How to maintain business lunch and dinner etiquette

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How to maintain business lunch and dinner etiquette

Dining etiquette is an area of etiquette which pertains to dining, whether at home or out in a restaurant. Etiquette in general is a series of suggestions and rules for behavior which are designed to ensure that people behave consistently and within the norms of politeness. Many people receive some etiquette education as they grow up from family members and teachers, and it is also possible to take classes which provide instruction in etiquette. In some communities, it is traditional to take classes, often in preparation for a debut into society.

The rules of dining etiquette vary considerably around the world, with different nations having different norms when it comes to acceptable behavior at the table. In some cultures, for example, food is eaten with the hands, and a complex set of rules dictates how to behave at the table to avoid upsetting or offending people. Other nations may use chopsticks or silverware, each of which is accompanied by an assortment of etiquette rules which can vary by nation and utensil.

Dining etiquette addresses a wide variety of issues which can come up at the table. One is personal hygiene, an issue in a setting where people are eating because people could potentially pass diseases on to each other. Another is accepted rules of behavior when it comes to things like conversation, greeting people at the table, interacting with servers, and conversing with other diners. Other rules cover how and when to use utensils and tools, from finger bowls to forks.

The setting of a meal can have an impact on the dining etiquette which is appropriate. Meals at home tend to be more casual, for example, while meals in restaurants are more formal. When people are entertaining as opposed to eating with family and close friends, the rules of etiquette also change. Likewise, there are etiquette rules for dinner guests, whether they are visiting a friend for dinner or attending an event hosted by a head of state.

Fortunately for confused diners, there are a number of dining etiquette guidebooks. Many bookstores and libraries have a section for books on manners and etiquette which includes books providing instructions about the rules of behavior. Staff can also point patrons to specific areas of interest; for example, someone who plans to travel in Japan might want to pick up a book on Japanese etiquette, including dining etiquette, to prepare for the trip.

Observing the rules of etiquette demonstrates that someone is respectful of other people, and, when traveling, that someone respects a foreign culture. Many people find the way smoothed when they follow even basic etiquette rules, as people are more inclined to be helpful when they feel respected.

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

How to maintain business lunch and dinner etiquetteMary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

@Feryll – If you want to be successful then you need to learn the rules. Regardless of whether we are talking about dining etiquette, business etiquette, sports etiquette or some other type of etiquette, the more you know the better chance you give yourself of succeeding.

Something as simple as a firm handshake can go a long way in business and in life in general. I’m sure knowing which fork to use can mean a lot in certain circles. Feryll November 6, 2014

I’m sure most of us have seen those TV shows and movies where the unsophisticated person from the country goes to a formal dinner at the country club or at a fancy restaurant. I have always thought these portrayals were a bit over the top for the most part. However, I felt a bit like that country bumpkin recently when I was at a dinner and I had three forks in front of me and I wasn’t sure which one was used for what.

So, I guess there are times when a little bit of dining etiquette knowledge could come in handy. Then again, this is the only instance I can think of where I felt a bit out of place, and I just took my cues from the other diners, so maybe dining etiquette classes are overrated for the average person. Animandel November 6, 2014

I have toyed with the idea of getting my kids in some formal dining etiquette classes. Of course they want no part of this. Basically, I want my kids to know the general rules of sitting at a table and eating a nice meal, and I hope they have learned these rules at home, but still I think knowing all there is to know in the area of formal dining would also be good for them.

I guess formal dining skills and ballroom dancing are not on the top of the list of necessities for young people, but I wish my kids would humor me and learn both. Who knows, these skills may come in handy one day.

Join the Community

How to maintain business lunch and dinner etiquette

Dining etiquette is an area of etiquette which pertains to dining, whether at home or out in a restaurant. Etiquette in general is a series of suggestions and rules for behavior which are designed to ensure that people behave consistently and within the norms of politeness. Many people receive some etiquette education as they grow up from family members and teachers, and it is also possible to take classes which provide instruction in etiquette. In some communities, it is traditional to take classes, often in preparation for a debut into society.

The rules of dining etiquette vary considerably around the world, with different nations having different norms when it comes to acceptable behavior at the table. In some cultures, for example, food is eaten with the hands, and a complex set of rules dictates how to behave at the table to avoid upsetting or offending people. Other nations may use chopsticks or silverware, each of which is accompanied by an assortment of etiquette rules which can vary by nation and utensil.

Dining etiquette addresses a wide variety of issues which can come up at the table. One is personal hygiene, an issue in a setting where people are eating because people could potentially pass diseases on to each other. Another is accepted rules of behavior when it comes to things like conversation, greeting people at the table, interacting with servers, and conversing with other diners. Other rules cover how and when to use utensils and tools, from finger bowls to forks.

The setting of a meal can have an impact on the dining etiquette which is appropriate. Meals at home tend to be more casual, for example, while meals in restaurants are more formal. When people are entertaining as opposed to eating with family and close friends, the rules of etiquette also change. Likewise, there are etiquette rules for dinner guests, whether they are visiting a friend for dinner or attending an event hosted by a head of state.

Fortunately for confused diners, there are a number of dining etiquette guidebooks. Many bookstores and libraries have a section for books on manners and etiquette which includes books providing instructions about the rules of behavior. Staff can also point patrons to specific areas of interest; for example, someone who plans to travel in Japan might want to pick up a book on Japanese etiquette, including dining etiquette, to prepare for the trip.

Observing the rules of etiquette demonstrates that someone is respectful of other people, and, when traveling, that someone respects a foreign culture. Many people find the way smoothed when they follow even basic etiquette rules, as people are more inclined to be helpful when they feel respected.

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

How to maintain business lunch and dinner etiquetteMary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

You might also Like

Recommended

Readers Also Love

Related Articles

  • What is Table Setting Etiquette?
  • What are the Rules of Etiquette?
  • What is Proper Serving Etiquette?
  • What is the Difference Between Etiquette and Manners?

Discussion Comments

@Feryll – If you want to be successful then you need to learn the rules. Regardless of whether we are talking about dining etiquette, business etiquette, sports etiquette or some other type of etiquette, the more you know the better chance you give yourself of succeeding.

Something as simple as a firm handshake can go a long way in business and in life in general. I’m sure knowing which fork to use can mean a lot in certain circles. Feryll November 6, 2014

I’m sure most of us have seen those TV shows and movies where the unsophisticated person from the country goes to a formal dinner at the country club or at a fancy restaurant. I have always thought these portrayals were a bit over the top for the most part. However, I felt a bit like that country bumpkin recently when I was at a dinner and I had three forks in front of me and I wasn’t sure which one was used for what.

So, I guess there are times when a little bit of dining etiquette knowledge could come in handy. Then again, this is the only instance I can think of where I felt a bit out of place, and I just took my cues from the other diners, so maybe dining etiquette classes are overrated for the average person. Animandel November 6, 2014

I have toyed with the idea of getting my kids in some formal dining etiquette classes. Of course they want no part of this. Basically, I want my kids to know the general rules of sitting at a table and eating a nice meal, and I hope they have learned these rules at home, but still I think knowing all there is to know in the area of formal dining would also be good for them.

I guess formal dining skills and ballroom dancing are not on the top of the list of necessities for young people, but I wish my kids would humor me and learn both. Who knows, these skills may come in handy one day.

How to maintain business lunch and dinner etiquette

A considerable number of service organizations and business groups hold meetings in conjunction with either lunch or dinner. The chairman of such a meeting must make every effort to see that careful planning and certain small courtesies are observed. It is discourteous to ask people to attend a luncheon or dinner meeting that neither starts nor ends on time; where the atmosphere is noisy, the food poor, and the speeches, reports and announcements too lengthy.

Preparing for the Meeting

The chairman should prepare an agenda of all the business, announcements, reports, speeches, and so on that are to be taken up at the meeting. Then if he times every thing, adds on approximately 45 minutes for the serving and eating of the meal, he will know how long the meeting will last. Each speaker should be told how many minutes he has and advised that he will be clocked.

Starting on Time

How to maintain business lunch and dinner etiquetteDon’t put on the invitations a time that you know is merely a guess. If time is being allowed for cocktails before the meal, invite people a half-hour earlier. For instance, the invitation could have on it:

This would enable the non-drinkers to arrive in time for lunch and not have to waste time waiting for the others.

Organizing the Head Table

Nothing detracts more from a luncheon or dinner meeting than a head table set for more people than are seated at it. The head table should be filled, even if the dining room captain has to set up a smaller table than had been planned.

Another unwise procedure is to try and seat everyone of some degree of importance at the head table. This can result in a head table so long that it looks ridiculous. When the occasion demands that you have a large number of people at the head table, set up more than one table. As many tables as you need may be placed one in front of the other at different levels. Even a single head table should be raised above the rest of the tables in the room whenever possible.

Invitations to Sit at the Head Table

Let the people you want at the head table know ahead of time. It’s bad manners to wait until just before the meal and then go around inviting people to sit at the head table. It’s usually a good idea to have all the head table guests enter and take their places as a group.

Head table guests certainly ought to include the speakers for the evening, the master of ceremonies, officials of the sponsoring organization, government officials, ministers, priests, and rabbis, and the heads of important local organizations.

If you have to arrange a head table for a series of luncheons or dinners, try varying the group that sits at it. It gets a little dull for everyone to have to look at the same people time after time. As a variation, senior employees or members could be honored in this fashion one day, or the newest ones, or division heads, and so on.

Seating at the Head Table

The chairman sits in the center at the head table, with the guest speaker to his right, If there are several speakers, then the second sits to his left, the third next to the first, the fourth next to the second, and so on. When there is a toastmaster, he sits to the right of the chairman and the main speaker to the right of the toastmaster.

If there are women at the head table, alternate them with men, regardless of other seating protocol.

Usually anyone who has a report to give is seated at the head table, but if you have a full table of speakers and distinguished guests, then have reports read from the front of the room and let the people who make them sit elsewhere. When there are no special guests, the principal officers of the organization or club sit at the head table.

When to Start the Program

The program or business should start as soon as the group has finished eating. If time is limited, announcements and introductions of guests can be made during the meal. But the tables should be cleared of main course dishes before the pro gram or serious business is started.

When Noise Is a Problem

Delegate someone with a sense of diplomacy to handle kitchen noises, outside disturbances, and talking after the program begins. If drinking causes someone to become thoroughly obnoxious, have him escorted outside as quietly and unobtrusively as possible.

When the Chairman Wants to Attract Attention

The chairman should stand quietly for a few seconds and tap lightly with his gavel. He can then begin talking in a normal voice to the first few tables. Those sitting at the back tables will become curious and start listening.

Actions at the Head Table

Anyone who sits at the head table is bound to attract a certain amount of attention. Little mannerisms of which the individual isn’t aware can be irritating to the members of the audience. Common examples are squirming in a chair or tilting it back, scratching, tugging, and (the unpardonable rudeness) yawning. Also to be avoided are note taking and obvious glances at a watch or clock. The only acceptable behaviour for guests at the head table is to sit quietly and listen attentively to the speakers.

How the Chairman Should Look

The appearance of the person who conducts a meeting is of the utmost importance. The audience will notice hair that needs combing, clothes that are unpressed, shoes that need to be shined, and, in the case of women, hems that are uneven. Men are advised to wear a neat, well-pressed, conservative suit, an immaculate shirt, an unobtrusive tie and socks of a matching hue, and polished shoes on which the heels are not run down. For women the recommended attire is a well cut suit or plain dress in solid colors. Extreme designs and bold patterns are taboo.

No Need for Comedy

The person conducting a luncheon or dinner meeting needn’t feel called on to be a comedian. If an amusing and relevant story occurs to him, it’s all right to tell it, but forced jokes and off-color stories are unacceptable.

Thoughtful Acts

It’s a polite gesture for the person presiding at the meeting to recognize the individual in charge of arrangements and, when the food and service merit it, the chef and head waiter. He may mention them by name, thank them, and ask them to take a bow. Another thoughtful gesture is to send flowers used as table decorations to ill members of the group, or to a hospital or institution.

How to maintain business lunch and dinner etiquette

Back in the days of Mad Men, the business lunch was essential. Offers were made, partnerships formed, and deals were closed daily over lunchtime martinis.

For the most part, that type of midday meeting is long gone. But with today’s communication technology overload, the face-to-face business lunch is still an important way to build relationships–and is perhaps even more valuable today than it was 50 years ago. (It’s just less likely to include three martinis and a glass of port.)

Follow these simple rules to make a business lunch both productive and enjoyable:

Get the Invitation Right

Lunch with a client, potential business partner or new colleague can often be more productive than an office meeting. Getting out of the office and off the phone creates an environment more conducive to relaxing and candid conversation.

When inviting someone to lunch, be respectful of his or her time and position. If inviting a superior you don’t know well, don’t risk being presumptuous–you might opt for suggesting coffee instead.

Who Chooses the Spot?

If you’re inviting, offer up some suggestions and let your guests pick. If they don’t care, it’s on you. But make sure to be careful and anticipate their preferences. You don’t want to bring a vegetarian to a steakhouse. If inviting someone to discuss next year’s budget cuts, best to skip the meal at the most expensive restaurant in town. If your guest choses the place, don’t forget to compliment her on the choice.

Time & Place

Get there early. Always know the set-up of the restaurant and make sure both the venue and your table are right for your objective.

One of my colleagues swears by this rule. If it’s a celebratory or casual lunch with people he knows well, he gets a table in a central area, closer to the bar, where it’s typically more boisterous. If it’s a serious conversation and he wants to get something accomplished, he opts for a quiet table in the corner.

When to Talk Business

On the golf course, the common rule of thumb is not to get down to business before the fourth hole. At the table, it’s a bit more ambiguous.

My advice: If you’re having a social conversation, don’t bring up business until you have received your drinks and ordered your meals. Then, when business talk commences, frame the conversation around your guest. Ask about her business, what she’s working on and where she needs help.

This will give you a clear understanding of context and provide a natural segue into explaining how you and your company might be of assistance.

Speaking of Drinks.

Sorry, Don Draper–if you’re taking clients to lunch and your company is paying, you should probably skip the alcohol. But if your client wants to imbibe, let him order a drink. A good rule of thumb is to let your guests order first, so they’re not inhibited by your choice.

Handling the Bill

There is an art to handling the bill. You want to be graceful about it. When the check arrives, be nimble and reach for it swiftly–but keep looking your clients in the eye if they’re speaking.

By all means, don’t stare at the line items with anything like shock or horror. That said, if there’s an error with the bill, excuse yourself to talk to the waiter separately without making your guest feel uncomfortable.

And when it’s time to pay, act naturally: Don’t disrupt the conversation, but make eye contact with the waiter so that he picks up your credit card quickly.

Turn Off Your Phone

You may already know how I feel about this, but I’ll say it again: Turn off your phone. Now is not the time to be checking your incoming email or texting your colleague. I’ve seen some people pick up their phones between courses instead of talking to others at the table. Just don’t.

Finally . Have Fun

Be yourself! There is a reason you’re not in the office. You can accomplish quite a lot with business lunches, but you shouldn’t lose sight of why they work so well: When people can relax and have a good time, they’re more likely to open up, making it easier to strengthen a business relationship.

Whether it’s with a client, your boss, or a business recruiter, talking business outside the office can be both enjoyable and productive. One way of doing this is by talking business over lunch or dinner; h owever, with this business outing comes some dining etiquette one should always follow.

So, what exactly are the do’s and don’ts when it comes to dining etiquette in a business setting? This etiquette guide breaks down the rules you s hould follow before your meal, during your meal, and after your meal.

BEFORE THE MEAL

DURING THE MEAL

Now that you’re seated and introductions have been made, it’s time for the main course.

How to maintain business lunch and dinner etiquette

  • Order food that’s easy to eat. While a rack of BBQ ribs or a plate of spaghetti may be tempting to order, you need to remember that foods such as these are messy to eat and can cause you to get distracted from the conversation. Always order an item that’s easy to eat such as chicken, fish, or salad. (Helpful tip: Try and order something similar to your host. If they opt for a salad, consider that instead of a burger.)
  • Don’t order expensive items off the menu . A majority of business lunches or dinners take place at higher-end restaurants. While you may be tempted to order the steak with lobster, by doing so can give off a bad impression of you and can be seen as rude. Stick to a middle price range unless you’re the one buying.
  • Stay away from alcohol. In general, it’s best not to order alcohol at a business lunch or dinner. Stick with water, coffee, or a beverage such as iced tea . If your host or others at the table order alcohol, be sure to limit yourself and pay attention to how quickly they’re drinking. You never want to be the first at your table to finish your drink. (Helpful tip: Offer the host or another guest at the table to order their drink first, that way the pressure is off you as to whether or not you should order alcohol.)
  • Be mindful of the conversation. Always stay attentive and participate in the conversation at hand. While the conversation may be about business one minute, it can turn lighthearted and into something more casual the next. Even then, make sure to a void talking about controversial topics such as religion or politics. (Helpful tip: If a topic comes up that you’re uncomfortable with, try and politely change the subject as subtly as possible.)

AFTER THE MEAL

Now that you’ve cleaned your plate, it’s time to tackle the awkward part of a business lunch or dinner. paying the bill.

  • Signal that you’re finished. When you’re done eating, place the knife and fork on the plate with the handles at a 4 o’clock position. By doing this, it informs the waiter that you’re done and they may remove your plate. As for the napkin, leave it placed on your lap until you’re ready to leave. When you do leave, place the loosely folded napkin at the center of the setting if the plate has been removed, or to the left of the setting if the plate is still there.How to maintain business lunch and dinner etiquette
  • Paying the bill. In most cases, the host who invited you will pay for the bill. Be sure to thank them for buying and compliment the meal and/or restaurant if it exceeds your expectations. If you’re hosting the lunch or dinner, try and subtly pay for the meal without stopping the conversation. Don’t forget to thank your guest(s) for their time and for accompanying you to the restaurant. (Helpful tip: If you’re the host and a guest you invited offers to pay the bill, politely decline.)
  • Follow up. Before leaving the restaurant, be sure to exchange business cards with any new folks you may have met at the lunch or dinner. This way you can follow up with an email, thanking them and stating that you enjoyed meeting them. This will also allow you to broaden your professional network, and will come in handy if/when you work with them in the future.

How to maintain business lunch and dinner etiquette

Back in the days of Mad Men, the business lunch was essential. Offers were made, partnerships formed, and deals were closed daily over lunchtime martinis.

For the most part, that type of midday meeting is long gone. But with today’s communication technology overload, the face-to-face business lunch is still an important way to build relationships–and is perhaps even more valuable today than it was 50 years ago. (It’s just less likely to include three martinis and a glass of port.)

Follow these simple rules to make a business lunch both productive and enjoyable:

Get the Invitation Right

Lunch with a client, potential business partner or new colleague can often be more productive than an office meeting. Getting out of the office and off the phone creates an environment more conducive to relaxing and candid conversation.

When inviting someone to lunch, be respectful of his or her time and position. If inviting a superior you don’t know well, don’t risk being presumptuous–you might opt for suggesting coffee instead.

Who Chooses the Spot?

If you’re inviting, offer up some suggestions and let your guests pick. If they don’t care, it’s on you. But make sure to be careful and anticipate their preferences. You don’t want to bring a vegetarian to a steakhouse. If inviting someone to discuss next year’s budget cuts, best to skip the meal at the most expensive restaurant in town. If your guest choses the place, don’t forget to compliment her on the choice.

Time & Place

Get there early. Always know the set-up of the restaurant and make sure both the venue and your table are right for your objective.

One of my colleagues swears by this rule. If it’s a celebratory or casual lunch with people he knows well, he gets a table in a central area, closer to the bar, where it’s typically more boisterous. If it’s a serious conversation and he wants to get something accomplished, he opts for a quiet table in the corner.

When to Talk Business

On the golf course, the common rule of thumb is not to get down to business before the fourth hole. At the table, it’s a bit more ambiguous.

My advice: If you’re having a social conversation, don’t bring up business until you have received your drinks and ordered your meals. Then, when business talk commences, frame the conversation around your guest. Ask about her business, what she’s working on and where she needs help.

This will give you a clear understanding of context and provide a natural segue into explaining how you and your company might be of assistance.

Speaking of Drinks.

Sorry, Don Draper–if you’re taking clients to lunch and your company is paying, you should probably skip the alcohol. But if your client wants to imbibe, let him order a drink. A good rule of thumb is to let your guests order first, so they’re not inhibited by your choice.

Handling the Bill

There is an art to handling the bill. You want to be graceful about it. When the check arrives, be nimble and reach for it swiftly–but keep looking your clients in the eye if they’re speaking.

By all means, don’t stare at the line items with anything like shock or horror. That said, if there’s an error with the bill, excuse yourself to talk to the waiter separately without making your guest feel uncomfortable.

And when it’s time to pay, act naturally: Don’t disrupt the conversation, but make eye contact with the waiter so that he picks up your credit card quickly.

Turn Off Your Phone

You may already know how I feel about this, but I’ll say it again: Turn off your phone. Now is not the time to be checking your incoming email or texting your colleague. I’ve seen some people pick up their phones between courses instead of talking to others at the table. Just don’t.

Finally . Have Fun

Be yourself! There is a reason you’re not in the office. You can accomplish quite a lot with business lunches, but you shouldn’t lose sight of why they work so well: When people can relax and have a good time, they’re more likely to open up, making it easier to strengthen a business relationship.

How to maintain business lunch and dinner etiquette

We’ve all seen it: business deals happening not in the office or over the phone, but across a dining table. The business lunch (or dinner) is standard practice for working with both customers and business partners. But the proper protocol for a working lunch or dinner can be tricky. Who chooses the restaurant? If it’s you, which type of restaurant do you pick? Are there any ‘off-limits’ topics? And if your boss invites you to dinner, what are the rules? Here are some basic tips and tricks for business lunch (or dinner) etiquette.

Types of meal meetings

There are various reasons to conduct business over a meal. You may be informally getting to know a client, celebrating the signing of a contract with a customer, discussing tough negotiations with a business partner in a more relaxed environment, or simply taking a break with colleagues to satisfy your hunger.

Whatever the reason, it’s important to realise there are rules to follow and roles to play. And these differ depending on the occasion and who’s in attendance.

1. The internal business lunch

Who selects the restaurant?
A regular and friendly lunch with colleagues does not actually fall into the category of internal business and therefore requires no real precautions. Let the group democratically decide where to get a bite to eat.

If you ask your boss to join you for a meal, however, you should consider a few things. For example, the choice of restaurants is important and should be of a high standard. If you don’t have a good recommendation, you may want to let your boss decide.

Seating
With colleagues, seating shouldn’t matter. If you’re with the boss, let them take the lead. Wait to see where they sit first or whether they indicate a certain seat for you.

Topics of conversation
If you’re with your workmates, enjoy the chance to talk to them outside the office. Just remember that you shouldn’t use this time as an opportunity to gossip or badmouth your boss or other colleagues. And although having a one-on-one with your boss might seem daunting, just be yourself and let the conversation flow. Business should be the focus, but you will most certainly exchange banter during the meal. If you’re worried about getting the conversation started or other awkward silences, consider some topics ahead of time. Maybe your boss spends the weekends playing golf, or perhaps you know some people in common.

Who pays?
With a group lunch, people generally split the bill, unless you’re shouting someone for their birthday. If you invite your boss to lunch, etiquette dictates that you should pay. If the boss wants to discuss business with you, he or she should pick up the bill.

2. The informal business lunch

Who selects the restaurant?
Informal business lunches are often common practice for meeting with business partners or clients to discuss a project or contract negotiations. The company or person hosting the meeting should suggest the restaurant. Think practically – easy access and short waiting times are more important than a fancy atmosphere for this kind of meal.

Seating
With a group, it’s a good idea to try to alternate your business partners or clients with your own employees. You may want to speak with your colleagues about this before the lunch.

Topics of conversation
This type of lunch may be a continuation of business discussions from that morning in the office, and your manner should always be professional. However, the informal business lunch can also often be conducive to more relaxed, more candid conversations. This might just be where you get the deal done! On the other hand, lunch may simply be a reprieve from business negotiations. Take some cues from your guests (or your hosts) and try to go with the flow.

Who pays?
The lunch host should pay the bill – and do so gracefully. You want to make a good impression on your business partners.

3. Official business

Who selects the restaurant?
Hard-core business discussions and negotiations often take place in the evenings. If you extend an invitation, always consider your business partners when deciding on a restaurant. If you know them well, you can go with their preferences. If in doubt, choose a quiet restaurant with a wide selection of dishes, including vegetarian options. If you’ve not been there before, you may want to check out the atmosphere in advance.

Seating
When you have several guests, as the host, you should seat the business partners along the table, with the most important closest to you. Ensure you make all necessary introductions if there are people who’ve never met. As the host, it’s your responsibility to make sure everyone is comfortable and enjoying themselves.

Topics of conversation
Generally, the host also leads the business discussion and makes sure all stakeholders at the table get their say – and their questions asked and answered. If possible, hold off on the business talk until dessert and coffee, as long as you’ll have enough time to cover everything.

Who pays?
The host should pay discreetly. Quietly excuse yourself from the table shortly after dessert and pay out of sight of your guests.

Whether you’re having a spontaneous lunch or a planned business dinner, make sure you know the proper etiquette before mealtime. It’s easy to make a faux pas that could reflect negatively on you or your business.

Your own behavior at business meals is every bit as important as the fellowship they foster. Remember: These are the only times when your conversational abilities, your self-possession, and your table manners are on display all at once. Bear in mind, too, that your manners reflect on the company you represent. The desire to make a good impression hardly means rehearsing your across-the-table banter or becoming a wine connoisseur. It does mean knowing how to use the cutlery, eating your food with civility, and conveying the sense of being at ease with those around you.

Breakfast, Lunch, or Dinner?

Obviously, the decision whether to meet over lunch, breakfast, or dinner depends mainly on which of these meals best fits the time constraints of the participants. Also, take into account what you wish to accomplish. A breakfast gathering, for example, may be ideal if the aim is a quick, straight-to-the-point meeting, whereas evening is undoubtedly the best time for a more leisurely paced meal.

The Business Breakfast

Even a garden-variety breakfast meeting has real benefits: Many people are at their sharpest early in the morning. As with lunch, the timing of a morning meeting helps it stay short and focused; unlike lunch, it barely interrupts the workday, if at all; plus, breakfast is less costly than either lunch or dinner.

A business breakfast can be held at any location that is handy to both host and guest: a restaurant or coffee shop, a hotel dining room, or perhaps a private club. If it’s convenient for all concerned, guests can even be invited to breakfast in the host’s office. Putting out a selection of Danishes or muffins, juice, and coffee or tea requires little preparation and lends the meeting the affable touch of an away-from-the-office meal. Business is discussed once orders are taken or as soon as attendees have helped themselves. Let the host or meeting organizer start the discussion.

The Business Lunch

Lunch is the traditional workhorse of business meals. Because the participants have to return to the office, the meeting stays relatively short and focused. There are other advantages as well: Unlike a business dinner, lunch is faster-paced, it doesn’t cut into someone’s personal time, and it doesn’t raise the issue of the inclusion of a spouse or partner.

The typical business lunch lasts from just over an hour to two hours, but a participant who is on a tight schedule shouldn’t take this for granted. Instead, she should announce her time constraints from the start: “Before we get busy, I should tell you that I have a meeting at the office at one-thirty—bad luck, I know, but it was called at the last minute.” (Note: The excuse should be real, not made up.) This not only puts the person’s mind at ease, but also avoids catching her lunch mates by surprise when the time comes for her to leave. As with the business breakfast, once orders are taken, let the host or organizer start the discussion.

The Business Dinner

Whether it takes place at a table for two or involves a large group, the business dinner is considered a premier event and generally oriented toward camaraderie. Because no one has to get back to work, dinner also proceeds at a more leisurely pace. At the same time, dinner’s longer time span can be an advantage when doing serious business is the goal.

Dinner is the most meaningful meal with which to mark special occasions—the retirement of a long-time employee, for instance, or the welcome of a new client into the fold. It is also the more logical choice when entertaining a business associate from out of town who is traveling with his or her spouse. On occasions such as these, business will doubtless come up as a conversational topic, but the aim is usually the strengthening of relationships, with an eye on mutual rewards to be gained in the future. It is up to the host to initiate any business conversation.