Businesss Meals and Success

Positive personal impact is one of the keys to personal and professional success that I discuss in Straight Talk for Success and 42 Rules to Jumpstart Your Professional Success.  If you want to create positive personal impact you need to do three things.  1) Develop, nurture and constantly promote your personal brand.  2) Be impeccable in your presentation or self – in person and on line.  3) Know and follow the basic rules of etiquette.

Knowing and the basic rules of etiquette are especially helpful when you are invited to a business meal.  Business meals are about business, not the food.  Remember this the next time you are invited to share a meal – whether breakfast, lunch or dinner – with a business colleague.  While it’s important to know dining etiquette, it’s also important to pay attention to what you order.

Here’s a personal story that really makes this point.  It comes from my forthcoming new book 42 Rules to Jumpstart Your Professional Success.

About 30 years ago, I had just accepted a job as the Training Manager for a division of a large company. Our division was located in New Haven, CT, a city with a large Italian population and a lot of great Italian restaurants.

About a month after I began my job, the VP of Human Resources for the corporation was hosting a two-day meeting of all of the senior HR people in the company at our location. Since the meeting was at our location, junior people like me were invited to a dinner held the evening of the first day of the meeting. I was looking forward to this dinner.  It was an opportunity for me to impress some senior people in other divisions.

One of my junior colleagues was a local woman. She was excited about the choice of the restaurant. Of course it was an Italian restaurant. She had been there on special occasions with her husband. She was very fond of a dish called zuppa de pesce, a medley of seafood served over spaghetti. A couple of days before the meeting she told me about that this dish and that it was available for two only and asked if I would be willing to share it with her. I said, “Sure.”

We arrived at the restaurant, and sure enough, zuppa de pesce was on the menu. My friend and I ordered it. What a disaster!

First the waiters brought lobster bibs for both of us. No one else had ordered this dish, so we were the only ones wearing our bibs. When the food arrived, everyone had a dish of pasta, or some grilled fish, or a steak. The zuppa de pesce was served on a silver tray so big that the waiters had to bring a side table for it. There was enough fish and pasta to feed the entire table. My friend dug in and really enjoyed her dinner. I felt like I was a character in The Godfather.

I spent my time trying to carry on an intelligent conversation with people I wanted to impress while I was wearing a lobster bib and working hard to make sure that I didn’t spill any red sauce, or “gravy,” as the waiter called it, on my suit. 

I didn’t lose any points that night – but I didn’t make any either.  It was pretty apparent to most people that I was there for the food, not for the conversation.

I learned a lesson that day. Always order something that is easy to eat and won’t call attention to you as you eat it. I try to be a good friend, and in social situations, I will often share an entrée that is available for two only – but I never do that in a business situation.  Because business dinners are not about the food.  They’re about the conversation.

The common sense point here is simple.  Successful people create positive personal impact.  If you want to create positive personal impact, you must know and follow the basic rules of etiquette.  This is especially true at a business meal.  Knowing simple things like the water glass is on your right, and the bread and butter plat is on your left, can save you a lot of embarrassment.  It’s also important to order something that is easy to eat and doesn’t call attention to you while you eat it.  Pasta that needs to be twirled, lobster or other shellfish are good things to avoid at a business dinner.  Order simple food, and mind your manners as you are eating it.

That’s my take on what not to order at a business dinner.  What’s yours?  Do you have any amusing stories about business meal faux pas you’ve made?  If so, please share them so we all can learn.  As always, thanks for reading.


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