Whether you’re entertaining clients at dinner or attending a job interview over lunch, meetings that include meals can be a little tricky, especially for young professionals who haven’t had these experiences yet.
From passing the salt and pepper properly, to upholding your vegetarian lifestyle gracefully, our two etiquette experts provide advice on how to wine and dine with class.
Mind Your Appearance:Knowing the difference between casual, business-casual, business-formal, and semi-formal can be a bit overwhelming. According to Patricia Napier-Fitzpatrick, founder and director of The Etiquette School of New York and author of “The Art of the Meal: Simple Etiquette for Simply Everyone,” when it doubt, it’s better to overdress than not be dressed up enough. “You can’t go wrong being conservative; however, you can always go wrong trying to be trendy.
Stick to pantsuits or a matching skirt and blouse. You can remove your sweater or blazer if you’re overdressed, but there’s not a lot you can do if you’re underdressed,” says Napier-Fitzpatrick. In addition to wearing the right style of clothes for your event, she says that hygiene is equally important. “You want to be well-groomed. Manicure your nails. If you don’t look like you’re put-together, you may not get further opportunities like this.”
Brush Up On Your Table Manners: Before attending a dinner meeting, refresh your memory on the rules of dinner etiquette. Patricia Rossi, an etiquette coach, speaker, and author of “Everyday Etiquette: How to Navigate 101 Common and Uncommon Social Situations,” provides a few tips that many diners tend to overlook.
“Remember that bread is not a cake. Don’t frost the whole thing. Break it into pieces. You should also think of the salt and pepper as a bride and groom who travel together. If someone asks you to pass one, it’s polite for you to pass both,” says Rossi.
While knowing which is the salad fork and which is the dessert fork is also important, Napier-Fitzpatrick points out that one of the biggest mistakes people make has nothing to do with eating the meal. “You should not be checking your cell phone. It shouldn’t even be on the table. Keep it in your pocket, your purse, or your briefcase,” says Napier-Fitzpatrick.
For those who are unfamiliar with basic table manners, she suggests taking an etiquette course, or watching one of the dining etiquette videos available on YouTube.
Handle Dietary Needs Discreetly: With food allergies and intolerances becoming more prevalent, new diets popping up every year, and an overall increase in nutrition awareness, the chances of you coming in contact with food you’d rather not eat is fairly high. Napier-Fitzpatrick advises that you use caution in these situations. “Keep in mind that we live in a global environment and it’s very difficult to please everyone.
People all over the world eat different things and it can be an insult to someone’s culture to refuse it, especially if you’re in someone’s home. You really shouldn’t reject food unless you have an allergy or it’s against your beliefs to eat it,” says Napier-Fitzpatrick. For all other situations, if you’re opposed to even tasting it, she recommends that you still take a portion of the food item and make it appear on your plate as if you’ve had some.
Rossi agrees with this tactic, stressing the importance of being discreet. “Sometimes a certain appetizer will be ordered because the host is trying to impress you. Nobody likes the person who says, ‘Oh, I’m allergic!’ or ‘Oh, I can’t eat that!’ as the food is being set on the table. A good host will ask about these things ahead of time, but my rule is if it can’t be fixed in five minutes, don’t bring it up,” says Rossi.
Be Smart with Your Order: Ordering from the menu when out with other professionals, especially those you’ve just met, can be stressful. Napier-Fitzpatrick explains that there are guidelines to consider. “Order the same number of courses as everyone else so you’re all eating at the same time and at the same pace. You should also order something you can eat with a knife and fork. You don’t want anything too messy or anything you’ll be struggling to eat,” she says.
Choosing a meal that falls into the right price range is another factor to consider. “You generally don’t want to order the most expensive thing on the menu unless your host makes it clear that price is not an issue. If they specifically say, ‘Try the lobster. It’s great here,’ then it’s okay,” says Napier-Fitzpatrick. When it comes to choosing your beverage, you should follow your host’s lead and only order alcohol if your host orders it.
Rossi recommends you stick to one drink. “Even if your host has multiple drinks, a dinner meeting is an extension of your business. This is not the time to let your hair down. Nurse that one drink all night,” she says.
Make the Right Kind of Conversation: As business typically isn’t discussed until the coffee and dessert portion of the dinner meeting, knowing what to talk about in the hour or two beforehand can be nerve-racking. There are plenty of conversation topics that should be avoided. Napier-Fitzpatrick says that this list includes a lot more than politics and religion. “You don’t want to talk about your health.
Women especially need to know they shouldn’t be talking about their dietary habits. Listening to what foods you eat, what you’re avoiding, what works and what doesn’t, just makes people feel uncomfortable. “Don’t talk about your relationship problems, money, or how much things cost in general.
You also don’t want to complain about your coworkers,” adds Napier-Fitzpatrick. As for what subjects are appropriate, Rossi recommends you stick to discussions that will help you get to know your guests. “Everyone has hobbies. Everyone has children. Everyone has a favorite sports team. Stick to subjects your guests care about,” says Rossi.
Let Your Host End the Meal: The moment your server drops off the bill can feel like an awkward one. While you may be inclined to pitch in your share or leave the tip, Rossi explains this isn’t the protocol for dinner meetings. “Generally, the person who invited you is who pays the bill, and even then, it’s usually the company that’s really paying,” says Rossi.
Just because the credit card receipt has been signed and the server has said their goodbyes does not mean it’s time to go. Napier-Fitzpatrick suggests you follow the host’s cues. “Let your host decide when it’s time to leave. Until then, the meal’s not over and your napkin should remain on your lap,” she says. Once the meal truly has ended and the parties have gone their separate ways, you should send a thank-you card or email expressing your gratitude.
Have a funny eating experience to share that happened while dining with colleagues or during an interview? Do tell in our comments section!