Business Meals: They Aren’t About The Food!
Guest post by Jessica Marventano
So you just got invited out to a work lunch and are excited because you have been dying to try that new restaurant down the street. You cannot wait to try their signature dish!
Wait – don’t make a rookie error.
Make no mistake, a business lunch is NOT about the food. If it involves business, your lunch is an opportunity to showcase your professionalism.
Your dining companions will watch what you order, how you eat, how you treat the wait-staff, how you engage in delightful chit-chat, and how you handle any mishaps. They do this to get insight into your character.
Don’t believe me? I used to work at a law firm where summer associates were regularly wined and dined. They were taken out to fantastic lunches, invited over to senior partners’ homes for cocktail parties and dinners. All the summer associates had a great time and raved about the food (and sometimes the drinks).
But the young professionals “in the know” knew that the food was the last thing they should focus on. They knew these quasi-social occasions were where the senior partners would watch them and judge their small talk skills, as well as which bread plate they used and how they handled their napkin.
The ones who did well usually received offer letters at the end of their stint. The ones who didn’t fare so well often didn’t. In a nutshell, they were being judged with their dining skills serving as a proxy of whether or not they were generally well-mannered.
Chances are at your next business meal, you too will be judged, whether it be by a client, a boss, a colleague or a potential boss.
But there is no reason to be nervous. Here are some dining etiquette rules to get you started.
Master these nine dining skills tips and you are on your way to being marvelously well-mannered!
1. Mind your deportment at the table.
By deportment, we mean your manner of personal conduct and the way you behave, especially your physical bearing.
So, sit up straight – not ramrod straight but elegantly so you are not slouching. Bring the food up to your mouth, not the other way around. Keep your elbows off the table. Don’t fidget or touch utensils, and don’t push back your plate away from you when you’re done. Don’t stack the plates in an effort to help the waitstaff. Chew quietly and with your mouth shut. Smile and chat with your dining companions.
2. Properly handle your napkin.
You do this by placing your napkin on your lap with the fold closest to your waist at the beginning of the meal.
Wipe fingers on the inside fold to avoid getting food or grease on your clothes or the chair. Blot your lips if you need to – but never smear. Put your napkin on the seat of your chair when leaving the table (and are returning). Simply say, “excuse me” – no need to say where you are going, most can guess it’s to the powder room. Loosely gather your napkin and place it on the table at the end of the meal. Don’t refold it.
3. Out-to-In is the way to use utensils.
Most restaurants will only set the table for one or two courses and if you need anything extra they will bring it out to you (for example, a soup spoon or a steak knife).
Use the utensils and glasses farthest from the plate and work your way in, course by course. When in doubt – pause and watch what your dining companion does (this is especially helpful if they are the host of the event).
4. Know which bread plate is yours.
It’s to the left of your plate. Remember B-M-W. Bread plate, meal, water. That is the way to read your place setting.
If someone accidentally uses yours do not perpetuate the wrong by grabbing your other neighbor’s bread plate. The madness must stop with you. Your choices are to (unfortunately) refrain from bread or to wait until you have a food plate directly in front of you where you can park your roll.
5. Cut your food properly.
Hold your knife and fork by placing your index fingers on the knife’s joint and the back of the fork for leverage. Don’t hold utensils like weapons (the food is already dead) or musical instruments (you aren’t playing the cello).
6. Eat Your Food Properly.
When eating American Style remember to rest your knife across the top of the plate after cutting a piece of food, then switch the fork to your dominant hand and eat with the fork, tines up.
When eating Continental Style the knife remains in your dominant hand while you hold the fork (tines down) in your non-dominant hand. Lift your fork and pivot your wrist and you convey the food to your mouth.
7. Learn “rest” and “finished” positions for your style of eating.
See illustrations below. Use the “rest” position for your utensils when you are talking, taking a break from eating or taking a sip of your drink. Use the “finished” position at the end of the meal to signal you are through eating. Watch your pace such that you are finished when others are – no one wants to watch you eat and conversely no one wants you to just sit there staring at them if you are done while they are still eating.
8. Communal items on the table.
If an item is within your reach, it’s your job to start passing items (like salad dressings, gravy boats, bread baskets) around the table, ideally to your right.
This rule applies even if you don’t want to use it yourself. Pass so that any handles on the dish are accessible to the recipient. When someone asks you to pass something, you should not use it or partake in it – that is considered rude and is called “shortstopping”.
9. Salt and Pepper.
Are a pair, always passed together when requested. Place them directly on the table not into someone’s hands. Salt and pepper shakers are so small that it is easy to drop them during the handoff. Wait to season your food until after you have tasted it. It is considered “rude to the chef” to automatically assume you need to season the food.
Master these tips and you’ll guarantee a great impression on your dining companions, business or otherwise!
About the author: Jessica is a power politico by day and manners and kindness expert on the side. She and her mom have launched the successful game, The Kindness Kingdom, and just released their book, “The Marvelous Millennial’s Manual to Modern Manners.”