Tuesday, September 25, 2012

As We Gather 'Round the Table (for Business)

We'll be gathering 'round the table this month for a meal or two with family, but if you're in business you most likely will find yourself across the table from a client or business associate. Do you know your dining etiquette? What you don't know could blow the big deal, or at least be embarrassing.

OK, so you're probably not dining with royalty here. You won't often be faced with four forks (one for dinner, fish, salad and dessert), but you might find yourself wondering which cup and napkin is yours at a crowded dinner table or how to elegantly eat pasta. If your grandmother were dining with you today would she lecture you? Would grandpa flick you on the temple? If so, you might want to review these contemporary business dining tips.

Get to know everyone at your table. If there are "hosts," let them take the lead in sitting, starting the meal, toasting and guiding conversation. Depending upon the industry, culture and time allowed an appropriate level of "chit chat" or social conversation generally occurs before business is discussed.

Know basic table settings. I use the BMW method (left to right: bread, meal, water) to remind myself the order. Use utensils placed farthest away from the plate and work inward. Just for fun, get to know each type of glassware. Place your napkin on your lap as soon as your host does. When you're done eating, put your cutlery at the 10:00/4:00 to signal you have finished.

· Thoughts on food. At a business meal, it's good to consider how easy it will be to eat. It may not be the time to "try out" oysters on a half shell or ribs. If you have special dietary issues, check in with the restaurant in advance to plan your meal. Review basic manners. One common question is the proper way to eat a roll (place butter on your plate, tear off a piece of bread and butter the portion-do not butter an entire roll or slice of bread). Pace your eating speed with other diners and if discussing business, plan enough time to stay for coffee; especially if it means completing the deal.

· Thoughts on the check. Basic rules tell us the host or the one who does the inviting pays the bill. That may change if you are one who may benefit from the business relationship (a potential client wants to discuss hiring you, etc.). If your group is large or you do not plan to host, make your intentions clear at the beginning with your wait staff. If they cannot provide separate checks, excuse yourself to separate the bill or suggest the bill be evenly divided among guests (sorry if you just ordered a salad). If I dine with someone frequently, I like to suggest we trade off treating each other to lunch.

Overlooking these basic manners and social rules can turn off your fellow diners and perhaps even discourage them from doing business with you. Remember, if you are fortunate enough to be able to dine with real people (as opposed to just emailing or talking on Skype), be truly present at the table. Show up on time, dress for the occasion, avoid texting and Facebooking during meals, pay attention to what is said and be thankful. We are blessed to be able to dine together-- so make the most of it.

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