(**post written by Virginia Edwards, Etiquette and Protocol Consultant, BeyondManners.com**  Join us for the Sophomore Professional Etiquette Dinner on Thursday, March 7 at 6:30 p.m.)

Like it or not, in business good manners equate competence.  Good manners, including accomplished dining skills, are considered important qualifications for all professionals.

Luncheons and dinners are often an extension of a business meeting.  For this reason meals are part of the interview process in many industries.  The employer wants to see the way you conduct yourself in this business yet social situation.  This scrutiny is especially important if you will be dining with clients and higher-ups.  Business relationships are developed and strengthened in these social settings.  You can lose all credibility with poor table manners.

When business is conducted over a meal, it can be easy to forget which glass is yours or which fork to use if you are a “dashboard diner” who eats on the run.  Remember the following tips and tricks from arrival to departure to alleviate any apprehension when dining.

  • Dress the part.  Always dress conservatively when dining for business.  “Test drive” your clothes to be certain you will be comfortable if seated for several hours.  Gentlemen keep jackets on during dinner not draped over the chair.  Neckties are not tucked into the shirt or thrown dramatically over the wearer’s shoulder.  Ladies hemlines or necklines should not need adjustment throughout the meal.
  • Leave your phone in the car so you are not tempted to take a call or a text.  You are there to visit and interact with the host and guests.
  • As soon as seated, place your napkin gently on your lap with the fold toward your waist.
  • If you are uncertain which glass and bread plate is yours, try this trick with your hands under the table out of view of other diners: Put your left index finger and thumb together to form a lower case “b”.  Do the same with your right hand to form a lower case “d”.  The “b” reminds you that your bread plate is on the left and the “d” reminds you your drinking glasses are on the right.
  • The guest orders off the menu first.  A good host avoids putting the guest in the awkward position of not knowing the limits of his hospitality by lightly suggesting an appetizer he knows is good or even one of the more expensive items on the menu.  As a guest you should not feel compelled to follow your host’s suggestions however it is advisable not to order the most expensive items.
  • Wait until all the dining partners at your table have received their food before beginning to eat.  Begin eating when the host begins eating or asks everyone to do so.  Start with the utensils farthest out and work your way in towards your plate.  Don’t panic if you find yourself confused.  Relax and take your cues from the actions of your host.  Do not eat too slowly or too quickly – pace yourself with the rest of the table.  Contribute to the conversation – but with an empty mouth.
  • Do not take photos of your meal.  Food critics leave the camera at home and so should you.  Chefs and restaurateurs are equally divided on the subject. The privacy of their guests is cited as the primary reason for banning photos.  The spectacle of a guest getting the correct angle of the plate and the accompanying camera flash are also cited as reasons to ban such activity.
  • If you need to excuse yourself from the table, quietly say to those on either side of you “Excuse me,” as you stand.  Place your napkin on your chair seat then push your chair under the table.  When you return, pull out the chair, remove the napkin, and seat yourself placing the napkin on your lap.  Listen intently to catch up on the current conversation.  If a woman leaves the table during a meal, men should rise from their seat.  Simply rise off the seat to acknowledge her departure and again on her return.
  • When finished eating do not push your plate away from you or stack plates for removal.  If you did not finish your meal, do not ask for a doggy bag.
  • The person who extends the invitation is the host and pays for the meal.  An important detail for women hosting a meeting over a meal is to arrange for payment of the check in advance with the restaurant management.  This preplanning eliminates the tug of war that can take place when the bill is presented.  When dining with peers, decide how the check is to be split in advance of ordering to reduce any confusion.  Do not overlook the fact that when dining with peers you should continue to display proper dining skills – you never know when one of you might be promoted or become the other’s customer.  In all cases remember to tip the wait staff 15 – 20% of the total bill.
  • When your host signals the meal is over, gently place your napkin on the table in front of you, stand, and push your chair under the table as you exit.  Be sure to thank your host as you exit and send a written thank you within twenty-four hours.

Practice proper dining skills at every opportunity and you will be more relaxed at all your meals.  Bon appétit!

To register for the Sophomore Professional Etiquette Dinner visit: EMPLOYOLA

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