Proper Etiquette for Business Meals by Jennifer Janechek

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Business meals are an integral part of most jobs. Whether you’re on the road meeting clients or employees from other office locations out for dinner, or you’re networking with people over appetizers at a conference, or you’re simply at a company lunch or grabbing a bite with colleagues, it’s important to make the most of these opportunities for your career…as well as to avoid business meal faux pas that could negatively impact your work relationships. 

As common as business dining experiences are, it’s interesting that so little advice exists for how to properly navigate them. I remember the first time I went out to dinner with a boss figure (a professor), I had no clue how to act. I was nervous about eating too much, too little, too messily; talking too much, too little; offending him by insisting or not insisting on paying…you get the idea. Despite having taken interpersonal communication courses in college, I was totally unprepared for this sort of social situation. Even though I felt completely comfortable conversing with professors inside and outside of the classroom, when food was added to the mix I was thrown into an unfamiliar territory and felt awkward about both the conversation and the dining. 

I wish I had been able to read something like Rachael Doyle’s new book The Field Guide to Extraordinary Communication & Connection. In it, Doyle shares several strategies for strengthening your communication skills for the benefit of your professional and personal life. Not only does she provide tips on the content of effective communication; she also offers insight on the where, when, and how of it so that you can make the most of every communication situation and networking opportunity. Included in this comprehensive handbook are two chapters on business meal guidelines, something to which there could—and probably should—be an entire college course dedicated. I’ve summarized the first five tips below (there are 34 helpful hints total!). For more on these and to learn the others, be sure to grab a copy of Doyle’s Field Guide

  • Get there early, but not too early. 
    Doyle suggests that about five minutes early is ideal. “If you arrive fifteen minutes early, wait in your car or freshen your makeup or comb your hair in the restroom,” Doyle advises. She notes that you should always get the host’s or other diner’s number ahead of time so that in the event of an unexpected delay or emergency, you can notify him or her as soon as possible. 

  • Take the initiative to make introductions. 
    Doyle suggests that you introduce yourself to every person in the group rather than relying on the host (who might forget some names) to do so, saying something positive like “It’s nice to meet you” or “It’s good to see you again.” Incorporating each person’s name into your sentences will help you remember their names. 

  • Choose your seat wisely. 
    If the host doesn’t plan the seating arrangements, then be considerate about your seating choice, avoiding selecting the two end chairs, which are reserved for the host and/or the more distinguished guests. 

  • Treat your server(s) with respect. 
    Being discourteous to the restaurant staff will most certainly leave a negative impression on your fellow diners. Treat everyone with whom you interact with respect and kindness.  

  • When it comes to your order, don’t lead—follow.  
    Unless you’re put on the spot and have to order first, it’s a good idea to wait and see what others are ordering so that you can follow their lead. That way you don’t end up ordering, say, a steak dinner when everyone else is ordering sandwiches. (Of course, you should always be considerate about pricing, refraining from ordering the most expensive menu items.) Doyle advises that the same thing goes for dessert—wait to see if others are interested in prolonging the meal and ordering dessert before ordering something yourself. 

These are just a handful of the practical tips for business communication (here, over meals) that you’ll learn in The Field Guide to Extraordinary Communication & Connection. With so many elements to proper business, social, and dining etiquette, Doyle’s book is certainly a welcome resource! 

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Rachael Doyle’s new book The Field Guide to Extraordinary Communication & Connection, available on August 20, 2019 from Sound Wisdom, is a comprehensive handbook for impactful communication in and out of the workplace. Covering topics as wide-ranging and as crucial as e-mail etiquette, making the most of social media networking, handling office celebrations, participating actively in meetings, and much more, this book will ensure you’re prepared to handle the gamut of business situations with aplomb. Reserve your copy now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or 800-CEO-Read.