What is business dinner etiquette?

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eating food
How in the world am I supposed to eat this? Yikes!
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Poor business dinner etiquette can break deals and get you a demotion

Hopefully, you already know the basic rules of etiquette, particularly when dining with others: Donít put your elbows on the table, donít talk with your mouth full, use the proper utensils at the proper times and in the proper way and for heavenís sakes donít belch!

Of course, it may be that an elbow on the table is an acceptable eating practice in some cultures so you need to find out PRONTO precisely what you should and shouldnít do when dining with business associates, particularly those from other countries.

If you are dining with business people from another country, particularly when in their country, but also when on your home turf, it is imperative that you know, beforehand, what is considered acceptable dining etiquette from their perspective. 

Not taking the time to do this can result in an embarrassing situation for you which could have serious ramifications for you at work. Donít make this costly mistake.

Your first order of business: If your company has a business etiquette manual, READ IT! Business dining etiquette requires that you not only have proper table manners but know what you should talk about and when. Understand how to make introductions, how to greet your guests or hosts, and when to exchange business cards and business documents. Know before hand where to put your briefcase or laptop during dinner - generally these items are checked with a secure coatcheck or placed on the floor next to your chair, out of the way of your server.

If you arenít up to speed regarding cross cultural practices this can end up in a very bad situation for you. You may accidentally insult someone.

Consequently, it is important that you do your homework before venturing out to a business dinner with associates from other countries. It will be time well invested. If you take the time to learn what practices are appropriate it will be noticed and appreciated. 

Etiquette means having good manners or form. What is considered good form or manners depends on what country you are in. Business etiquette is necessary if you want to be effective in business because it allows you to develop a relationship with the other business people. Business etiquette allows you to become comfortable with one another. When you display good etiquette at a business dinner, this shows that you cared enough to figure out in advance what is appropriate and what is not. 

Things that need to be taken into consideration: 

Where are you supposed to sit and when? What about utensils? Will you be required to use chopsticks? Start practicing.

Sometimes it is considered rude to talk while eating and sometimes itís considered bad form to discuss business while dining, depending on the people you are dining with and their cultural background.

Who is supposed to pay the bill? Know the answers in advance.

Understand cultural differences:

According to Neal Payne, if you are dining in Japan realize the conversation will be restrained, you will be expected to use chopsticks correctly as in donít pierce your food with them, do not point your chopsticks at anyone Ė and the guest of honor sit at the center of the table and at the farthest point from the door. He or she begins eating first. 

When dining in the Middle East you eat with the right hand exclusively. You tear meat by pressing the meat down against the plate and ripping off a portion with your forefinger and thumbed pressed together. 


Remember that you use the utensils working from the outside inward. In other words, work your way from the utensil (spoon, fork or knife) that is the furthest away from the plate inward. The main dish or the entrťe will be eaten using the utensils that are closest to your plate. 

You can opt to eat in the American or European style which is also called the continental style. When you are utilizing the American style of handling utensils, you use the zig zag method, which means you cut the food with the knife in your right hand and the fork in your left hand, and then you place the knife on the plate and pass the fork from your left to right hand and begin eating. 

When using the European or continental style you do not transfer the fork back and forth between your left and right hand, and you donít place the knife on your plate while you are eating. Many business professionals prefer the European/Continental approach.

Place your napkin on the left when you have completed your meal. Do not place your napkin on your seat when you leave the table. Instead place it on the back of your chair. The napkin can leave a greasy stain on the chair which you will sit in. Pass both the salt and pepper shakers simultaneously and know the difference between a finger bowl (for washing your fingers) and a soup bowl.

Now, off you go!

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