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Business Dining Etiquette; 10 Tips for showing good manners over lunch or dinner

Updated on July 12, 2009

1. Follow-up job interviews and sales meetings are often conducted over meals. Rightly or wrongly, we often judge people by the manner in which they eat, so business lunches and dinners are very commonly occasions when personal evaluations are made - often in a game with high stakes. Do not persuade yourself that any business meal is only a meal; it may be a time when personal friendships can be forged, but keep focused on your professional image at all times. Importantly, neither eat nor drink to excess. Never, during the course of the meal, ask whether you can smoke. Your dining partner is unlikely to refuse you, but highly likely to resent you for doing so.

2. If you are going to be at all late, call ahead to give as much notice as you can. If you are waiting for a late dining partner and are yet to hear any news, then wait at least 15 minutes before enquiring and be gracious and forgiving once he or she arrives. Brush the inconvenience aside and move on as quickly as possible.

3. When choosing what to order, avoid either ordering the most expensive thing on the menu or (worse still!) asking how much you can spend. Simply follow your host's lead when making your decision, and order no more courses than he or she does. Asking what your host recommends is a good trick, but avoid dishes you have never tried. It would not be a good time to learn that oysters make you nauseous or discover any allergies!

4. Eat at the same pace as the person or people with whom you are dining. Eating very quickly is obviously considered rude; if you are a fast eater then pace yourself from the start - rather than trying to make a solitary mushroom last half an hour. If you're a slow eater, ask lots of open questions to give the other person or people another way to occupy their mouths while you catch up.

5. Place your napkin on your lap once everyone has been seated and the host has already done so. In the United States, you can use the term 'napkin' or 'serviette.' In the United Kingdom, only the word 'napkin' is considered acceptable. Unfold the napkin discreetly once it is on your lap, rather than unfurling it in the manner of a bullfighter. Once the meal is over, your napkin should be placed to the right of your place setting.

6. The manner in which you treat your serving staff will be noticed by others. If your business lunch or dinner is also a job interview, live up to the image you want to present. If your CV says you are a people-person who believes in soft management techniques and so on, then avoid barking orders at your waiter or waitress in the manner of a boot-camp officer. In any case, such staff should always be treated cordially in the name of good manners, regardless of what you do or not stand to gain.

7. Place settings and cutlery use will be discussed in a separate hub, but the general rule is that you begin on the outside and work inwards. Bread and other side dishes should be placed on the left of your setting; drinks are to the right.

8. Remember why you are there. If your soup is lukewarm or your steak is not prepared to your exact specifications, then it is better to ignore any imperfections and continue. Everybody loves to eat good food, but you should have other priorities and purposes at a business dinner or lunch. If everyone else's food has been prepared to their satisfaction, you risk souring the atmosphere by making them wait for your meal to be returned. If you are particularly fussy about the way in which a certain dish has to be prepared, then simply order something else.

9. In business, the person who organizes the meal should take care of the tab. If you organized the meal on behalf of your boss and his wallet is not instantly forthcoming, then you should cover the bill without any fuss and, if appropriate, claim it on expenses.

10. Tip 15% of the pre-tax cost of the bill, unless the service has been outstanding, in which case you should tip 20%. Do not, under any circumstances, attempt to draw attention to your own generosity as you do so! Tipping practices vary internationally so if you are overseas, be sure to learn the appropriate procedures.


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      someone 7 years ago

      Good tips, thank you, I know everybody knows that but it's good to remind people :)