Posts tagged #business etiquette

Let's Go To Dinner: The Best Business Etiquette Primer

Photo by  Jay Wennington  on  Unsplash

I went to my first “official” business dinner on a recruiting trip my senior year of college. My lack of experience translated to lots of nerves, and I was thankful that I had already accepted the job and was attending as a courtesy rather than as part of the interview process.

As I attended more work dinners, made mistakes, and read up on the in’s and out’s of business etiquette, I learned to relax and enjoy the experience because I was prepared. My many faux pas - from ordering a messy burger that I had to eat with my hands, bringing a presentation to a dinner without page numbers, and sharing an opinion that did not come out the way I intended - along with a good dose of Emily Post - taught me how to be a better dinner guest.

I had the pleasure of hosting a business etiquette dinner for our group of summer interns a few weeks ago, and we had a great time enjoying delicious food and wine as well as talking about the basics of formal dining and the many gray areas; things like, what do you do with your cell phone during dinner? What if you get sick? How do you politely tell the server that your bottle of wine is a bad bottle? And, why are there so many forks?

First things first.

After toasting the interns, I told them first things first when it comes to dinner etiquette: focus on making everyone else comfortable.

What do I mean by making everyone else feel comfortable? When you think about any aspect of the event, from conversation topics to how expensive of a meal you order, your first goal is to make everyone you are with feel comfortable. For example, one question that came up during our dinner was what to do if you are feeling sick. In that situation, it depends, and the answer ties back to the people you are dining with. If you are ill to the point of needing medical care, take care of yourself regardless of who you are dining with that evening. Similarly, if you are sick with something contagious, let your dinner mates know as far in advance as possible that you will not be able to attend, lest you pass along your ailment. Otherwise, if you have a headache or do not feel well, but are not in medical danger, it depends on how well you know your dinner party. Let’s say you are taking some business clients out to dinner. If you tell them you have a headache or heartburn, they will feel terrible the entire evening that you inconvenienced yourself to come out and will focus on finishing as quickly as possible so you can get home - not the intent of your dinner. In this case, you use all the energy you can muster to entertain and engage them. Conversely, if you are with colleagues who you know well, you can certainly share that you are not feeling well and ask them to excuse any behavior that seems out of character.

The place setting.

A good starting point of dinner etiquette is learning the format of a different place settings, including formal, basic, and informal. These explain what all the utensils are used for, why there are so many forks and glasses in a formal place setting, and which bread plate belongs to each person (which is easy to mix up)! For example, I have had numerous instances where someone has accidentally used my water glass or bread plate. Knowing the correct place setting will give you confidence when you walk into a dinner that you are not going to make the same mistake! And, if you happen to forget, you can use your hands to remind you. Take your thumbs and first fingers and make a circle with each hand, extending your middle fingers straight. Your left hand will look like a lower case “b”, which stands for “bread” and your right hand will look like a lower case “d”, which stands for “drink”. Easy!

Your food.

I mentioned earlier that I learned my lesson when I ordered a messy burger and fries at one dinner. Now, I study the menu in advance and pick out one or two things that I want to order that are easy to eat and moderately priced. That way, when I arrive at dinner, I can focus on talking to other people and spend less time studying the menu. This also helps ensure that I do not “out order” the host, either in terms of quantity of food or price of food. When gauging what to order, follow your host’s lead and order the same courses of food as well as spend a similar amount of money on your meal.

Dining faux pas.

As I prepared for the etiquette dinner, I learned of two new dining faux pas: first, never blow on your food to cool it off, instead, wait for it to cool on its own; and second, never salt your food before tasting it unless you want to offend the chef’s seasoning selection.

While not necessarily faux pas, there are other practices to avoid if you want to support the idea of making others feel comfortable. For example, if you are entertaining someone, ask them for recommendations on the kinds of food or restaurants they like before you make a restaurant selection. Years ago, I wanted to impress a couple people at dinner and chose a high-end steakhouse, not thinking about the fact that they were informal, barbeque-style people and would prefer something more casual. Had I taken this into account, we all would have been more comfortable at dinner and enjoyed our time more.

Interested in learning more about preparing for and attending a business dinner? Complete the form below to receive a free, six page PDF with 27 business dinner FAQs.

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Posted on June 24, 2019 and filed under Career Insights.

May Recap: What I Read, Listened to, and Talked About this Month

May Recap.png

Photo by Charles 🇵🇭 on Unsplash

My reading and listening have been light this month as I’ve had not one but two terrible colds. You may think that being sick is the perfect opportunity to curl up with a good book or podcast, and you’re right - but I enjoyed some light, easy reading and listening during my downtime versus anything too serious or thought-provoking. That said, I still had a good month reading, listening, and talking about interesting content and ideas.

What I Read

The Best Business Strategy is Satisfied Associates

What is more important in a business - a great idea, or talented, engaged people? I remember my entrepreneurship professor asking the class this question years ago, and we resoundingly said a great idea! He pushed back and proved to us through research and examples that talented, engaged people can take an average idea and transform it into something great, while a mediocre group of people can ruin even the best of ideas. While I’ve always remembered this maxim, he never told us how to hire and retain these amazing people. Thankfully, Michelle McClay, Vice President of Deployment and Analytics for The Resource Group, shares her experience and tools for engaging and retaining people in this article.

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding

As someone interested in branding but without a formal marketing background, I loved this book. It is simple, straightforward, and the authors, Al and Laura Ries, build out the content in a logical sequence for the reader to use in a practical manner. Each of the 22 “laws” are presented in a way that one could use and apply them as they are creating a brand, whether for a small business, startup, or an established company looking to launch or revive a brand. Filled with examples of common consumer products, the authors use data and stories to illustrate and justify each law as well. One caveat: the latest version of the book was published in 2002, so some of the examples, and some of the content regarding the internet, are dated.

What I Listened To

i Will Teach You to be Rich - An Interview with Ramit Sethi and Tim Ferris

I’ve had an interest in personal finance since I was young. Growing up, one of my earliest memories is going into the bank (ATMs didn’t exist yet!) and depositing birthday or Christmas money into my bank account. I loved watching the balance on my bank book grow with every deposit I made, and was fascinated with the idea that smart investing would double your money every seven to eight years - all for doing nothing! While seven years felt like an eternity when I was seven years old, as an adult, I appreciate how quickly money grows when invested and managed well. I’ve read and listened to a few different personal finance personalities over the years, and this was my first time hearing of Ramit Sethi. The son of Indian immigrants, Ramit recounts how he learned negotiation from his father by shopping for cars, often for days on end and a firm grasp on what he wanted from the deal. As a saver rather than a spender, one of the things I appreciated that Ramit talked about was how everyone has different priorities with their money, and that by saving on the things you do not prioritize, you can let yourself dial up your spending on the things you do prioritize. For example., you may love travel and decide to increase your annual spending on travel by five or ten times, funding this by dramatically cutting expenses in other areas of little value to you. This enables you to either travel more or to travel in a different way - nicer hotels, exotic locations, or unique experiences. This advice helped me rationalize the things that are important to me and the things that aren’t, recognizing that they will be different than how other people think about their money. You can listen to the entire conversation here, or read Ramit’s blog here.

What I Talked About

Business Dinner Etiquette

This may be one of the most enjoyable business dinners I’ve experienced during my career. I had the opportunity to host a business etiquette dinner with our summer interns and their managers - about 35 people total - and share information from what to do with your cell phone during dinner to the proper way to eat bread. The most important part of etiquette, which I stressed at the beginning, was for everyone to be comfortable and to have fun. Remember that concept and then act in a way that makes everyone around you comfortable, from the topics you talk about to the amount of alcohol you drink (if any). We also went through specific table manners and I shared some resources with each person to reference in the future. Given the interest in the topic by the group, I’ll share a post with more information on this topic later this month.

Three Lessons from my Mentors

Along with the etiquette dinner, I was honored to be asked to share an executive spotlight to our new interns as well. I mentioned in my Speaking Boldly post that I have been focusing more on telling stories to reinforce ideas during presentations rather than reciting facts and data, and decided to tell three stories that occurred during internships or my first year of full-time employment. The stories focused on the value of giving to others, how to be resourceful/figure things out, and the importance of humility. I covered these stories, and four more, here a few months ago as well.