Instead of doing the office tango, I’d rather stay at home and write. However, working for The Company does have its advantages, namely getting to use corporate money to wine and dine clients. For some reason, charging client meals and entertainment to The Company never gets old. Before you start to think I’m a lush, let me say that the “wining and dining” budget does come with some parameters, including not getting drunk too often at business events, and of course, the expectation that I will always follow the unspoken rules of dining etiquette at business meetings that involve food. Which is all business meetings.
If part of being successful in your career includes business dining, here are the rules of wining and dining clients and customers.
The Host Should Pay and Lead the Way – The person who issues the invitation is the host, and should plan for such details as the quality of restaurant chosen, whether drinks, appetizers, and dessert are appropriate, and even the topics covered in the meeting.
Arrange to pay the server before the meal to avoid an awkward moment of who-should-pay-for-this uncertainty. As host, arriving early is advisable, both to arrange payment for the meal (I usually leave a credit card with the server), and to be settled before the guest arrives.
Blackberries Off the Table! – If you are waiting for an important phone call or email, let the other person know at the beginning of the meal. Then they will not be insulted be prepared if you need to step away from the table for a couple of minutes to resolve the issue. Otherwise, pretend the damned thing is broken, and leave it off the table!
Skip the Messy Stuff - This one is debatable – should you order menu items that are messy and hard to eat, or stick to something that is easy to eat? Or, should you just be a master at eating any type of food without incident?
Some people say just order something that is easy to eat so you don’t make a fool of yourself; others say, just eat what you want, with good table manners, and laugh off any little accidents.
I’d rather not have to laugh off spaghetti on my suit, so I usually look for food that is manageable to eat.
It’s About People! - You’re doing business with a person, so use the social atmosphere of a restaurant to get to know the other person. Don’t jump right in to the hard sell, take some time to make the guest feel comfortable. I like to have at least one good joke ready, be knowledgeable about current events, and be prepared to discuss the guest’s interests.
Use the Right Voice – Restaurants are noisy, busy places. Quiet speakers have trouble being heard, and loud speakers disrupt neighboring conversations and share private information with others. Be aware of your vocal volume and projection, and adjust to make it appropriate for the restaurant.