You might be used to restricting your work life to the walls of your office. But in America, business is conducted everywhere. Your business meeting might be moved to lunch, dinner, drinks, or even an early breakfast because of the fast-paced work schedule.
Meeting outside work is an excellent opportunity to get to know the other person better, gain their trust, and seal the deal.
Here are some tips to help you understand how business is conducted in these public places during meal times, and what is expected of you.
1. General table etiquettes
The setting of a business lunch or dinner is most likely to be formal. The food is served in courses: appetizer, soup, salad, main course, and then dessert. Your beverage will be on the right side, and your bread plate will be on the left side. Do not mix these up and accidentally eat or drink with your associate’s utensil.
You’ll be expected to use cutlery that will consist of knives, forks, and spoons, all of varying shapes and sizes, each with a different use. If you feel overwhelmed by the layout and are unsure about which utensil to use, just wait and follow what others are doing.
You should hold the fork down in your left hand and use your knife with the right hand to cut your food. Then, eat the piece of food after switching the fork into your right hand.
Before dining, you’ll be asked if you want alcohol or not. Feel free to decline. Unlike in some other cultures, not drinking alcohol in America is completely acceptable. In fact, if you’re out for lunch, your superiors might prefer that you don’t consume alcohol during work hours.
2. Introduce yourself
Make sure to shake hands with everyone sitting at the table and introduce yourself. Use a firm grip, as this exudes confidence.
Before the meeting, do a little research about your associates. Note their backgrounds and points with which you can relate to them. Bring those points into your introduction to help steer the conversation.
When the host is seated, follow their lead. If they place the napkin on their lap, do the same. If someone arrives after all of you are seated, stand up and greet them with a handshake.
3. Order something simple
The last thing you want is to look like a glutton in a formal meeting. Your meeting is not about the food, but to seal the deal. Do not attend the meeting on an empty stomach.
The one thing worse than a glutton at a meeting is a picky glutton. Do not take an excessive amount of time to order, or ask the server to explain things on the menu. Do your research before you arrive. Look up the menu of the place and decide what you want to order before the meeting.
If you’re confused, follow your host’s lead. Order something similar, or ask for their recommendation. The best meals are the ones that are easy to eat. Meals like pasta or fondue can get messy.
4. Don’t eat too quickly
Pace yourself. Eat slowly and listen to what the other person is saying. Your objective is to make conversation.
Remember, eating and talking together is an art. You do not want to speak with a mouthful of food, nor do you want the other person to have to wait until you have swallowed. This can considerably slow down the conversation. Cut only a few pieces of food at a time and take small bites.
Do not wave, point with, or hold up your silverware.
5. Which drinks to order and avoid
Being invited to drinks to discuss business is very common in America. However, it is not considered impolite to decline an invitation for drinking. This is because drinking is not considered a social custom, and is a choice.
If you’re not a regular drinker, or are unfamiliar with what liquor Americans drink, here’s a guide to some drinks you can order in the meeting.
Gin and vodka martinis are both sophisticated cocktails. A gin martini is the classic drink of every business meeting, and is your safest bet. If you don’t like the taste of gin, order a vodka martini. Scotch, whiskey, and bourbon are a little stronger, but a very popular choice. These drinks are also commonly associated with serious conversations.
Do not order a ‘Long Island Iced Tea.’ While the drink is famous for vacations, its use in the business world is limited. Do not order rum and coke, as the combination is not considered sophisticated, and is generally not ordered by adults doing business.
6. How Should I Dress?
Do not dress like you’re going out with your friends.
Just because the meeting is happening over a meal doesn’t mean it is any less formal than other business meetings. You do not want to show up dressed better than your superiors, though, as it might offend them.
Do not overdress or wear something flashy. Stick to your regular work clothes.
7. Who should pay?
If you have invited the business associate out for a meal, you should pay, even if they insist. However, if you have been invited out, the other person should pay. It is common courtesy to offer to pay the bill or at least your half, but don’t overdo it. If the other person insists, let them pay and thank them. You can pay next time.
Always carry your credit card. Paying with cash can get sloppy. Also, the meal might cost you more than the amount of cash you’re carrying.
Tipping the server is mandatory at a business meeting, or else you and your company can come across as stingy. Don’t be surprised if the meeting isn’t as informal as you had expected it to be. Although Americans engage in personal conversations in workplaces and often start meetings with pleasantries, it is mostly out of politeness. American work culture operates using quick decision-making, and sometimes they’re not too interested in building personal relationships.
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