As work days become busier and business meetings run into lunch and sometimes dinner, connecting with a client or catching your boss up on an important project may include breaking bread over a meal. The first thing to remember when dining out in a professional setting is not to let your guard down. You may have had a difficult day and are clamoring for a strong scotch and water, but play it safe and stick to sparkling water or tea at a lunch meeting.
If you are familiar with your table mate and the meal is after hours, indulge with discretion. Translated: imbibe less than you would if you were sitting on the couch in your living room, letting off steam. Here are a few rules to keep your dining etiquette in line with the rest of your stellar reputation.
1. Remove the temptation to devour your food.
Indulge in a handful of nuts or a small snack at the office before you leave for the restaurant. You won't be distracted by your growling stomach or inclined to rush the ordering process along because you are feeling weak and famished.
2. Know how to navigate a place setting.
Whether you are out for a quick bite or meeting a client for a full blown meal, basic knowledge will keep you confident and in control. Knowing that your liquids are located on the right side of your place setting at the table is one awkward moment you can check off your list. Even if you are left handed and feel more comfortable reaching from the left, follow the proper placement of glassware. Should your boss drink from your water glass instead of their own, feel free to use the remaining glass. Correcting your supervisor or asking the server for a replacement would come across as affected.
3. Break bread with your fingertips.
Rather than pulling apart the entire roll with your hands or taking a bite from the whole dinner roll, separate one piece and put it into your mouth. If you would like butter, use your butter knife to spread it on the small section of the bread you have broken apart. In between courses, keep your bread plate positioned at the top left side of the place setting where it belongs, rather than moving the small plate down to the center as if it is a separate course. Feel free to eat as much bread as you desire, within reason. A bread basket should not be looked upon as a bottomless pit of crusty dough.
4. Avoid masking the taste of your food.
Requesting ketchup or steak sauce indicates the food is not seasoned properly on its own. You may be in the habit of drizzling ketchup on everything you are served at home, but you will appear unsophisticated if you douse your Coq Au Vin with Heinz 51.
5. Follow the lead of your host.
If you are an invited guest, pace yourself according to your host. Ordering an appetizer, an extra side of vegetables, or a dessert that takes twenty minutes to prepare may appear over the top to someone who is more interested in getting your feedback on an important business matter than feeding you and paying for an extravagant meal. Ask your host if they have any suggestions and use their input as an indicator as to what you should order. Remember, you aren't that hungry because you had a nosh before you arrived.
6. Don't stack your dishes.
When the waiter arrives at the table to clear your plate, smile, lean back slightly and give them room to reach. It may feel as if you are being helpful to stack everyone's dishes and hand them to the wait staff, but in fact, you are making it harder for them to do their job. A sophisticated diner knows that loading plates on top of each other is equal to sucking on a piece of wood at the end of the meal (a.k.a. using a toothpick which is a definite "don't").
7. Treat the wait staff with respect.
You can tell a great deal about a person by observing how they act toward those in the service industry. You may think your boss or client doesn't notice you avoiding eye contact with the server, snapping your fingers to get their attention, or keeping them waiting for your order while you take a phone call. Take heed; every dining detail sends a powerful message.
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