By Diane Sofranec, Managing Editor
At some point during your professional career, you will be invited to dine with your boss or an important client — or both. Don’t make the mistake of thinking a business dinner or lunch is simply a meal on the company’s dime.
Instead, think of your meal with coworkers and clients as a business meeting with food. You are representing your company, so you had better be on your best behavior at the table.
Here are a few tips that will help you maintain your professionalism and make a good impression.
Make a good first impression.
If you’re meeting clients or coworkers for the first time, introduce yourself with a smile and a handshake (before the meal, if possible). If you’re getting together at the restaurant, be sure to arrive early.
Before you take your seat, thank your host for inviting you. When the meal is over and you’re ready to leave, thank your host once more. It’s important to show your appreciation, even if you’re just having lunch with your boss.
Mind your manners.
It’s easy to act respectable if you remember a few key points. Put your napkin on your lap and keep it there. Sit up straight. Keep your elbows off the table. Don’t talk with your mouth full. Say please and thank you when asking for food to be passed. Chew with your mouth closed. Place your napkin to the left of your plate when you’re finished eating and ready to leave. Stop at one drink if you’re ordering alcohol. Be polite to the wait staff.
Consider the menu carefully.
Scan the menu quickly and decide what to order; don’t make the entire table wait while you consider your options. Ask your server to clarify menu items if you must, but avoid making substitutions. Don’t offend your host by complaining about the menu choices and not ordering. If the only food that appeals to you is an appetizer or side dish, order it for your meal. Stick with food you can eat with without getting it all over yourself (come back for the BBQ wings when you’re with friends).
Join the conversation.
Don’t dominate the topic of discussion, but don’t stay silent, either. If you’re not sure what to talk about, think of a few subjects in advance and bring them up if there’s a lull in the conversation. Avoid discussing politics, religion and finances. Don’t text or take calls at the table; leave your cell phone in your pocket or purse. If you must take a call or text, excuse yourself and make it brief.
Remember, the way you act around family and friends won’t cut it when you’re dining with clients and coworkers. Act like the professional you are whether you’re in the office or at the restaurant.
Diane Sofranec has more than 25 years of B2B media experience. She joined North Coast Media in 2013 as a digital content producer and is now managing editor of the company’s Pest Management Professional magazine.