Today, more than ever, deals are sealed at the dining table.  If we are not comfortable doing business over a meal, we may be losing business.  Strength and making tough decisions ARE compatible with good manners.  Many executives and managers are well-educated, but not in social skills.  We might not be remembered for good manners but we will be for bad, so strive for etiquette that stands above the rest.  At business meals, it’s about BUSINESS. Remember WHY you are there. If you are hungry, have a protein bar or something light before the meal so you can concentrate on the business at hand.

When mixing lunch or dinner with business: 

• Pace yourself with your client.  Don’t leave him or her eating alone or feeling rushed. They will feel more on the same page with you if you eat at the same pace.
• The one hosting usually starts the serious business discussion. Overly eager junior executives can sometimes rush discussion before the decision maker is ready.
• Take tiny bites so you can chew and swallow very quickly to keep the conversation flowing.
• Avoid immediately bringing up work.  Business meals are a great way to build rapport and gain their trust first.  A good time to start the work discussion is after appetizers.  Use coffee and dessert time to summarize key points.
• Keep papers confined and pass them to your guests to look over later, but not while eating if at all possible.
• Arrive ten minutes early if hosting the meal.  Guests should always call if they are going to be late—even by a few minutes.
• Avoid personal topics such as politics, diet, religion or family.  Such topics may offend and alienate guests.  Try talking about current events or news within their industry.
• Include all guests in the conversation. If seated with many people, involve those within close hearing distance. Ensure body language is not shutting anyone out.
• Remember your manners.  Place your napkin in your lap once seated and don’t put it back on the table until you leave.  If you must excuse yourself during the meal,  place it on the back of your chair or to the left of your plate until you return. For sanitary reasons, it is not advisable to lay it on the seat of your chair.
• Who pays the bill?  Whoever extended the inviting pays unless other arrangements are appropriate or have been discussed in advance.
• Always say “thank you” to the host.  Send a note of thanks within 24 hours.
• Invitations:  “Let me take you to lunch at such-and-such restaurant” indicates you intend to pay the bill and take command of the table.
• Going Dutch?  “Let’s have lunch.  Where shall we go?”
• Discuss non-business matters first to create a warm, congenial atmosphere; however, be aware of any tight schedules others may have and honor their time.
• Never plank your knife between the table and plate.  Always set them across the edge of your plate.
• Do not season your food before you have tasted it. Some see that gesture as acting before having all the facts, thus making the individual appear too impulsive. Seriously.
• Never chew with your mouth open or make loud noises when you eat. Although it is possible to talk with a small piece of food in your mouth, do not talk with your mouth full. Take tiny bites.

Following these tips shows decorum, respect and that you are well-mannered AND serious about providing the best in products and services.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Rita Rocker is a national inspirational and educational speaker, communications and image specialist, and a career and virtual presentations coach with Transformation Academy, LLC.  She is the author of “A Guide to Marketing Yourself for Success”, and a contributing author to “The Unstoppable Woman’s Guide to Emotional Well Being -The Total Woman in Leadership and Success Guide for the Unstoppable Entrepreneur.” She has appeared on national television and radio talk shows on self-esteem and communication. A former Mrs. Nebraska and active in numerous professional organizations, Rita is on the Board of the Small Business Association of the Midlands and co-director of greater Omaha’s Affiliated Women International. Rita provides life and career-transforming programs to mature teens and adults. Contact Rita at