Mind your manners Featured

9:39am EDT July 22, 2002

It’s always a tough decision. Do you try to spear that cherry tomato on your salad plate and risk shooting it across the table?

If there’s a business deal at stake, you’re probably better off leaving it alone or learning how to safely corral the little red menace.

It sounds trivial, but the fact of the matter is etiquette faux pas can ruin weeks of negotiations. Your dining etiquette is a direct reflection of you and your organization.

“Etiquette is extremely important, especially if it’s with international clients,” says Sue Fox, president of Etiquette Survival Inc. and author of “Etiquette for Dummies.” “There is tons of business being done over meals. It is a product of our overworked society. What you need to do if the meeting is important is to follow the Boy Scout motto and be prepared.”

  • Find out if your clients or customers have any special food needs. Are they vegetarian? Find out where they are staying and choose a restaurant near their hotel.

  • Try to frequent a restaurant where you are known so you’ll get better service.

  • Call ahead and make arrangements for a quiet table. If you are the host, give the manager your credit card number in advance, and, if possible, sign for the meal. This makes the whole event run smoother and eliminates any possible bickering over the bill.

  • Don’t talk business until after you are done eating the main entree. The only exception is if your guest brings it up first.

  • Don’t order food that is difficult to eat, such as spaghetti.

  • Be prepared with small talk about current events or other topics.

  • Turn off your technology, including cell phones and beepers.

  • Don’t put anything on the table, including sunglasses and keys. The only thing that should be on the table are the plates and the meal. Once the business discussion starts, it’s acceptable to bring out papers and other related materials.

  • Learn more about proper etiquette. Sticking a napkin in your shirt and talking with your mouth full might be accepted at your mother-in-law’s, but it’s not going to help you win any business deals.

  • Greet your guess at the door, which means arriving early. Walk in ahead of them, lead them to the table and indicate where everyone should sit. You may want certain people in specific spots, but always give the best seat to the most important client.

And here are Fox’s five worst mistakes that can be committed during a business meal:

1. Drinking too much alcohol.

2. Having a long cell phone conversation at the table.

3. Showing up late.

4. Spilling something on your client.

5. Dominating the conversation.

How to reach: Sue Fox, www.etiquettesurvival.com. Fox’s etiquette advice columns are also available at www.officeclick.com.

Todd Shryock (tshryock@sbnnet.com) is SBN’s special reports editor.