Business Dinner Etiquette

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.

18 thoughts on “Business Dinner Etiquette

  • February 28, 2019 at 3:57 pm

    Wow! That is one heck of a check-list of do’s and don’t’s, yet I can see that if you are going to be having a super important dinner meeting with someone, and you might be nervous about the outcome, this is very handy guide and reminder of what to do. I might even want to keep that last part on my phone so that I could glance at it surreptitiously, during the meeting. In business, every single move you make must be deliberate, and strategic .I would have forgotten the part of ‘don’t go there hungry’ so that’s one of the most basic reminders of all. Nicely written article.

    • February 28, 2019 at 8:20 pm

      I’m glad you enjoyed the article and I may just provide a handy checklist that can be kept on a cellphone based on your idea.  So thank you for the suggestion.

      You are absolutely correct that you are being watched when you are in the presence of business associates.  Regardless of how comfortable you are with the group, you should always be professional.

      Thanks again, Glenn

  • February 28, 2019 at 4:00 pm

    I appreciate you writing this article very much, because there are some things in this list that I would never have paid attention to, such as not putting my stuff on the table. 

    And one other point you also mention here, is not to go to the dinner being hungry. I agree with what you’ve said, but I also want to add that most of us don’t realize how we look when we’re eating and thus, if we go hungry, we might look like we’re eating too fast and not taking the time to chew and seeming impatient before every else arrives.

    This kind of behavior may seem weird or make the situation awkward for others around us.

    • March 1, 2019 at 8:01 am

      You are welcome, Reyhana

      It is very true that many of us do not consider our eating habits until we are dining with a group of new acquaintances.  There are a lot of questions that must be considered when attending a business dinner meeting and “at the table” is not the best time to be looking for an answer.

      I can tell you that I have been in awkward business situations in the past, some that I created and some that others have created.  In either case, being prepared for any situation is what got me through each time.

      Enjoy your day, Glenn

  • February 28, 2019 at 4:02 pm

    This is really good planning for a business dinner.

    I do find the intrusion of mobiles while eating is so intrusive and almost rude.

    We have monthly meetings where if someone’s phone sounds, that person must stand up and sing an Abba or Bob Marley song. A second transgression involves a 3 minute dance as well. 

    It works.

    The meal tips are really good and may I add a little something?: “Listen to your fellow eaters. I find the inconsequential chatter so important to get an impression of who is who and what their agenda really is.

    Great plan with useful advice. Thank you.

    • March 1, 2019 at 6:46 pm

      Thank you for the tip.  Listening is a very powerful tool and I recommend it highly.


  • February 28, 2019 at 4:05 pm

    That is all quite interesting! I’ve recently started a new job as an office manager and had to go to lunch at a fancy restaurant with all of my colleagues. It was a new environment for me and I completely felt out of place. I appreciate all of the advice you have and will take it all into consideration for the next luncheon! Thank you for a good read!

    • March 1, 2019 at 8:42 am

      This is why we are here, Randi

      I want to wish you the best in your new position and please visit us often.  You will find tons ofg helpful information within the pages of Business Travel Gadgets.  Information on conducting business meetings, writing effective emails and of course business travel tips.

      Thanks you for visiting us and we hope to see you again soon, Glenn

  • February 28, 2019 at 4:05 pm

    What a great topic, I personally have been to business lunches and dinners both formal and informal and it isn’t always easy to judge everything correctly and get it right each time. I have also been the senior member of groups on many occasions so not only have I been focused on my own behavior but also that of the rest of my group.

    It’s an interesting subject.

    What constitutes formal or informal? Sometimes it is a fine line and keeping alcohol levels to a minimum when a group of people are involved can be quite a challenge.

    I enjoyed reading this informative and common sense article.

    • March 1, 2019 at 2:30 pm

      Hello Louise,

      The decision making during business lunches and dinners starts before you even park your car.  As someone who has attended a few, I’m sure you realize that every move you makes is being observed by someone. particularly if you are the leader of the group.

      Other attendees will watch you and take cues based on your behavior, if you order alcohol, they will be more likely to order alcohol, if you use your cell phone, they will be more likely to do the same.

      It never hurts to have a set of guidelines that you follow during business gatherings.  It allows for a much more relaxing and comfortable environment and your guests will notice.

      Best of luck, Glenn 

  • February 28, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    This article is great. It teaches you about how to conduct yourself with the correct business etiquette when having dinner. Lack of business dinner etiquette is a huge problem in today’s workplace so  it should be taught in workplaces, businesses and students who are pursuing a course in business so that they can be well mannered and professional when interacting with business people. It is really that important. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • February 28, 2019 at 4:52 pm

      Hello Carmeta,

      I’m getting the sense that everyone feels proper manners and etiquette are being lost in today’s society.  I certainly hope that this is not the case and we can maintain a level of professionalism within business circles.  I completely agree that some behaviors must be taught or trained, hence the need to Business Travel

      I firmly believe that respect is something that must be earned, but I also believe that respect can be quickly lost through first impressions and general behavior.  In the business world, your actions speak louder than your words.

      Thanks again and good luck, Glenn

  • February 28, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    Etiquette is a simple but rare quality, for example many of us drink tea or coffee by sounding. This is due to ignorance and bad habits. Whether a person is of good quality is typically reflected in his or her behavior. The article written by Mr. Glenn Hughes is very important for etiquette education. He presented the topic in a very beautiful way and I hope he will write more about etiquette in addition to business topics. I’ve shared the useful article through my Facebook page.

    • February 28, 2019 at 4:41 pm

      Thank you Rana for the kind words.  I agree that etiquette is a rare form of expression in the world today.  However, etiquette is globally recognized and certainly an expectation in many business circles.

      I will be adding several articles regarding business etiquette, business meetings and business communication.  Please check back with us often for future articles and thank you for sharing this post.

      Best wishes, Glenn

  • February 28, 2019 at 4:54 pm

    You can’t go wrong with the information provided here. They’re all great practices for business meets.

    I once offered to pay the bill, and what I did wrong was insist I pay it. It’s a little to pushy to do among st business individuals. Also, I normally grab a non alcoholic drink or a light wine, to avoid the use of alcohol, despite the fact that sometimes the partners grab heavy drinks such as whiskey and brandy.

    It’s all about being calm, relaxed and setting a good impression outside of the office. I think you’ve got it well layed out!

    • February 28, 2019 at 8:15 pm

      Thank you so much for the comments, Angella

      You are correct that being relaxed and enjoying the moment is key to a successful business dinner meeting.  And being prepared for both the expected and the unexpected can help relieve some tension.

      I greatly appreciate that you shared your experience with paying the bill.  There are a few protocols for picking up the tab and I plan to write an article specific to the topic.  But until then, remember that it is perfectly acceptable to allow a business associate to pay the bill when offered.  You will be honoring the associate by accepting his/her offer.

      Best of luck to you, Glenn

  • February 28, 2019 at 5:05 pm

    Thank you for this article. Very useful and informative information.

    That tends to be a situation that isn’t often talked about, and can be confusing and awkward. I look forward to more articles.

    Again, thanks for the good read

    • March 1, 2019 at 8:10 am

      You are welcome Tyler,

      Please stop back often,  we are continually adding informative and useful content and of course great Business Travel Gadgets.



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