Here you can find the first part of our Business Lunch Etiquette lesson
Business Lunch Etiquette
Inevitably you will attend a business lunch or dinner sponsored by the company. This event might be with your superiors, your peers or the staff you supervise. If you are a senior staff member, it is important to set the tone of the event from the beginning since your team members will be looking at you for guidance. If you are a junior member of the team just watch carefully as the lunch dynamics develop and follow the flow.
Let’s assume that there are 6 or more members on the table. Upper management will usually look for a seat that will be visible to the rest of the group. Their presence is to be known and at the same time they can watch the other employees intermingling. Not to mention, they will sit at a place that gives them a sign of authority and power. If you are a junior member avoid sitting with the other coworkers of your same stature. This is your unique opportunity to impress upper management on how brilliant you are, so look for a seat not directly in front of the big boss but beside him. The next issue is, should you sit to the right or left of him? Well, it all depends, if he is right handed then sit to his right. Remember the adage “The Right-Hand Man” which implies the person sitting to his right is the “go to” employee when the boss wants something expediently accomplished.
In order to have the greatest opportunity to acquire the seat of your choice you should be one of the first people by the table or meeting area. Don’t push or shove to get there first. My usual strategy is to hold the door open for any of the female employees and after the last lady enters, then I hand over the opened door to the following male counterparts. Usually, the ladies take a seat first and hopefully followed by the senior manager. You have an opportunity to see where you want to sit by first sliding the seat back for one or two of the ladies to sit down and then when the boss sits down, you go directly to that coveted seat. If you are a female, it is more difficult to sit next to your boss because usually you are seated first. After the big boss sits down find a reasonable excuse to relocate. For example, the light is too dim or too bright where you are seated, or it is too drafty. Why is so important to sit next to your boss? It is important so than you can a good impression by engaging them with your witty personality and your candor about your job. By the way, if there are a series of bosses attending (upper and middle management) the likelihood of you scoring a seat next to the big boss is highly diminished. Don’t despair, choose another middle manager and sit next to him also keeping in mind that you want to be in ear shot from the big boss.
This is the tricky part, usually the waiter takes the ladies drink orders first. Alcohol might or might not be prudent to have at this event. I would first survey the land to figure out if any of your superiors are ordering any alcoholic drinks. Avoid ordering hard liquor like a gin and tonic or anything similar. I always go for the club soda and lime since no one questions a glass with ice, fizzy water and a lime. I try to be as alert as possible during these types of meetings, so alcohol consumption is a big no-no for me. If the atmosphere is more relaxed, then order a beer or a glass of wine but nothing too fancy.
So, the waiter dispenses all the drinks and is ready to take the meal order. By this time, you already looked over the menu and have selected hopefully an appropriate choice. Avoid ordering the most expensive item on the menu, like lobster or a 1 Kg steak. Two additional things to keep in mind. Don’t order food that can be messy (like spaghetti and meatballs) or anything that you must use your hands to eat with (crab legs, etc.). Usually one or two of middle or upper management will order appetizers, hopefully it will be something that everyone likes. If you don’t like oysters and they are ordered, make sure that the serving tray does not land in front of you, otherwise you can’t get away without eating one of those slimy creatures. Eating speed; this is often ignored by a lot of individuals, but you should not clean your plate as fast as the suction of a vacuum cleaner. If you do this, you will not feel like part of the group as they will continue to eat, or you can’t use your food as an excuse not to immediately answer a question that might carry dire consequences. With that in mind you also don’t want to be the slowest eater in the group. No one likes to wait for the last person to finish eating their main course before having dessert or coffee, so, don’t stand out in any way shape or form with any of these eating habits.
Light and polite conversation usually takes place during dinner. Note the words light and polite. Don’t engage in any religious, political discussion, or inappropriate jokes. Avoid these like the plague. The same thing holds true for office gossip, that should be reserved for conversations in the work lunch room. If you are sitting next to an individual that you are not familiar with, however you would like to start a conversation, you need an “ice breaker”. Please don’t ever use the sentence “… some weather we are having, huh?”. You sound shallow and boring. Engage the other individual with some open-ended questions. For example, “Joe, even though we see each other often in the office, we never had the opportunity to talk. You sound like you like… (this can be sports, finance, etc.). The idea is to engage him and let him open up to you. Your face gesture will give him a clue whether you are genuinely interested or not in that topic, so make sure that you choose a topic that you are truly interested in, otherwise the conversation will die down quickly. Let them talk and ask questions, but not so many that they will not be able to enjoy their dinner.
If you are responsible for picking the establishment for the business dinner, keep the following in mind. The restaurant should be nice but not too nice. If you choose the latter, you will be classified as a big spender but of the company’s budget, it’s not a good label to be tagged with. The key is to choose a restaurant where the food is reasonably priced, it has a variety of menu items to suit everyone’s taste and the ambiance looks comfortable. I usually visit the restaurant before the arranged meeting date to look at the table setting, where the restrooms are and choose a place that is not too noisy but also not dead quiet. Make sure that if there are any vegetarian or any other food restrictions you know this ahead of time to avoid an embarrassing situation.
Even though you might not be aware of this, business lunches are still part of business and you will be judged accordingly.