In wrapping up a professionally eventful 2014, I thought I’d take a look at the 12 most important business dining missteps that I’ve covered over the years. This review can be a lesson for all of us, since often, while we find it easy to criticize others for committing business meal faux pas, we might be inadvertently breaking these very rules ourselves.
Commit to avoiding these dirty dozen restaurant no-no’s, and you’ll allow yourself and everyone else at the table to keep focused on the business dealings du jour. In the process, you’ll come off as a seasoned, nuanced professional that everyone will remember in a positive light. Start the 2nd half of the decade out on the right foot. Happy 2015, and let the countdown begin!
12. Forgetting Your Business Cards
What seems like a rookie mistake is actually pretty common. But it’s also the simplest mistake to avoid. Keep a stash of cards in the pockets of all your suits and handbags, and you’re less likely to be the one who shows up without them.
11. Eating With Your Mouth Open
When Mom tried to teach us to chew discretely, she was onto something. If you’re eating a sandwich alone in your car, that’s one thing. But in the presence of others, be conscious and eat like an adult. This one pairs nicely with “Don’t Speak When Your Mouth is Full”.
10. Bringing a Large Coat or Bag Into the Dining Room
Restaurants offer a coat check for a good reason: Many dining areas have limited space, and resting a bulky coat over the back of your chair cuts into that space significantly. While you’re at it, check your larger handbag too, as keeping it on the floor can create a dangerous obstacle for the servers.
9. Being Fussy About The Food You’re Served
The business meal is about the business conversation, not the food. Although it’s lovely when your steak is cooked the way you like it, when it isn’t, simply make due instead of sending it back. Unless you feel you’ll be in danger for eating what you’re served, don’t focus on the food.
8. Wearing Fragrance
This really should be Number 1 on the list, but its implications reach beyond business dining. When you’re in a restaurant, others in the room may be dining for sport, and spending hard-earned money to do so. When you’re wearing perfume or cologne, it cancels out the aromas and flavors in their food and wine. Plain and simple: Be kind to others and avoid wearing fragrance in dining establishments.
7. Ignoring The Wait Person
When a server approaches your table, it’s polite to put your conversation on hold and acknowledge them. Ignoring them until you’re good and ready is not only rude and degrading, it will leave a bad impression in front of your business associates. Read this disturbing anecdote to discover more.
6. Monopolizing The Conversation
Speaking more than you listen is an easy way to turn someone off, and is unconstructive for building rapport. For the extraverted amongst you: Teach yourself how to engage in a balanced conversation. Besides, you’ll never learn from others if you’re always talking.
5. Drinking Too Much Alcohol
It goes without saying that becoming intoxicated at a business meal will not earn you too much respect. If you’re unsure how to pace your consumption, consider cutting yourself off after one glass of wine. But the best approach is to avoid ordering alcohol altogether.
4. Arriving Late
Arriving at or after the scheduled time for a business lunch is a many-folded mistake. You’ll be seen as irresponsible, you’ll take longer to settle into being present, and you can indirectly cause anguish to others partaking. Make a deal with yourself that 10-minutes early equals on-time.
3. Not Following Up
It would be such a waste for you and everyone else at the meeting to have spent the time and effort gathering if you didn’t commit to follow-up communications afterward. Make it a priority to go through the email protocol to connect with everyone after the lunch or dinner meeting.
2. Gossiping About Confidential Matters
Some teenage habits are hard to break. But when you drag your urge to gossip into the business world, there are real consequences. Be smart by being intuitive and self-disciplined: Never discuss confidential matters at the business meal….you never know who’s listening.
And, the number-one most important business meal faux pas….
1. Mishandling Your Silverware
Bet you didn’t see this one coming. I can’t stress enough how essential it is for exuding class, polish, and a sense of experience to handle your eating utensils like a civilized adult. Learn more about the best flatware techniques in my interview with Tom Keene on Bloomberg Surveillance.
For further reading on why business meals are such powerful platforms for gaining business advantages and developing your network, link to my article on Forbes.