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Etiquette at Work

When you’re invited for a business meal, mind your manners

By Peter Post
Globe Correspondent / September 26, 2010

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Last week’s question about table manners also brings up a more general question: What is the proper etiquette for business meals at restaurants?

The most basic table manners — chew with your mouth closed, don’t talk with your mouth full — spare your tablemates the unpleasant sight of the first stage of digestion. Using utensils correctly ensures that food stays on the plate and is delivered to the mouth neatly, efficiently, and unobtrusively. If you have any doubt about your mastery of these basics, eat an entire meal in front of a mirror. What you see is what your dinner companions see. If you’re really not sure what to do, you can always wait and watch what other people are doing and then follow their lead.

As a guest at a business meal, you should be a pleasant dining companion and contribute intelligently to any business discussed, but your goal is to be invited back the next time. Your skill and confidence — or lack thereof — will be noticed. Take part in the general conversation while not dominating it. When there is no general conversation, make the effort to talk with the people seated next to and near you. Leave the impression in your host’s mind that you added materially to the meeting and that your dining manners are an asset, and you’ll make the best case for being included at the next event.

There are five key manners to be aware of at any business lunch or dinner:

■ Don’t be late, not even 5 minutes late, and wait for your host to arrive before going to the table.

■ Begin eating only after your host has asked you to or after the host starts eating.

■ Don’t drink at all, or limit yourself to one alcoholic beverage throughout the event.

■ It’s the host’s prerogative to initiate any business-related conversation.

■ Thank your host twice: once at the end of the meal and then with a “thank you’’ note the next day.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to etiquetteatwork@emilypost.com.