New Professional? Don’t Make These Rookie Business Dining Etiquette Mistakes!

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business dining etiquette

It’s amazing how a $200,000 education often neglects the business basics that really make a difference. Unless you have your GPA tattooed on your forehead and a t-shirt with all your knowledge, your “brand” is more frequently broadcast by your appearance, interactions and demeanor.

I wanted to explore some business dining etiquette while dining in the professional world. Some of this guidance may seem a bit subjective but none the less, is what many seasoned, top notch professionals will take note of.

Just Valet It!

If you are dining out in a city environment, where parking may be an issue, don’t spend 20 minutes circling the block looking for a free spot. Pay the valet (or tip the valet) and stop worrying about where you are going to park.

First, this will save yourself the time, stress and aggravation of finding a parking spot. Don’t try to show off your parallel parking skills or the secret alley that no-one in the city knows about… just valet it and save yourself the energy.

Secondly, if your colleague, boss or client is in the car with you, they might be hoping you will just valet it and make this as easy as possible.

Don’t Ask About Prices

First sign of an amateur is when they ask the price of anything. Whether it is embarrassingly asking a bar-tender how much a drink is while they order a pre-dinner cocktail or asking the waiter what the market price is on the Alaskan King Crab, asking for the price is a sign that you don’t belong at the establishment.

Even worse is making a comment about the prices when the check comes!

Order a Drink Not a Beer

This might be more on the subjective side, but if you are at a nice dinner for business, order a cocktail or glass of wine instead of a beer. This is obviously different if you are going out after work strictly for a drink or two, or if you are at a brew-pub for dinner.

But at a nice restaurant, when your fellow diners are ordering alcoholic beverages, start with something other than the hops. This is more like a “veteran” mistake than a rookie one and again, can be more subjective (and depends on if you choose to drink or not).

Watch What You Order

At a leadership dinner with six colleagues, at a pretty nice restaurant last year, everyone was ordering steaks, veal chops or creative pasta dishes. Everyone except one guy. He asked for the cheeseburger. It didn’t fit in with the tone of the dinner. Another thing to consider is the specialty of the restaurant. If you are at the city’s best seafood establishment, maybe you opt for something that swims versus something that walks.

Lastly, if you are going to be taking notes or need to make some type of presentation on your iPad, be careful what you order… in this case you probably don’t want to order the BBQ ribs.

Tip Service Providers

You need to tip appropriately. I have heard horror stories of even some of the wealthiest and most famous people who fail to appropriately tip. I think this is unprofessional, unethical and says a lot about who you are.

Tip 20% on your tabs unless the service was really that bad, where you should tip 15%. This is your waiter’s or waitress’ livelihood. Tip your valets and your coat checkers. Not only is it the right thing to do, but the people you are dining with are watching you. If you can’t follow basic etiquette when people are waiting on you, why would these people want to join your team or have you watch over their accounts?

Ending the Meal

You don’t have to spend the entire dinner discussing business. It can be a great time to learn about the outside interests of the people you are dining with and build a better relationship. When you are done with your entrée, simply put your silverware across your plate on a diagonal, with the ends slightly off the plate at about the 4 or 5 clock position. This is the signal to the wait staff that you are done.

While the dessert comes or you wait for the check, make sure you lock down next steps to keep momentum going in the relationship or business cycle.

Lastly, if you did not pick up the check, send a thank you card in the mail the following day if it’s a rather new relationship.

Dinner Photo via Shutterstock

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Personal Branding Blog The Personal Branding Blog is part of the Small Business Trends Publisher Channel, offering branding and career advice from Dan Schawbel and his team of experts. The blog helps professionals build a powerful brand to remain competitive in the job market.

6 Reactions
  1. Great tips!

    And, speaking of tips…I always leave at least 20% unless the server was snippy or just plain weak.

    First off, it’s the right thing to do. Servers are paid around $3 an hour.

    Secondly, I was a server myself. I know what it’s like to wok in the restaurant business..

    The Franchise King®

    • Martin Lindeskog

      Joel: How long ago? Where? 🙂

      I always gave a good tip at restaurants (and coffee places, bars, etc.) when I was living in Troy, OH. But here in Sweden, it is not “possible” for many reasons…

      I like the tip of the thank-you card.

  2. Thanks for the post.

    For me, if I went dining with someone in the business world, I’d want them to be themselves. I’d want to know who I’m dealing with – the person. That’s more important to me than what they choose to eat or drink.

  3. why would i leave a 20% tip . for example if the check was 1000 $ or more is it possible to give the waiter or the server 200 $ !!!

  4. My husband and I are huge food junkies and we love to try different types of restaurants in our area here ins Layton, UT. We love how you talked about tipping and how it is appropriate to tip 20% since it is usually the livelihood of the waiter/waitress. We will keep these tips in mind as we search for a professional Mexican grill in our area.

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