Today, more than ever, deals are sealed at the table. If we are not comfortable doing business over a meal or happy hour, we may be losing business. Strength and making tough decisions go hand-in-hand with good manners.

Although many executives and managers are well-educated and technically adept, they have not been educated in vital social skills. Even though we might not be remembered for good manners, we will be for poor ones. Strive for etiquette that stands above the rest.

At business meals, it’s about BUSINESS. Remember WHY you are there and it’s not for today’s special prime rib. If you are hungry, have a protein bar or something light before the meal so you can concentrate on the business at hand.

When mixing lunch or dinner with business:

Invitations: “Let me take you to lunch at such-and-such restaurant” indicates you intend to pay the bill and take command of the table. Going Dutch? “Let’s have lunch. Where shall we go?” Whoever extended the invitation pays unless other arrangements are appropriate or have been discussed in advance.

Arrive ten minutes early if hosting the meal. Guests should always call if they are going to be late, even by a few minutes.

Business meals are a great way to build rapport and gain their trust first. Start with non-business matters first to create a warm, congenial atmosphere; however, be aware of any tight schedules others may have and honor their time.

The one hosting usually starts the serious business discussion. Avoid immediately bringing up work. A good time to start the work discussion is after appetizers. Use coffee and dessert time to summarize key points.

Pace yourself with your client. Don’t leave him or her eating alone or feeling rushed. They will feel more on the same page with you if you eat at the same pace. Take tiny bites so you can chew and swallow very quickly to keep the conversation flowing.

If at all possible, keep papers for your guests to look over later, not while eating.

Avoid personal topics such as politics, diet, religion or personal areas which may offend and alienate guests. Try talking about current events or news within their industry.

Include all guests in the conversation. If seated with many people, involve those within close hearing distance. Ensure body language is not shutting anyone out.

Remember your manners. Place your napkin in your lap once seated and don’t put it back on the table until you leave. If you must excuse yourself during the meal, place it on the back of your chair or to the left of your plate until you return. For sanitary reasons, it is not advisable to lay it on the seat of your chair.

Do not season your food before you have tasted it. Some see that gesture as acting before having all the facts, thus making the individual appear too impulsive. Seriously.

Following these tips shows decorum, respect and that you are well-mannered AND serious about providing the best in products and services.

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