The Importance of Business Meal Etiquette

Good business dining makes a lasting impression, no different than your personal brand and business reputation. More than one business deal or sale has been lost based on lackluster etiquette during a meal.

For instance, an individual choosing the most expensive menu item can seem greedy or out of touch. One who’s hard on the waiter or waitress can seem insensitive or domineering. An individual who salts everything before tasting may be viewed as likely to make rash decisions.

Business dining can reveal more than a person's appetite. A trial like a spilled beverage hints at how they might handle a business emergency or their ability to stay composed under stress.

Know in advance how to handle yourself with confidence. Brush up on the tips below and be ready for the trials of the business table.

Listen More Than You Talk

Mealtime conversation is an opportunity to get better acquainted with employees, business colleagues and potential business partners. Show interest by asking about non-proprietary business topics. Upcoming company events, new product releases, or industry news are all safe subjects.

General questions about hobbies or personal pastimes show your concern goes beyond the surface. When dining with a supervisor, try not to focus too heavily on leisure or vacation. You might seem disinterested in your career.

If conversation lags, be ready to engage with friendly small talk about current events or a mutual interest. Don’t be afraid of silence. A few seconds of silence can make you seem thoughtful and keep nerves from turning you into a chatterbox.

Mind Your Manners

Stand and sit up straight. Greet your dining companions warmly and express your enthusiasm for the meeting.

After the host picks up his or her napkin, place yours in your lap and use it frequently through the meal.

Chew quietly, mouth closed. Between bites, rest utensils on your plate, not the table. Handbags, briefcases and laptops belong at your feet, not on the tabletop.

Cut food and butter bread one bite at a time rather than all at once. This takes longer, but shows you’re focused on the conversation, not eating as quickly as possible.

Add extra salt and pepper only after tasting your food. When finished, place knife and fork diagonally across the plate to signal wait staff.

Use the Right Utensil and Glass

Unsure which utensil to use? Remember to start on the outside of the place setting and work your way in. The salad fork is on the outside. The dessert fork or spoon, when on the table, will be across the top edge of the plate. Your stemware is to the right side of your place setting, bread and butter on the left.

Spills, Shares, Spirits and Sneezes

If something spills, discreetly cover the wet area or food with your napkin and ask your host to call the wait staff. Escape to the restroom to clean yourself up.

Don’t offer to share or ask to taste anyone else’s food. However, if asked to share, you may cut a small portion, place on a separate plate and offer it. This is preferable to refusing, which would likely seem rude.

In general, stick with a non-alcoholic beverage. One glass of beer or wine with the meal is acceptable as long as the host is ordering. Take caution though, ordering more than one drink may make the wrong impression.

Should you repeatedly sneeze or need to blow your nose, excuse yourself and leave the table.

If you or another diner become choked, however, quickly signal to your companions by grasping or pointing to your throat. Many people and wait staff are trained in the Heimlich technique and will be able to assist.

What are your favorite tips for good business dining etiquette? Share your secrets in the comments below. 

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