It’s a common occurrence that a customer or business partner invites you to dinner or you invite someone yourself. What at first sounds like a nice and comfortable evening can become a disaster if you don’t behave properly. With our business etiquette for business meals, however, you’ll know precisely how to act.
You’re really hungry
You’re hungry and can hardly wait to eat finally? But it’s still a while until dinner – what to do? Should this be the case, ask the waitstaff for some bread. It’s not considered impolite and won’t be received negatively by customers or business partners.
If you’re going to get to the restaurant later than arranged due to a traffic jam or a delayed train, it’s imperative to let your host know early on. That way you’ll prevent the entire group from having to wait to order their food or drinks. You can then politely ask the waiter to take your order once you arrive.
The host isn’t there yet
It is certainly possible that you’ll arrive before your host. Let the waitstaff know what group you belong to and inform them that you’re early. If the restaurant has a waiting area, wait there. Otherwise, sit down at your reserved table, but don’t order anything. Wait until your host arrives.
The right order
Are you unsure about what you should order? Pay attention to what the host suggests. That way you’ll find out in what price category you should order, as well as how many courses are appropriate. Order dishes that you can eat without mishaps. Spaghetti, for instance, can quickly cause stains and can’t be eaten in a lady-like or gentlemanly way.
What’s the alcohol situation?
Alcohol with lunch is rather unusual – though this attitude varies from country to country. It is important to drink alcohol only in moderation. Anything else can get embarrassing in a hurry. At dinner, a bottle of wine isn’t uncommon. Here, as well, take a cue from your host’s choices. If your business partner isn’t drinking alcohol, neither should you.
Handling your silverware and napkin
Very important: Your napkin belongs on your lap and not in your collar or neckline as a bib. Should you leave the table briefly, place your napkin to the left of your plate. When you have finished eating or are full, lay your napkin beside and not on your plate. After you finish your meal, place your silverware parallel to each other on the plate, never on the table.
Toasting and wishing “bon appetit”
In private, you might say “bon appetit”. In the business world, this is common only among close colleagues. If you don’t know your business partner very well, begin eating as soon as the food is served. However, wait until the host starts eating and give him a quick nod. The same holds true for toasting. If the host raises his glass, maintain eye contact and nod to him. Toast only with close colleagues.
Even if it’s a business meal, don’t talk only about business. Smalltalk is therefore unavoidable. Good topics are, for instance, music, travel, sports or hobbies. If you run out of topics, talk about the city or region where your company or that of your business partner is located. These topics should be avoided: politics, money, religion, illness and private life.
There are rules for paying, as well. If you know the restaurant well, have them send the check directly to your company. If it’s just two of you out and about, it’s ok to pay directly at the table. However, if you’re out with a larger group, pay the check away from everyone else at the bar. The tip should be about 10%.