When it comes to eating meals outside the comfort of your own dining room, there are certain practices that should be followed to ensure that all etiquette is followed and good impressions are made. Although this might sound like advice from the 1800s, there are a few tricks and tips to keep in mind when meeting someone for the first time, your partner’s parents for example, or a new employer or colleague.
Eating in front of them might be strange, but as long as you follow the etiquette practices suggested here, you’ll be perfectly fine:
1. Take charge if you invite your guest
If you’re planning a business lunch or dinner then you’d be expected to take charge of the situation.
Now we’re not talking about ordering food for your guests or any nonsense like that, your guests are definitely highly capable of that, but booking restaurants and making sure all your guests have something to eat is always appreciated. Double check your booking to make sure the restaurant is aware of your plans and give menu suggestions if you’ve been to the eatery before.
2. Should you pull someone’s chair out for them?
If you’re in a business meeting, by all means hold the door open for your invitees, this is a gesture that always sets the right tone, but pulling someone’s chair out may be a stretch too far.
During a business situation you’ll want to leave gender stereotypes at the door, there’s no gendered social rules in the workplace, so make sure you don’t give off the wrong impression. In a non-business situation, you’ll need to gauge the situation and see if pulling out someone’s chair will be seen as chivalrous or disrespectful.
3. Follow suit
Whenever you go to a restaurant for a business meeting, you need to remember that it’s not really about the food, it’s more about building a rapport with someone. Of course good food helps stir conversations in the right direction and food is a great ice-breaker.
If your guests are ordering starters, follow suit. If they’re not, then it’s politer for you to refrain too. This could easily cause a situation when guests are feeling uncomfortable, either eating alone or waiting for others to finish before they can start with their mains.
4. Cutlery confusion?
Unless you’re going to a silver service kind of restaurant, you should feel confident in choosing the right cutlery. Modern restaurant practices generally lay out one set of cutlery for each course, not too much to get confused by when you’ve only got one fork to grab. But what if there are more?
As a general rule, if you work your way in, from the outside in, you’re probably using the right utensils. The biggest fork would be for your main, while the smaller one for your starter.
5. You don’t need a bread knife
As a general rule, you should never take a knife to your bread rolls, but rather break bread with your hands. The only time you’d need a knife for your bread is when you’re buttering it – and no matter how certain you are that you’ll go through 5 slices of bread; butter each one as you go. Your guests might want some too.
6. Cutlery and crockery etiquette
During a business meeting every ‘move’ is important, and your cutlery can speak a thousand words. Do you know your cutlery etiquette?
There are certain ways you should place your cutlery either while your eating or once you’ve finished, to indicate your perception of the meal. Show the kitchen you liked the meal, let your waiter know that you’re still eating or ready for the next dish. And most importantly, do not stack up or push away your dishes – this is the wait staff’s job, and they should be happy to do it.
7. To ask for a doggy bag or not?
This one is simple, if you’re in a business meeting then taking food back home to the office with you is not a professional approach. This of course depends on who you are dining with; if you’re having lunch with your colleagues or family, it’s perfectly fine to take your leftovers home with you.
8. Paying the bill
When it comes to paying the bill, old school mentalities would suggest that the host should pay for the bill; and in some circumstances this is right. If you’ve been invited to a staff meal, a team event or anything company related, then you should not be expected to pay. It’s always wise to bring money with you just in case.
If you are hosting a business meeting, then as the host you should cover your guest’s bill. But if you mutually agreed to meet then it’s perfectly fine to split the bill.
9. Be grateful
Your wait staff should always be treated with politeness and respect. There’s absolutely no excuse for disregarding your waiter or waitress, a simple please and thank you can go a long way.
It is also customary to leave a tip for the kitchen and wait staff during your visit. Somewhere between 15-20% is a good margin to aim for.
Always remember to give your guests the time of day they deserve, refrain from taking phone calls, reading emails and answering messages. It is also important to engage in conversation and communicate with your guests to keep the table’s atmosphere friendly yet professional. Try to avoid heated conversations with prospective clients, straying away from strong opinions and keeping the tone of the meal light and cheery.