10 Ways To Demonstrate Your Business Dinner Etiquette (With Tips)

Updated March 10, 2023

Throughout your career, you may need to attend a business dinner for various reasons. Meeting with a client, team bonding, interviews and networking events all may take place over a nice meal. To impress your company, it's important to practice your manners. In this article, we discuss the importance of table manners and share how to improve your business dinner etiquette.

Related: 10 Key Tips for Proper Etiquette at Work

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Why is business dinner etiquette important?

Business dinner etiquette is important because it shows that you have manners. The way you act at dinner can give others insight into your personality and level of professionalism. Since this kind of dinner is more formal than eating a meal with friends, you can demonstrate your social skills by following etiquette guidelines.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Job Interview Etiquette

How to demonstrate proper business dinner etiquette

Follow these steps to show you have an understanding of business dining etiquette:

1. Dress appropriately

The way you dress entirely depends on the occasion and type of restaurant you're dining at. For networking events or initial meetings with recruiters, dressing business casual is usually ideal. For an interview or client meeting, dress in your nicest formal wear. If your employer makes the event seem more informal, wear something that would be acceptable for casual-dress days.

2. Arrive on time

Take note of the reservation time and arrive around five minutes early. Showing up slightly early is respectful of the host and their guests. If you're the first to arrive, let the server know you have arrived. This can help the restaurant staff get your table ready sooner so the rest of the party can sit down and get started promptly.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Professionalism

3. Make light conversation

When deciding what to talk about, be mindful of who you're with. If you're dining with someone you just met, discuss lighthearted things like family or travel. Topics like religion, politics and money may not be appropriate for most business dinners. Keeping things uplifting and surface-level is ideal when getting to know new people in a professional setting.

Related: 150 Helpful Conversation Starters for Networking Professionals

4. Remember the purpose of the dinner

Along with making friendly conversation, remember why you are getting together. If it's a networking event, make an effort to talk about the work you do. Likewise, for an interview or client meeting, it's important to direct the conversation toward the agenda in the invitation. You may be able to discuss the important topics first and then enjoy the rest of the meal having a casual conversation.

5. Be seated properly

After sitting down, make an effort to maintain good posture throughout the meal. This means sitting up straight and keeping both feet on the ground. Keep your elbows off the table and at your side to ensure you're giving your neighbor enough personal space. Place your napkin in your nap and use your place settings properly. Here are a few things to know about place settings:

  • Generally, use the utensils on the outside first and work your way in for different meal courses.

  • Your water glass is on the left-hand side of your wine glass.

  • Your salad fork is on the outside of your entree fork. It's a smaller fork and should only be used for salad. Use the larger fork for your main dish.

  • If you see a small fork on your right, it's intended for eating oysters or mussels.

6. Eat when everyone gets their meal

At a well-managed restaurant, the server delivers everyone's meal at the same time. Even if this isn't the case, it's polite to wait to eat until everyone has received their meal. If your host insists that you start eating, then it is okay to take a few small bites until they get their meal.

7. Be kind to your server

When you're interacting with restaurant staff, always be courteous. This means using words like "please" and "thank you" throughout the meal. If you are paying for the meal, tip the server generously. Typically, 20% is the standard amount you should tip for a sit-down meal.

8. Follow your host's lead

Many of your actions can be based on what your host does. It's polite to wait to sit until they are seated. Likewise, when ordering, you can tell how much to spend based on what they order. If the host is only drinking water or soda, refrain from ordering alcohol.

9. Forget gendered customs

Years ago, pulling out a chair for a woman was considered a chivalrous thing to do. As times change, this action is viewed differently in the workplace. Rather than pulling out someone's chair, there are other ways to show you're polite. Opening the door for them, offering to fill their glass and engaging in conversation are all great ways to treat someone kindly, regardless of their gender.

10. Show gratitude to your company

When the meal is over, make sure to thank your host for inviting you. Likewise, let everyone know that you enjoyed sharing a meal with them. In networking scenarios, exchange contact information and business cards.

Related: A Guide to Business Etiquette

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Additional business meal etiquette tips

By following these tips, you can impress your employer, recruiters, clients, or anyone you are dining with:

  • Be mindful of what you order. When ordering your meal, choose something that you can easily eat with a fork. Sandwiches and burgers can be quite messy, so order something like a salad or pasta.

  • Silence your phone. Turn your notifications off and keep your phone in your purse or coat pocket. Place your belongings underneath your chair or give them to the coat check.

  • Offer to fill drinks. When pouring a glass of water or going to the bar for another drink, offer to fill everyone else's drinks too. It's best to fill their glass before you pour your own.

  • Pace yourself. Even if the meal is really tasty, take your time eating it. It's best to finish your last bites when everyone else does. Similarly, if everyone is having wine or beer, drink your beverage slowly.

  • Dispose of food properly. Be mindful of how tidy your place setting is. When you're done with one dish, hand it to your server when they check in on you. As you wait, keep your own dishes in front of you and be patient.

  • Use your napkin for its intended purpose. Your napkin is for discretely wiping food off your face and hands. If you need to blow your nose, excuse yourself, and find a tissue in the bathroom.

  • Chew with your mouth closed. Make sure to fully swallow your bite before speaking. Washing down any remaining food with your drink is ideal.

  • Ask for others to pass items. If the salt and pepper is out of your immediate reach, ask someone to pass it to you. The same goes for anything else on the table.

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