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Business Dining Etiquette 101: The Most Important Thing To Do At a Business Meal

You’ve been invited to join a business dinner with your manager and with a four-person client team. It’s your opportunity to shine. But how do you do it?

Basics of table behavior certainly matter. Here are four reminders:

1. Should a man hold the chair for a woman who is sitting next to him? The problem for the man is he doesn’t know if the woman will appreciate the offer or not. Instead of doing nothing or assuming she would like him to hold the chair, first ask, “May I get your chair for you?” By asking he elicits the information he needs to act the way the woman would prefer. If she says, “Yes, please,” by all means hold the chair. But, if she says, “No, thank you,” then follow her lead.

2. When do you start to eat your salad or appetizer? Don’t tuck right in as soon as it is placed in front of you. Wait until your host starts eating or invites the table to please begin.

3. What should you order from the menu? If you don’t know what it is, don’t order it. This is not the time to discover you really don’t like escargots. Opt for medium-priced items. Perhaps most importantly, order food that’s easy to eat. Mussels over linguini may be delicious, but the linguini can make a mess on the table around you or even on you. Not a pretty sight.

4. Should you order an alcoholic drink? Best advice is to steer clear of alcohol, but if you choose to drink alcohol, limit yourself to one drink so you can be reasonably sure you won’t do or say anything that may require you to apologize for yourself the next day. In addition, if the waiter asks for your drink order first, defer or order a non-alcoholic drink. You don’t want to be the only person at the table with alcohol while your boss and the client all order iced tea. You can always amend your order if the others order wine or drinks.

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What is the most important thing you can do at a business meal? Be a participant. You’ve been asked to be there to contribute to the event. Not participating, not conversing, is a quick way not to be invited to the next event. However, participating doesn’t mean dominating the conversation. Be a part of the conversation but also be a good listener. And when there is a lull in general table discussion, talk to the person on your right and be sure also to take time to talk to the person on your left. Your goal: Leave your manager thinking of you as someone who adds to the event and as someone he or she wants at the table again the next time.

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.

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