Business dining is more than just a meal

Published March 4, 2012

A business meal is never just about the food. It may be about the drink. If you're a job applicant or ambitious employee, you should treat with care any job interviews or business meetings conducted over a meal. They're only partly social situations. They're also ways to evaluate your personality, how you treat others, your conversation and your manners. The basic reminders:

• Always defer to the host, the boss or the interviewer in choosing a seat, ordering or leaving the table.

• If there's a menu with a wide price range, ask what entrees your host/boss suggests.

• Choose something easy to eat. Struggling with slippery spaghetti can be a problem when you're trying to converse.

• Keep the conversation light until the host/boss turns it to business.

• Be kind to servers.

• Don't dig in before everyone is served. And watch your body language so that you're not hunched over your food or shoveling it in.

• If something is seriously wrong with the food, be polite when you request a change. If it's only a small problem, ignore it and go with the flow.

• Napkin in lap, of course.

• No talking with food in your mouth!

• If alcohol is served and the host/boss is drinking and urges you to join in, it's fine to order something. Drink it slowly. You also may decline without comment.

• If the host/boss doesn't give a clue about whether he or she will be drinking, pass until you're pressed to join in. Then use the same pricing judgment you applied to the meal order — nothing too expensive.

• If you're worried that food is stuck in your teeth, it's better to excuse yourself to the restroom than to pull out a mirror at the table. (And women: No makeup application at the table.)

• Remember throughout the meal to maintain eye contact with the others at the table. Spread your attention around if it's a group situation.

• Your goal at the table is to be a pleasant, interesting guest or companion — someone they'd like to eat with again. That's what wins hiring or co-worker points.