Monday, August 16, 2010

Manners Monday: Mixing Business with Dining

Last week's Manners Monday post was all about proper table settings with Part 1 of this three-part series offering tips for everyday table etiquette. For the final installment of the series, today we'll be discussing what to do when mixing business with dining.

Now, I realize that not all of you are wining and dining clients everyday or have power lunches on the agenda, but I think it is an important aspect of dining that everyone should review. You never know when your blog might suddenly take off and you might be invited to meet someone lovely about a big opportunity. Perhaps you're job hunting (as many are right now) and an interested company wants to meet with you over lunch. That is precisely the time that some will begin to panic.

Several years ago I worked as an Account Executive for both software and telecommunications companies. Dining with clients and closing deals over lunch was not at all uncommon, but I'll admit they were not nearly as comfortable as dining with my good friends. In many cases they can actually be downright uncomfortable as male company owners can sometimes have their own agenda as it pertains to women. Be confident and beware. Some of these tips are things you may not have thought of and carry through into your personal dining life as well, I hope you find them useful.

It can be easy to confuse the actual meal with a genuine job interview, but don't make the mistake of thinking that because you've been invited to dinner and they are picking up the tab that you in fact have the job. On the contrary, this is just the beginning. Remember that while good etiquette won't necessarily guarantee you a position in the company, poor etiquette could cost you the job before the meal is even over.

Before the Meal

1. The Mirror Test- This might sound silly but unless you can say you honestly know what you look like while you eat, you should try this technique. This is similar to videotaping a mock interview with a friend so you can see how you're doing. Be aware of how you chew (hopefully quietly and mouth closed). Do you notice crumbs or splattered food on your top? Do you hold your fork delicately or in your fist like a pitchfork? If you're questioning anything at this point on cutting food, etc., read THIS and THIS. Eating in a polite manner will definitely put you at an advantage.

2. Dress for Success- What you choose to wear to a meal interview speaks volumes about not only your level of maturity an professionalism but also the amount of respect you have for the interviewer. It should be no different than a formal office interview, where making a first impression really counts! Make sure you know ahead of time where you'll be dining and make decisions according to the restaurant's dress code too.Wear what  makes you feel comfortable, confident and has a polished, professional look. Avoid anything that requires you to fidget or is not weather appropriate.

In the company of men, it is even more important to pay attention to what you are wearing, you might get the job offer but could send the wrong message. Classy women don't wear short skirts or other revealing clothing to get ahead.There is nothing wrong with showcasing your feminity but be careful about how you go about it. In an interview situation, a solid, dark-colored power suit and a pair of pumps that convey confidence are far better than ruffles, lace and bold prints.

3. Listen and Learn- Use the time before your meals arrive to ask questions and gain more information about the opportunity and company.  Listen carefully to what is being said and use it to your advantage to sell your strengths. While personal details can be exchanged, remember why you are there in the first place-gathering information arms you with what you need to sell yourself and gain a full perspective of what may later be offered to you.

During the Meal

1. Mind Your Manners- Always be polite when interacting with your server and other staff, you can guarantee that the interviewer will be watching you during these times. Avoid ordering alcohol unless the host does and insists that you do as well, in this case limit yourself to one. A combination of nerves and alcohol could leave the wrong kind of lasting impression.

2. What to Order- Be sure to order something that will be easy to eat, without splashing or using your hands-avoid spaghetti or any kind of shellfish. Shrimp can easily be eaten by cutting the tails off if included in your meal, and scallops are simple enough to eat, these are the only exceptions. If you tend to splash with red sauces or soups, you might want to avoid those. Pizza can be ordered but it needs to be sliced with a fork and knife. Order food that you know you'll enjoy and have eaten before, an interview is never the time to try something new. Don't order the most expensive item(s) off the menu, allow your host to order first if possible. When in doubt, order something simple.

Also, listen for clues that the interviewer may offer such as what on the menu is particularly good or what they plan to order, this will avoid embarrassment. Don't spend too much time with the menu, you don't want to appear indecisive or that making decisions doesn't come easy to you.

3. Table Details- Know what on the table is yours, hopefully you've remembered it from the last post on how to set a table. Mistakenly eating your hosts' dinner roll or drinking their water will make you look ridiculous. When it question remember that bread plates go to the left of your main plate and water as well as other drinks will be to your right. Take small bites so that you'll be able to chew quickly and answer your interviewers questions. Of course, you won't actually begin eating until everyone at the table has been served. In this particular scenario you should NEVER send back food. While you are dining out, the point of the meal is an interview, not the food.

Do not place used flatware on the table at any time as this is poor etiquette and not hygeinic, instead use your bread plate or even your main plate and place your silverware on the edge of the plate on a diagonal with the knife's blade facing you.

4. Resist the Urge- Never re-apply lipstick after the meal,  use pressed powder or even pull out a mirror at the table to check your teeth (whether your host is at the table or not). As with any other dining scenario, your cell phone needs to be turned off. Never smoke or excuse yourself from the table to smoke. Even if you are offered a cigarette after the meal always politely decline. Many employers frown upon smoking in companies so you want to avoid this. Don't ever ask for a 'doggy-bag' or takeaway container. Always order something you can finish at the restaurant, wasting food during an interview will not leave a good impression. Get comfortable with the interviewer but not too comfortable. Divulging very personal details, making jokes or negative comments is never a good idea.

After the Meal

1. When the Bill Arrives- Remember that you are the guest of your host (the interviewer) and that they have invited you as such, it is not appropriate to offer to pay the bill even if it placed in front of you. Never offer to share the cost of the meal or provide a tip. If for any reason at all that IS expected (which goes against manners and etiquette) I would advise you to look for another company to work for!

2. Broccoli in your Teeth- If there is any chance at all that you might have cracked pepper, spinach, broccoli or anything else between your teeth, now is the time to excuse yourself and head to the ladies' room, before carrying on your conversation. (Note: It is always an excellent idea to carry a toothbrush or floss in your purse, especially for the purpose of an interview). You never know what could potentially cost you the job. How you present yourself at all times is a reflection of how you would represent their company.

3. You're Just Not that Into Them-So, what if after the 'interview' you realize you're just not that interested in the position anymore? Be polite and without sharing such details at that time, be sure to follow up with a thank you letter, as you would for any other interview. It can be in the form of an e-mail and should be sent immediately, don't let days pass before doing so. This shows that you are responsible and gives you one more opportunity to highlight some of your best attributes and/or accomplishments as it pertains to the job. If you are interested in the position, be sure to express it in this letter. Remember that in a situation where you are considered equal to another candidate, your thank you letter may stand out and set you apart!

Although in a restaurant setting, the interview and answering questions always takes priority first to eating. So remember that and pay attention, making eye contact as you would when interviewing in a traditional office environment. Many times companies take the "dining out" interview approach as it allows them to learn more about you and how you act outside the office. Perhaps the position calls for the right candidate to meet with clients and vendors, know that they will be testing the waters to make sure that you can hold your own and appear graceful, confident and represent the company well. Remember to use all of the table manners you've learned to date and you will never go wrong.

This wraps up our 3-part series on Dining Etiquette. Have you ever been asked to meet for an interview over breakfast or discuss business over dinner? How did it go? I'd love to hear your personal stories.

Have a wonderful week!


  1. Excellent tips and reminders!!! HHL

  2. I had a breakfast interview once, years ago in my mid twenties. I didn't take the guy very serious, he was a bit of a bragger.

    At the end of the meal he asked me my salary requirements. I quoted him $10k/year over what I was currently being paid, thinking he would scoff at me. Well he said he would think about it. He ended up calling me a few hours later and offering me the job!!!

    I worked for him for a few years. Through him I met my current employer that I've worked with for over 13 years, my bff and through her my husband.

    Now I don't think if I had that meeting today I would be so cocky but I can't argue with how well things worked out.

    Your tips are great here. These are also good to read for spouses going on business dinners.


  3. I am enjoying this series as it allows me to check myself to see how I've been doing. =) I have never thought about watching myself prior to eating to see what I look like doing it. I might have to try this one, although now I'm nervous. =) Have a lovely week and thanks for your comment yesterday.

  4. Karla , Wonderful tips ... AS ALWAYS!!!
    THANK YOU for your beautiful messages to me this week on my blog. It meant so much to me Karla, thank you.
    I am back to blogging and very happy to do so!
    Have a pretty day!!!

  5. When my son started college we were pleased that the school regularly hosts "practice" dinners for students studying business to give them a chance to learn proper etiquette. I know I've had meals with individuals who could use a refresher course.

  6. Wow, loved all the tips! Thank you!!! These are the kinds of things that every women should learn. It should be taught in high school in my opinion. It would be a great thing!


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