Posted by Robert Half on 27 January 2015
When discussing business over a meal, the dining table can be a minefield of faux pas. With these business dining etiquette tips, you can emerge unscathed.
A mastery of business dining etiquette is used to judge character and competence. Regardless of whether you are a junior executive or a CEO, eyes will be on you the moment you enter the dining establishment, and mental notes will be taken on your conduct.
The early bird seals the deal
One of the top few habits of successful people is punctuality, and this extends to business dining etiquette. Nobody likes a late entrée, and being there early gives you an opportunity to warm up to your dining companions with small talk. Don’t underestimate these first few minutes; deals have been struck because of great first impressions!
Whether you are at a Michelin-starred restaurant or a cafe, the phone or tablet has no place on the table. Putting it away sends a positive signal to your companions that they have your time and undivided attention.
Some of us have the good fortune of enjoying food without worry, and some of us have allergies that are easily triggered. There isn’t any shame in conveying any food allergies upfront. After all, nothing kills the mood faster than a guest going into anaphylactic shock.
Avoid ordering potentially contentious items such as shark’s fin or foie gras. You may end up inadvertently offending someone at the table. Instead, order foods that are easy to eat such as chicken, fish, or salad. Stay away from anything generously seasoned with black pepper which tends to lodge between teeth. Anything with squid ink is, of course, out of the question.
Identifying and capitalising on opportunities is a great trait to have in business, but order the most expensive item on the menu and you’ll be courting disapproval if someone else is picking up the tab. Business lunches are not the time to indulge your adventurous palate, so avoid exotic or unfamiliar foods.
Alcohol is a grey area – there is no hard and fast rule against imbibing at business lunches, If you choose to drink, limit it to one glass.
Mind your table manners
Unless you’re at a fine dining establishment, the use of table utensils shouldn’t be something to stress over. General table etiquette applies. Simply use each utensil for its intended purpose. Knives are solely for slicing, cutting and spreading, not spearing or licking, so keep the butter or steak knife away from your mouth.
The art of small talk
Small talk is an art anyone can master. To be safe, skip topics like religion or anything that might be considered sensitive. Choose common and relatable topics such as holidays or the hottest restaurants in town. It also pays to arm yourself with general knowledge and current affairs.
It’s only polite to thank the host after the meal. Take a few minutes to compose an email and send it to your host, which in turn will leave a positive lasting impression even after parting ways.