The savvy professional knows the importance of strong dining skills and it should come as no surprise that dining, unless done well, could be disastrous to your reputation. It is for this reason that second interviews are often conducted over a meal. How you conduct yourself at the table, under pressure with a mouthful of food, can either positively or negatively influence a business decision.
The key is to know what to do before the uncomfortable moment presents itself. A successful business meal requires advanced skills and thoughtful planning. The following are a few basic dining etiquette tips that a young graduate or seasoned executive can't afford to overlook:
- The host (the invitee) is responsible for the success of the meal. Everything from selecting the restaurant to paying the bill and taking care of the tip falls under the heading of a "sophisticated host." However, not all hosts are sophisticated, and as a guest, you must assume nothing. Make sure to carry money and a credit card in your wallet in the event there is confusion with the bill and the server hands it directly to you (a rare occurrence but it has happened). The host should immediately take control but in the event he or she delays, put your credit card in the leather bill holder without hesitation. If this is a job interview, think carefully before accepting a job from someone who is not prepared to pay for the interview meal.
- A well-bred executive knows how to make their guest comfortable. He or she knows the importance of offering menu suggestions; giving the guest subtle parameters. As a guest, ordering too little sends the message that you are nervous or unsure. Ordering the best on the menu sends the message that you are ravenous or taking advantage of the free meal. A good rule of thumb is to follow the lead of the host.
- Drink from your own water glass and stay away from your client's bread plate. A sure way to negate your own professionalism is by making the mistake of drinking from your client's water glass or eating from their bread plate. Your drink will always be placed on the right side, above your knife and soup spoon, and your bread plate will always be placed on the left side, above your fork(s). A tip for remembering: bring the tip of your index finger to the tip of your thumb as the other 3 fingers are straight. The right hand will make the shape of a "d" -- a reminder that the drink is on the right-hand side -- and the left hand will make the shape of a "b" for bread. Your salad and entrée plate will be placed in the center of the utensils, below the bread plate and water glass.
- Salt and pepper are married. When someone asks for salt, pass both the salt and pepper. This small gesture indicates you are familiar with the rules of the table, as well as, extending a courtesy to fellow guests.
- Try a little of everything on your plate unless you have a food allergy. You will present yourself as unsophisticated (and juvenile) if you eat only your steak and potatoes, turning your nose up at your peas and carrots.
- When leaving the table during the meal, place your napkin on your chair and push the chair back under the table. It is not important to announce where you are going, or what you will be doing when you get there.
- A cough or a sneeze should be directed into your left shoulder, shielded by your left hand, keeping your right hand germ free. Avoid using your napkin as a tissue.
- If an accident at the table occurs, handle it and move on. Ask for assistance from your server and don't give the situation more attention than it deserves.
- A dropped utensil stays on the floor. Kick it out of the way so other restaurant guests will not trip or slip. It's not necessary to dive under the table to retrieve it. Signal your server for another fork and encourage your guest to continue eating.
- Use the business meal as an opportunity to build a relationship. People do business with people they trust. Employers hire those they feel will represent their company in the best possible light. A lunch meeting is a great opportunity to showcase your professional knowledge, strong communication skills, and attention to detail. Taking the time and making the effort to hone your dining skills is an investment in your business success.
"If you say business and manners don't mix... try talking with your mouth full!" ~Diane
For more of my dining etiquette tips, browse my blog archives, here.