Deals have been won or lost, jobs or promotions earned or not by how a person has conducted herself at a business meal. Clearly, by the number of times I have been asked to include dining etiquette in a talk or seminar, companies understand the importance of the dining etiquette skills of their employees. As important as those skills are, the success of a business meal also hinges on how well preparations are made for it.
The job of the host or event planner for a business meal starts well before arriving at the restaurant or welcoming guests to a home.
Consider your guests’ tastes. Make an effort to know the preferences of the guests you plan to invite. A steak house for a vegetarian doesn’t make a lot of sense. If unsure, then select a restaurant with a varied menu that can appeal to a wide variety of dining interests.
Go where you’ve been before. Trying out the hot new spot in town can end up being a mistake if the food actually isn’t that good or the atmosphere isn’t conducive to conversation. Of course, an easy-to-get-to venue makes more sense than one that is difficult to find or a long way away.
Invite early. A week in advance is reasonable, but issue invitations even earlier for a larger group or for a very important business meal. Then, be sure to reconfirm with guests either the day of the meal or a day or two in advance.
Reserve early. Reserve a table at the restaurant of your choice as soon as you have decided to host the meal. Nothing would be more embarrassing than to arrive at the restaurant and be turned away because they’re completely booked.
Are you the host? By convention, the host does the paying. Therefore, if you are planning on hosting and paying, make your intentions clear in your invitation. “Will you be my guest for dinner on Friday?” makes it clear that you are the host and are paying. If, on the other hand, you are simply organizing a meal with colleagues, “Would you like to get together for lunch on Tuesday?” or “How about joining me for lunch?” are non-committal ways for you to ask someone to join you without your being the host.
Tell guests what to expect. If you plan to talk business, let your guests know in advance. That way they can be prepared, just as for a business meeting. It is up to the host to decide if business will be discussed or not, and it is okay to host a business meal with the goal of building a relationship rather than conducting business.
If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can hear more Emily Post etiquette advice on the Awesome Etiquette podcast featuring Lizzie Post and Dan Post Senning. Listen and subscribe at infiniteguest.org.
Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, is available at emilypost.com.
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.