What to Do and What to Avoid at Your Next Big Business Dinner

Etiquette coach Melissa Leonard dishes on the art of the meal.



Whether it is a big banquet with the boss or a quick face-to-face with a client, plenty of business-dining questions can arise. Who should pick up the tab, where do you sit, and when do you bring up the business at hand? We asked Melissa Leonard, a local etiquette coach and founder of Establish Yourself NY, to explain the ins and outs of proper dining demeanor for business professionals. 

 

Where should you sit? It might seem like making a beeline for the boss may be the way to go, but Leonard advises you err on the side of caution. “Take the lead from your superior,” she says. “Clients should be seated next to or near the senior person from your company.” However, Leonard adds, if everyone is from the same company, “there is no harm in trying to gently jockey for a seat closer to the senior people present, but be sure it is done professionally and kindly.”

 

When to talk business? “Start the meal with small talk and let it naturally progress to the business at hand,” Leonard advises. “No reason to rush to discuss business right away, as you want a seamless flow from chatting to business discussions.” Leonard says that inquiring about the client’s family, recent vacations, or sports are usually nice ways to kick off: “It puts people at ease and develops a nice rapport with those you are dining with.” 

 

Who picks up the tab? The onus generally rests on the person who has asked for the dinner, or host, according to Leonard. However, she notes that the majority of business dinners are expensed, so this is generally not a big sticking point. “Don’t cheapen the meeting by asking for your guest to pay, as it makes a bad impression upon you and your firm,” she notes. “If there are numerous individuals from the same company at the dinner, the most senior individual from that firm should handle paying for the meal.” 

 

Where to go? “I find a smaller, more intimate setting with character to be ideal for a business meal,” advises Leonard. As for where to bring that next high-profile client, Leonard recommends Mulino’s in White Plains, Tarry Lodge in Port Chester, and Dubrovnik in New Rochelle. “They have a beautiful outside patio and garden, with outside grilling,” says Leonard of Dubrovnik. “Sometimes it’s fun to mix it up with business dinners and have the opportunity to eat foods you normally would not get a chance to try.” 

 

 

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