Business Dining Etiquette:
How to Eat and Act Like a Professional
I am often asked what are are the top three etiquette mistakes I see in the business arena. Without a doubt, it is the lost art of table manners. Let me be blunt here. How you act and eat leaves a lasting impression. Whether you are on a job interview during lunch, or trying to seal a deal, be exceptional. You are creative, talented and a hard worker. Now, let’s continue the process and improve your personal brand to raise your professional bar. Here are tips on how to be exceptional when dining out for business with colleagues, the CEO of your company or clients. This way, you can focus on the business at hand and not worry about where your bread plate is located.
- Dress the part. If you are the host, you might want to offer your guests a hint when extending the invitation. If the restaurant is very casual and you work in a relaxed office, you may want to mention this. Make the offer to be casually dressed over lunch. Be aware that casual does not mean weekend attire as in a t-shirt and jeans, or a polo shirt. If you are a man, you might opt for a button down and dress slacks; a woman, dress pants, turtleneck, and a scarf or casual jacket. If you are in the financial or legal professions, consider a business suite when dining, especially with clients. If you are the guest and you are not sure: Ask. This shows initiative and leadership. A positive first impression and being appropriate is important to you.
- Arrive early to the restaurant. You have a few things to take care of before your guests arrive. If you choose to be exceptional, arrive early to speak with the owner or the host to give them your credit card. This way the bill does not come to the table. What a nice touch. Arriving early also gives you the chance to check out the table and gather your thoughts about who is attending and the business to discuss. When your guests arrive, stand and shake hands with everyone attending. Ask them to sit.
- When to talk business. Start with small talk, maybe about the weather, golf, the playoffs or the restaurant, depending on the interest of your guest. Remember, you become more interesting when you are more interested in someone else. Make sure everyone feels included. Make eye contact. Don’t just begin with the business at hand. Let your guests order and get situated.
- Be fully present with your guests. By this I mean put away your phone. Not only is this good manners but be aware of cleanliness when you are dining. Never put a handbag or phone on the dining table. They are ridden with germs. It may not bother you, but keep in mind that you have others with you.
- Move through the meal with grace and confidence. Napkin in your lap, bread plate is on your left, elbows off the table, hold your fork like a pencil if you are eating American Style, chew with your mouth closed. I know you learned that at four years old, but you would be amazed at how many adults forget it. Remember, this is a business meal and not an eating contest. Slow down.
- Put your guests at ease. So many times I have been asked “what should I order and how much can I spend if I am not the one paying?” As a host, put your guests at ease. As you are looking at the menu, you might add that you are ordering the soup of the day along with salmon. This way your guests have a sense of the courses you plan to have and how much you are spending on yourself. If you are a guest and your host is not giving you a clue, ask. You can be subtle. Tell your host it is your first time dining at this location and ask for a suggestion.
- Thank you from both. As a host, thank your guests for their time. As a guest, you might send a quick email once you get back to the office but you must also send a handwritten thank you note for the meal. Remember, you are choosing to be exceptional and outstanding.