Business Meal Etiquette

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By Adrian Cruce

Business meals provide a golden opportunity to showcase your conversational skills, table manners and self-possession while building rapport and showing that you care for others.

Make an introduction, shake hands and introduce yourself before waiting for instructions on where to sit; only place a napkin on your lap after all guests have done so.

Arrive on Time

Business meals provide an opportunity for lasting impressions in social settings. From informal sandwich lunches to formal multi-course dinners, business meals provide the chance to showcase one’s conversational abilities, self-possession and table manners simultaneously – not to mention reflecting positively on one’s company! Etiquette at these occasions holds great weight because their outcomes reflect directly upon it.

Arriving 10-15 minutes early at a restaurant allows you time to greet guests as they arrive and inspect the table and collect your thoughts about who is attending and what topics will be discussed. Jay recommends speaking with the host prior to guests arriving to inform them that you will be paying the bill with credit card payment arranged as they take care of this step in advance.

Once everyone has arrived, greet each individual with a firm handshake and short introduction. Make eye contact with each person as well as ensure you understand any dietary restrictions or allergies they may have.

When presented with various eating utensils, it’s best to fold your napkin in half with its fold towards your waist before placing each item down when finished using them. Remember that it is impolite to hold onto or talk about them when not being used; in addition, silence your phone during meals to maintain appropriate standards of behavior.

Be Polite

Business meal etiquette involves showing proper table manners and being courteous towards all at the table, even if the conversation may not be particularly stimulating. Don’t leave an impression of being cold, rude or self-absorbed even if conversation becomes stagnant or dull.

As soon as you are seated at the table, greet everyone and wait for them all to sit before sitting yourself down. Additionally, it is considerate and polite to place your napkin directly onto your lap upon sitting rather than tucking it under the table. If your host offers beverages such as water, wine or soda it is impolite to order multiple beverages and consume multiple alcoholic drinks at one sitting.

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Once a meal begins, avoid discussing contentious topics such as politics and religion that could divide or spark argument among guests at your table. Instead, save them for casual discussions among friends and family later in the meal.

If you must leave, do it in an amicable manner by saying something like, “I need to use the restroom”. Never just leave without saying a word!

After dining is complete, it’s courteous to express our thanks to your host for hosting you and providing food. This can be done either verbally or by sending a handwritten thank-you note the day afterward.

Be Prepared

At business meals, you will often be offered an assortment of food and drinks – salads, soups, entrees, appetizers and desserts among them – from salads to soups, entrees appetizers and desserts. To avoid taking too long or making others uncomfortable when it comes time for eating, order smaller portions with knife and fork when making your selections and use proper table manners when eating with others. Also avoid drinking excessive alcohol at these events; your manners and behavior represent your company.

Etiquette may seem outdated to some people, but business meals offer you the chance to make a good first impression and make lasting relationships. A firm handshake and confident smile are just as essential at a business lunch as in an interview or face to face meeting.

As soon as your guests arrive, stand to greet and shake hands with them. As host, it is your responsibility to arrange seating plans and offer extra chairs if any guests don’t already have one. In terms of topics of conversation, having general topics ready such as politics and religion might prove helpful in answering any queries from guests – if unsure what to say you may also consult wait staff for suggestions! At the conclusion of your meal it would also be appropriate to send written thank-you notes as a gesture to show you value their presence!

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Be Mindful of the Environment

Business meals range from casual sandwich lunches around a conference table to full-blown multi-course dinners, providing the opportunity for you to display your conversational skills, self-possession and table manners in ways that reflect positively upon yourself and the company you represent.

At business dinners, it is crucial to be considerate of both other diners and serving staff. Avoid throwing your cutlery around like an unruly toddler; place it back where it belongs on your plate after each use. Furthermore, when eating from shared platters or bowls be mindful not to put food onto other diners’ plates without their permission and be generous when giving tips when paying the bill.

Dining internationally can vary significantly by country; however, some key guidelines to remember include avoiding expensive outliers and limiting alcohol consumption. Also remembering to introduce yourself to those sitting on either side and to your immediate right and be familiar with local customs regarding use of utensils/serving order/meaning of “glass and right.” By adhering to these simple guidelines you can ensure your business dinner is both enjoyable and successful!

Don’t Talk About Politics or Religion

As children, one of the first lessons most of us were taught was not to discuss politics and religion during business meals – this can be particularly sensitive topics, with potential to cause friction. If discussing these matters is essential for you, do so privately with like-minded people or when with immediate family members.

Remarks that can create the impression that you are judgemental can turn into business meals where discussion turns to topics outside work-related matters and can undermine professional relationships. By keeping conversation to work-related matters and avoiding these sensitive subjects, a productive relationship will develop quickly.

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Politics and religion should not be discussed during a business dinner as they may divert the conversation away from discussing work-related matters. Instead, focus on discussing non-controversial subjects such as the weather or activities you enjoy outside work to create an impressive impression among your dining partners.

An often-made mistake at business meals is to over-do their use of condiments such as ketchup or salt, masking the flavor of their food while making it difficult to consume. Donning too many condiments also sends the message that you do not appreciate the effort the restaurant or host put forth to provide high-quality fare.

Be a Good Listener

Business meals offer an invaluable opportunity to demonstrate that you are an attentive listener, capable of handling yourself in challenging circumstances. But be prepared to express your own views and opinions too – making small talk, but never dominating the discussion; opting instead for casual conversations about hobbies and interests so as to ease other guests.

Politeness dictates that one should keep one’s hand tucked securely into one’s lap rather than placing it on the table or hanging from a napkin ring. You should also try keeping your cell phone in your pocket or purse to concentrate on conversation instead of staring off into space or seeming distracted by anything around the room.

Once food is served, take small bites and ensure to chew each bite thoroughly before eating quickly – this can be seen as rude! If unsure how much to consume, ask either the host or other guests for advice on portion sizes.

Most often, the host or highest ranking guest will pay for the meal. If you are the one hosting, make sure that this information is distributed ahead of time so attendees may use separate checks when placing orders. Also consider having some cash handy should unforeseen problems arise – in general 15% to 20% should be added to your bill prior to taxes being deducted.