Exceptional Business Dinner Etiquette Opens Doors

proper table arrangement

You are going on your first business trip to meet with an important client or prospective employer. You’ve managed to make it through the initial meeting with only mildly sweaty palms. Then, just when you thought you could loosen your tie and relax, you’re invited to dinner.

Your business dinner etiquette just might get you the job you want, the contract that takes your startup to the next level or leads to the promotion of your dreams. Yes, exceptional business dinner etiquette can open an unlimited array of opportunities. But, poor dinner manners can close those opportunistic windows before you place your order.

Today, some of the best business schools in the nation are offering classes on business dinner etiquette. Last spring, 1.6 million American students graduated with bachelor’s degrees and the consensus is that because Americans rarely sit at a dinner table, their etiquette is sorely lacking.

How do you rate in terms of business dinner etiquette? Follow these etiquette tips to increase the probability for success at your next business dinner.

The Dilemma

The dilemma for many American business diners is that they were raised in a family or college environment where dinner resembled a free-for-all. A first-come-first-serve mentality prevailed.

With two working parents and business, school and college schedules, who had time to pay attention to proper place settings, etiquette or table manners?

The problem is that when we arrive at our business dinner, all the above tend to work against us. And, because good business dinner etiquette either consciously or subconsciously reflects upon our character and ability, we must get business dinner etiquette right the first time and every time thereafter.

Two Quotes About Business Dinner Etiquette

“Etiquette is thinking about the other people you’re with. It’s about respecting them.” Dennis Cornell, Los Angeles business consultant.

“About 80% of communication is expressed by body language,” Cornell says. We suggest you add eye contact to this equation.

The Solution

business dinnerWhatever field you are in, business dinner etiquette is serious business. The bad news is, many of us are clueless about business dinner etiquette, including conversation, consumption, and proper use of eating utensils.

The good news is, it is never too late to learn. So, if you have an open mind, let’s get started building the foundation for comfortable, fluid, and rewarding business dinner etiquette.

  1. Before you arrive, do your homework. Know the names of other participants and use them. Research their backgrounds. Research their company, the company culture, successes and shortcomings but avoid sensitive topics unless your guests raise them. Then, sound informed, not authoritative.
  1. Arrive early. Ask if your party has arrived. If not, wait in the lobby. If you are hosting or if you feel you should pay for dinner, inform the wait staff that you are paying in full and give them your credit card. Instruct the staff not to present a check or receipt or to accept payment from any other party. You can settle the tip as you leave the restaurant.
  1. When your party arrives, approach with confidence, extend your hand, look each person in the eye, and introduce yourself with a smile. Never presume that familiarity is acceptable. If you are running late, strike one but don’t make it worse by not calling and advising your party you are in transit.
  1. Before reaching your table, turn off cellphones and check any bags, handbags, or briefcases.
  1. When you arrive at the table, stand behind your chair until the parties are seated. If you are the host, invite your guests to be seated.
  1. When seated, leave utensils as they were placed. Gently lift your napkin and fold it into your lap. Take comfort in the formality and allow it to set a pleasant pace for what promises to be an important dinner.
  1. Pay attention to your posture and keep elbows off the table. Sit firmly upright, be a great listener and avoid topics like politics, religion or news that could be controversial. This is a business dinner. Let your party direct conversation and the pace.
  1. Do not order until the host has ordered and choose a similar entree. Eat light foods that are easy to digest. Never commence the meal until everyone is served and the host has begun. If appropriate, offer an ice-breaking toast when everyone is served.
  1. Never speak in a loud tone. Never dominate the table chatter. Your conversation should flow but unless asked for details, keep it simple. Remember that quiet engagement inspires confidence.
  1. Understand that your dinner party is observing your manners, your style and your overall etiquette. If you are unfamiliar with the European style of cutting your food and eating, do research and practice. Being comfortable with this particular eating style can score big points. Make sure your utensils rest neatly on your plate and together.
  1. Only cut enough food for one small mouthful at a time. This is not the frat house. Chew thoroughly. You should be so comfortable that you want this dinner to last. Try to finish at the same time your compatriots conclude their meal.
  1. When you have finished your meal, fold your napkin and place it to the left of your plate. Place your utensils together with the handles at 5:00 o’clock and the tips at ten. Leave the plate in place and do not move it ahead or to the side.

General Dinner Etiquette Tips
Here are a few quick reminders about general dinner etiquette:

  • Refrain from alcohol, even if the host encourages you
  • Use your napkin frequently
  • Never use utensils to emphasize a point
  • Never chew ice
  • Eat small portions and chew thoroughly
  • Refrain from talking when food is in your mouth
  • Make eye contact at every possible turn
  • Break bread and butter one piece at a time
  • If you must leave the table, excuse yourself and place your napkin on your seat
  • Understand the culture of your guests and hosts
  • Keep your hands away from your face and hair
  • Ask food to be passed and avoid reaching across the table
  • Be polite to wait staff as it reflects on your ability to get along with others
  • Follow the host’s lead whenever possible
  • Relax

Proper business dinner etiquette is a plus on your resume. You cannot be too polite. Treat all dinner guests as equals and praise your host at every opportunity. Be the person your dinner compatriots want to hire, make a deal with and with whom they cannot wait to do business. It all starts with great business dinner etiquette.

To make the most of your next business trip, review our other business travel tips. For more information about TripCase, click here.