Etiquette might seem like an out-dated concept – it was originally designed to make sure that royal subjects behaved respectfully in the presence of the monarch, after all! But etiquette does still have an important place in business, especially when it comes to conducting lunch meetings.
Etiquette is important because it’s designed to show how you handle yourself around other people. So let’s take a look at the kinds of practical etiquette that will show you off to your best advantage at a business lunch.
Etiquette for the business lunch
The business lunch is fraught with etiquette pitfalls. The general rule is that if you are the host trying to gain an advantage from a client, you should defer to them (except when it comes to the bill). You can avoid one major gaffe by not pulling out the dining chair for anyone. If someone arrives late, stand up to shake their hand. When the waiter approaches, allow the client to order first. Defer to the client in the choice of wine, and allow them to taste it. If your guest doesn’t order an entree – don’t order one! If your guest decides against dessert, follow suit.
Avoid ordering dishes like spaghetti or nachos that are going to be messy to eat. If you spill something, keep it light-hearted and summon the waiter. Be as polite to the waiter as you are to your client. If you need to go to the bathroom, say “Would you excuse me for a moment?” and get up, putting your napkin on your chair. No need for further explanation! Excusing yourself can also be a useful ploy if you feel panicked or need to collect your thoughts.
Who is going to pay?
When the bill comes, you should pay for it if you are the host or your guests are potential or actual clients. If your boss is present, they should take the initiative and pay. You are paying for the client as a token of your appreciation for their continuing custom. To avoid any confusion, it’s best to speak with the waiter before your guests arrive and explain that the bill is going to be paid by you.
It goes without saying, but your smart phone should be put into do not disturb mode when you are eating.
Follow up tips for business meetings
You should have everyone’s contact details by the end of the meeting, so when you return to the office you can email them and thank them for attending. Follow up by faxing them any documents that were mentioned in the meeting. Even if you don’t have a fax machine, you can send and receive faxes online by using your computer or mobile device.
With eFax, you are assigned a virtual fax number that uses email to fax documents. Attach the documents to an email, address it to the fax machine number of up to 20 recipients then hit send. You can even use your smartphone with the eFax app. It’s a digital, cloud-based revamp of this classic business communication method, updated for the 21st century.
Showing that you have an understanding of the rules of etiquette is an indicator that you respect boundaries, and your clients. As long as you have a fair idea about which knife and fork to use (start from the outside and work inwards) or which side plate is yours (it’s on the left) you can make a positive impression.