Table manners

Talking work at lunch more popular than ever

Posted: Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Working lunches are becoming more common in today's business world. These events can provide opportunities to bond with colleagues, clients and potential bosses. However, the relaxed atmosphere of a business lunch does not mean you should relax your behavior - it's crucial to adhere to the standards of etiquette and even follow additional rules that are specific to work lunches.

"It's believed that 40 percent of all business is made over a meal, so it's extremely important to have good manners because it's part of the first impression that you give that person," says Jacqueline Whitmore, author of "Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work" (St. Martin's Press, $19.95). Whitmore also runs The Protocol School of Palm Beach, a company based in Palm Beach that specializes in etiquette and protocol training for executives.

Here are two guiding points from experts to help you through your next work lunch:

Tip:If you're the host, plan the lunch during an off time- like 11:30 a.m. or 1 p.m.- to lessen an awkward wait and minimize crowds.

1. The host with the most. If you're hosting the lunch - that is, if you did the inviting - there are specific duties expected of you. First, you are in charge of choosing the lunch location. A good place to start is by asking your lunch partner what type of food they like - this can help you narrow down your choices and is a good way to learn whether they have any diet restrictions.

After you've narrowed down your choices, choose the restaurant you are most familiar with.

"It needs to be a place that you're sure of," says Beverly Y. Langford, author of "The Etiquette Edge: The Unspoken Rules For Business Success" (AMACOM, $14.95). "It's even better if they know who you are - that gives a little extra prestige."

As the host, your guests look to you for cues once you're seated. Similarly, if you're invited to a work lunch, take the lead from your host.

"The host leads the way, so in other words, the guests should not start eating or take their napkin off the table until the host does," Whitmore says.

If you're the host, let your guests order first, but order the same number of courses your guests do - that way, no one is ever eating a course by themselves.

For a guest, knowing what price range to order from can be a little tricky. The host can make that easier on their guests by giving them a subtle clue.

"The host can say, 'I hear the filet mignon is good,' and then the guest looks it up on the menu and sees, 'Oh, that's $30, I guess I can order in that range,'" Whitmore says.

As the host, stick to ordering food and drinks in the menu's middle price range.

"The host should not order the most or least expensive item," Whitmore says. "You don't want to be perceived as cheap or stingy, or extravagant and showing off."

The host also takes care of all the expenses - that includes the check, tip, coat check, and parking or valet.

"It's always a good idea to let the wait staff know ahead of time to bring the check to you," Langford says.

2. Mind your manners. The general rules of dining etiquette apply to work lunches - don't eat with your mouth full, use the correct silverware for each course, and do not take a phone call at the table.

Some well-known rules of etiquette do not apply to work lunches, however.

"During business meals it's not necessary for a man to pull out a woman's chair," Whitmore says. "It is also not necessary to stand when a woman leaves the table."

Seeing someone you know at the restaurant can be a tricky situation - do you invite him or her over to say hello, or just wave to them from across the room? The rule of thumb is to try to make your interaction as little an interruption as possible.

"If you're with someone, don't stop and talk. If they stop at your table, introduce them, say it's a real pleasure to see them, but don't invite them to join you. And never engage in lengthy conversation, especially in topics the other people at the table have no connection to," Langford says.

- Marla Caceres

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