Dining Etiquette (2019)

Dining Etiquette

Meal and Dining Etiquette

Dining and eating Etiquette are playing an important role in business communication and culture. In this blog, we explain all the Toasting and dining etiquette for professional behavior. 


First Impressions

When there is a large group of attendees at an event or formal dinner, there may be a receiving line to allow attendees to meet the host and guest of honor. Since all eyes are on the VIPs in a receiving line, it is important to avoid boisterous behavior in line. Keep your right hand free for a handshake, and move quickly through the line. Next, it is time to meet and mingle.


Savvy professionals take full advantage of this opportunity because they know it may be the only chance they have to talk with certain people.


Once seated, they are primarily responsible for talking with the persons to their right and left. It is inconsiderate to ignore one’s immediate dining partners in favor of those one deems more interesting or important across the table.


At the table, diners wait until all—or at least most—table companions are ready to sit down before they sit down themselves.


They allow the host to indicate where they should sit, or if there are place cards, they sit accordingly. Diners enter their chairs from the chair’s right side to avoid colliding with persons seated to their left.


In the business arena, where the focus is not on gender distinctions, men do not pull out women’s chairs or rise when they rise. However, if a woman (or a man) receives such treatment, she (or he) accepts it gracefully.


Once everyone is seated, guests wait for the host to remove his napkin from the table before doing so themselves. If the host neglects to do so once everyone is seated, diners may discreetly place their napkins in their laps. At fine restaurants, guests take in stride that servers may drape their napkins across their laps for them.


The request for a dark-colored napkin may seem reasonable to avoid lint on one’s clothes or lipstick or food stains on one’s napkin, but it is not advised. The restaurant may not be able to accommodate the request, and it could come across as a bit persnickety.


Posture at the table is important. Sit up straight, but not stiffly, with both feet on the floor. When engaging in conversation, turn your head, not your whole body, to the person with whom you are speaking.


Keep elbows and forearms off the table, and control nervous habits such as drumming fingers, tapping utensils against glasses, and excessively stirring drinks.


When drinks or food arrive, wait until the host lifts his glass or a utensil before lifting yours. The host may offer a welcoming toast, and often glasses are clinked, but this is not necessary at business meals.


Napkin Etiquette

A napkin, of course, goes in the lap. If it is a largely folded napkin, the crease goes toward the waist. A smaller napkin may lay flat in the lap. Never flap your napkin in midair to unfold it.


During the course of a meal, if you wish to take a sip of a drink after having taken a bite of food, dab the corners of your mouth with your napkin first.


This avoids the possibility of errant crumbs landing in or on the rim of the glass. Never tuck your napkin into your collar or belt or hoist your tie over your shoulder or tuck it into your shirt to protect it.


If you must leave the table for a moment, your napkin is placed on the seat of your chair, which indicates you are returning. 


Some people do not like the thought of placing a napkin where they and others have sat, and this is understandable. However, a soiled napkin placed back on the table can be unsightly for other guests.


The server may also infer from this place that you have left and proceed to clear your place setting. At an upscale restaurant, a napkin left on the chair will be quickly refolded by the server and replaced to the left of the plate or draped over the arm of the chair.


The most important thing to remember about napkins is to please use them! Licking your fingers or using the tablecloth to wipe them off is simply uncivilized behavior. Once the meal is finished, the host will place his napkin loosely folded to the left of the plate. Guests then do the same.



There are many different styles of eating around the world, but the styles encountered most often in the U.S. are the American and Continental. In the American style, the fork is held in the nondominant hand, which for most is the left hand, and the knife is held in the dominant hand.


The diner cuts his food, places the knife on the right side of the plate, blade facing in, and switches the fork to the other hand to eat. Food is scooped with the tines of the fork up.


Only one kind of food, such as meat, vegetable, or potato, is eaten at a time. The American style calls for the hands to be placed in the lap when not holding silverware


In the Continental style of eating, the utensils are held in the same fashion as in the American style, but after cutting, the food is speared or pushed onto the fork with the knife and is immediately brought to the mouth, tines of the fork down.


More than one kind of food can be on the fork, although the bite itself should not be too big. When resting between bites of food, the Continental style allows for the wrists to rest on the edge of the table.


The question about which style is preferred in the U.S.— American or Continental—comes up often. The answer is the style with which one is most comfortable. Many people like the Continental style because it seems elegant and efficient.


Others like the American style because the angle of the fork allows for greater ease in eating some foods, especially those that lend themselves to being scooped such as peas, rice, and corn. Either style is perfectly acceptable, as is alternating between the styles, depending on the food.


The order of the use of silverware is simple: Start with the utensil farthest from the plate. If the table has been set incorrectly, use the utensil you know is correct.


If you are missing a utensil, it is appropriate to ask for it. You can tell from the way the table has been set how many courses will be offered and in what order they will arrive.


For a three-course meal of soup, entrée, and dessert, you will find a soup spoon to the far right of your setting, a knife next to the soup spoon (to the soupspoon’s left but to the right of the plate), and a fork to the left of the plate.


Above the plate will be a dessert spoon with its handle to the right and directly below it, a dessert fork with its handle to the left. If you are ordering your own courses, the correct utensils will be brought to you for each course.


One of the most mentioned dining pet peeves is the way in which people hold their utensils. It is difficult to ignore someone holding a fork in a clenched fist or encircling its handle as if it were a flute.


Spoons are often held in similarly inappropriate manners, and some diners use their knives like saws. It may be challenging to overcome lifelong bad habits, but with practice, it can be done.


A spoon is held properly by placing the thumb on top of the handle at its widest part and placing the handle of the spoon between the first and second fingers. This allows one to spoon soup away and sip from the side of the spoon.


A fork starts out in the nondominant hand, tines down, with the forefinger on the back of the handle and the tip of the finger no farther down the handle than to where the handle and tines meet. If the fork is switched to the dominant hand, as in the American style, the tines are up, and the utensil is held as one would hold a pencil.


A knife starts out in the dominant hand for cutting. Similar to the way in which the fork is held, the forefinger comes down the back of the handle to no farther down than where the handle and the blade meet.


In the Continental style of eating, the knife is used to help secure food onto the fork. In the American style, the knife is placed down on the plate, blade facing in, and the fork is switched to the dominant hand to eat.


Once silverware is picked up from the table, no portion of it rests on the table again. If a diner wishes to rest between bites of food, the silverware is placed in a resting position. I favor a resting position of the inverted “V” with the tines of the fork facing right, tines down, and the blade of the knife facing left, blade in, as if to form a tent.


Some employ the resting style of the fork on the lower portion of the plate facing left, at about the 5 o’clock–8 o’clock position, and the knife on the upper portion, facing the same way at about the 2 o’clock–11 o’clock position.


Either position is fine as long as the server and other diners have a clue as to what someone is trying to signal with his silverware.


When you are finished eating, make this clear by placing the fork and knife next to each other, knife above the fork, with the blade facing in, in a 10 o’clock-4 o’clock position. The tines of the fork may be up or down. Most importantly, do not strew the silverware haphazardly about the plate.


The Crystal

The most important thing to remember about crystal is that if it has a stem, it is held by the stem. If it doesn’t have a stem, it is held by the glass, or bowl, in the middle to the bottom area, not near the rim.


A large-stemmed red wine glass may certainly be held near the base of the bowl to make sure it is steady, but a white wine glass is held in the middle of the stem to avoid warming the wine with the heat of the hand. Do not hold the wine glass by its base or cupped in the hand as you would a brandy snifter.


Seating and Conversation

The guest of honor, if there is one, is seated to the host’s immediate right. The second-ranking guest is to the host’s left. If there is a cohost, he sits at the opposite end of the table from the host, with third- and fourth-ranking guests to his right and left, respectively. All other diners are seated in the middle of the table.


The host speaks with the guest of honor first and at some point during the meal, “turns the table” to speak with the second-ranking guest. All other diners follow suit as well as they can, speaking with the available persons on either side of them.


While conversations between two people work best, there will occasionally be an uneven number of diners or odd seating configuration at the table. Sometimes several people will be involved in one discussion. If everyone remembers their primary conversation responsibilities, no one will be ignored or excluded.


Appropriate conversation topics over business meals are the same as they are for all business encounters. This means avoiding any that are potentially divisive or personal.


If you are upbeat, show genuine interest, listen well, and interject humor whenever possible, you will be a sought-after dining companion. Laughter, interest, and enthusiasm are all welcome at business meals. Boredom, negativity, and fatigue are not. You must “sing for your supper” or stay home.



If done well, toasting is an extraordinarily powerful tool. Unfortunately, business professionals miss countless opportunities to honor clients and colleagues with words of praise or thanks. Toasting is actually easier than you might think. It simply involves sharing a sentiment that is well thought-out, sincerely and briefly.


That’s it. Some people avoid making toasts because of the enormous pressure they feel it puts on them to be at once brilliant, original, and hysterically funny.


Even professional comedians and speakers can’t always hit that high a mark. Just remember to keep the spotlight squarely on the honoree when making the toast and you will relieve yourself of a great deal of pressure.



The host makes the toast. It occurs after the main course has been cleared, during the dessert course. The host stands and says, “May I have your attention, please?


The host invites attendees to raise their glasses. In the U.S., it is appropriate to toast with wine, champagne, or water. All raise their glasses in the direction of the guest of honor and do not clink their glasses among themselves. The honoree is the only person who does not raise a glass; it is incorrect to drink to oneself.


A The honoree reciprocates. A toast of thanks is offered to the host and to everyone who has attended by the honoree. All join in, raising their glasses to the host.



Challenging situations come up at every meal, and savvy diners handle them deftly. You should call as little attention to them as possible and ignore them if you can. Never embarrass a dining companion by belaboring an incident.



If you drop something on the floor, leave it there—whether food, silverware or a napkin. If the item is a hazard, such as a fork in the main traffic area, place it under the table. Do not use it or place it on the table again.


An If you find something inedible in your food, such as an olive pit, bone, or gristle, or worse, a bug or strand of hair, quietly bring it to the server’s attention. Do not upset dining companions by sharing this information.


If you have food stuck in your teeth, take a sip of water or quietly excuse yourself and tend to it in the restroom. If you see something on another’s lip, chin, or tooth, address discreetly. Point to your mouth with raised eyebrows or whisper the information.


An If you must cough or sneeze, turn away and down toward your elbow or over your shoulder. You needn’t leave the table unless you have a prolonged attack or need to blow your nose. Never use a napkin as a handkerchief, but if unavoidable, ask for a replacement.


An If you spill a beverage, right the glass, blot the spill, and ask for a clean napkin. Pick up spilled food with a clean spoon or knife, or fingers if necessary, and put it on the plate. Leave crumbs on the table; the server will attend to them.


If your guest drinks too much alcohol, be discreet. Quietly arrange with the server to not offer or pour any more alcohol. If you are not sure your guest can safely drive, insist on driving him home or call a cab.


Dining Do's and Don’ts

There are a number of telling behaviors in business dining situations that distinguish those who have taken the time to learn the intricacies from those who have not. Here are some important tips.



Remember, your bread plate is to the left of your plate, and your drinks are to the right. The acronym BMW, for bread, meal, and water, is a great way to remember this.


A Cut no more than one or two bites of food at a time. Take small bites and swallow any food in your mouth before taking a sip of a drink. Chew with your mouth closed. Once the food is on your utensil, put it immediately into your mouth.


  1. A Check coats and umbrellas when possible. Purses, briefcases, papers, eyeglasses, mobile phones, and medication should be kept off of tables.
  2. Avoid food choices that may be problematic to eat. Save lobster, ribs, and tacos for dining with friends and family. Familiarize yourself with the ways in which to eat various foods.
  3. A Pay with a credit card or a standing account. Do not pay with cash.



  1. Treat restaurant servers or staff disrespectfully. Executives often take prospective employees out to meals not to see how they treat them, but to see how they treat the servers.
  2. A Use your fingers to push food. Don’t slurp, burp, or smack your lips.
  3. A Announce your food likes, dislikes, allergies, or latest diet.


Never complain about the venue, the food, or the service, especially if you are a guest. Do not comment on food choice, offer dietary advice, or monitor consumption. Do not ask to taste others’ food.


  1. A Move or rearrange a place setting for your ease in eating.
  2. Do not wipe off spotty silverware or crystal, rotate your plate, or push your plate away at the end of the meal.
  3. A Ask for a doggie bag, whether host or guest


Throughout the meal, diners carefully and silently monitor the tempo and tenor of the meal to make good judgments about what to do next. If they notice that everyone has finished a course, they put their utensils in the finished position as well. If everyone else orders a drink, first course, and dessert, they do, too.


Of course, they do not have to order exactly what others order, but participating in all courses and drinks keeps the pace of the meal even and allows others to enjoy what they wish without fear of rushing or holding others up. the social side of the business


The social side of business encompasses everything from a cup of coffee to a five-course meal, and savvy business professionals are comfortable in all of these social situations.


Regardless of the formality of the event, the same guidelines for hosts and guests apply, as do all of the dos and don’ts of dining: Arrive early, do not use electronic devices, and correctly handle the silverware, crystal, and napkin. The only thing that changes is the venue.



Meeting a client or prospect for coffee is a modest investment of time and money and a great way to make introductions, further relationships, or discuss ideas in an informal setting.


Once, coffee was almost exclusively associated with the morning, but now virtually any time of day that works for your client is appropriate for coffee.


You can make this mode of entertainment special from the very beginning by picking your guest up at her office. You eliminate potential issues of transportation or traffic, which could affect arrival times, parking, and seating, and the bonus is that your guest will feel valued.


If you use your own car instead of a hired car, make sure it is spotlessly clean and odor-free. An additional nice touch is to have bottled water and possibly mints or hard candy available. A friend of mine in real estate does this and tells me that these small gestures are noticed and appreciated every time.


If picking your guest up is not feasible, ask her in advance what you can order for her. This saves time when schedules are tight. Arrive early to scope out a table.


In a self-serve environment, invite your guest to sit, then place and pay for your orders. Offer your guest both something to eat and drink and follow suit so she feels comfortable in partaking.


Choose a venue that is conducive to a business conversation. Meeting at a private club or café where the staff knows you, where good service is guaranteed, and where you can handle the bill out of sight is ideal. Engage in small talk until the coffee arrives, then introduce the business topic you want to discuss. Keep your voice low in places where you might be overheard.


Coffee is, of course, meant to be quick and casual. Ask your guest how much time she has, keep an eye on the clock, and let her know when the time for her departure approaches.


If the conversation is going well, she may extend it. If not, your guest will appreciate that you have been respectful of her schedule. As always, thank your guest for joining you.



More formal than coffee, breakfast is a great way to secure valuable in-person time with clients and prospects in a cost-effective, time-sensitive way. Clients are often more relaxed at breakfast, the challenges of the day not yet having consumed their attention.


And if your client happens to work on billable hours or has a hard stop at the end of the day, breakfast may be the only time you can see him. Breakfast is quieter and more personal than later meals, and the service is usually swift.


Breakfast meetings can begin as early as 6:30 A.M. and go as late as 8:30 A.M. If your guest orders something to eat, follow suit, but order foods that are manageable, quick, and healthful.


It will not go unnoticed if your guest has a nonfat yogurt with fruit and you have a breakfast of bacon, eggs, and home fries, with a tall stack of pancakes on the side!


Engage in small talk until the coffee comes, then switch to business. When the food arrives, either reintroduce casual conversation or keep the business topic going. Time is of the essence at breakfast meetings, and it is not incorrect to talk business throughout.



Lunch meetings are meant for relationship-building and business talk in equal measure. Lunch, more formal and more social than coffee or breakfast, is also more expensive and takes more time. It is a greater investment on the part of your client as well, a testament that you are worth the time!


Midday meals differ in other ways as well. Over lunch, a host offers his guest a cocktail or wine, although in the U.S. this offer will generally be declined.


The days of the three-martini lunch are long gone, and it is rare, but not unheard of, to drink alcohol at lunch. Still, in some parts of the country, and at some venues, the offer of beer or wine at lunch may be welcomed.


In cultures where drinking at lunch is customary, guests may also take you up on this invitation. Generally, it is best to make the offer, recognizing that you do not need to join in unless you want to. Never drink alcohol at lunch if your guest is not drinking.


Another way lunch differs from coffee or breakfast is the point at which the topic of business is broached. The host begins by engaging in small talk, transitioning to business talk after the meals are ordered and prior to their arrival.


Once the meal arrives, he reverts to lighter topics of conversation. Business talks may be picked up again after the main course over coffee.


When business talk is the main purpose of getting together, lunch in the boardroom, the executive dining room, or even the company cafeteria can make good sense.


Savvy hosts know that even these venues present golden opportunities for them to make great impressions on their guests. If food is delivered to a meeting room, having real glasses, plates, silverware, and napkins available make hosts stand out.


Guests notice and appreciate not having to grapple with plastic forks, flimsy paper plates, cracking plastic cups, and barely useable napkins. If lunch is in a cafeteria, a host walks through the food lines with her guest or meets him at the cashier to pay for their food.


A very nice touch is to arrange to have a company higher-up stop by the table to greet a special guest. A host would make the introduction and facilitate a brief conversation. It is one more chance to let a guest know how valued he is by the organization at all levels.



One of the best-kept secrets among business entertaining cognoscenti is afternoon tea. The ambiance of an elegant dining room overlooking a beautiful vista, with white linens on the table and gleaming silver tea service at the ready, is hard to beat.


Warm scones, crustless tea sandwiches, assorted sweets, and a reviving cup of freshly brewed tea form a welcome scenario for many a harried businessperson. Tea has all of the elements of a lavish entertainment experience, including sophisticated surroundings, superior service, and excellent food, but little of the expense.


Entertaining over tea reaps great personal branding rewards for hosts who are seen as creative, cultured, and respectful of others’ time. Afternoon tea is offered at venerable hotels and restaurants in almost all big cities, and most do a splendid job.



Hosts can make the most of the relatively brief time they have with clients over after-hours drinks by giving a great deal of thought to the venue. A good choice is a high-end restaurant where you are known to the staff.


There, you will be greeted and welcomed by name at the door and can introduce your guest to the restaurant captain. Your party can then be seated at a reserved table where complimentary cocktail accompaniments such as nuts and olives are often served and drink orders swiftly taken.


If your guest orders alcohol, you as host would follow suit but would limit your consumption to one drink. Sometimes a host may offer his guest another cocktail, but only after acknowledging the guest’s presumed time constraints.


If the guest is in no hurry and the host’s schedule allows, he may suggest dinner, for both hospitality and safety reasons. Too much alcohol on an empty stomach is a recipe for disaster, a scenario with which the host does not want to be associated.


The superb service, ambiance, and drinks in this setting make your guest feel honored and set the stage for a wonderful, enduring relationship.



Dinner is the most social of business experiences. It is also the one that involves the greatest investment of time and money. In the U.S., dinner with a client usually comes after a business relationship is well underway. But there is still a great deal to learn about business partners over dinners—their histories, their personal lives, and their goals.


There may be even more to learn that a host bargained for if alcohol is involved and inhibitions are lowered. Bonds are either cemented over business dinners—or permanently fractured. It makes sense to treat this opportunity with the kid gloves it deserves.


In addition to all of his other host responsibilities, at dinners, the host has one more: the ordering of wine.


This is a responsibility he undertakes not only because it’s his job, but also because there are risks associated with relinquishing the wine list. Countless sales reps have had to pay exorbitant bills after having trustingly invited their guests to choose the wine.


A host also orders the wine because he does not want to put undue pressure on his guest, who may be embarrassed to admit he knows little about wine.


A host should always be aware that when alcohol is involved, people often do and say things they regret or, worse, driving under the influence. A host must be keenly attuned to his guest’s condition and do all he can to allow him to save face without contributing to his intoxication.


This could mean quietly working with the server to stop offering alcohol or engaging in a lengthy dessert course with lots of coffee.


Dinners are an especially important part of entertaining international guests, who consider them the perfect opportunities to evaluate potential business partners.


However, among locally based associates, clients, or prospects, it’s important to remember that business dinners can cut into the precious family and personal time. If you are meeting a client on her home turf and it is anything but a working dinner, it is considerate to invite her spouse as well.



One of the most pleasurable aspects of business dinners and life, in general, is wine. Widely enjoyed, wine is still intimidating to many.


Lengthy wines lists, confusing terminology, vastly divergent prices, and the not-so-vague feeling that everyone knows more about the subject can send an otherwise confident business professional straight to the beer list.


While the knowledge of wine can be passionately pursued, you needn’t become a Master of Wine to do just fine with any wine list you encounter. This is very good news because this designation is very hard to come by.


Take heart, no one knows all there is to know about wine. Unencumbered by this pressure, you can instead educate yourself about wine and then blissfully enjoy it to your heart’s content. You can read books, take courses, and learn about wine categories. You can attend wine tastings, download apps, and subscribe to wine publications.


You can also ask to speak with a professional, as I did with Ashley Waugh, sommelier and general manager of the award-winning No. 9 Park restaurant in Boston, who kindly gave her imprimatur on the advice that follows.


These steps will enable you to know as much about wine, if not more, than the vast majority. And they will ensure you are never cowed by a restaurant’s wine list again.



Table wine. Known as still wines, they contain only the juice of grapes. Table wines are bottled after fermentation, the process that converts the sugar of juices to alcohol. In the U.S., table wines, which are drunk with foods, are 7 percent to 14 percent alcohol.


In Europe, table wine is defined as the most generic type of wine, sourcing grapes from all around the country. This type of wine cannot carry with it a varietal or region of origin on its label. Alcohol by volume (ABV) can range from 5 percent to 17 percent.


A Fortified wine. This wine is strengthened with brandy or a spirit during its fermentation and is popularly consumed as an accompaniment to dessert. Fortified wines are 16 percent to 23 percent alcohol.


A Aperitifs. These are flavored wines such as vermouth or Dubonnet. Aperitifs are often served before meals. Herbs, barks, roots, and other flavorings give aperitifs their distinctive flavors. Aperitifs are 15 percent to 20 percent alcohol.


The Regions

Excellent wines are found throughout the world. The most well-known regions include:


France. French wines are named for the regions from which they come. Bordeaux comes from Bordeaux, Burgundy from Burgundy, and Champagne from Champagne. Other regions include the Rhône River Valley for red wines and the Loire Valley and Alsace region for white wines.


Germany. German wines come from the valleys of the Rhine and Moselle rivers. Rhine wines, which come in brown bottles are full-bodied. Moselle wines, which come in green bottles, are light and off-dry. 


An Italy. Italian wines may come from Tuscany, Piedmont, or Sicily. Italian red wines include Chianti, Valpolicella, and Bardolino. Italian white wines include Soave and Orvieto.


The United States. American wines are named either for the grape (varietal) or the European wine they resemble.


Most American wine is made in California, although today wine is produced in all 50 states. Other well-known wine producing regions include Austria, Australia, Chile, Greece, Spain, Hungary, Switzerland, and Portugal.



White wines are usually ready to drink as soon as they are bottled. Exceptions include great wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy. Red wines require time to age properly, with the exception of Beaujolais Nouveau.


Wines from Spain, Portugal, and Italy may be ready to be consumed within a year or two, but fine French wines may need 10 years. Champagne is best when consumed between 10 and 15 years of bottling.


Ordering Wine

When ordering wine at a restaurant, always ask for the server or sommelier’s suggestions, regardless of your level of knowledge about wine. They will (or should) know which wines pair best with their menu selections. This way, you will get an excellent suggestion within your price range.


To do this, point directly to a wine on the list, and ask the server what she thinks of that particular wine with the meals that have been chosen. She now knows your price range. Even if she has a different suggestion, she will offer you one close in price to the one you pointed out.


Making sure the wine you are about to serve your guests is good requires you to take some steps. When the unopened bottle is presented to you at your table, first look at the label to ensure it is the wine and vintage you ordered.


Once opened, look at the cork. Be sure it is neither soaked through nor crumbling, as either could indicate an issue with the wine.


Once a small amount is poured for you to taste, swirl the wine with the base of the glass on the table, sniffing the wine, and then taste it. If all is well, the server will pour first for your guests and then for you.


How necessary are all these steps? The chance that the wine you ordered is bad is perhaps greater than you think. It is estimated that for wines with corks, anywhere from 2 percent to 10 percent have been “corked” or tainted.


This means they have been contaminated by a chemical compound known as TCA, created by fungi that infected the cork and seeped into the wine. You will know if a wine is corked by its musty or moldy smell. Wine can also be oxidized, or exposed to air, which gives it a vinegary smell.


It can be “cooked,” or exposed to heat, which makes it taste like stewed prunes. It can be refermented or could have undergone a second fermentation in the bottle, which leaves it fizzy or bubbly.


The proliferation of wines in bottles with screw tops and plastic stoppers have eliminated the chances they are corked, but these bottles can still be affected by improper handling and storage.


Screw tops and plastic stoppers do not imply inferior wine. Good wine is also found in boxes, although, as far as I know, boxes of wine have not yet found their way to the business dining table.


Do taste the wine, but put affectations aside. At a business dinner, don’t “chew” the wine or make audible noises or contorted facial expressions. If you suspect something is wrong with the bottle, politely ask the server, not your guest, to taste it.


At a reputable establishment, the server will take the bottle back without further ado even if he disagrees with your assessment.


However, you are not allowed to return a perfectly good bottle you chose on your own simply because you didn’t like the taste, especially if that bottle is half empty!


But if the server suggested it, and you truly do not like it, it is perfectly acceptable to let him know. A restaurant’s primary concern is its customers’ happiness. Besides, if it’s good, the wine will not go to waste.


White wine does not need to breathe and is best served chilled. Young red wines, those under eight years old, are strong in tannic acid and need to breathe or be exposed to air for an hour or more. Mature red wines need no more than 30 minutes to breathe, and very old reds may not need to breathe at all.


However, some sommeliers believe in advance decanting of some Burgundies and Barolos to allow them to “wake up” after long aging.


Red wine is served at cellar temperature. White wines are served before red wines; dry wines are served before sweet wines. Champagne may be served at any time before, during, or after the meal.


Wine pours vary from three to six ounces, and the size of the glass will have a bearing on how high it is filled. A red wine glass, which is usually larger than a white wine glass, is filled no more than halfway.


This allows the wine “nose,” or fragrance, to be captured in the empty space. A white glass may be filled one-third to two-thirds full, depending upon its size.


Traditionally, white wines were served with fish, chicken, pork, and veal, and red wines were served with meat, heavier dishes, and cheese. These rules have been relaxed to accommodate personal preferences. But as you educate yourself about wine, learning about tried and true food and wine pairings will be helpful.


Of course, not everyone drinks wine. If you happen to be one of those individuals and are hosting a business meal, still offer your guest wine, but suggest she order it by the glass or employ the server to make a recommendation.


You need never explain nor apologize for not drinking alcohol, whether for health, religious, or personal reasons. Instead, order what you’d like. If you would prefer not to have to fend off questions, have sparkling water with lime. No one will know it’s not a gin and tonic.


If you do drink wine, familiarize yourself with wine terminology: vintage, varietal, acid, tannins, balance, body, nose, legs, etc. Know what dry, fruity, chewy, oaky, earthy, buttery, and velvety mean. Learn how to pronounce wine names.


Not a wine drinker? Not to worry. Drinking beer is fine at many restaurants, especially casual venues that serve burgers, ribs, or pizza. If this is your choice, drink your beer from a glass that is filled in one pour, not from a bottle or can that is left on the table.


But at fine restaurants when everyone else is drinking wine or alcohol, you may decide to sip sparkling water instead of standing out from the group by drinking a beer.



  1. If you are a participant, strictly adhere to the guidelines for attire and play for the event. Your good sportsmanship will be under the microscope.
  2. If your guest is a participant, let him know ahead of time what equipment he will need, what to wear, who else might be accompanying you, and how long the event will take.
  3. If you and your guest are arriving separately, deliver your guest’s ticket to his office on the day of the event or meet at a designated time and place and hand the prepaid ticket to your guest. Do not pay for any fees or tickets in your guest’s presence.
  4. If talking business, take your guest’s lead. She may just want to enjoy the event and save business discussions for another time.


Cultural Events

If you know your guest particularly enjoys cultural events, selecting a concert, a play, a symphony, or an opera will boost you into the business entertainer hall of fame. Scoring hard-to-find tickets demonstrate your thoughtfulness and generosity, and also your ingenuity and influence.


Arrange for dinner beforehand, and attend to your guest’s comfort throughout the event to create an experience—and relationship— for the ages.



A manager due to speak at an employee awards dinner had had, unbeknownst to her boss, too much to drink. When she was called to the stage to recount the accomplishments of one of the award recipients, she stumbled up the stairs, seeming to barely make it to the podium.


There, she immediately launched into a roast of the honoree with rambling, inappropriate remarks, laughing uncontrollably at her own jokes. When no one laughed with her, she told the assemblage to “lighten up.”


The manager then abruptly shifted her tone and began to engage in an overly emotional tribute to the award winner, choking up tearfully as she described his character and accomplishments.


After thoroughly embarrassing herself and her audience, she was escorted off the stage. All eyes were on her as she walked out of the event, her grim-faced boss beside her. She was not fired on the spot, but her position was eliminated a relatively short time afterward.



You’ve outdone yourself in the business entertainment arena. Now it’s time to kick back and enjoy yourself with your colleagues. After a long week, quarter, or year, you look forward to meeting up at a local watering hole or attending a company-sponsored party or event.


You’ve earned this chance to let your hair down with team members and possibly even take advantage of face time with company higher-ups. What could possibly go wrong?


Whenever we are with our colleagues, our brands are on display. And whenever alcohol is served, our good judgment and professionalism are on display, too.


Socializing with colleagues in a setting that sounds, tastes, looks, and feels like a party lulls employees into thinking it is a party. In fact, it is the most treacherous professional terrain they will ever encounter.


The boss who hits on his subordinate, the employee who complains about his salary, the employee who spreads gossip to sabotage a coworker, the employee who belligerently argues his political views, the two teammates who conspicuous flirt then mysteriously disappear—none of this goes unnoticed.


At formal company events, employees who accept an invitation and don’t attend, or don’t formally accept and do attend (sometimes with uninvited guests), are as problematic as those who come too early, too late, or dressed inappropriately— or who spend the entire evening on their electronic devices.



A Respond promptly to an invitation. Go if you have accepted.

A great deal of time, effort, and expense are involved in any event. To cancel at the last minute or to skip the party entirely (except in the case of an emergency) is extremely inconsiderate.


Do not ask to bring a guest. If you are invited to bring a guest and do, his behavior and dress reflect on you. A preparty briefing about who’s who and what you hope to accomplish is time well spent.


Greet hosts and senior persons. Do not involve them in lengthy conversations, however, as they need to circulate among all of the guests. Take the opportunity to talk with those you may not see on a daily basis.


Be enthusiastic! Participate in the event’s activities, and encourage others to do so as well. But remember, it is not your job to be the “life of the party.” Email or send a note of thanks to the host the next day. It will be appreciated and perhaps the only one he receives.


Many times impromptu social events will pop up such as drinks with colleagues, casual dinners, and activities such as shopping, walks, and bike rides. The advice is to consider going to as many of these as you can without impacting your work-life balance.


They represent terrific ways to bond with coworkers, glean useful information, and generally keep up with what’s happening within the organization.


Expenses associated with such occasions are not normally covered by the company, so be prepared to pay an equal share, even if you are not drinking alcohol.


Never become the company freeloader. At after-hours drinks with their team, one colleague was always the first to grab the check and divvy up the amount due per person.


All contributed their fair shares, no questions asked, until one day someone noticed that the “banker” was the only one who did not contribute to the bill. He also kept the change for himself! Needless to say, this was the last time he was in charge of the bill. No word on whether he was invited for drinks again.


We’ve learned how much skill is associated with business dining and entertaining. We may have been swayed to consider that there could be life outside of cyberspace and that interacting face-to-face might actually be enjoyable.


In fact, we may just be encouraged enough to put our electronic devices down, at least for a moment, and bask in the warmth of real-life smiles.