Sneezing without turning away and covering up.
  5. Ignoring others at the table or not taking part in the conversation.
  6. Dominating the conversation.
  7. Not thanking your host at the end of the meal.


  1. Dear Peter,
    You summed it up pretty well here. Also hunching over your plate for kind of shoving in the food is not a great score for high points. Sitting up straight and hands above table, not in your lap when eating are some others. And in-between courses, don’t even chew gum like a ruminating cow. Helping a lady getting seated is a good score. Subtle tokens of gentleman behavior that might pay off at business lunches for closing a deal or not…
    Keep up this great writing, we need to polish up this nation once again.
    Wishing you a Happy New Year.

  2. Jody

    I’d like to add “how the person treats waitstaff” to the list. My dining companion may have perfect table manners, but if he isn’t courteous to waitstaff he loses points with me.

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