How To Mix Food and
The working breakfast. The "power" lunch. The
business dinner. All part of the working world, but also
situations ripe for breaches in etiquette. How can you
successfully mix food and business? Here are some
What to Eat
Most working meals are called for the purpose of doing
business. Don't forget that. Whether you're looking over
paperwork, signing contracts, or simply getting to know someone
better to determine if you want to do business with them, your
main purpose is to conduct business.
Unless you're a food critic, you are not there to critique
the food or challenge the chef's culinary skills. With that in
mind, here are some ordering guidelines:
Breakfast: Opt for
coffee (or tea) and a danish, bagel, croissant, or toast.
Don't order the Eggs Benedict, bacon and eggs, steak and
eggs, or all-you-can eat pancakes. Those are all too heavy
and too expensive. Keep it light and healthy. Stick with
items you'd find on a Continental Breakfast tray.
Lunch: Never order
something you can't pronounce. If you're taking an
important client to lunch, "case" the joint beforehand to
determine the best table and best menu choices. Never order
food that is difficult to eat, requires a lot of your
attention, or squirts, slurps, and makes a mess.
Best choices: Salads, grilled meat or fish, omelets, or
other low-attention foods.
Worst choices: Anything out of season (too frivolous),
lobster (too expensive and too much work), snails (same
reason), or any food with a lot of garlic or onion.
Dinner: Unless you're
socializing, try to avoid dinner invitations, particularly
if it's with someone you don't know well. Dinner is
open-ended. You can't look at your watch and say, "I have
to get back to the office." It's also presumptuous to think
that someone you don't know well would like to spend his or
her evening with you. Unless you have a set agenda and a
very good reason for meeting after 6 p.m., don't do it.
The only exceptions to this guideline should be if the
client (a) is from out of town, or (b) specifically suggests
it. Ask the client what time he'd like to dine. Don't assume he
eats dinner at the same time as you. Use the "best" and "worst"
choice ordering guidelines from the lunch suggestions,
Another word of advice about food: try to eat like a native
to the extent that your body will allow. If you travel around,
do try to adapt to the local food and lunching customs. If,
however, you're faced with the types of food that spawn
heartburn or indigestion, avoid them. Feeling bad anywhere-but
particularly on the road with no caring hands around--hampers
your business purpose.
What To Drink
The "two martini" lunch of yesteryear has been replaced by
bottled water and iced tea. Most businesses frown upon alcohol
consumption during work hours, and won't reimburse it on
expense accounts. Still, it is considered good manners to offer
a drink to a guest.
The best way to suggest something-and make it easy for
people to refuse alcohol-is to say, "Would you like something
to drink-wine, bottled water, juice?" Never make someone feel
uncomfortable for not drinking alcohol. If your guest orders a
bottle of wine instead of a glass, he should offer to pay for
it or give you his business on the spot-particularly if it's a
However you choose to proceed, remember that, "loose lips
sink ships". If you don't trust your alcohol-laden tongue not
to say something it shouldn't, don't laden it with alcohol.
What To Say
Ever been "pumped" for free advice at a cocktail party or
softball game? Ever had a potential client try to pick your
brain over lunch? Ever been galled that people seem to think
that you can be had for pastrami on rye?
So have I-and just about every other professional I know. If
the person you're talking to seems genuinely interested in your
advice, it's certainly appropriate to remind him that you are
usually paid for such information. Here are some suggestions on
how to do this:
"Your questions are very specific. May I assume that you
might be interested in hiring me?"
"I'm sure you realize that this is the type of
information I impart for a fee."
"What you are asking requires a lot more thought than I
can give off the top of my head right now. If you'd like to
pursue this further, I'd be happy to give you my business
"If you really want to know this, perhaps we need a
business relationship that is more formal than these
If they're truly interested, you may have landed yourself
some business. If they're freebie-seekers, you've politely told
them to get lost. A win-win situation all around.
Conducting business over a meal can be beneficial, but it
can also be tricky. Eat simple foods that don't require a lot
of your attention to consume, avoid alcohol, and don't "give
away the farm for free" -- give them your business card instead
and schedule an appointment. In short, use the time to build
your relationship with savoire faire to spare.
|Diana Pemberton-Sikes is a
wardrobe and image consultant and author of
Magic," an ebook that
shows women how to increase their income by
dressing appropriately for their line of work.
Visit her online at
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