First impressions matter. Starting off on the right foot at a business lunch or dinner can have a significant impact on your success of being invited to future business meals. That’s your real goal at business lunch or dinner: to make a positive impression that convinces your boss that he wants you there the next time, too.
A common complaint from senior executives is new hires who don’t represent themselves or their business appropriately during a business meal, and who even act in such a way to actually lose business. Their frustration isn’t with their employees’ business acumen and skills, but rather with their lack of social skills at the dinner table.
Here are ten tips for new hires when attending a business lunch or dinner:
1. Be on time. Make sure you leave enough time to walk from public transportation or to park. If you end up arriving early, wait in the lobby. Don’t sit at the table.
2. Turn off your smartphone before you arrive. Enough said.
3. Let your host (who may be your boss) indicate where you and the other guests should sit.
4. Don’t order alcohol unless others do first. If you do order a drink, then follow the one-drink rule. It’s easy to lull yourself into believing you can hold your liquor. Unfortunately, with alcohol you start sounding and acting impaired long before you realize it. All it takes is one too many, and you’ll be apologizing the next day for your behavior and hoping you haven’t ruined your reputation. Don’t risk your business future. Follow the one-drink rule, or better yet avoid alcohol altogether at a business meal.
5. When ordering from a menu pick medium-priced items, make sure you know what you’re ordering, and choose items that are easy to eat. There are usually plenty of mid-priced items on a menu, and it would be embarrassing to order something and then realize there’s no way you could ever eat it. Similarly, stay away from foods that are challenging (lobster) or messy (spaghetti) to eat. (I love mussels, but they’re messy. Great when I’m with friends, but not at a business lunch or dinner.)
6. Watch your host for signals such as to how to eat specific foods and when to start eating. If your host uses a fork to eat his shrimp cocktail, then you should, too. If your host has been served but hasn’t started eating, then you should wait, too.
7. Don’t chew with your mouth open or talk with your mouth full of food. It’s really gross.
8. Be a participant. Don’t dominate the general conversation, but do be a part of it. And when the table conversation quiets down, take a moment to talk with the person on your right and similarly be sure to talk with the person on your left. Your participation is the key to successfully navigating a business meal.
9. Don’t ask for a “to-go” bag.
10. Finally, be sure to thank your host at the end of the meal and again the next day in a quick note.