Chow Down on These 20 Dos and Don’ts for Business Dinner Etiquette

Chow Down on These 20 Dos and Don'ts for Business Dinner Etiquette

Despite the opportunities for networking and planning, business dinners can also be tricky if you trample basic taboos. (And this is not just about knowing which one is the salad fork!) So before you go to your next business dinner, check out these top tips for business dinner etiquette.

Business Dinner Etiquette Do’s and Don’ts

DO Show Up on Time

As with any other business function, you need to show up on time to business dinners. Plan to be there a few minutes early, just in case. And if you’re hosting, it’s a good idea to get there about 15 minutes early.

DON’T Show Up Hungry

Yes, you’re going to a restaurant that serves food. But you don’t need to gorge yourself while your colleagues discuss important issues. So eat a little snack beforehand or plan out your meals so you don’t leave too much time before your dinner. That way, you can eat a moderate amount and still focus on the business part of the dinner.

DO Dress Appropriately

For business dinners, you should dress the way you would for any other work function, unless your host specifies otherwise. Generally, it’s a good idea to keep it business casual.

DON’T Assume Dining Customs

Especially if you’re dining with people from other countries or cultures, it’s always best to ask what they’re comfortable with before making any decisions, if you’re the one hosting.

DO Silence Your Cell Phone

Before heading into your business dinner, make sure your phone is off or silenced so you don’t interrupt the conversation. And keep it in your bag or pocket the entire dinner.

DON’T Sit Down First

When you arrive, don’t immediately sit down. Take the time to greet people and then wait for your host to sit down. And if you’re the one hosting, just make sure you’ve greeted everyone who’s there before sitting.

DO Shake Hands With Everyone

It’s also important for you to personally greet and say hi to everyone in attendance. Give them a quick but firm handshake and a friendly greeting.

DON’T Bring Up Sensitive Topics

When the conversation starts, don’t bring up sensitive items like religion or politics out of the blue. Generally, it’s best to keep the conversation to business and light personal topics.

DO Pour Water for Others

If there’s water on the table, make sure you pour it for others before filling your own glass. At least ask those in your immediate area if they’d like some. And then pass it down the table to others if necessary.

DON’T Order Alcohol First

Alcohol can be a tricky at business dinners. If you’re just attending, only order a drink if your host does so first. And if you do, keep it to one. If you are the host, it’s up to you. But consider your guests first before making a decision.

DO Put a Napkin on Your Lap

It’s also important for you to observe basic manners during your meal. For example, put your napkin on your lap at the beginning of the meal and keep it there until you’re done eating.

DON’T Order the Most Expensive Item

It may be obvious to say, but it’s important to be considerate of others — especially your host. So don’t order the steak or lobster unless you’re picking up the check.

DO Take Note of What Others Order

When considering what to order, it can be a good idea to ask others what they plan on ordering or just pay attention as the server goes around the table. You don’t want to get something that’s a complete outlier.

DON’T Order Messy Foods

And always stay away from messy foods like spaghetti or greasy burgers. Stick with something simple like chicken so you don’t end up with pasta sauce all over your tie or burger sauce all over your hands.

DO Wait for the Host to Start Eating

You also don’t want to dig into your food before everyone else. A good rule of thumb is to wait for your host to start eating before you do. And if you are the host, just make sure everyone at the table has their food before you get started.

DON’T Eat Too Fast

Business dinners are usually full of conversation. So don’t stuff your face until your plate is empty. Take small bites and converse with people in between.

DO Try Everything on Your Plate

But don’t leave a ton of food on your plate at the end of the night. You don’t have to finish everything. But you should at least try every item. If you just eat all of the chicken and leave the vegetables, you might come across as unsophisticated.

DON’T Cut Everything at once

It’s also a good idea to cut your food into bite-sized pieces as you go, instead of cutting up everything at once. This is more polite and also forces you to take breaks to converse with people as you enjoy your food.

DO Thank Your Host

Of course, at the end of the night it’s important for you to thank your host personally for inviting you. And if you are the one hosting, thank everyone for attending.

DON’T Argue Over Payment

At business dinners, the one who set it up and invited everyone is responsible for picking up the check and paying the tip. So don’t argue over who is going to pay. If you’re an attendee, simply thank the host. And if you’re the host, politely decline if anyone else offers to pay.

Business Dinner Photo via Shutterstock

Annie Pilon Annie Pilon is a Senior Staff Writer for Small Business Trends and has been a member of the team for 12 years. Annie covers feature stories, community news and in-depth, expert-based guides. She has a bachelor’s degree from Columbia College Chicago in Journalism and Marketing Communications.