Business Dining Etiquette

How to Avoid Dining Blunders That Even the Most Successful Executives Make

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Author: Diane Gottsman

Date: Oct 2009

There is nothing more uncomfortable than sitting across the table from someone you are trying to impress and not knowing what fork to use. Or, as a guest, wondering what part of the menu you should order from or when to make a toast. Or, what to do if you found yourself with a huge piece of gristle in your mouth?

Years ago, as a novice fundraiser I sat between two VIP’s from separate corporations.  One was drinking my water and the other was eating from my bread plate.  I had many options – none of them good.  Should I drink from the next person’s water glass?  Should I skip the breadbasket?  Should I tell them?  What a dilemma!  How we handle uncomfortable situations is what set’s us apart.

A Successful Business Meal Requires Thought, Planning and Attention to Detail!

Your dining skills will be observed and evaluated as you carry on a professional conversation with an existing client or as you attempt to build a relationship with a new client.

So yes, table manners really do matter!  They provide an opportunity for your client to see a polished, poised and sophisticated executive versus someone who is uncomfortable, awkward and ill at ease.  Therefore, it should come as no surprise that dining, unless done well, could be disastrous to your reputation.

10 Business Dining Etiquette Tips to Avoiding a Dining Disaster During Dinner with a Potential Customer

1.      If you were the one to extend the invitation, you take care of everything from the valet to the tip. As the host (or the invitee) you are responsible for making sure that every part of the business meal goes smoothly, from beginning to end.

2.      Give your client an indication of what he or she may order by making suggestions.  The key is to familiarize yourself with several menu items and demonstrate your knowledge by offering tips on what are the favorites and specialties.

3.      Drink from your own glass. A sure way to negate your own professionalism is by making the mistake of drinking from your client’s water glass or eating from their bread plate.  Your drink will always be on the right and the bread plate is on the left side, above your dinner plate.

4.      Remove any foreign object from your mouth by covering your lips with a napkin and removing the object with your index finger and thumb.  If you feel too uncomfortable, excuse yourself from the table and take care of the removal in the privacy of the restroom, away from the table.

5.      Salt and pepper are married.  Always pass the salt and pepper together, even if your client only asks for salt.  This small skill shows the savvy client that you have some form of dining training.

6.      Try a bit of everything on your plate unless you have a food allergy. You will come across as juvenile if you eat your steak and potatoes and turn your nose up at the peas and carrots.

7.      Do not monopolize the conversation. Show a genuine interest in getting to know your client better by asking thoughtful questions about “safe topics” such as sports teams, hobbies, movies and other general interests.  Avoid personal questions that may make your client feel uncomfortable.

8.      When leaving the table during the meal place your napkin on your chair and push the chair back under the table.  It is not important to announce where you are going, especially when it is the restroom.

9.      Closing a deal is not your primary focus. Use this time to promote good will rather than attempting to make a sale. Remember, your focus is on building the relationship – and that’s why you should also follow up in writing with a quick thank you note that thanks your prospect or client for his or her time.

10.     Review some difficult menu terms. Quiche Lorraine is not pronounced “Quicky Looraine” and Prix Fix is not an expensive sports car.

Remember, your behavior at the dining table is a good indicator of what your client can expect in an important meeting or merger.  Taking the time and effort to hone your dining skills is an investment in your future success.

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