Decorum is an essential part of the business world, from the boardroom to the dining room. That's because the way people carry themselves can say a lot about how they may do business. Adhering to the right business dinner etiquette can help ensure you make a good impression every time you dine. Impress prospective customers, maintain relationships with existing ones, and project a winning image with these tips on business dining etiquette.
Get to Know Your Peers: Always do a little homework on who you'll be dining with beforehand. Make notes about individuals' backgrounds and their companies to help guide your conversation.
Consider Having a Snack: To avoid unseemly overeating, eat a snack to tide you over before you head to dinner. Even if you're going to a top-notch restaurant known for its delectable dishes, this dinner is all about the conversation. So you'll want to focus on that, not devouring the food that's in front of you.
Pick Your Attire: If you're not sure what type of dress code will be expected of you, check out the restaurant to get a feel for the formality of the dinner. And when in doubt, always err on the side of overdressing.
Make a Good First Impression: Greet table guests with a firm handshake, good eye contact, and introduce yourself with a polite enthusiasm—just don't overdo it on any of these facets. Be sure to wait for the host to sit before you do so yourself. Then place your napkin in your lap.
Keeping Things in Order: When it comes to ordering, avoid alcohol entirely, even if your host insists. However, if you are dining with a client with whom you have a well-established and casual relationship, a small amount of alcohol as a toast will not spell disaster. For food, you'll want to avoid certain messy meals that will call unnecessary attention to you. For instance, you probably don't want to be donning a bib and cracking open king crab legs or attempting to spool spaghetti with a thick, red sauce. Additionally, be mindful of any foods that could get caught in your teeth.
Pace Yourself: Once eating, try to stay focused on the conversation, since the dinner is all about the business relationship that you are establishing or furthering. So you'll want to pace yourself: ripping off just a bite-size piece of bread at a time and cutting just one bite of food before moving onto the next. Not only is this proper business dinner etiquette, it also will allow you to maintain a presence in the conversation.
Cut the Right Way: It's a commonly overlooked fact that American and European diners are expected to cut their food differently. In the US, the proper etiquette involves using a fork in the left hand to hold down the food while cutting with the right before eating with the fork in your right hand. However, with the European style, you keep the fork in your left hand to eat. When eating Asian cuisine, all of this silverware etiquette goes out the window, of course, as you'll be using chopsticks. If you're an inexperienced chopstick user, consider practicing ahead of time to look like a pro during your dinner. Never use your chopsticks to spear your food or point across the table.
Rest Your Silverware Correctly: Because you'll be absorbed in conversation and pacing your eating, it's important to know the correct way to place your silverware when you're not eating. In between bites, rest your knife on the edge of your plate in the "one o'clock" position and your fork tines up at about "4 o'clock." Once you are done eating, signal to the wait staff that you are indeed finished by placing your fork and knife side by side on your plate at about "4 o'clock" with the tines facing up. In Europe, the correct resting position is to place one utensil over the other, making an "X" in the middle of your plate. Signal that you're finished eating in the same way as American etiquette dictates, but instead place your fork with the tines facing down. Chopsticks can be rested across the top of your bowl, side by side at any time, but be sure never to cross them. This is considered rude in many Asian countries.
During dinner, be sure also to keep in mind the most basic of table manners: no elbows on the table, do not reach across the table for items, chew with your mouth closed, and, perhaps most importantly, remember to thank your host at the end of the meal.
If you're going to dinner in another country for the first time, do some research ahead of time on the particular business dinner etiquette and conventions unique to that location. For instance, while you'll definitely want to avoid slurping your food in the States, this actually can be considered a compliment to the chef in Japan. In India, the Middle East, and some places in Africa, it's disrespectful to eat with your left hand. And in Thailand, a fork only is supposed to be used to push food onto your spoon.
Sometimes a polite and professional appearance can be just as important as your business acumen in making a winning, lasting impression on your business counterparts. With these rules in mind and some common sense, you can ensure that you look the part and impress customers with your business dinner etiquette.