Business Etiquette – Meals, Menus, and Merlot by Petra Compel, special to CITYPEEK
I recently spoke to several groups at Loyola University and was asked several questions about business etiquette. First, I must say that I am glad that students are asking before they are unleashed upon the rest of us in the business world and second, I must say how shocked and horrified I am that they are not learning this at home. I received a lovely email from a senior, inquiring about how to impress your boss over a meal and thought I’d share my answers.
- Why is etiquette in the professional world important–especially for young professionals?
I think first we have to understand that etiquette is not some scary, elusive thing. It essentially comes down to good manners. Emily Post defined good manners as making other people feel comfortable. The dictionary defines etiquette as behaving to a certain set code of conduct. Job opportunities as well as business opportunities (i.e. sales) are most often awarded to people that other people want to be around. So, for example, if you’re at dinner and your lack of manners puts other people ill at ease, or distracts them from the business discussion as hand, this is a huge strike against you. You don’t get the job, you don’t get the sale. By the same token, if you show grace and consideration for your fellow diners, then people say “Wow. She was brought up in a good home. She must be educated. She must be smart. She really knows what she’s doing with that fish fork.” Personally, when I see a young professional displaying bad manners, or a lack of etiquette, it makes me think that they’re gauche, and I don’t want to do business with them.
- In general, what are some good tips for how to make a good impression at a meal with your superior?
Personally, my pet peeves are:
- People that don’t know to put their napkin on their lap as soon as they sit down.
- If I need to say don’t chew gum, or don’t chew with your mouth open, we need to send you home.
- People that think that the bread plate is on the right, thereby leaving someone without a bread plate (your bread plate is always to the left, your water glass to the right)
- People that take something that is being passed, i.e. butter, and forget to continue passing the plate. Don’t set it down, continue passing until everyone has butter.
Good tips for dining include:
- Avoid ordering food that is messy or eaten with the hands.
- Avoid pasta dishes. (you’ll end up with sauce on your shirt somehow)
- Don’t salt your food before you taste it. (in business circles this is interpreted as someone who makes snap judgments without all the information)
- Always ask for something that you need to be passed. Don’t reach across the table to grab it.
- Dinner rolls should never be sliced all the way open, and slathered in butter. The correct way to eat a dinner roll is to break off a bit, and butter only that piece.
- When dining, it is never appropriate to text, check email, or speak on the phone. This is greatly disrespectful to the other people at the table and in the restaurant. If you expect to receive an urgent call, tell the other diners that you’re sorry in advance and that you are expecting an important call. Excuse yourself and go outside to take the call when it comes in.
- Wear dark clothes if the climate allows. You run less of a risk of a stain showing.
- Be a good guest. Be prepared to ask insightful questions. Do research before the dinner on topics that might be discussed.
- Avoid super hot food which may make you flush. It can read like nervousness.
- Avoid political and religious discussions.
- Don’t order the most expensive thing on the menu.
Concerning drink orders:
For young professionals, when it comes to drink orders, it’s always best to follow the lead of the most senior person at the table. For example, if the most senior person orders iced tea, you should not order wine. Additionally, unless you are a sommelier, it’s also best to defer the wine selection for the table to someone more senior. If asked for your opinion, don’t say that you like wines that are sweet (this includes white zinfandel and Riesling). This is seen as an “immature pallet” by knowledgeable wine drinkers. Also, anything that is made in a blender is usually not appropriate for a business meal. If other people at the table are drinking beer, feel free to follow their lead, but be sure to drink from a glass. (Note: of course you only order alcohol if you’re 21 or older). Know your limit, a sloppy drunk impresses no one. The two drink maximum is a good rule to have for yourself. If you’re drinking red wine, be sure to drink water in sips between to avoid stained teeth.
Know that in certain circles, eating with your fork in your right hand is considered an extremely American mannerism. If you can master the fine art of eating with your fork in your left hand, and your knife in your right hand, then you’re safe to travel abroad.
Sincere thanks are always appropriate and appreciated.
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