How to Master Business Dinners

Business dinners are usually dreaded. They are often awkward encounters where you feel pressured to impress a client and the client simply has no interest in being there. The truth is, business dining is just like dating; you have to know how to impress, play hard to get, ask the right questions, listen when important and always leave them wanting more. Business dinners are popular in the finance and investment industries with the infamous Wall Street dining being a business in itself. The more high profile the client the higher the pressure is for you to get it right on the first ‘date’.

Let’s take a look at the best tips and tricks of the trade in mastering business dinners.

Planning is key

You may think that because it is a dinner setting that planning is not necessary. You would be mistaken; even the most experienced business diners know that a well thought out plan of conversation is required in order to get what you need out of the business dinner without killing the natural flow and ease of the evening. Have your key points in mind, be aware of the information you require from the client and aim to seal the deal (whatever it may be).

Connect with them

The ability to connect is essential at a business dinner. You need to avoid fake laughter and empty conversations; clients will pick up on this and be put off by your persona to please too eagerly. You need to find common ground (that does not involve business talk) and connect on a genuine level.

Talk the talk

Be aware of the language you use; don’t come across as being cold by being short with your questions/responses. Your aim is for the conversation to flow naturally so ensure both you and the client feel at ease.  You should also have interesting stories or points to discuss – don’t make it all about business.

Table manners

You need to be knowledgeable in terms of table manners, dining etiquette and body language. If you take your client to a posh restaurant, you need to know which cutlery to use for which course, the best wines to accompany your meal, the type of foods to avoid and topics of conversation to steer clear from.

  • Business Talk: Talk only about business between ordering your meal and the meal arriving. Before and after this point should be pleasant talk and interesting conversation.
  • Check out the menu beforehand so you know what to order in advance. Avoid soups, food that requires the use of your hands (as opposed to cutlery) and anything that will cause you to have bad breath (think garlic and onions!)
  • Your wine/water glass will always be on your right and your side plate for bread will be positioned to your left. Be sure to use your own and not mistakenly sip from your client’s glass if they are sat next to you.
  • Pass salt and pepper (if asked) together, even if they only ask for one condiment.
  • If you need to be excused, simply say “please excuse me” and push your chair away from the table; once standing, push your chair back in (if you have a napkin, place it on your chair until you return).
  • Never pick up a utensil if drop it. This may be a knee jerk reaction to dropping something, but it is a faux pas.
  • Never talk while chewing your food and always swallow your food before taking a drink.
  • If you need to cough or sneeze, don’t panic; it is human nature and you are not trying to imply you are super human to your client. However, ensure you aim your sneeze or cough into your left shoulder as you shield your mouth with your right hand.
  • At the end of your meal, to signify you have finished you should place your napkin to the left of your place.

These tips should keep you from making any serious mistakes that would turn off your dinner date (client). So long as you keep to these basic etiquette rules you should leave a positive impression with whomever it is you are dining with.

Do you have any other tips that I can add to my list? I would love to hear them! This really is an interesting topic and very useful to know.

Etiquette Outreach