The Art of a Business Meal
Photo credit: Brian Kennedy/Le Cirque restaurant
by Rosemary Carroll, Etiquette Author and Etiquette Coach
Communicating effectively and appropriately does not always come naturally to people, but it can be learned with time and practice. The manner in which you conduct yourself will leave a lasting impression whether meeting with long-term clients or cultivating new relationships. When proper business dining etiquette is employed during business interactions, it removes awkward situations and embarrassing moments. Some aspects of etiquette carry more weight than others. Knowing what utensil to use at a business meal is good, but knowing how to avoid offending fellow diners is about business manners. When dining with clients and business associates keep your priorities in place and follow the rules of engagement.
The choice of a restaurant plays a key role in your business meeting. A very busy location can distract or potentially ruin your business opportunity. Choose a place that can offer you enough privacy from any acquaintances, traffic, or loud music. Never overlook the basics: table location, noise level at a restaurant, quality and speed of service, and food ranking. Again, choosing the right restaurant is crucial because it will impact the end result of your meeting.
First, start with a light discussion to establish rapport before you get down to real business. Graciously, walk your guests through a menu, pointing out interesting and tasty dishes and encourage ordering wine, soft drinks, and appetizers to start your meal.
Second, sit directly opposite your invited guest with your back to a wall. Focusing your client on your smiling face is the winning strategy. It is the ideal arrangement because it limits any visual interference from a main dining room. A table with a view behind you is another great setting. Instruct your waiter ahead of time to check on you only once or twice after the food has been ordered and you begin your business discussion.
Assuming all parties have enough time to enjoy a meal at a leisurely pace, begin with your business agenda. Keep in mind that smaller portions and alcohol-free meals can contribute to a productive meeting, whereas large meals can be heavy and go on forever. For evening meals ordering wine is usually expected, but a lunch meeting should generally be very light in terms of food and drinks. The exception is for a weekend meeting when you are not expected to continue working for the rest of the day. However, one drink should always be your maximum.
Third, if you decide to offer wine with your meal, do not hesitate to ask for help. Wine etiquette and wine pairing could be tricky at times, if you are not a regular wine consumer. If you don’t have a sommelier to advise you on available choices of wine, stick to the basics: order red wine with red meat and game, and white wine with seafood and light meat. When you hold your white wine glass, it should be held by the stem of the glass to keep the temperature cool and stable.
Business dining savvy shows a level of refinement and sophistication needed to win a new business. New York etiquette expert Lyudmila Bloch, who has forged a career out of business dining and wine etiquette, says, “The devil is in the details: pairing food with wine, knowing wine terminology, understanding a French/Italian menu, using dining utensils in European dining style, or mastering a business meal using chopsticks.” Bloch has trained clients at the finest dining establishments in New York such as Daniel’s, Le Cirque, La Grenouille, Il Molino, and Per Se, where a multicourse menu is a regular meal.
Most businesspeople from Canada, Europe, South America, Australia, and some parts of Asia, all use European (continental) dining style. Americans, however, stand out unfavorably when dining with international business associates because they are using American dining style when switching a utensil back and forth from left to right. The most practiced and widely accepted style is European dining and it should be practiced as often as possible in order to impress your business partners and VIP clients.
Following these simple steps will ensure that your meal will be a great business success!
If you would like to learn more about business dining, please contact a private etiquette coach from Etiqutte Outreach.