Other than grabbing a bite to eat or heading out to dinner with friends, whenever a dining invitation is extended your way a couple of things may pop into your mind: “What do they want?” or “What’s in it for me?” Even when the answers are not obvious, always be prepared to be the “guest that’s the best” and your host will know they made a good choice in choosing you!
The three top reasons you may be invited to a business luncheon/dinner (hint –per Ms. Pamela Eyering, President and Director of The Protocol School of Washington® “It’s never because they think you are hungry.”)
2. To get to know you better. This is can be a beginning to a great business relationship, a job interview or promotion. People will take note of how you handle yourself. Do you contribute to the conversation? How do you treat wait staff? What do your table manners say about you?
3. To contribute something. This may be as simple as being a guest that adds value to group dynamics or you may be asked for a favor or to participate in an endeavor.
No matter the reason, here are some simple tips to give you poise and confidence and set you apart from others. When you are at ease you help put others at ease.
Arrive on Time
Being punctual is being respectful of other people’s time. On time is usually not more than 5 minutes early but never ever late. If the venue is a restaurant, reservations are being held for you and you may be keep other guests waiting as well. If you can’t avoid the unavoidable, contact your host and advise them of your arrival time.
Introduce Yourself to Others
Once you have been greeted by your host, feel free to mingle and introduce yourself to other guests. Usually a host will introduce you to a couple of people to get you integrated into the group. If this does not happen (your host may be very busy) introducing yourself to others indicates you can hold your own in a group and you are interested in others…which takes us to…
Be a Good Conversationalist and a Great Listener
Be prepared to engage in small talk, ask open questions about others and then listen. Most everyone has a favorite topic—themselves. If you are talking 50% of the time, you are probably talking too much. Avoid the top three no-no’s for discussion: politics, religion and sex. Other subjects to avoid are diets, health, gossip and anything negative. Remember good eye contact and, of course, never ever talk with food in your mouth. Speaking of table manners….
Mind Your Table Manners
The more crisp your table manners, the more poised and sophisticated you will appear. No one wants to be next to or observe a bore at the table. Often correct table manners are a matter of not knowing. Don’t be the one that doesn’t know because the ones that do know will know that you don’t know and that can impair your ability to make connections, establish relationships and be someone that others want to get to know better. Become familiar with place settings, napkin placement, styles of eating – American and Continental. Know what foods are OK to eat with your fingers and other details that matter.
Send a Thank You Note Promptly
Alas, thank you notes have become rare these days. Send a thank you by email and you may surprise your host. Send it by mail and you will surprise and delight! Always go for the surprise and delight –it is so worth it. To make it easy to send your thank you in a timely manner, address your envelope before you attend the event and write your note immediately after—then mail it! How to write a memorable thank you note, you ask? Instead of beginning with “Thank you for…” write something similar to “I felt special when…” “Your special touch of ____ was a highlight of the evening”, “I will always remember…”, “You really know how to…” You get the picture.
Being a great dining guest is so much more than just which fork to use. It encompasses the entire interpersonal experience of everyone. To underline the importance of etiquette, author Harvey Mackay, author of Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, says “They don’t teach etiquette much anymore, but if you ever have to choose between “Incredibly Advanced Accounting for Overachievers” and “Remedial Knife and Fork” head for the silverware.
Carolle Wells Vargas is Executive Protocol Director of Your Etiquette Style, a prominent business protocol and etiquette training company in Jacksonville, Florida.