A business meal isn't just about taking time to taste the rubber chicken. While sharing a meal with someone in the same business can help you advance in your job or make new connections, doing the wrong things at the table can have the opposite effect.
There are plenty of unwritten rules that you need to keep in mind, says Deborah Goldstein, a dining expert and founder of event planning and education company Table Matters.
Here are Goldstein's top seven business meal mistakes to avoid:
1. Checking Your Cell.
Peeking over at your cell phone can annoy your colleagues or boss; be sure to turn off ringers or email buzzing noises so you’re not tempted. And wear a wrist watch so you can easily check the time there instead of on your phone.
2. Ordering Messy Food.
Anything on the bone or pasta with tomato sauce can mean you’ll end up messy after the meal. Stick to easy-to-cut foods like chicken or something you’d eat with one hand like soup or risotto. Salad is another potential pitfall, says Goldstein. “You should not cut your lettuce and it can be hard to spear.”
3. Dressing Casually.
“Keep in mind, you are dressing for business, not for the restaurant, so a barbecue joint may warrant business attire,” Goldstein explains. The outfit you choose for a business meal should be slightly dressier than what you’d wear to the office. “Err on the side of too formal,” she says.
4. Drinking Like Usual.
Even if you’re ordering a glass of wine to calm your jitters, be careful. “Alcohol hits differently with emotions,” Goldstein says. “Drink half of what you usually would.”
5. Reaching for the Bill.
While there are a host of caveats, typically if you’re just starting out at your company and are taking part in a business discussion, there’s no need to grab the check. On the other hand, if you’re just going out for a casual lunch with co-workers it means you’ll split the cost.
6. Being Indecisive.
Changing your order or taking too long to order can be unprofessional. Instead, stick with your original selection even if you’ve changed your mind. During the meal you’re being judged in a professional manner and behaving as you would during just a regular dinner can hurt your chances to impress.
Playing with your hair, jewelry, or even utensils comes across as unprofessional. While fidgeting can be a subconscious nervous habit, be aware of your body language during the meal.
Whatever you do, stay confident. Being comfortable at the dinner is an important part of making a lasting impression. And, of course, be nice to your server!