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Dining Etiquette in Business

Business etiquette is a lot more that elbows off the table. Find out the finer points
of being a gracious host while impressing clients and increasing the bottom line...

Having a working knowledge of dining etiquette turns any employee into a poised marketing representative of the company.

Imagine this scenario: A company's two biggest customers are in town for only a few hours. You must trust your new marketing director to entertain one customer at lunch, while you show the other customer around your facilities as he has requested. Surely this won't be a problem for your new guy, right? Despite his youth, he is sharp and motivated, and has grown your customer base exponentially since his arrival.

Later in the afternoon you receive a call that confirms that you were right to have been worried. The customer you left to dine with your marketing director calls with a furious message. It seems after waiting alone in the restaurant for his host to arrive, being told not to order the steak because it was too expensive, looking at his dining companion's napkin on the table throughout the meal, and being left to finish his dessert alone, he had to take care of the bill as his host dashed out to another meeting.

Obviously, this customer is going to take his business elsewhere. Can you blame him? That dynamic, young marketing director is going to have to quadruple the customer base to make up for losing this customer!

A decade ago young executives were expected to bring table manners to the job with them. In today's world of busy families, table manners are no longer practiced on a daily basis, making it necessary to teach new hires acceptable dining etiquette before sending them out to represent the company at a customer lunch of business dinner. There are definite rules of dining etiquette, and having a working knowledge of them turns any executive or employee into a gracious host or guest and a poised marketing representative of the company.

Let's focus on tips for hosting a business lunch or dinner.

• When making the initial invitation, be sure each guest is aware of the purpose of the gathering. Is it a board meeting? Are you introducing a prospective partnership? Is a strategic planning session or a membership development event? Let people know what to expect.

All good guests at a business or social meal will wait for the host to begin before starting their own meals. Don't keep them waiting...

• If utilizing a set menu, be sure to include a vegetarian dish as an option.

• Arrive early! As the host, you want to be the first person present. Arriving early will also give you time to check the table and the menu before greeting any guests. Be sure there is adequate seating and introduce yourself to the waiter who will be serving you.

This is the time to make any special requests or advise the wait staff of any special circumstances. A word to the maitre d' at this point will avoid complications with bill paying later. If you are hosting business clients, you will pay for the meal. This can be established before any guests arrive so the wait staff can avoid potentially embarrassing questions later.

• Wait by the door so you are able to greet guests as they arrive and escort them to the table, or have the maitre d' show your guests to the table where you will be waiting for them. It is best not to order anything to eat or drink while you are waiting to greet all your guests.

• As your guests arrive, introduce them to one another and show them where you would like them to sit.

• When all the guests are present, it is the duty of the host to “call the meal to order.” This can simply be a statement indicating that everyone is present and it is time to begin the meal and get down to business.

• Immediately upon sitting down, place your napkin in your lap.

• The host sets the tone for the meal. If the host orders alcohol, other guests will feel free to do so as well. If you intend for guests to order appetizers, you must begin by ordering one yourself. The same is true for dessert.

• All good guests at a business or social meal will wait for the host to begin before starting their own meals. Don't keep them waiting. If it is a small gathering, wait until everyone has been served and then immediately begin eating. If you are hosting a larger gathering, it is only necessary to wait until several people have been served their food. If you are not served near the beginning, you may tell your guests to go ahead while their food is still hot.

• Take care of the check discreetly. Gracious hosts do not call attention to the fact that they are paying the bill.

• Keep your napkin in your lap until it is time to leave the table. At this point, place your napkin on the left side of your plate (or on the left side of your place if your plate has already been cleared).

• Thank each guest for attending and acknowledge each one individually as he or she departs with a handshake or a remark.

• Once all of the guests have left, thank the wait staff that assisted you.

After all of your guests have left and the bill has been settled, you can leave content knowing you were a gracious host. Cheers!

About the Author...

Michael McCann, The Business Cafe

also see -> Business E-Mail Etiquette | How to Order Wine at a Restaurant

Food & Wine Pairing

More about business dining etiquette around the Web:

Business Lunch Etiquette

Business Meeting Etiquette

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