Business dining (whether at a casual or a more upscale setting) is a great opportunity for networking and/or getting to know a potential employer or client. Here are some basics: Keep all electronics off. Have a snack before you go (it’s not about the food), and generally speaking, do not order alcohol at a business meal (especially at an interview meal). Now relax. Below are some of the business and social dining questions I am most often asked:
- What should I know about dining at an interview? The interview is not about food. The host is getting to know you and your qualifications. He or she also wants to see how you behave in public. As nice as he or she is, remember that this is a test of your social skills. He or she will greet you with a handshake. Shake your host’s hand, maintain eye contact and smile. Have a snack before you go to your interview meal so that you can concentrate more on the conversation than on the food. Remember to send a thank-you letter or an e-mail immediately after the interview meal.
- How do I order correctly at an interview meal? Never order foods that are difficult to eat. Don’t order spaghetti, open-faced sandwiches that have gravy on them, or anything that drips. Do not order either the least expensive or the most expensive item on the menu. At an interview meal, do not order alcohol even if you are invited to do so. Never take a doggy bag home with you even if your host suggests this.
- How do I enter and exit a chair? Yes, there is a correct way to do even this! At a table for ten, picture everyone trying to be seated at the same time. It would look like a carousel. Simply enter your chair from the chair’s right and exit the same way, and remember to push the chair under the table each time you exit.
- Is business dining gender blind? Yes. A woman will never expect a man to seat her at a business occasion. Should a gentleman wish to pull the chair out for a lady, the lady will simply say, “thank you” whether the occasion is business or social. In some European countries, gentlemen will, in every case, seat the woman at a business meal. Again, simply say, “thank you.”
- How do I excuse myself from the table? Both socially and in business, when you need to temporarily leave the table, simply smile and say, “Please excuse me” to the people on either side of you. Do not give an explanation. Do not invite others to join you. This is not a caravan; this is a solitary trip.
- May I apply lipstick at the table? Never apply makeup at the table. Say “Please excuse me,” and go to the Ladies’ Room. Do not invite other women to join you. In business this reflects badly on your professionalism. Any activity that you would normally conduct in your bathroom (getting food out of your teeth with a toothpick, blowing your nose, fixing your hair, checking your contact lenses) must be conducted in the restaurant’s, hotel’s, or host’s bathroom.
- What about lipstick stains on glassware or napkins? Lipstick stains are distracting. To make sure that you do not leave lipstick stains on your napkin or on the water glass, I suggest that women blot their lipstick prior to the meal.
- May I blow my nose at the table? The napkin is to be used for blotting lips. Never use the napkin as a tissue. If you must blow your nose, excuse yourself and blow your nose in the bathroom.
- What if I must sneeze? If, in an emergency, you must sneeze at the table, turn away from your seatmates to do so. If you must use your napkin to cover the sneeze, say, “Please excuse me,” to those on either side of you. Rise and take your napkin with you. Find your server or other employee. Let this person know that you have soiled the napkin due to a sneeze. Ask that the napkin be replaced. If this person is not your server, tell him or her where you are sitting. Then, finish your nose blowing and hand washing in the restroom.
- How do I properly drink from a glass? When you take a drink, look downward into the glass. Never look at your table-mates over the rim of the glass. This will lessen your credibility. Take sips of water either between conversation or after you swallow your food. Socially and in business, drinking water (or iced tea or a soda) is not meant to be an exercise in washing down large amounts of food. Think of how the soiled glass will look to your associates, clients, guests or your host.
- I have restrictions on what I can eat. What should I do? For special meal concerns (an allergy, religious, or vegetarian restrictions), speak with your host prior to the event. If this is not possible, speak privately with the caterer, Maître d’ or restaurant manager either before the event or the moment you arrive. If the meal has been preselected, find a simple option. One option is a plain piece of fish. If you have shellfish allergies, or if you do not eat pork, ask for chicken. If you do not eat meat, ask for a vegetable plate. You can always fill up on bread and quietly order a baked potato and a salad. Try your best to arrange this well before the event.
Business dining is in large part about making a good impression. Remember too, that your host is getting to know you. So don’t forget to smile appropriately and enjoy the occasion. At the end of the meal, please don’t forget to warmly thank your host! When you get back to the office a “thank-you” email or handwritten note is appropriate.
I hope that you enjoyed this article. You can find the complete series of four parts on my website blog at: www.MannersForBusiness.com
Excerpts of blog or article may have been taken from the book: Hospitality Management – People Skills & Manners on and off the Job. Copyright © 2015 Lyn Pont, Ph.D.
“Pont’s book is a must-read for anyone considering a career in hospitality.”
— Isadore Sharp, chairman and founder, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts
See the book at: www.HospitalityManners.com
Visit Lyn at: www.MannersForBusiness.com
Lyn Pont, Ph.D. – World’s Top 30 Hospitality Professionals, Global Gurus
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