The Good Guest at a Business Dinner

Whether its breakfast, lunch, or dinner, being invited to a business meal is your opportunity to strengthen relationships and perhaps close a deal. Whether you’re a CEO or sales manager out with a new prospect or recently hired and out on your first business dinner, how you handle yourself before, during, and after a business meal will impact just how successful you will be. While there are lots of manners associated with dining—manners that won’t alone make or break the deal—here are seven key pieces of advice that will help ensure your success.

  1. RSVP. While invitations to a one-on-one or small dinner are generally responded to at the ask, any time you receive an invitation when you’re not talking to the host directly, it is incumbent on you to respond right away. If you don’t know if you can attend, respond anyway and let your host know when you will have an answer.
  2. Be on time. If I had just one piece of etiquette advice I could give you, it would be to be on time. Being on time means you don’t have to apologize for being late. If you’re late the first words out of your mouth are, “I’m sorry.” Having to apologize for yourself is not the way to get the meal off to a good start.
  3. Participate. This is an opportunity for you to shine, especially if you are at a meal with your boss and a client. Take part in the general conversation without dominating it and be sure to talk with people seated on either side of you. Leave your boss and/or your host with the impression that you are someone they want to invite to the next event.
  4. When ordering from a menu, think about these three guidelines. Order a dish:
  • That is easy to eat
  • That is medium priced
  • That you know what it is
  • Follow the One Drink Rule. It’s the only way to be sure you won’t say or do anything that you’ll have to apologize for the next day.
  • Don’t chew with your mouth open or talk with your mouth full of food. It’s just plain gross, and could easily be the reason you aren’t invited to the next business meal.
  • Thank your hosts twice: Once as you say good-bye at the end of the event and a second time when you send a thank-you note the next day.
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