Pachter's Pointers:
Business Etiquette Tips & Career Suggestions


The Dining Error Continuum: What Type of Dining Errors Are You Making?

Do you find it stressful when you are required to attend a business meeting that includes dining? Are you concerned that your manners will cause you embarrassment in front of your boss, customer or potential employer?

You are not alone.

A participant became upset during a class I teach on dining etiquette, believing that he had made a faux pas. I had corrected the placement of his knife – the blade of his knife had been facing away from his plate instead of towards it. Before I could calm him down, another diner said, “Oh, don’t worry. It’s just a misdemeanor!”

I thought, “He’s right.” There is a continuum of severity with dining errors, from serious mistakes to minor ones. And when people understand that not every error has major consequences, it can help people relax a little when dining out for business.

A fatal flaw is a serious breach of dining etiquette that is easily noticed by others and can cause you to lose business, a relationship or a job offer. These mistakes include getting drunk before or during the meal, holding your fork like a pitchfork, or talking with your mouth full. One man I heard about lost a $30-million contract because he licked his knife during a meal with a potential client.

A minor gaffe is a less serious breach of dining etiquette that may or may not be noticed by others. If noticed, it is unlikely that it will be held against you unless you commit a number of minor gaffes during the meal. These gaffes include using your neighbor’s bread plate, putting on lipstick at the table, or eating soup by dipping your spoon into the bowl and moving it towards you instead of away from you.

Of course, what seems a minor gaffe to one person may be a fatal flaw to another. There are stories of a famous businessman – some say Henry Ford, others claim J.C. Penney – who decided not to hire someone because he salted his food before tasting it. Ford/Penney, so the story goes, thought this indicated that the man made assumptions without knowing all the facts.

You want to come across as a polished professional when you are dining for business. Learning as much as you can about dining etiquette makes you less likely to make fatal flaws, and more likely to navigate a business meal with success.

Additional information on dining can be found in my book The Essentials of Business Etiquette: How to Greet, Eat and Tweet Your Way to Success

Pachter & Associates provides seminars and coaching on business dining, professional presence, etiquette and communication. For additional information, please contact Joyce Hoff at or 856.751.6141.


  1. I'm always worried about my manners. I try to look very well while my boyfriend never takes in charge where he is and who is sitting next to him. He always acts like he at home and nothing bothers him.

  2. I am so glad to have a chance to read your wonderful article. I am looking forward to read more of your works and posts.