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.
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!”
“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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 856.751.6141.