American Business Meal Manners
USINFO | 2013-08-12 11:12

Phyllis Davis (Business Etiquette Consultant) gives expert video advice on: Who should pay for a business meal?; Who should decide where to go for a business meal?; What should I order or not order at a business meal? and more...
What is a 'business meal'?
Well, America is one of the few countries in the world that talk about business over meals. The business meal is a very interesting phenomenon, we're cowboys, the world thinks were cowboys, and the thought of discussing business at a first-time luncheon in China or the Middle East is considered obscene. Whereas in many parts of old money in Europe, they're there to get to know you. They're there to get to know if they want to do business with you at all. They want to know what your interests are, they want to know about your family. Things that we would consider to be very personal aspects of information today, in American business.
Who should pay for a business meal?
Well, if you go out with your friends at lunch you should agree before you go who should pay for this business meal. You can agree to go Dutch, but just don't assume someone's going to pick up the check. However. if I'm taking a client out to dinner, I'm paying.
Who should decide where to go for a business meal?
In deciding where to go for a business meal, if you cant afford to say "Where would you like to go?" in case they may say The Ivy, or some place that's very expensive that you cant afford to take them, it's OK to suggest a place a place to go, that's somewhere you can afford to take them. You can suggest to go to Houston's, or someplace that's a nice restaurant, that allows good ambiance and good service that's not too attentive. But scope out somewhere and find out where you can go for a business meal, where you can actually have a good long business chat, and where you can afford to take someone. And if your company does offer you a carte blanche and give you a business card, then feel free to ask them where they would like to go. And if they're people of a certain age and they're retired from business life and you're entertaining them, you may also ask if you'd like to pick them up instead of meeting you at a restaurant, especially if it's at night. Oftentimes people of a certain age don't enjoy driving at night when on their way to a business meal.
What are my responsibilities when I am invited to a business meal?
If you are invited to a business meal you have responsibilities as well. You have to first of all think are they paying for it or is their company paying for it, if they ask you for a recommendation. You have to get back to them and RSVP in plenty of time so that they know that you are accepting their invitation. You have a responsibility at a business meal to find out the dress code and show up on time. Be sure and thank them. If they call you to follow up, give them the courtesy of following up with them and thanking them after the business meal for their time and trouble to treat you.
What should I order or not order at a business meal?
You should be careful not to order anything that requires a bib. Nothing that requires tongs such as lobster, crab or spaghetti is appropriate at a business meal. I eat very simple things when I dine. Ravioli is great because you just need to cut it and it's real easy. Salads can sometimes even be dangerous if its got too much information. Everybody's afraid of that dreaded cherry tomato, which we'll talk about in Dining Manners. But things that are simple to eat are appropriate at a business meal - soups are simple to eat. We're there to do business after all. I cant tell you the number of times I've had a Power Bar in the car on the way to a business dinner, because I'm there to work. And yes, Ill order food and then Ill eat very lightly. I wouldn't offend anyone if they're buying me an expensive dinner, but I'm still there to do business and Ill never forget that. Order simple things that are easy to eat, easy to cut and easy to chew.
How many courses is appropriate for a business meal and how much should my meal cost?
I always stay in a mid-price range of everything within a business meal. I know that if you go to a five star restaurant, and there aren't that many five star restaurants in the world, you must know that then it's OK to order a soup or an appetizer, and a salad and an entrée and dessert. But be prepared to be there for two hours. Now, the American culture is used to eating and being up and out in an hour. An hour and a half meal is a long time for people today. But, if you really want to develop a rapport with someone, take them to an hour and a half business lunch, and order either a soup or a salad or an appetizer before your entrée. And keep it in a mid-price range. And what I mean by mid-price is between twelve and twenty five dollars. Do not start ordering something that's over twenty five dollars, as it's a little pricey for people if they're paying for it themselves.
Is it appropriate to order alcohol at a business meal?
In the old days, in the 70s, at a business meal it was a 3-martini lunch. That was not uncommon for people. Alcohol was consumed far more than it is today in business meals. Business is a contact sport today so people are there to work hard. I don't think a drink in the middle of the day is appropriate at a business meal. However, I think if you'd like a drink or a glass of wine at a business meal, it's perfectly appropriate, but only if your client or the customer that you're calling on orders one. If they order one and you drink, feel free to order one. If you don't drink, which many people don't in business today, then order iced tea or iced water and invite your client or customer to feel free to order a glass of wine. You don't need to match your client, drink for drink. If they want to drink too much at a business meal, that's up to them. It makes it uncomfortable for you but it happens.
Is drinking etiquette at a business dinner different from a business lunch?
Drinking etiquette at a business dinner is different to drinking etiquette at a business lunch. Many people today in business order a drink before the business dinner-what we used to call highball, an old-fashioned, a scotch and water, a vodka tonic, a margarita. They order something and then, if you want to order a glass of wine with dinner, I think it's okay. But, if you start talking about ordering a drink before dinner, a glass and a half of wine during dinner, and then an aperitif or brandy after dinner, that's too much alcohol on a business meal. So, make your drinking decisions according to how well you tolerate alcohol. And you want to create trust, remember. If you're taking someone out on a business meal to manage their personal finances or to sell them massive amounts of life insurance, then it might be a problem if they think you drink too much. They might doubt your self-control, your impulse control.
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