Recently a young man told us that he was invited by the baseball coaching staff of a leading sports powerhouse university to interview and that the meeting included lunch at a local country club. He and his family are personal friends so we had observed his terrible table manners first hand. We suggested that he take several hours to prepare, but he was so confident in his athletic ability and very high grade point average that he felt some etiquette refinement was a waste of time.
Unfortunately the coaches saw something different. We can imagine the luncheon catastrophe. He was stunned and angry when he did not hear another word from the school. Coincidence, maybe, but we doubt it. Manners matter whether you are an athletic star, honor student or simply a hard worker. Law firms are notorious for screening applicants during a restaurant interview.
Interviewers are very adept, often they are the intermediary for a business. They have their marching orders and will be watching you with very focused eyes. Business owners know that a successful meal with a candidate can lead to a far greater chance of that person generating new business and becoming an asset. Today more than 50% of business is conducted over meals. If you have a potential investor flying in from a different part of the country, most likely you will invite them for a meal. Dining with a customer provides a good chance to bond, away from the hectic environment of an office. You need to be comfortable and competent to build relationships
Manners are simply one part of the package. Knowing how to choose a restaurant, select wine, when to start eating, how to select the proper utensil, when to stand, what to do if your napkin falls on the floor and how to conduct small talk are all critical elements, and there is more.
Many young adults think we live in a less formal society and that people are more laid back, so they just wing it. Until they realize interviewers and employers care a great deal about proper etiquette. Then they come to us ready to listen and learn.
Let’s assume you have been selected by your employer to plan and execute a business luncheon. You will be expected to:
Choose a proper restaurant. Start with a restaurant that has a reputation for excellent food and great service. Unless you are specifically going to a restaurant that specializes in a type of Cuisine such as Chinese, Tai or Mexican, for example, you should select a restaurant that offers a variety of choices, including fare for vegetarians and weight watchers.
Make a reservation. If you select a restaurant that does not take reservations, choose another restaurant.
Your attire, regardless of what your guests wear, should reflect the wishes if the establishment. Some things you cannot control however. Mention where you are making reservations and hopefully your guest will wear what is appropriate. Some people say, if the guest is wearing a jacket, wear a jacket. If they are wearing a suit, wear a suit. Fine, but if they show up in jeans you are not required to change to jeans.
Regardless of the type of attire you wear, shave or if you have a beard or mustache, trim appropriately. Clothes must be clean, neat and unwrinkled.
Allow the guests to choose their own seats; however, if you have a team, encourage them to sit between your guests to have a better conversation. If you have two people who are better making small talk conversation, they should sit on opposite sides of the dining table to help keep the conversation flowing. This should be arranged before the guests arrive at the restaurant.
Most of these suggestions may seem obvious, but you will be surprised how quickly they can be forgotten, especially if you have not had a lot of practice.
When you sit down, do not forget that your drinks are placed on your right and your bread plate on the left. While eating, use the silverware from the outside in. Remember to put a napkin in your lap. If you need salt, pepper, bread, butter, etc., ask for them to be passed; do not reach for it. When choosing what to order, choose one that you can eat easily and doesn’t have a tendency of leaving distracting bits of food in the teeth. Leave food like BBQ Ribs or other foods that can be eaten with your hands for another occasion. Take a bite and put the utinsil down before you chew and swallow. Do not talk with food in your mouth. It is okay to have some business talk but do not let it overwhelm your conversation. Stay off of sensitive topics such as religion, sex and politics. Pay for the meal willingly and with a smile. These are your guests, treat them with respect.
In general, proper restaurant etiquette is about making people you meet feel comfortable and appreciated. If you offer a nice meal with great conversation, then you have done well even if you accidentally utilize the wrong cutlery.
While learning proper etiquette is not difficult, the best way to learn is by attending an etiquette school. Make your mistakes when your job or future is not on the line.
It only takes seven seconds to make a bad impression, and that could cost you dearly. Besides, etiquette school is fun. Everyone in class is there because they want to excel, to make a positive impression. Winners are willing to stretch and learn.