What you need to know about business dinner etiquette
Having meals with colleagues during a business trip is quite common. In fact, I’ve been on many trips where all three meals of the day are consumed under the watchful eyes of business associates. And although the setting may change from breakfast to dinner, many of the same rules apply. But in this article we will focus on proper business dinner etiquette, as it tends to be the more formal meal of the day.
As mentioned above, you can rest assured that your business colleagues are watching you during a meal. In some cases they may be observing how you behave, so that they can emulate similar behavior, or perhaps they are actually trying to learn a little more about you. Example: If you are dining with a customer or a prospective new employer, they may actually be making a judgment about the type of person you are, either professionally or personally.
That simple (sometimes uncomfortable) truth is the reason that learning some basic etiquette is important. In the page below, we have outlined several business dinner etiquette tips that will help you leave a great impression. Once you become familiar with the dos and don’ts of a dinner meeting, you can sit back, eat your meal and do some business.
Before heading to dinner – Have a plan
Take some time to prepare your thoughts and your objectives prior to leaving for the meal. You will be more likely to meet with success if you plan ahead and set expectations of the meeting. Even if the purpose of the business dinner is to simply get some food, the “away from the office” setting is a prime opportunity to further your agenda, so set some small goals.
It probably wouldn’t hurt to consider any sensitive subjects you may want to avoid, as well. Dinner is a popular place to talk about current events, politics or social views. This is a good time to remember that you are being watched. Of course, it is fine to have opinions and beliefs, but business and politics do not always mix well. Try to stay neutral when discussing non-work related topics and do your best to change the subject if things start to get intense.
Don’t go to Dinner Hungry
There are several reasons you may not want to show up for your business dinner starving for a meal. The most obvious reason is that you don’t want to be the person who eats the entire basket of bread. When we are hungry, we tend to eagerly anticipate the arrival of the food. This can be a distraction and your focus may not be entirely on the business conversation at hand.
Also, you will have a tendency to over order when you are hungry and this leads to additional etiquette problems. We will address ordering the meal later, but for now, understand that your goal will be to eat slowly and finish your meal.
Wear appropriate business dinner attire
Once again, this suggestion may seem to state the obvious, but there are several factors regarding attire that you should consider. First, be sure you understand the requirements of the dining establishment. If you would prefer not to ask your host, you can call the restaurant or check their website for advice.
Additionally, be prepared to allow time to change into appropriate attire if necessary. Remember that each of the attendees may have varying needs with respect to “getting ready”. Some may need to go home, while others may need to go back to a hotel; keep track of time and allow a comfortable margin.
Silence your phone and arrive on time
Do not be confused about this, your phone should not be part of any business meeting, particularly dinner. If it is at all possible, simply turn your phone off. Believe me, I understand that we are all busy people, but excusing yourself from the dinner table to talk on the phone does not make you look important, it makes you look rude. So keep the phone handy for emergency purposes only.
Lastly, ensure that you arrive at the dinner venue on time, early is also fine. If you are going to be a little late, call to inform your host. And, if your host is running late, wait for at least 15 minutes before you call to check on them.
Upon Arrival – Give a firm handshake
Upon arrival, give a firm handshake to everyone present and make eye contact with them. As you do so, introduce yourself and make an effort to remember everyone s name. Your actions during the arrival phase of a dinner meeting can be quite important, it sets the tone for the evening and a great deal of information is often exchanged.
Don’t place your stuff on the table
If you have been to a few business dinners, you might agree that it can be pretty awkward figuring out where to keep your stuff. Be aware that the table is not an option. Leave unnecessary items in your vehicle and find a coat room or hook for your jacket. It may be appropriate to keep your bag or other belonging under your chair or wedged between your back and the back of your chair, but keep mindful of their location and do not forget items.
Who should sit first?
It is important that you wait for your host to sit first as it gives them the feeling of being in control. They may very well expend you the same courtesy, but at least you made the appropriate gesture. Do not be in a rush to sit if you are waiting for others to arrive, as it is appropriate to stand for each introduction, the act of sitting and standing repeatedly gets awkward.
Get comfortable, but not too comfortable
Once you are seated, carefully unfold the napkin and place it on your lap and familiarize yourself with the settings. Be sure that objects on the table do not block your view of other attendees. If a centerpiece or other object blocks your view, ask the staff to remove the object.
What should you order?
I am not a huge fan of reviewing everyone’s order, but this way of thinking has gotten me in trouble before. You will likely be ordering drinks first, so whether to order alcohol may be your first dilemma. That decision will depend greatly on the context of the setting, so be prepared to order something non-alcoholic and if your host orders a beer, feel free to do the same.
Order a meal that you know you can finish, and stay away from the most expensive meal on the menu. Messy meals are another situation to avoid, sauce on your shirt will absolutely distract from your dinner conversation. Also, stick with a meal that you will enjoy, don’t get adventurous with your order, you may be faced with not being capable of eating the meal you selected.
Placing your order
Make your order and don’t make a scene by asking your server too many questions. Also, ensure that you don’t go ordering the most expensive items and trouble foods such as spaghetti.
Some other meal time tips
- Always have a glass of water available and keep track of which glass is yours
- Wait for everyone to be served before eating
- Use your utensils, dont eat with your hands
- Take your time, cut and chew your food one piece at a time
- Take portions of butter or sauce and pass it on
- Don’t blowing on your food, allow it to cool naturally
- Keep a proper posture at the table
- Do not interupt other who are speaking
- Allow your server to clear your plate as soon as possible
After the meal
Even though your host is obligated to pay and you are not expected to, make the move to pay, it sounds polite. After everything, thank your host by name with a firm handshake and eye contact.