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Polish Up Your Dining Manners

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. Thatís 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 donít represent themselves or their business appropriately during a business meal, and who even act in such a way to actually lose business. Their frustration isnít with their employeesí 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. Donít 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. Donít order alcohol unless others do first. If you do order a drink, then follow the one-drink rule. Itís 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 youíll be apologizing the next day for your behavior and hoping you havenít ruined your reputation. Donít 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 youíre 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 thereís 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 theyíre messy. Great when Iím 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 hasnít started eating, then you should wait, too.

7. Donít chew with your mouth open or talk with your mouth full of food. Itís really gross.

8. Be a participant. Donít 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. Donít ask for a ďto-goĒ bag.

10. Finally, be sure to thank your host at the end of the meal and again the next day in a quick note.

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