Etiquette and the Business Luncheon

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Good business etiquette helps to ensure that participants are focused on the business at hand. It involves respect for others and respect for your position and the company you represent.

Etiquette is shown in your words and actions, as well as in your nonverbal communication. Practicing good etiquette will help to build good business relationships and to achieve your specific business goals for each meeting, and it will be beneficial to your long-term professional goals.

Much of the etiquette involved with business meetings is common sense, but reminders are always in order.

Set a timeframe for the meeting. If it’s a one-hour or a two-hour meeting, let people know ahead of time and stick to it. If you are meeting someone for lunch and there is no set timeframe, ask how much time they have and be sure to honor that.

Show up on time for a meeting, in a restaurant, at the office, or wherever it may be. It demonstrates to others that you have consideration and respect for their time. Of course, life happens and it’s not possible to always be on time, but call ahead if you’re delayed and make the proper apologies.

Be prepared for the business that will be discussed or conducted over the meeting. Do your research, gather information, and bring any necessary materials.

Always introduce yourself to anyone you have not already met, and do the same for others who are meeting for the first time. Greet others properly, usually with a handshake, which applies equally to men and women in business. In social situations, women may or may not shake hands. In business settings, it is always proper for women to shake hands.

Bring business cards.

Have a couple topics for polite conversation, such as sports, movies, or vacations. It’s nice to have a little small talk to start your interactions, and then move into the business topics.

Bring your good listening skills. It is so important to actively listen to others and to do so with an open mind so that you might really understand what others have to say.

Talk in a positive manner, demonstrating value for others’ input and not dominating the conversation.

Also, it is important to recognize the impact of your appearance. Your attire is a large part of your non-verbal communication, which tells others so much about you and your professionalism. This is not to say that you must be dressed formally or in designer clothes.

It means that you must be dressed appropriately for the business that you represent and are conducting. People who work in a creative or tech field might be expected to dress very casually. A traditional businessperson would be expected to reflect the culture of the business and dress in a more traditional business manner.

In addition to your clothing, pay attention to your grooming and other details — clean hair and nails, fresh breath, neat beard, clean shoes, buttons intact, etc. While these details may seem unimportant, understand that we all are continually making subconscious observations about others, and you want others’ impressions of you to be helpful to your goals.

Be sure that your appearance supports your business at hand, as well as your long-term professional goals.

If you are meeting over lunch, you may want to brush up on your dining skills. Allow the host to choose his or her seat first. Follow the cues of the host or hostess as to where you should sit, what to order, when to start eating, and most everything.

When you sit down at the table, put the napkin on your lap. Sit up straight at a comfortable distance from the table, and maintain good posture throughout the meal. Personal items should not be on the table, with the exception of materials needed for the business to be discussed.

Be sure to silence or turn off your cellphone during a meeting. Certainly it would be bad behavior to take a phone call during a meeting, unless absolutely necessary.

Take notes if information is discussed that you’ll need to reference afterward. If you have called the meeting, be sure to thank people who attend, and if you are a participant, thank the person who put the meeting together.

During the meal, elbows should not be on the table. There should be no personal grooming at the table, and if you must sneeze or cough, turn your head to the side and cover your mouth with your napkin.

Eat slowly and don’t talk with your mouth full. You generally will use silverware from the outside, and move in as you progress through the meal. When in doubt, watch the host or hostess.

Your bread plate is to the top left of your place seating. Please break off one bite-size piece at a time, butter, and enjoy your bread or roll, before breaking off another piece.

Glasses are to the top right of your place setting.

As far as ordering, choose from the middle, not the most or the least expensive item on the menu. Always treat staff with courtesy, as this will reflect greatly on your character. Tip servers fairly, even if the food was not prepared well, as it is probably not the server’s fault. Finally, when going out to lunch or any business meal, the person who did the asking should pay.

Of course, after a meeting, it’s a good idea to follow up with an email outlining the outcomes, and you should follow through with any assignments.

While this may seem like a lot of rules, know that etiquette is really a set of guidelines for successful interactions, not hard-and-fast rules. Nobody expects perfection, just that you show respect and consideration for others.

Embrace the business luncheon. Try to relax and enjoy yourself while maintaining professional behavior and appearance. Successful meetings, whether in the office or over lunch, will help to build your professional relationships and accomplish your goals. BW

Duffy Johnson is an etiquette consultant with The Etiquette School of Central Pennsylvania. They teach business etiquette and dining, social, and personal skills to those just beginning their careers and to senior executives, as well as programs for children, teens, young adults, and families.

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