Eating with someone you don't know well in a professional environment can feel tricky. On the one hand, you're trying to get to know the person better, but you may also be worried about how you look and act in a dining setting.
The most important thing to remember, says career coach Barbara Pachter, is that you're not there for the food. You're there for business and connecting.
In her book The Essentials Of Business Etiquette, Pachter discusses dining etiquette rules every professional should know.
How to Demonstrate Business Dinner Etiquette
1. The host should always lead.
One of the most important dinner etiquette rules is that the host should lead dining with a client.
The host should choose an appropriate restaurant and make reservations ahead of time. Keep in mind the time and transportation required to travel to the restaurant as well. Make sure you pick a time that suits you and your guests.
Once you're seated, "take charge of the logistics of the meal," Pachter says.
This means politely directing your guests to their seats and kindly recommending menu items in various price ranges. If you don't know much about the menu, you can do online research ahead of time or call to ask what their top few dishes are.
2. Never pull out someone's chair for them.
It's okay to hold open a door for your guest, but Pachter says you shouldn't pull someone's chair out for them, regardless of gender. It's not appropriate or necessary for a business setting.
3. Consider your guest when selecting food options.
When booking a restaurant, consider your guest's dietary restrictions and preferences. It's worth asking them in advance if you're able to. Make sure the menu offers some options to accommodate their needs.
Keep the food flowing appropriately throughout the meal. If your guest orders an appetizer or dessert, you should do so too.
"You don't want to make your guest feel uncomfortable by eating a course alone," Pachter says.
On the flip side, if your boss is a vegetarian but chooses to meet at a steakhouse, "by all means, you can order steak," she adds.
4. Dress appropriately for the occasion.
It's important to dress the part when attending a business dinner.
Depending on the company's dress code, this could mean wearing a suit or dress or more casual attire. Be respectful of the company's policies, even though you're in a social setting. Dress in a way that shows you're taking the meeting seriously.
Keep in mind that restaurants can be cold when the air conditioner is blasting, so bring or wear a sweater or blazer.
5. Know the utensils' proper locations.
Want an easy trick for remembering where the utensils go? Remember this: 'left' has four letters, and 'right' has five.
"Your fork (four letters) goes to the left; your knife and spoon (five letters each) go to the right," Pachter notes.
This trick can also help you remember where the food and drinks are generally placed on the table.
"Food is placed to the left of the dinner plate. The words 'food' and 'left' each have four letters. If the table is set properly, your bread or salad or any other food dish will be placed to the left of your dinner plate," Pachter explains. "Similarly, drinks are [typically] placed to the right of the dinner plate, and the words 'glass' and 'right' contain five letters."
6. Know which utensils to use.
Each course should have its own utensils, which may already be in front of you or placed in front of you as the dishes are served.
If all the utensils are set in place, begin with utensils on the outside and work your way in as the meal goes on. According to Pachter, the largest fork is generally for the entrée. The salad fork is smaller. The largest spoon is usually the soup spoon. If you have a fish course, you may see the fish knife and fork as part of the place setting.
The dessert fork and spoon are often placed above the plate, on the side, or served with the dish itself.
7. Remember where plates and glasses go.
Here's another trick for remembering the proper placement of plates and glasses.
'BMW' stands for 'bread,' 'meal,' and 'water.' Your bread-and-butter plate is on the left, the meal is in the middle, and your water glass is on the right," Pachter explains.
8. Always break bread with your hands.
Avoid using your knife to cut rolls at a business dinner, Pachter advises.
"Break your roll in half, tear off one piece at a time, and butter the piece as you are ready to eat it," she said.
9. Know the "rest" and "finished" positions.
"Place your knife and fork in the rest position (knife on top of plate, fork across middle of plate) to let the waiter know you are resting," Pachter says. "Use the finished position (fork below the knife, diagonally across the plate) to indicate that you have finished eating."
10. Do not push away or stack your dishes.
Don't worry about handling dirty dishes. It's a distraction and can make the table look messy and chaotic.
"Let the wait staff do their jobs," Pachter says.
11. Do not use a napkin as a tissue.
A napkin should only be used for blotting the sides of your mouth and gently wiping your hands as needed. If you need to blow your nose, Pachter recommends using the bathroom.
12. Never ask for a to-go box.
"You are there for business, not for the leftovers," Pachter notes. "Doggie bags are okay for family dinners, but not professional occasions."
13. The host should always pay.
This one can be a bit tricky, explains Pachter.
"If you did the inviting, you are the host and should pay the bill, regardless of gender," Pachter says.
If the guest is insisting to pay, let them know your company is handling it. You can always excuse yourself from the table to pay the bill directly to the server, if needed. Just try not to get in the way of servers and other employees doing their job. You can always tell the server or host in advance to have the bill delivered directly to you.
"The bottom line is that you don't want to fight over a bill," she says.
14. Always say "please" and "thank you" to wait staff.
As the guest, aim to not complain about the service or food unless it's absolutely crucial. It can be seen as insulting to the host. Be as polite as possible to all staff members at and outside of the restaurant.
Following these simple dining etiquette tips can help make a positive impression while ensuring that everyone has a pleasant and productive dining experience.
A version of this article was originally published on November 27, 2013.
Photo: Getty Images