The Dos and Don’ts of Business Social Etiquette

It’s the second month of your new job at a large company, and your boss invites you to dinner with a potential client. You know instinctively that this is some kind of test to see how you handle yourself in a social situation, which makes you extremely nervous. What to wear, what to order and what to say are just some of the concerns you face.
So, how do you make this painless, and prove to your boss that you are a social asset? Let’s start with accepting the invitation. Make sure your boss knows you are delighted to accept and feel privileged to be included, even if you are dreading it and wish you weren’t.
Second, make sure you find out what the dress code will be. Most times, the answer will be business casual. If that is the case and you are a man, wear a jacket over a crisp, well-ironed shirt and slacks. You can always take off the jacket if your host does. For women, especially if you are young, young, avoid cleavage, miniskirts or other clothing that is too revealing. Remember you want to be taken seriously, and while provocative dress may get you a date, it won’t enhance your career prospects.
Always take your cues from the host of the event. When you are being seated, wait for the host of the evening to assign seating. If the venue is very formal, and the host keeps his jacket on, then you should do the same. If your host orders a starter and main course then feel free to also order. However, if your host only orders the main, then follow suit. Also, although it is tempting, do not order the most expensive item on the menu; rather, take the lead from the other guests.
As far as cutlery goes, always start with the pieces on the outside and work your way in. Smaller pieces are for starters and the larger knife and fork for your entrée. Wait for the host to start eating before you do, and, even if it feels like you haven’t eaten in days, take your time. Once you have finished eating, close your knife and fork, and don’t scrunch your napkin onto a dirty plate.
The rule for alcohol is simple: Keep it to a minimum. It is easy to behave graciously and in control when sober, but as we all know an “adult beverage” can lower our guard. This is where I have seen so many people inadvertently sabotage themselves. It’s called, getting too comfortable, too familiar and too uninhibited. Keep in mind that everything communicates, and you should make it a point to keep that internal monitoring system switched on at all times.
This is also a chance for you to display your social skills, so ask intelligent questions. If you are at a loss, remember that everyone has a past, present and future, and you can frame your questions accordingly. Just make sure that you take an interest in the answers, but also that you don’t cross boundaries and make your questions too personal.