Table Manners 101: Basic Dining Etiquette
How to Act During a Business Meal
A business meal can be very important to your success in a company, so it is vital that you know how to act appropriately. Behaving appropriately will help to make a good impression and this is what you want when you are sharing food with coworkers, managers, or even competitors. Make your initial introductions smoothly by familiarizing yourself with the restaurant and using confident body language. Behave professionally throughout the meeting, and gracefully handle things like paying the bill. You should also follow basic etiquette, such as chewing with your mouth closed and keeping your elbows off the table.
Making the Most Out of Initial Introductions
Research the restaurant ahead of time.You do not want to appear indecisive or nervous during a business lunch. Doing some research on the restaurant will allow you to know what to expect going into the meeting. You will also be able to choose an entree ahead of time so you can order smoothly.
- You can usually look up the menu online if the restaurant has a website. If it does not, a site like MenuPages may be able to provide this information. Try to pick an entree beforehand, and also a backup choice just in case the restaurant is out of your chosen meal.
- Also, try to get a feel for the atmosphere. You do not want to be thrown off by being surprised by a restaurant's ambiance. Go into the situation knowing what to expect so you can keep your cool during the meeting.
Dress appropriately for the type of business function.You will want to get a sense of how you should dress. A business lunch can sometimes be more casual than a formal interview or a regular meeting, but there may still be etiquette regarding attire. Try to feel out what would be appropriate to wear going into the lunch.
- Read over the invitation you would sent again and look for any hints. The sender, for example, may have said something like, "It's a casual restaurant, so feel free to wear something comfortable." In this case, there is no need to wear a business suit. However, do not show up in jeans and a t-shirt. Wear something like dress pants and a nice button-down shirt or blouse.
- If you're unsure what appropriate attire is, it's okay to find a tactful way to ask. For example, you could email the host something like, "I'll be coming from the office, and I usually wear a polo shirt and khakis to work. Will that be appropriate for the restaurant?"
Arrive on time or early.You never want to be late for a business meal. It's obvious to everyone who arrived on time when you come in late and attempt to find a seat. By arriving early, you can observe how seating is being arranged and where you'll be sitting. Arriving about five minutes before your scheduled meal time is socially acceptable.
- Look up how long it takes to get to the restaurant. Make sure you give yourself enough time to find the restaurant and park. If you're taking public transportation, make sure you review bus and train schedules ahead of time.
- It's a good idea to give yourself slightly more time than you think you will need. Something like traffic or a train or bus delay could cause you to take longer than expected. Try to give yourself about 20 minutes of leeway. You can always get coffee nearby or walk around the area if you're early.
- It may be a good idea to swing by the restaurant a day or so before the meeting to make sure you know how to get there.
Shake hands and look people in the eye when speaking to them.If you are meeting someone for the first time at this meal, make sure to firmly shake their hand and maintain eye contact while doing so. The same body language that can convey confidence during a job interview should be used in a business lunch. You want to be sure to look confident and greeting someone this way will exude poise and self-assurance. Walk into the meeting feeling secure, standing up straight, and offer a smile, eye contact, and a handshake.
Behaving in a Professional Manner Throughout the Meeting
Treat your server and the other restaurant staff respectfully throughout the meal.Part of acting appropriately during a business meal is maintaining comfort during a social situation. This means treating everyone present with respect, including the restaurant staff. Be certain that you say please and thank you, ask questions kindly, and make requests to your server politely.
- You want to make sure you come off as someone easy to get along with. This means you should laugh off mistakes servers made and not respond with anger or hostility if the bill is wrong or your order was screwed up.
- Never send your food or drink back, especially if your boss or superior picked the restaurant. Not only will this make you look difficult, it can come off as insulting or ungrateful.
Make wise choices regarding alcohol.Determine what kind of business meal you’re attending so you know if alcohol consumption is appropriate. Look around while at the restaurant to see if anyone is drinking. If no one is, don’t drink either. If alcohol consumption is acceptable, stick to just two glasses of wine or one mixed drink or martini. Anything more is considered excessive and can also cause you to behave differently. You want to make certain you’re maintaining a good image while conducting business.
- If possible, wait until your boss or co-workers order. If your host or your co-workers are ordering drinks, it may be okay for you to have a cocktail.
- However, if your boss is having water or something non-alcoholic like tea, it's a good idea to stay away from alcohol. Drinking when the other party is remaining sober can look unprofessional.
Shift the conversation to business talk at the appropriate time.It is best to focus on casual conversation before your meal begins. Allow for casual conversation initially and make small talk with the other party. After a few minutes of small talk, introduce the topic at hand.
- When you begin the business talk is not always clear cut. However, a good rule of thumb is to stick to light personal topics until food and drinks have been ordered.
- Ask about the other party as much as you talk about yourself. Ask about your host's business endeavors, and show a genuine interest. If you're talking to someone from a different company, make sure to ask a lot of the company's culture, goals, and values. This is especially important if a business lunch is part of an interview process.
Silence your phone and put it away.Nowadays, phones seem to be attached to people’s hips, but this is not at all appropriate while attending a business meal. Silence or turn your phone off before sitting down to eat and keep your phone concealed. You should avoid conducting business while at the table using your phone. Focus on the conversation and business being conducted at the table.
Handle the bill appropriately.When the bill comes, this can be uncomfortable. People feel awkward when it comes to money, tipping, and other aspects of payment. Whether you're paying or not, make sure to behave tactfully when the bill arrives.
- If you're paying the bill, make sure to tip well. Tipping adequately can say a lot about a person. A good rule of thumb is to tip between 20 and 25 percent.
- If you're paying the bill, only glance at the total. Try to keep your expression neutral. If there are any mistakes with the bill, deal with them after your guest has left.
- If the other party is paying, make sure to thank them for lunch before leaving. Send a follow-up email the next day, thanking them again.
Excuse yourself when leaving the table.If at any point you need to leave the table to use the restroom or take an important phone call, be sure to politely excuse yourself quietly and carefully. Do not abruptly leave the table and cause confusion, disruption or noise.
- Remember, when excusing yourself, place your napkin on the chair and not the table. Placing your napkin on the table signifies you're leaving the restaurant, while placing it on the chair signifies you'll be back momentarily.
Following Basic Etiquette
Select a suitable meal choice.Be careful when ordering. You want to make sure you pick something that is appropriate in terms of price. You should also avoid anything too messy, as you do not want to make things awkward by struggling to handle your food.
- Try to get a sense of what others are ordering first and pick something within the same price range. You should not order lobster if your other guests are eating sandwiches or salads.
- If you're dining with a potential new boss or colleague, strive to match what he or she is ordering. You want to look like you fit in with the culture. If your boss is health conscious, for example, do not order a hamburger after he or she orders a caesar salad.
- Pick food that's easy to eat. You do not want to be struggling with a rack of ribs while you're trying to have a conversation. You should also avoid anything that produces a strong smell, as you don't want to do anything that could potentially annoy a co-worker, boss, or colleague.
Sit up straight and keep your elbows off the table.Proper table manners are key to making a good impression. Sit up nice and straight and don’t slouch while at the table. Keep your hands in your lap or gently by your sides and avoid resting them on the table. These are very basic table manners, but you may forget them if you're nervous.
Begin eating once everyone has been served.When the food begins to come out, pay close attention and only start eating once you see everyone at the table has been served. It is considered rude to begin eating before everyone’s food has arrived.
- You should also try to eat at roughly the same pace as your colleagues. Eating too fast or too slow can make others feel awkward.
Place your napkin in your lap and avoid talking with your hands while holding your silverware.Make sure you put your napkin in your lap before consuming any food. If any food drops or you spill, you want to be sure your clothes are protected by your napkin. Additionally, while eating, try to avoid moving your hands a great deal or obnoxiously while holding your silverware.
Chew with your mouth closed.This is an oldie but a goodie: make sure you never speak with food in your mouth and always chew with your mouth closed. You want to make sure you look polished and sophisticated while attending a business meal and this can be accomplished through simple table manners about chewing.
Place your fork and knife in the proper position once the meal is over.When the meal is over, you will want to signify to the waiter you are done eating. Take your fork and knife and place them in the four o'clock position. This means you place your fork and knife across your plate. If your plate were a clock, your fork and knife would be pointing to four. The knife should be above the fork, with the blade pointing inward.
- You should also place your napkin on the table next to your plate.
- Even while you're signifying your finished, wait staff usually ask if you're done out of courtesy. Smile and say, "Yes," and then thank the waiter for removing your plate.
Video: 25 Etiquette Rules You Should Know And Follow
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