Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


In a Restaurant, To Introduce or Not? Tips for a Tricky Etiquette Situation

A colleague recently asked me about a situation that easily can become awkward when people are dining out for business. She wrote in her email:

During a meal with some colleagues, a man stopped at my table to greet me. I didn’t introduce him to the other people at the table. His body posture (he was following someone ahead of him and had his body turned semi-away from the table) seemed to convey he was moving on. Should I have made introductions? What do you do when people stop by your table when you are dining with others? And what should I have done, since I couldn’t recall his name?

It’s natural for people who see others they know to want to greet them. It can feel rude if they don’t. Generally, all that is needed in a restaurant is a brief acknowledgement, a “Hello” possibly followed by a quick comment or two.

If a polite greeter becomes an “interrupter” by staying at the table beyond a brief exchange, the person’s presence can affect the flow of the meal by disrupting the conversation at the table and causing discomfort for those not included in the new conversation, as well as allowing the diners’ food to grow cold. If introductions are attempted, polite diners attempting to rise to acknowledge the interrupter can easily knock over glasses or dishes on the table. Clearly, this is a situation to be avoided if possible – unless, of course, the “interrupter” is your CEO, in which case by all means invite him or her to join you.

Here are a few general guidelines that I offered my colleague to manage a potential “interrupter,” which work equally well for business or social occasions:

1. You usually don’t need to make an introduction if the interruption is very brief. In my colleague’s situation, it was clear that the man was moving on.

2. Ideally, people realize that they are interrupting others and keep their conversation to a minimum. If you get the sense that the person wants to talk, you can say something like, “It has been really nice seeing you. Let’s catch up next week.”

3. If your conversation with an “interrupter” goes beyond a brief comment or two, you need to make introductions. At that point, if you cannot recall his name, you would have to admit it. You could say something like, “I can’t believe it – I’m blanking on your name.”

Additional etiquette information can be found in my book, When The Little Things Count...And They Always Count.

And look for my new etiquette book coming this summer, The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success (McGraw-Hill).


  1. Anonymous1/09/2013

    From A Reader:
    Barbara, I agree with your solutions, and would add that with an interrupter who lingers I would rise out of my chair, ask my dining companions to excuse me for a minute, then I would steer the interrupter away from the table and explain that this is not a good moment to speak but would like to catch up later (if that's true) or just say that is was nice of her to stop by and you wish you had time to speak but you don't and hope that she understands. Then I would shake hands and bid him well, and good-bye.

    Most of the time when this has happened to me, the interrupter understands when a broad hint has been given; even in the case of a senior manager stopping by my table, if I invite him to join us he has graciously said he either did not intend to interrupt or that he himself has to be going. But, I agree, this is always a tricky situation, and the question of how to handle it comes up often. So thanks for these tips!

  2. Anonymous1/09/2013

    From A Reader:
    Fabulous way to handle a situation like that thank you for that Etiquette Tip - we do find ourselves is strange situations at times - even as Trainers.

  3. Anonymous1/10/2013


    If it is a CEO, I do not think it would be necessary to invite the person to dine. The CEO may be uncomfortable in saying no and the group should have private entertainment in a non-business evening.

  4. Anonymous1/11/2013

    From a Reader:
    I think it would be rude of the "interrupter" to make his/her interruption longer than a couple of moments, anyway. Then the meal gets disturbed by having to introduce this individual to the other dining companions.

    It's one thing to want to acknowledge someone with a quick "Hello" and a smile. Beyond that, the person isn't being respectful.

  5. Polite interrupters are easy. Sometimes interrupters do not get the broad hint. What does one do in such a situation?

  6. Anonymous1/16/2013

    From A Reader:
    Taking a cue from his body language was the right thing to do. Perhaps if he had stopped and turned his body towards the table, you might even consider inviting him to join you as well as introducing him, The decision to introduce or not also depends on the situation; business meal, meal with friends, fund raiser event, dinner with familly... etc

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