The Business Lunch: 7 Simple Dining Skills You Can't Afford to Skip

The reality is that a business meal has very little to do with the food and everything to do with the way you conduct yourself at the table. Are your dining skills up to par?
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It might seem that asking a client to lunch is a good opportunity to enjoy a wonderful meal on the company credit card. This way of thinking couldn't be further from the truth. The reality is that a business meal has very little to do with the food and everything to do with the way you conduct yourself at the table. Are your dining skills up to par? Here are a few dining etiquette tips that will make a lasting impression:

1. Select a good restaurant. The quality of the restaurant is a reflection of you as a professional. It doesn't have to be expensive, but it should be clean, the food tasty, the servers friendly, and the location easily accessible to your client. This requires you to be familiar with the restaurant, and is not the time to base your decision on the price point of the lunch special or on Yelp reviews.

2. Location, location, location. Where you sit determines the success of the meal. Request a table or section of the restaurant that has a good view, and is not near the kitchen or restroom. Confirm the table on the day of the lunch or dinner meeting.

3. Familiarize yourself with the menu. Be prepared to offer your guest menu suggestions. As the host, it's up to you make your guest comfortable with his or her food choice. If you say, "I had a late breakfast, I'm just going to have a cup of soup," it puts your guest in the uncomfortable position of eating a larger meal alone. Offer a few selections and encourage your guest to order whatever is desired. Always order comparable to your guest, regardless of your hunger level.

4. Know basic table etiquette skills:
  • Drinks on right; bread on left.
  • Your napkin is not a hankie.
  • Keep your tie down when eating your meal.
  • Spoon your soup away from your body.
  • "Continental Style," using two hands, is the most efficient style of dining.
  • Cut only one piece of food at a time.
  • Don't ask for ketchup or steak sauce.
  • Pace yourself according to how fast or slow your guest is eating. Don't be the first to finish.
  • Pass items at the table counter clockwise.
  • Salt and pepper are sent around the table together.
  • Break off one small piece of bread at a time and don't butter the entire roll.
5. Eyes off your mobile device.
You may not even realize that you constantly glance at your smartphone or tablet every few minutes. Your cellphone should be out of sight, unless you are expecting an important call that is pertinent to your lunch meeting. If you'll be referring to your tablet as a part of your business lunch, be sure notifications are turned off. Otherwise, you're at risk of a tweet or text distracting your guest.

6. Your doggie doesn't get a bone. At a business meal, it's not professional to ask for the leftovers. Also pass on the urge to take home the steak bones for your pooch. Your goal is to conduct a professional business meeting over a meal, and doggie bags and business don't mix.

7. Stay away from the stick. Grabbing a toothpick on your way out of the restaurant drops your professionalism down a notch (or ten). Don't let the last image your guest has of you be one with a stick hanging from your teeth.

For more tips, refer to my blog, connect with me here on Huffington Post and "Like" me on Facebook at Protocol School of Texas.

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