Business meals are about business, not the food. Remember this the next time you are invited to share a meal – whether breakfast, lunch or dinner – with a business colleague. As I’ve mentioned above, knowing dining etiquette rules is a good place to start. However, it’s also important to pay attention to what you order.
Here’s a personal story that really makes this point.
About 30 years ago, I had just accepted a job as the Training Manager for a division of a large company. Our division was located in New Haven, CT, a city with a large Italian population and a lot of great Italian restaurants.
About a month after I began my job, the VP of Human Resources for the corporation was hosting a two-day meeting of all of the senior HR people in the company at our location. Since the meeting was at our location, junior people like me were invited to a dinner held the evening of the first day of the meeting. I was looking forward to this dinner. It was an opportunity for me to impress some senior people in other divisions.
One of my junior colleagues was a local woman. She was excited about the choice of the restaurant. Of course it was an Italian restaurant. She had been there on special occasions with her husband. She was very fond of a dish called zuppa de pesce, a medley of seafood served over spaghetti. A couple of days before the meeting she told me about that this dish and that it was available for two only and asked if I would be willing to share it with her. I said, “Sure.”
We arrived at the restaurant, and sure enough, zuppa de pesce was on the menu. My friend and I ordered it. What a disaster!
First the waiters brought lobster bibs for both of us. No one else had ordered this dish, so we were the only ones wearing our bibs. When the food arrived, everyone had a dish of pasta, or some grilled fish, or a steak. The zuppa de pesce was served on a silver tray so big that the waiters had to bring a side table for it. There was enough fish and pasta to feed the entire table. My friend dug in and really enjoyed her dinner. I felt like I was a character in The Godfather.
I spent my time trying to carry on an intelligent conversation with people I wanted to impress while I was wearing a lobster bib and working hard to make sure that I didn’t spill any red sauce, or “gravy,” as the waiter called it, on my suit.
I didn’t lose any points that night – but I didn’t make any either. It was pretty apparent to most people that I was there for the food, not for the conversation.
I learned a lesson that day. Always order something that is easy to eat and won’t call attention to you as you eat it. I try to be a good friend, and in social situations, I will often share an entrée that is available for two only – but I never do that in a business situation. Because business dinners are not about the food. They’re about the conversation.