Walsh College

Dining Up: The Art of Business Dining & Networking

A lot of business happens over meals and during social events. Relationships are forged and strengthened, new jobs and promotions are secured, and lasting impressions are made.

Whether you are having a meeting with clients or coworkers over lunch or attending a formal business event, joining a group from work at a sporting event or informal picnic, or celebrating with family and friends at a wedding, exhibiting basic dining manners is crucial. You are being observed.

Formal and semi-formal dining events are perfect occasions to make a polished first impression, enhance your personal brand, and build new connections.

As a professor of marketing and etiquette coach at Walsh College, I regularly host seminars focused on the art of business dining. Students learn practical tips about navigating the sometimes sticky situations of fine dining, understanding everything from knowing which fork to use, to buttering bread, to making the most of networking opportunities.

Below are a few tips on making good impressions and table manners to help you master the art of business dining and networking:

Be impressive

Personal interactions during meals and social events can make (or break) business deals and can lead to new jobs, promotions, or opportunities. Networking at events is a chance to make an impression – and you want to make sure that impression is a positive one (!) because you never know whom you may meet and how they could help further your career.

With that in mind, remember to have some business cards on hand, and mentally prepare a brief sentence or two to best describe your work/role/relationship to tell people you meet. If it is a work function, perhaps there is a new project that you’d like to participate in, or an emerging industry trend that you’d like to discuss.

At social functions, ask the people seated next to you questions to find common ground. Perhaps you have similar hobbies and interests. Research shows people who talk less about themselves and more about the person they are talking with are seen as friendly and better conversationalists. In conversations, avoid taboo topics such as sharing political views or personal dramas from work or in your personal life. Look directly at the person you are talking with, but of course, don’t talk with food in your mouth!

Silver where?

No matter the venue and the nature of the event, understanding proper dining etiquette is critical. Take the time to familiarize yourself with the basics of table place settings to know which utensils and glasses are yours to use. Your fork(s) will be on the left side of your plate and your drinks will be on the right side. Keep the mnemonic of BMW in mind when determining your place setting – B=bread plate, M=meal, W=water/wine glasses.

Polite company

Polite dining isn’t just about knowing what flatware and glasses to use. It’s also about basic tips, such as not putting your phone, personal possessions, or elbows on the table; not using your fingers to pick up food or push food on a fork; and not using your napkin as a bib or forehead wipe.

The key to appearing elegant and professional is to eat slowly and carefully. Cut small pieces of food as you go, take small bites, and chew with your mouth closed. Butter and eat your roll or your bread in small pieces at a time. Avoid foods that are messy or difficult to eat. It may be common sense, but remember to try not to make any chewing or slurping noises and never speak with your mouth full! And, manners matter. Say “please” “thank you” “no thank you” and “pardon me.”

 Be seen, but don’t make a scene

When invited to a business or social dining event, consider it an honor and make sure to accept or decline the invitation on time (especially wedding invitations!). Dress appropriately for the occasion and make sure your clothes are freshly laundered and fit well. Be courteous and take your cues from the host, and be very conservative in your intake of alcohol–especially at holiday parties and in other relaxed social settings. Be considerate to servers and staff, and make sure you understand the basics of things like tipping and toasting.

Above all, remember that, while understanding etiquette and manners is important, it’s also important to relax and have some fun. When you’re comfortable and confident, you’ll come off polished and capable. You’ll enjoy the event, make valuable connections, and leave people with a positive and lasting professional impression of yourself.

 Etiquette and protocol might seem trivial, but they matter.




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