Making the Most Out of Business Meals

Today is Tuesday, so this post is on creating positive personal impact.

Business meals are an opportunity to create positive personal impact.  They also can create problems for you when you’re trying to create a good impression.  The first thing to remember is that business meals are not about the food.  They are about business.  Therefore, you need understand and practice the basic rules of business dining etiquette when you are invited to a business lunch or dinner.

In “Straight Talk for Success” I tell the story of the time I agreed to share an entrée that was available or two people only at a business dinner.  Several very senior people from my company were present.  I was hoping to make a good impression on these folks as I was a young, recent hire of the company.  Unfortunately for me, the entrée for two was a heaping plate of shellfish and pasta.  It came complete with a lobster bib.

Needless to say, I didn’t create positive personal impact that night.  Fortunately for me, I was so young and so junior that the senior people paid little attention to me.  However, I still think back on that evening as a lost opportunity.

The other day, I pulled Valerie Sokolosky’s book “The Little Instruction Book of Business Etiquette" off of my shelf.  Unfortunately, it is out of print now.  That’s too bad, because Ms. Sokolosky has some great things to say about business dining etiquette.

Take a look, and see for yourself.  As usual, I couldn’t help embellishing Ms. Sokolosky’s advice and offering some of my own. 

• When invited to a business dinner, be a good guest by taking cues from your host.
• Watch the host’s instructions as to where you are to sit.
• Remain standing until the host indicates where you are to sit.
• Engage the people to your left and right in conversation.  If you notice that someone (especially a person seated next to you) is excluded from conversation, turn to him or her and begin a conversation.
• Never order a very expensive item, unless invited to do so by the host.
• Order in a manner similar to other guests.
• Give your order directly to the waiter.
• Other than to give you order, let the host deal with the waiter.
• Adapt to your host’s method and pace of dining.
• Follow your host’s lead on initiating business conversation.  In general, it’s best to begin with casual conversation and move to business as the meal goes on.
• Enjoy the foods you choose to, or can eat.  Don’ discuss the food you can’t or choose to not eat.

Ms. Sokolosky also lists foods that you should avoid ordering when you are trying to create positive personal impact:

• Barbecue ribs
• Spaghetti
• Onion soup with cheese
• Whole lobster
• Shrimp in the shell

These foods are difficult to eat and carry on a conversation.  After struggling with both lobster and shrimp at that long ago business dinner that I mentioned above, I agree wholeheartedly.

Ms. Sokolosky suggests keeping business breakfasts to one hour, business lunches to one and a half hours.  Business dinners, she says, can be open ended. 

The common sense point here is simple.  Business meals provide an opportunity to create positive personal impact – but only if you know, understand and follow the basic rules of business dining etiquette.  Knowing these simple rules allows you to worry less about doing the correct thing, and concentrate more on engaging in conversation with the host and other guests.  The most basic rule of etiquette is simple.  Do whatever it takes to make the people around you feel comfortable.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website for more common sense and to subscribe to my weekly newsletter “Common Sense.” 

I’ll see you around the web and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.


PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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