So much business is conducted over meals today that the successful professional dares not venture out to a business meal without knowing good table manners. Whether the purpose of the meal is to win over a customer, enhance a client relationship, impress a potential employer or acquire a promotion, you want to feel confident and at ease in any dining situation.
This includes everything from knowing which meal, breakfast, lunch or dinner, is appropriate for the business you need to conduct, to understanding your role as the host or guest and being competent with the foods and utensils that are placed before you.
You can’t concentrate on the business at hand if you are worried about which fork to use, how to eat the pasta or what to do with that olive pit in your mouth.
Here are a few tips to help you rank as the gracious host and the person to do business with:
• It is your job to choose the restaurant. Select one that you are familiar with, one where you know the quality of the food and the service and where you know the setting is conducive to engaging in meaningful conversation.
Avoid restaurants that pride themselves on having a bustling atmosphere where everything is wide open from the kitchen to the bar and where the tables are pushed so close together that you might as well have asked the people at the next table to join you for the meal.
• Be impressive and take care of the bill ahead of time. You can do this in several ways. You can give your credit card number to the staff over the phone when you make the reservations. Let the person know how much you plan to tip and have that amount added to your bill.
If you are not comfortable doing this over the phone, arrive ahead of your guest and give your credit card to the host or maitre’d. This will allow you to avoid that awkward moment when the bill comes to the table and you have to take time to review the charges and figure the tip.
Naturally you will want and need your credit card receipt and an itemized copy of the bill. You can pick it up on the way out or have it mailed (or emailed) to you later.
I recommend you follow this process only when you know the restaurant and the staff. If you are not comfortable doing this, be sure you let the server know in advance to bring the bill directly to you.
• Confirm the date, time and place for your meal either the day ahead or the morning of the meeting. If your guest is not familiar with the restaurant, give clear directions. Exchange cellphone numbers in case the unexpected occurs. Once your guest has safely arrived, turn off your phone and keep it out of sight.
• Give your guest the best seat at the table. That would be the one with the view of the landscape, the cityscape or the interior of the upscale restaurant you have chosen. Your seat would be the one facing the wall, the kitchen or the restroom door.
• Make suggestions about what your guest should order. Recommend one of the appetizers, soups or salads so your guest will feel comfortable ordering one. Then make sure you choose an appetizer, too. Don’t order any more or any less than the person you are hosting.
• Know when it is appropriate to begin discussing business. At breakfast, when most everyone is anxious to get to their office, you can begin right away. At lunch wait until your order has been taken so you won’t be interrupted. During an evening meal, which is usually more of a social occasion, you wait until later in the meal to discuss business.
As always, use your good judgment.
Whatever meal you choose, whatever time or place seems most appropriate, keep in mind what a business colleague of mine has said and always mind your manners. He declares that he will not do business with people who do not have good table manners, and he certainly won’t eat with them.
The way you handle yourself over a meal says more about you than you may realize.
Lydia Ramsey is a Savannah-based business etiquette expert, professional speaker, premier trainer and author. Contact her at 912-598-9812 or visit her at LydiaRamsey.com to leave a comment, ask a question or learn more about her programs and products.