If you have been asked to a lunch or dinner meeting by your boss or client, or potential boss or client, here are some rules to insure your dining experience is as polished as your business skills. To begin, arrive early. If not traveling together arrive 10 minutes early in order to check your appearance, remove your coat, use the restroom and prepare to greet your host with a smile and a firm handshake.
After being seated it is polite for the highest ranking person in your party to suggest that other orders be taken first and his or her order to be taken last. If this does not happen, remain quiet until the situation is naturally resolved.
When ordering choose something in the mid price range and never order more than two courses unless following the lead of your host. If you are uncertain about something on the menu ask your server for more information before ordering. Avoid "saucy" foods that might drop or become messy. Order simple beverages such as coffee, tea, water or soft drinks. Stay away from ordering an alcoholic drink unless your host orders one, and then never order more then one.
The meal actually begins when the host unfolds his or her napkin. Follow their lead and place your unfolded napkin on your lap. After the napkin, the next concern is which eating utensil to use. Starting with the knife, fork or spoon that is farthest from your plate, work your way in, using a new utensil or set of them for each course. The dessert spoon and fork will usually be placed above your plate.
During the meal keep in mind these simple tips: When eating never chew with your mouth open or make loud noises. Do not use your fingers unless you have no other choice. When not eating keep your hands in your lap and do not fidget. If food becomes lodged in your teeth it is best to excuse yourself and take care of the matter in the restroom. It is never appropriate to ask to take home leftovers. Cell phones and blackberries need to be turned off. Do not push your plate away from you when you are done with your meal. Leave it where is it and place your knife and fork diagonally across your plate. When completely finished and leaving the table, place your unfolded napkin to the right of your plate.
Conversation during a meal can always be tricky. Remember this is not an event for you to pull out your soapbox but to respond politely to comments presented. Tread lightly with subjects relating to religion, politics and personal finances. If you know nothing about the topic of conversation remain quiet and be a good listener.
Finally, if you are an invited guest do not offer to pay. Thank your host for the meal and tell them when you will be supplying any follow up information that has been requested. Most importantly remember it is Not About The Food, it is about an exchange of information and ideas.
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