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Dining Etiquette for Business: Here Are The Rules You Need To Know

Booking a restaurant with the right tone and noise levels, avoiding food that sticks in your teeth, knowing when to wrap things up…
Relationships are the corner stone of business and more often then not, they are forged over food. If anyone can show us how to master the minefield of business dining then it’s Orla Brosnan, Founder of Etiquette School of Ireland.
Napkins at the ready….

Whether you want to better understand a client’s needs, sell your services, strengthen a business relationship or just keep in touch, there’s nothing like the traditional business lunch for in-person impact. Here are six tips to keep mid-day dining efficient and productive.


Know your objectives.

A business lunch is just like any other meeting: it should have an agenda and defined goals. That’s not to say all business lunches need to be explicitly about business. If this is a first meeting with a potential client, your objective may simply be to establish rapport. You may choose to leave business out of the equation unless the client asks. The key is knowing what you want to accomplish.


Do your homework.

The business lunch is an opportunity to connect on a personal level as well as a professional one. To prepare, take some time in advance to learn what you can about your dining companion. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are great resources for understanding what people find important and can fuel your conversation.


You may also wish to give the restaurant your credit card to avoid confusion about who will pay at the end of the meal.


Set the stage.

Choose a quiet restaurant with a relaxed setting that’s conducive to conversation. Make reservations a few days prior and arrive early to meet the wait staff and make arrangements for a table. You may also wish to give the restaurant your credit card to avoid confusion about who will pay at the end of the meal.

Wait to be seated until your guest arrives, and turn off your mobile phone so you are 100 percent available.


Make safe food choices.

Choose a dish in the middle price range – and one that you can eat gracefully, like a salad or fish. Stay away from food that is messy, gets stuck in your teeth or requires a lot of attention.

When it comes to a beverage, many people today choose not to drink alcohol in a business setting, but if your client orders a glass of wine or a cocktail, it’s fine to do so yourself. Sip slowly and limit yourself to just one.

Begin your lunch by connecting on a personal level. Focus on your client, not yourself. This is your opportunity to learn what your client cares about while building trust. If you have specific business matters on the agenda, save them for after you place your order.


A cheat sheet of personal facts you learned about your client will be useful the next time you meet.


Keep an eye on time.

Plan on lunch lasting an hour and a half, but take your cues from the situation. If the conversation is lagging or your client hints about all the work that awaits back at the office, it’s fine to wrap up early. Propose a second meeting if necessary.


Wrap it up.

Send an email the next day to thank your client for joining you. Also jot down notes from your discussion. A cheat sheet of personal facts you learned about your client will be useful the next time you meet.


Your Ultimate Guide to Table Etiquette

  1. Once you start to eat you should never leave a spoon, fork or knife on the table. Their place is on the plate.
  2. While having a pause between bites you should leave your fork and knife on the plate in the shape of a letter “X”. If it’s easier for you to remember, place your fork in position of 8 o’clock and knife in position of 4 o’clock. In this way the waiter will know that you are not finished yet.
  3. When you finish each course put your knife, with the blade turned in and fork placed beside each other on the plate 12 o’clock to 6 o’clock
  4. You hold a fork in your left hand and knife in your right hand. 
  5. When seated you should place your napkin on your lap. Large dinner napkins should be folded in half after opening and before placing on one’s lap. The golden rule is that you should never blow your nose on a napkin. This is a definite no-no.
  6. When finished with the meal you should place your napkin to the left of your plate. Never put it on a plate.
  7. If you have to leave the table for a moment you should place your napkin on the chair.
  8. When eating meat, you should cut one small piece at a time.
  9. Don’t take big bites and don’t talk with your mouth full.
  10. When eating soup, tip the bowl away from you and scoop the soup up with your spoon.
  11. Soup should always be taken (without slurping of course) from the side of the spoon.
  12. Wait until you’re done chewing to have a drink.
  13. Avoid slouching and don’t place your elbows on the table.
  14. Take your time while eating. Keep pace with those you are with.
  15. Use your utensils from the outside in. The fork farthest to the outside is the one you should use for the appetizer. When the next part of the meal comes, use the next outermost fork, and so on. The same goes for the spoons and knives. If you’re in a fancy restaurant you might be lucky enough to have waiters who will remove any utensils you won’t need.
  16. You may eat chicken and pizza with your fingers if you are at a barbecue, finger buffet or very informal setting. Otherwise, always use a knife and fork.
  17. Hold a stemmed glass by the stem.
  18. Don’t reach over someone’s plate for something, ask for the item to be passed .
  19. Always say ‘excuse me’ when you leave the table.
  20. Do not put your mobile phone, sunglasses, handbag on the table.
  21. Do not use your mobile phone during dinner. If you are expecting an urgent call, excuse yourself and do the conversation elsewhere.
  22. Gentlemen, this is more of a style tip but good to know: if you are wearing a suit or only a jacket, each time you sit down you should unbutton one bottom button. Each time you stand up again, you should re-button the jacket button.

If this list seems long, trust me, it’s not. There are more rules but I wanted to keep it simple and to present you with the must-have points. Follow these rules and you will avoid any faux pas situations.

Next week we will look at conference call and Skype etiquette, a key area of training for many companies right now. 


About the Author

Orla Brossant Etiquette School of Ireland

Orla Brosnan is Founder and Director of Etiquette School of Ireland, a modern consultancy that runs courses in Communications, Presentation skills, Business & Social Media Protocol, International Customs and Dining Etiquette. Catering for Irish and international clients, our consultants are experts in what constitutes good Etiquette in today’s world.

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