|This post was originally published on OPEN Forum.||
Eating with someone in a professional context can be tricky. On the one hand, you’re trying to get to know the person better, but on the other hand, you’re worried about what your eating habits say about you.
The most important thing to remember, says career coach Barbara Pachter, is that you’re not there for the food. You are there for business.
In her new book “The Essentials Of Business Etiquette,” Pachter discusses the dining etiquette rules every professional needs to know:
1. The host should always be in charge.
This means picking an appropriate restaurant and making reservations ahead of time, which is especially important if you’re having a business lunch or dinner at a time that can be busy. The last thing you want is to be told there isn’t a table available for you and your guest(s).
Once you’re seated, “you need to take charge of the logistics of the meal,” says Pachter. This means directing your guests to their seats or recommending menu items in various price ranges.
2. Never pull out someone’s chair for them.
It’s OK to hold open a door for your guest, but Pachter says you shouldn’t pull someone’s chair out for them, regardless of gender. In a business setting, you should leave those gendered social rules behind.
“Both men and women can pull out their own chairs,” she says.
3. Keep pace with your guest.
If your guest orders an appetizer or dessert, you should follow suit. “You don’t want to make your guest feel uncomfortable by eating a course alone,” Pachter says.
4. Know which utensils to use.
Each course should have its own utensils, and all of them may already be in front of you or will be placed in front of you as the dishes are served. In the case that all of the utensils are there at the beginning of the meal, a good general rule is to start with utensils on the outside and work your way in as the meal goes on.
Here’s Pachter’s guide to using the proper utensils: “The largest fork is generally the entrée fork. The salad fork is smaller. The largest spoon is usually the soup spoon. If you are having a fish course, you may see the fish knife and fork as part of the place setting. The utensils above the plate are the dessert fork and spoon, although these may sometimes be placed on either side of the plate or brought in with the dessert.”
5. Use “BMW” to remember where plates and glasses go.
The mnemonic BMW here stands for “bread, meal, and water,” so remember that “your bread-and-butter plate is on the left, the meal is in the middle, and your water glass is on the right,” advises Pachter.
6. Always break bread with your hands.
Pachter says you should never use your knife to cut your rolls at a business dinner. “Break your roll in half and tear off one piece at a time, and butter the piece as you are ready to eat it.”
7. Know the “rest” and “finished” positions.
“Place your knife and fork in the rest position (knife near the top of plate, fork across middle of plate) to let the waiter know you are resting,” says Pachter. “Use the finished position (fork below the knife, diagonally across the plate) to indicate that you have finished eating.”
8. Do not push away or stack your dishes.
“You are not the waiter,” she says. “Let the wait staff do their jobs.”
9. Do not use the napkin as a tissue.
The napkin should only be used for blotting the sides of your mouth. If you need to blow your nose, Pachter advises excusing yourself to the bathroom.
10. Never ask for a to-go box.
“You are there for business, not for the leftovers,” Pachter writes. “Doggie bags are ok for family dinners but not during professional occasions.”
11. The host should always pay.
“If you did the inviting, you are the host, and you should pay the bill, regardless of gender,” she says. “What if a male guest wants to pay? A woman does have some choices. She can say, ‘Oh, it’s not me; it is the firm that is paying.’ Or she can excuse herself from the table and pay the bill away from the guests. This option works for men as well, and it is a very refined way to pay a bill.”
“However, the bottom line is that you don’t want to fight over a bill. If a male guest insists on paying despite a female host’s best efforts, let him pay,” she says.
12. Always say “please” and “thank you” with wait staff.
“Do not complain or criticise the service or food,” says Pachter. “Your complaints will appear negative, and it is an insult to your host to criticise.”
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