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Don’t Whine About The Wine

Hosting a business dinner whether for colleagues, a client or prospect can be a great way to get to know your guests on a personal level—to build the relationships. And that, in a nutshell, is the most important part of being at a business dinner as the host or as a guest. Sure, the food is nice and should be enjoyed, but your real goal is to interact with the people at the meal.

Wine is one of the business meal topics that generates questions at my seminars. Quickly, the conversation evolves into answering four key questions:

Who chooses the wine? The host chooses the wine—and for good reason. The host is paying for the meal so by choosing the wine, the host can keep the expense within his or her budget. Deferring to one of the guests “who is knowledgeable about wine” can be a big mistake. The guest may well pick a wine that is outside the host’s budget range, but it is the host who will pay the price. That said, if a guest has been tasked with choosing the wine, the best approach is to ask the host for a price range before making a selection. “Ok, Tom, I’d be glad to pick a wine. Do you have a price range to help me make a selection?”

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What wine should you choose? The traditional guideline was red wine with red meat, and white wine with chicken, pork or fish. While that advice still makes some sense, today it is common to drink white wine with red meat and red wine with chicken, pork or fish. Therefore, as the host, it is best to ask for your guests’ preferences before ordering. It may end up being more advantageous to order a bottle of wine when most of the people have a preference for, say, white, and ask the one person who wants red wine to order by the glass.

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What’s the deal with a sommelier? The sommelier, or wine steward, is available to answer questions and to help you select wines based on the foods people are ordering and within your budget. He or she also will pour the wine and as a bottle is finished offer to bring another if you wish. You can tip the sommelier the same percentage you use for the rest of the bill either directly or in the final bill. If you do tip him or her separately remember to deduct the price of the wine before figuring the rest of the tip.

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How much do you tip? Tip the same as you would for drinks or food. Typically, today the tip is 20% (and that should be of the pre-tax total). And yes, if you order a second bottle, you tip on the value of that bottle, too.

If you have a business etiquette question, email it to [email protected]

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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