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Business dinner etiquette

Business dinners are a great way to assess fresh talent, develop potential new business partners or get to know your boss or team better. Whatever the reason, it’s important to adhere to the correct business dinner etiquette to make the best possible impression.

Avoid the basic breaches of etiquette and showcase your professionalism with our essential guide to business dinner etiquette.

Before the meal

If you are hosting the business dinner, you’ll be responsible for choosing the restaurant and time. This is your chance to impress, so choose wisely. The key things to consider are:

  • Location – Ensure a central location that is convenient for all guests
  • Atmosphere – Choose a relaxed atmosphere and somewhere that will allow guests to talk comfortably around the table.
  • The menu – The menu needs to take into account any dietary requirements of your guests and have adequate choice that guests can get something suitable
  • Impress your guests – Consider a private dining venue to elevate the experience and add exclusivity to for your party.

Ensure you make a reservation, even if the restaurant is not normally busy. If you are unsure of how to host, take a look at our guide on how to host a successful business dinner.

The table settings

If you are not used to eating out and don’t want to get phased by a confusing table setting, it is a good idea to familiarise yourself with them beforehand. A little research in advance will ensure you are confident in which cutlery and glassware you should use. If you are unsure at any time during the meal, you can always follow the lead of the other members of your dining party.

The type of table setting will be dependent on where your dinner is taking place. There are three main types of setting, Basic, Casual and Formal. More detail about each setting can be found here.

Plan to arrive on time

If you have not visited the dining venue beforehand, make sure you research the location and the time that it will take you to get there. Allow some additional time just in case of any transport issues. It’s far better to walk around the block a couple of times before arrival that be late for an important meeting or interview.

Have a snack beforehand

It’s a good idea to have a light snack before arrival. This will make sure you are comfortable before the meal and not ravenous when ordering. It will also avoid you feeling lightheaded after your first glass of wine.

Dress appropriately

Dress the way you regularly would for other functions, unless your host has specified otherwise. Consider the type of dinner and the location when choosing what to wear. Business casual may be appropriate for some occasions, smart suit for others.

Dining customs

Different countries and cultures have differing dining customs. Make sure you are familiar with the customs of your guests and the location to avoid any embarrassing mistakes. If you can follow the correct dining customs when others don’t it will put you in good stead.

Facts and figures

This is a business dinner, so consider some preparation on the topics you’ll be covering. Make sure you have your facts and figures on likely subjects that will be discussed during the meal.

Waiting staff member at a restaurant

At the venue

Avoid using your phone during the meal

If you are a guest at a business dinner it is good practice to turn off your phone on arrival. If you are the host, you may want to leave your phone on until all the guests have arrived just in case someone has issues getting to the venue.

Make the introductions

Ideally the host should make the introductions. Making guests feel welcome and introducing those who do not know each other should be done as soon as possible. Use some personal information about the people you are introducing (job position, division, hobbies or similar). This can give your guests some conversation starters to help them relax.

If you are a guest, it may be the case that the host is not so well versed in business dinner etiquette and does not make the introductions. If this happens you should introduce yourself to any guest that you do not already know.

Shake hands with everyone

Under normal circumstances it would normally be appropriate to shake hands with everyone as part of the introductions. However, with social distancing measures in place you would not be expected to do this.

Stick to suitable topics of conversation

Throughout the meal you should keep to suitable topics of conversation. Avoid potentially offending guests by steering clear of topics such as religion or politics.

Store any items under your chair

If you have any bags, folders, or other items they should be stored under your chair. You should not place these on the table. Use the cloakroom or coat rack if there is one available.

Wait to sit until your host sits first

Show your host respect and exercise good manners to wait until your host sits before taking your seat yourself.

Place your napkin in your lap right away

Napkins go in the lap, not tucked into your collar. This should be done as soon as you sit at the table.
Ordering from the menu at Grubstreet


Don’t order the most expensive item

Ensure you are not choosing the most expensive items on the menu when you are ordering.

Take note of what your host or the other guests order

Order a meal that is appropriate for what your guests are ordering. You don’t want to be considered the odd one out with the food you are ordering.

Avoid messy foods

Prevent potentially embarrassing accidents, messy hands, face, and clothing by choosing non-messy foods. Avoid dishes like spaghetti, burgers or any other dishes that have to be eaten by hand.

Don’t order alcohol first

It’s best to avoid alcohol during the meal, especially if the host is not drinking. If the host is encouraging guests to get an alcoholic drink, then do so but limit your consumption.

Be ready to place your order

Make sure you are ready to place your order when the time comes to avoid any delays for other guests.

Smoked baby leeks, vegetarian parmesan custard, ash, hot house herbs

During the meal

Pay attention to your table manners

Always pay attention to your table manners while at the table. Use your knife and fork in the correct hands and keep to local customs.

Appropriate table manners is a subject for a separate post, but here are some of basic manners you should adhere to during the meal:

Pouring water

Show respect for your guests by offering to pour them a glass of water before pouring your own.

Use your hands with bread

One of the few times it is appropriate to use your hands to eat during a meal is when you eat bread. Break or tear the bread with your hands, and avoid cutting it with a knife.

If the butter is not served in individual portions you should take the butter for your own bread and place on your bread place. Avoid buttering directly from the butter block.

Know which utensils to use

Hopefully, you reviewed table settings and know which utensils to use during the meal. The key thing to keep in mind is to work your way outside to inside with each course of the meal with your cutlery.

The water glass should sit on the left-hand side of the glasses. There may be additional glasses for white and red wine. If you are ever unsure of which utensils you should be using, then take the lead from other guests.

Rest your utensils correctly

Ensure that you rest your utensils correctly during the meal. When they are not in your hands they should be correctly placed on your plate. This placement is different depending on whether you have finished your meal or not. Ensure you are familiar with the correct placing beforehand. When you have finished with the food on your place, place your utensils in the “finished” position.

Spoon shared sauces onto your plate

Don’t apply shared sauces to your food directly. As with butter, place the sauces on your plate. Never dip directly.

Don’t blow on your food

Exercise a little patience if your food is too hot. Blowing on hot food is not good form.

Drink soup from the edge of the spoon

Soup should be drunk form the edge of the spoon, not the tip.

Don’t salt your food before tasting it

Salting food before tasting may be regarded as disrespectful to the chef and your host for their choice of restaurant.

Don’t overeat or undereat

Having ensured you have ordered suitable food, you now need to make sure that you don’t overeat or undereat. You don’t have to finish everything on your plate, but you should eat some of everything that is on the plate.

Cut when required

Only cut your food when you are about to eat it, don’t cut everything up beforehand.

Keep pace with your guest

Don’t devour your food too quickly and make other guests uncomfortable. You should also avoid taking so long that others are waiting around while you are the only one eating.

Always say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ with wait staff

This is really one for the whole night, not just while eating. Others will see how you treat other people and may use this as a measure of how you are when treating customers, team members or potential customers. This is an easy win to show you are well mannered and respectful.

Making payment for a business dinner with credit card

After the meal

No stacking

Leave your plates and dishes where they are. The waiting staff will come and collect them. You should never stack your plates or dishes.

Refrain from cleaning your teeth at the table

This might be seen as basic manners for some but if it isn’t for you then don’t be tempted to do this during a business dinner. You’ve got this far, don’t ruin it now.

Never ask for a doggy bag

Even if you have over-ordered you should never ask for a doggy bag to take your leftovers.

Who should pay?

The host should always pay for the meal. If you are the host it is a good idea to take care of this beforehand by providing your credit card details to the restaurant ready for completion of the meal. You should politely decline any offer for anyone else to pay.

If you are a guest, you should not offer to pay for the meal and do not offer to pay for the tip, as the host should take care of this.

Thank the host

When the business dinner comes to an end, do not forget to thank the host.

Adhering to the proper etiquette during a business dinner could be the difference between getting a job, securing a big new customer or impressing your boss. The basics outlined here should ensure you present your best side and have a successful, productive lunch or dinner.

If you are a potential host and are looking to hold a business dinner in London, contact The Grubstreet Author and discover how we can help today.