Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With the Wind ate her meal before going to the barbecue for the wrong reasons: it was considered unladylike to be hungry. However, even today there may be some logic to not going to a business meal ravenous. Business lunches and business dinners are the worst dining experiences of all, because they are never about the food.
Business meals are about business, and not so much about breaking bread together. Let these five business-dining survival tips help you sail through these experiences and make a great impression on your dining companions.
1. Do not order the spaghetti.
It is imperative that you do not order food that is especially sloppy or difficult to eat. Stick to things that are easily eaten with a knife and fork, and skip burgers and sandwiches if at all possible. You don’t want your companions to be stuck watching you try to eat an overstuffed Reuben sandwich while juices run down your hands.
2. Order in a similar fashion as your companions, even if they order the spaghetti.
That sounds like a contradiction. If everybody is ordering messy spaghetti or juicy deli sandwiches, you might want to follow suit, or at least know it’s okay if you want to join in. People tend to think better of those who agree with them on unimportant things, such as taste in food. More importantly than the choice of dish: order the same number of courses as the others in your party. No meal companion should have to eat a course by him- or herself. It will create a sense of awkwardness and unease, even if your host says it is just fine.
3. Forgo the alcohol.
Even if others are drinking with the meal, don’t. Alcohol impairs a person’s judgment, and if this is a business meal, you are better off being in control of your mental faculties. Don’t make a big deal out of it; just order something else to drink.
4. Don’t make a scene.
There is an old adage that a person who is nice to you and rude to the waitress is not a nice person. Make a positive impression on your business dining companions by being polite and appropriate with restaurant employees. When something goes wrong, don’t make a scene. For example, if there is a bug in your salad, mention it quietly to your server and ask if you could please have another, especially if you notice it in the beginning of the course. If you notice the offending critter toward the end of eating your salad (ugh) you may mention it politely so that the kitchen knows to check better before sending food out, and you might be offered a discount. Be gracious when your server apologizes. Huffing and puffing, acting offended, and making it impossible for the restaurant to make you happy reflects on you and you alone. Your business dining companions will make note of how well you deal with problems when they occur.
5. Be discreet.
If there is a fish bone or gristle in your mouth, very discreetly slip your napkin over your mouth and deposit the offending item. Try to do so when you are not the center of attention. Discretion is also called for when food gets stuck between teeth. Don’t even think about using a toothpick, or worse yet, your fingernails. Don’t suck your teeth (shudder) at the table. If food stuck between your teeth is bothering you, excuse yourself and take care of it in private.
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