Modern Manners for Business Meals

Business meals are more than just talking shop—they are a way to distinguish your demeanor, from the dinner table to the boardroom. You can be the best in your field or tops in your company, but if you mess up the business meal, no one will be impressed. Sharon Schweitzer, J.D., an international business etiquette and modern manners expert, suggests these tips to ace every business dining experience:

  1. Invitations. The person who extends the invitation is the host and is responsible for paying the bill. When receiving or extending invitations, pay attention to special dietary needs: food allergies or sensitivities, kosher, halal, gluten-free, sugar-free and dairy-free diets. Be sure to RSVP or reply within 24 hours with any dietary restrictions.
  2. Guest duties. Observe the host for cues. For example, place your napkin in your lap after the host does—this signals the start of the meal. If excusing yourself between courses, the napkin is placed on the chair, soiled side down. At meal’s end, place your loosely folded napkin to the left of your plate after the host does. Don’t refold it.
  3. Silverware & service signals. Once silverware is used, it doesn’t touch the table again. Rest forks, knives and spoons on the side of your plate. Unused silverware stays on the table. When resting between bites, place your fork (with tines up) near the top of your plate. To signal the server that you’re finished, place fork and knife across the center of the plate at the 5:00 position. Service signals also include closing your menu to indicate you’re ready to order. 
  4. Ordering. Ask the person who invited you for suggestions on the menu or for their favorite dish. Listen carefully, because they will provide a top and bottom price range based on the entrées they recommend. Then select a moderately priced item or one of their recommendations.
  5. Drinking. If the host orders alcohol and you don’t wish to drink, simply order the beverage of your preference without an explanation and continue to browse the menu. You are under no obligation to consume alcohol at any time. Polite dining companions will not comment or ask questions. If they do, simply ask, “Pardon me?” and look at them intently. They will realize the impertinence of their question.
  6. Connections & conversation. It’s the host’s job to keep conversation going during the meal, and guests should contribute with courtesy. Don’t monopolize the conversation; rather, ask questions and express interest. Light topics include books, travel, vacation, movies and pets; avoid politics, sex and religion. If you need to talk to the server, don’t interrupt the flow of conversation—catch their eye or slightly raise your hand if you need assistance. If they are busy, softly call their name or “server?”
  7. Tipping. The person who extended the invitation is responsible for paying the bill. Consider these U.S. tipping guidelines: bartender: 10-20% of bar bill; valet: $2-$5; coat check: $1 per coat; server: 15-20% of bill, 25% for extraordinary service; sommelier: 15% of wine bill. The tip should reflect the total price of the bill before coupons, discounts or gift certificates. iBi

For more information and tips, visit protocolww.com.

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