10 Tips to Avoid Business Lunch Faux Pas

Group diningA Human Resources VP recently asked me to draft guidelines for their employees to use when hosting business meetings over meals because of the bad experiences their clients and associates were having, something that organizations cannot afford.

Over many years as a Certified Image Professional and Etiquette Expert, I have noticed that problems usually arise because there isn’t much thought or advance planning involved in the process- a lot is done “on the fly.”  Coupled with that, people are not having as many meals around a table, so common knowledge of social graces and dining etiquette has declined, something that I’ll talk about at another time.

Start with these key tips – there are always more!

  1. Create a list of recommended restaurants for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This list should alleviate most problems with budget restraints. Choose restaurants that have good track records for food and service, and if needed, an atmosphere conducive to quiet conversation. Select venues that have a broad menu that could accommodate dietary requirements such as vegan, gluten free, etc. If there is a budget for alcoholic beverages, include guidelines for beer and wine as well.
  1. Make specific reservations. Ask for a quiet table away from any distractions.  Make sure the table is free for the full time you expect that you’ll be dining, plus a buffer, in case your table has a second sitting booked.
  1. Arrive 15 minutes early and don’t touch anything on the table until your guest is present. When your guest arrives, stand, offer to take their coat, and seat them in the best chair at the table, preferably facing the room, so that they are not looking at a bright window and trying to see your face.
  1. Match your guest’s beverage and food orders. If your guest orders a drink, order one for yourself to keep the person company. The same thing goes for an appetizer or dessert.  If they order an alcoholic drink and you don’t wish to imbibe, without commenting, simply order a soft drink or mocktail.
  1. Set your client’s mind at ease regarding price. If price is not an issue, you can subtly indicate this with something like, “If you like beef, I really enjoyed the filet mignon the last time I was here.”
  1. Be careful about business items at the table. The more formal the dining establishment is, the less likely that it is appropriate to use large electronic devices or files at the table. The restaurant may have a private area that you could use, so as not to inconvenience other guests.
  1. Take care of your guest’s needs. Don’t complain generally about the food, the restaurant or the wait staff in the presence of your guest. However, do inquire if your guest is enjoying their meal and promptly deal with any concerns.
  1. Pace yourself. If your guest eats more slowly than you normally do, pace yourself accordingly. Be aware of your guest’s schedule and help bring the meal to a close on time.
  1. Use proper dining etiquette. Always remember to keep your mouth closed when chewing, your elbows and forearms off the table, and bring the food to your mouth, not your mouth down to your food. If you’d like to discover if you have any faux pas that could distract from the business at hand, I can assist with a private or group dining tutorials over a meal. (See upcoming workshop Wine, Dine, and Act Fine!)
  1. Settle the bill. Because you made the invitation to dine, pay for both meals without commenting on the amount, and retrieve your guest’s coat, leaving a tip at the coat check.

If you would like a one-on-one or group tutorial with Catherine Bell over a meal, which is always the best way to assess your dining etiquette, please contact her at or 613 217 2213.