You’d better watch your manners when dining out for work
Don’t schmear your good name at work.
New York gubernatorial challenger Cynthia Nixon sent the internet into a frenzy this week when, during a campaign stop at Zabar’s, she put in a strange food order. The “Sex & the City” alum ordered a cinnamon raisin bagel, but topped it with lox, red onions, capers, tomatoes and plain cream cheese. “Horrifying,” read a New York Post article; “Lox Her Up”, the Washington Post taunted.
She’s not the first politician to make a gaffe while eating on the job: Ohio Governor John Kasich and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio were both ridiculed for eating pizza with a fork, and Pres. Donald Trump was lambasted for eating an overcooked steak with ketscup. And it’s not just famous people who make big-time mistakes when eating out for work. Etiquette experts say it happens all the time — and can have big repercussions.
“You want to put your best fork forward,” Jacqueline Whitmore, etiquette expert and the founder of the Protocol School of Palm, says of eating out with coworkers and clients. “I look at it like a first date, if the first date doesn’t go well, there isn’t going to be a second.” And Pamela Eyring , the president of the Protocol School of Washington, says etiquette mistakes while dining out can even “prevent you from growth in the company” or lead to you getting fired.
Here are 12 of the biggest etiquette gaffes you need to avoid when dining out for work:
Ordering messy or hard-to-eat foods. Avoid anything that’s messy (ahem red sauce pasta, peel and eat shrimp and ribs) or hard to eat like corn on the cob — even if you’re craving it, says Whitmore. “A business meal is more about the business, less about the meal,” she explains. “Put the person you’re with at the forefront.” She recommends eating a little before you even attend the dinner so you aren’t tempted to order the wrong thing.
Cutting your food wrong. Only cut one piece of meat or food at a time,” says Constance Hoffman, founder of Social & Business Graces. “As for people who choose to cut their food up all at once, it makes you look like you are about to feed an infant,” she says.
Being too picky. Eyring notes that it’s “annoying” if you ask too many questions of the server or ask for too many options. You don’t want to cause “a 15-minute discussion about one entree,” she says. Pick what you’re ordering, with minimal substitutions (unless there’s a medical reason for it), and move on; doing otherwise makes you seem high maintenance.
Passing the food wrong. “Always ask for an item to be passed to you unless you reach yourself without crossing someone’s area or rising from your seat,” says Hoffman. And passing rules are this, she explains: Pass communal food like bread and butter to the right. It’s OK to take some if you are starting the pass, but if someone requested it, don’t take any at that time. Plus, she adds, “when being asked to pass the salt or pepper, you should always pass both as they are a pair and always hold them from the bottom so as not to touch the shaker portion.”
Eating too quickly. Make sure you breathe between bites and chew thoroughly, experts agree.
Using the condiments incorrectly. Eyring notes that “heavily salting every bite of your food or covering your entire plate with salt and pepper before tasting it” is a big no-no. You also shouldn’t slather your steak with sauce; instead put a dollop sparingly on the side of your plate and dip each bite.
Bringing up inappropriate issues at the table. Of course you know not to talk politics or other sensitive topics at the table, but there are other things that may send red flags to your dinner guests. For one, if there is a big issue with your meal or dining experience, “speak with management away from the table,” says Hoffman. Similarly, “should you need to dismiss yourself for the restroom, just state, ‘excuse me for a moment.’ No need to announce where you are going or what you need to do,” she says.
Ordering too much food. “A lot of people use [a business dinner] as an opportunity to make it their last supper,” Whitmore says — ordering multiple courses and opting for the most expensive things on the menu. Look to the host for signals about what you can order (if, for example, they say that the filet mignon is very good, that’s a signal that you can order it); if there aren’t signals, order conservatively.
Drinking too much. “Ordering a couple of martinis when you’re with someone who feels that drinking during business shows a lack of discipline or even a lack of respect, can create a big problem,” says relationship and etiquette expert April Masini. “Scope out your partner before ordering that cocktail. You can simply ask — would you like a cocktail? Or, are we having wine?” And if you are drinking, try to limit that to one to two drinks. “We get “liquid courage” when we overdrink and may say things to colleagues or managers giving them a different impression then we wanted,” Eyring says.
Checking your phone during the meal. “Smartphones shouldn’t be used during a meal – it’s utter rudeness,” says Hoffman. Eyring adds that they are “a distraction for you and for your guests preventing good conversation.” If you are expecting say an urgent work email or call and know you’ll have to check your phone a couple times during the meal, kindly explain that ahead of time. If you do have to answer your phone, leave the table and talk outside of the room, Hoffman says.
Arguing about the bill. The rule is this, says Masini: “If you asked someone to eat at a restaurant with you, then you pay the tab. If they asked you, then they should pay the tab. However, if one of you is the client then the client should be the guest. And if the meal is an interview for a job, than the interviewer should pick up the bill,” she says. Also, if a boss or superior invites you to the meal, they pay, she adds.
Stiffing or being rude to the waitstaff. “The way you treat a wait person is not lost on your meal partner. If you’re rude to the waiter, you are probably rude to others, and that’s a turn off in personal and business relationships,” says Masini. Plus, tip well: “If you leave a good tip, you’re going to be seen as generous … but if you stiff the waiter on the tip or leave less than 15 or 20%, you’re going to be seen as someone who may stiff others in business as well.”
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