Job Search Series – How To Work a Room (Full of Strangers) Part 2

 Balancing Mingling with Food & Drink

“Sometimes, idealistic people are put off the whole business of networking as something tainted by flattery and the pursuit of selfish advantage. But virtue in obscurity is rewarded only in Heaven. To succeed in this world you have to be known to people” ~ Sonia Sotomayor

A networking event should be approached in the same manner that you would a job interview. Prepare, dress and behave as though you will meet your future boss, because that could very well happen.

Your mindset going into a job interview is one of convincing the interviewer that you are the right person for the position. You approach an informational interview in a similar manner: although you are not officially applying for a particular position, you are presenting still yourself to someone who might keep you in mind for a future position or recommend you to someone else.

Networking events are simply another form of presenting yourself to others who can possibly lead you to a job, business opportunity or a solid business contact for the future. But, with networking events you get to decide what your goal is in attending, whether it’s just to explore, learn about the sponsoring organization or immerse yourself in a particular industry event to meet members and possible job recruiters. Once you have determined the goal for attending a networking event, you can approach the event with purpose and a clear intent. Then, follow the tips and techniques presented in this series on working a room to make a powerful impression!

This week let’s address how to handle food and drink at a networking event:

It’s Not About The Food & Drinks
Networking events are about meeting people, schmoozing, connecting with them on a business level, exchanging business cards and adding to your professional network. Don’t attend to get free food or become schnockered. Have something light to eat before you arrive to avoid making a mad dash to the buffet table or inhaling the passed hors d’oeuvres as your main priorities!

How Much Alcohol Should You Consume?
Zero is a good number. Remember, your goal is to present yourself as a confident, savvy professional, and even a little alcohol can alter your behavior and judgment. Moreover, alcohol can affect you differently under various circumstances. Drinking even a small amount of alcohol on an empty stomach, after a long and stressful day or when you are tired or anxious can speed up intoxication. It’s better to stick to soft drinks (there are some that look like alcoholic beverages) than risk making a less than stellar impression. If someone urges you to imbibe, just smile and say that you are driving or that you have work to do later and want to remain alert. The right people will respect you for your decision.

Keep Your Right Hand Free – And Dry
Hold your drink in your left hand to keep your right hand free, clean and dry and ready to shake hands. Most glasses at networking events are stemless and handle-less, such as an ice tea, Collins, highball or rocks glass, which are all suitable for soft drinks. Hold such glasses with a paper cocktail napkin to keep your hands dry. If you are holding stemware, used for wine, sherry and champagne, hold it by the stem toward the top by the bowl. A brandy snifter should be held with the bowl in the palm of your hand. Hold beer steins and tankards by their handles.

Those Fancy Drinks and Cocktail Debris
When you are standing, avoid fancy cocktails with toothpicks, paper umbrellas and lots of fruit. They can be awkward to handle. However, if you do find yourself with one, you may eat the fruit with your right hand while it is on a toothpick; then transfer used toothpicks, olive pits, etc., to your left hand and place them in your cocktail napkin, holding them against your glass until you can discard them with your right hand in a waste receptacle or on a passing tray that a server will have for that purpose. However, it’s preferable to stick with simple beverages while standing, and have fancy cocktails only when seated at a table, where you can place cocktail debris on your under plate or napkin that is on the table.

Open versus Cash Bar
An “open” bar means that there is no charge for your drinks; a “cash” bar means that you must pay cash for your drinks. The invitation should indicate such, but it’s wise to inquire before arrival so that you are prepared.

Take Small Bites and Sips
Keep your mouth free to talk by selecting easy-to-eat, bite-sized hors d’oeuvres. Avoid ones that look messy or complicated. Use your napkin to wipe your fingers after nibbling on anything. Take small sips of your drink. There are few more disconcerting moments than when someone approaches you when your mouth is full and your hand is messy or wet, thereby preventing you from shaking hands or speaking!

Be Courteous to the Wait Staff
Demonstrate impeccable manners at all times, including your interactions with the wait staff. Even if something is not to your liking, be kind and generous in your words and actions. Don’t join in if others are rude to the servers — or to anyone else for that matter.

Eat First & Remember Your Table Manners
Upon arrival, if you are a bit peckish and there is a buffet, it’s a good idea to get something to eat before you start mingling seriously. If there is seating or tables, take the networking opportunity to join others and chat while you enjoy your light repast. Remember your table manners; they are in effect whether you are at a networking event or formal dinner! That means napkin in your lap, chew with your mouth closed, don’t speak with food in your mouth, elbows off the table, swallow before you take a drink, etc. Visit the restroom to freshen up, if necessary; then start, or resume, working the room.

Practice Proper Buffet and Queue Etiquette
While standing in line, or queue, at the buffet table, there are some do’s and don’ts to remember:

  • Be patient and pleasant.
  • Take your plate, napkin and flatware and ask politely for the dishes you want from the servers or — if it’s self-serve — help yourself without jostling or reaching in front of others. Say “excuse me” if you do so accidentally.
  • Never take food directly from a serving dish to sample, and avoid eating from your dish while standing in line. Move away from the buffet table before starting to eat.
  • Don’t help yourself to food directly from someone else’s plate, even if encouraged to do so.
  • Avoid talking over others’ heads, or around people. If you wish to speak to someone, do so only if they are standing next to you in the queue; otherwise wait until you have your food and are away from the buffet table.

Join me next week to learn more about working a room confidentally and successfully!

Until next time,


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