Business meals provide you with a great opportunity to make a positive personal impact. They also can be disasters waiting to happen. If you know and follow the simple rules of dining etiquette you’ll be fine.
Here is some advice on making the best of the opportunity that business meals afford you. First, use your common sense. These rules aren’t all that complicated, and your common sense will tell you what to do.
Learn basic table manners and etiquette. Place settings can be a bit of a challenge, especially when there are a lot of people crammed around a small, round table. If you remember that your water glass is to your right, and your bread and butter plate is to your left, you’ll be off to a good start. If one of your fellow diners uses your bread plate, don’t comment. Use your main plate for your bread. In this way, you won’t inconvenience the person to your right, nor embarrass the person to your left.
Your salad fork is the little one on the far left, and your soup spoon is the big one on the far right. If you remember this, and work from the outside in, you’ll be unlikely to make any cutlery mistakes. Sharon Hill has come up with a clever way of remembering where things are on a table: BMW. Moving from left to right, you will find your bread plate (B), then your meal plate (M) and finally your water (or anything wet) (W).
There are a few simple courtesies that can help you get through any business meal. Place your napkin in your lap as soon as you sit down. Sit up straight. Keep your elbows off the table. You can rest your wrists on the table.
Cocktails and beer are before dinner. Wine accompanies dinner. Drink alcohol in moderation.
If you choose not to drink wine with your meal, do not turn over your wine glass. Simply say “no thanks” when the waiter is pouring for the table.
Wait until everyone at the table has been served before you begin to eat. If one person’s food is delayed and he or she suggests that you should begin eating, feel free to do so. Order things that are easy to eat.
Order with care. It’s almost impossible to eat pasta that needs to be twirled and look sophisticated doing it. Order foods that are easy to eat. Lobster, snails, shrimp with the tails on are good things to avoid when you are business dining.
Break – don’t cut – your bread or roll. That’s why dining is sometimes called “breaking bread.” Pass the salt and pepper shaker as a pair – even if someone asks for only one. Spoon soup away from you. This will help you avoid spilling it on you. Sip, don’t slurp soup.
When you are finished eating, place your knife and fork on your plate at 4 o’clock. Fold your napkin and place it to the left of your plate. This will indicate to the server that you are finished with your meal.
These are simple rules that should help you get through business meals with grace and aplomb. One final thing to remember. Business meals are not about the food. This is so important that I have devoted an entire rule to it. Read on.