It has taken your corporation months of tough negotiating to settle terms of a new sales contract. The president calls you in for a final briefing and invites you and your spouse to attend a black tie dinner to celebrate the business partnership with other company executives and international guests.

Each year a large gala fundraising event is held. Officials from top producing companies are invited to attend. It’s a parade of who’s who in the community. This year it’s your turn to represent the firm. You will be sitting at a table with executives from competing companies.

The Mayor’s Breakfast is held at a premiere banquet facility in the heart of the city. Your company wants you at this event. You’ll be sitting at a table with politicians representing the city and country. Television cameras will be rolling.

The annual business awards night will attract hundreds of entrepreneurs. You and your boss will be seated with the President of the Chamber of Commerce.

Sound intimidating? Your career and your company’s future can be advanced or jeopardized at business dining events like these. How do you ensure that you don’t become the social “faux pas” of the evening?

The truth is, appropriate table manners are significant indicators of a finessed person who is at ease with business dining – the kind of person who plans to move forward in the corporate world and who can be counted on to represent their company in a way that will promote relationships and advance company goals. When invited to a business breakfast, an awards banquet, or a state dinner, the following essential practices for successful business dining will help you to participate with ease at these important events.

RULE #1: Business dining is all about conversation.

Come prepared with appropriate dinner conversation. You need to contribute to your table talk in a way that sets other dinner guests at ease. Research in advance. Who will be attending? What interests might they have? What topics are in line with the focus of the function? When the inevitable lapse in conversation occurs, know leading questions that will encourage table guests to begin talking about themselves. Questions or statements such as:

RULE#2: It’s not about you.

Make an effort to meet everyone at your table. If you find that you are seated when others arrive, graciously move your chair back, walk over to table guests, introduce yourself, and initiate conversation. Try to remember their names. Show an interest in what they have to say and in their well-being. Be observant. Does the person next to you need the sugar and cream? Pass it before being asked. When the meal is over, remember to thank your table guests for the opportunity to get to know them a little better. If you are seated at a hosted table, send a handwritten thank you note to your host.

RULE #3: Don’t be the first.

While the meal is being served, wait for all the guests to receive their food before starting. If your table is hosted, watch and wait for your host to begin eating. If you are attending a buffet meal, wait until at least a few guests seated with you have returned with their food before starting.

RULE #4: Small is better.

Mealtime conversation can flow smoothly if you remember that when eating, small is always better. Place only one small portion of food in your mouth at a time. There is nothing more offensive than sitting across from a person who speaks with their mouth full of food. Use your knife and fork to cut one small portion, then set the knife down on the corner of your plate.

Dinner roll and butter are to remain on your bread and butter place, along with spreading knife. Break off one bite-sized portion only; apply butter to it with spreading knife and return spreading knife to corner of bread and butter place. Then put the single piece in your mouth. You will be amazed at how quickly you can chew and swallow a small portion.

Rule #5: Know your napkin etiquette.

Once a clean napkin has been unfolded, it becomes your personal property until the conclusion of the meal. Do not put your napkin on the table until you are ready to leave the room for the final time. It should remain on your lap or in your hand for the duration of the meal. If you leave the table momentarily during the meal, place the napkin on your chair. Use your napkin often during the meal, folding the stains inward so that dinner guests cannot see any soiling. A quick dab at the corner of your mouth with your napkin can provide a couple seconds of thought before responding to questions.

Rule #6: Noses can blow it.

When it comes to your nose and business dining, etiquette rules are clear – you never, ever, blow your nose at the table. You may just end up blowing an important networking opportunity. Slight dabbing of your nose with a tissue or personal handkerchief is acceptable, as long as you keep these items off the table. Instead, excuse yourself and head to a washroom or vacated hallway. If you have a bad cold, do yourself and your dinner guests a favor, and graciously back out of the invitation.

RULE #7: Spoons away.

If you are eating cold or hot soup, remember to spoon it away from yourself. You may tip the bowl away in order to eat the last of the soup if you so desire. This practice may appear insignificant, but really spotlights a polished person.

RULE #8: Knife and fork language.

When you have finished eating, place your knife and fork side by side on the top right corner of your plate. The fork should be on the inside of the knife.

If you have not finished eating, and must leave the table momentarily during the meal, place your fork and knife in the centre of your plate, with top tips almost joined and bottoms angled slightly in tent-like fashion. The tines of your fork should be down.

RULE #9: Personal belongings are off the table.

The meal table is no place for a purse or briefcase or other personal belongings — no matter how small. Personal effects should be placed on the floor, your lap, behind your back in the chair, or hung on the chair. Make sure your cell phone is turned off and placed out of sight.

Rule #10: If you drop it – leave it.

Your serving staff is responsible to replace table items that have fallen on the floor. Simply ask for a replacement. There’s no explanation required.

RULE #11: Getting rid of unwanted pits.

When you have something in your mouth that you do not wish to swallow, like an olive pit, a fish bone, or a piece of gristle, use your fork to remove it from your mouth, as unobtrusively as possible. Bring your fork down to your plate and deposit it on the rim.

RULE #12: Condiment counsel.

Chefs at fine restaurants consider it an insult if you drown their carefully prepared food in a condiment. While ketchup may be standard fare at home, it is not considered in good taste to lather on extra sauces and spices at a fine dining facility. Taste your food first before seasoning it.

An invitation to a business meal need not be intimidating if you follow these essential practices for successful business dining. Practicing these dining protocols will set your table associates at ease and advance your business interests. Furthermore, your dining experience will have been a great personal success.

This article was written by: Joy Dirks

Photo Credit: bady qb