It's the little subtleties that make or break how somebody feels about you.
A handshake, body language and eye contact are the niceties we notice, but the business lunch can often be your undoing, especially if your table manners leave a bad taste. We turned to Adeodata Czink, Canada's “Empress of Etiquette” and founder of Toronto consultancy Business of Manners, to show us how to be the toast of the town.
1. Pre-meal strategy
Hosting a successful business lunch takes a little bit of planning. As the host, you should take command of the situation by choosing the restaurant, arriving first–and picking up the tab. The most elegant way to pay is to make sure the bill never reaches the table. Slip the maître d' your credit card in the foyer (this also lets the restaurant know you're in charge), and don't make a big show of it. If you're going to be late, call the restaurant, describe what your guests look like, and ask the staff to explain you'll be along in a moment or two. Also, try your guest's cellphone. Keep all these phone numbers in your Day-timer, just in case.
2. The basics
The purpose of a business lunch is to eat and do a little networking. But when is the best time to talk turkey? Right after everyone has ordered. Your guests are seated, probably have a drink in hand, perhaps some bread, and there's a natural lull before the food arrives. As for boozing it up, the three-martini lunch is definitely out, but if your client or guest orders a glass of wine or liquor, it's up to you, as host, to follow suit. You don't have to drink it, but you'll need something to toast with. Better yet: ask in advance if anyone would like to have a glass of wine, thus preventing that awkward second-guessing.
3. The toast
North Americans, unlike those in other cultures, don't always toast their guests, but it's a good way to make people feel comfortable. Don't make a big production out of it. Raise your glass, clink it with your nail instead of a spoon, look everyone in the eye and say something short and sincere to welcome them–especially if the meal has already arrived. If people are drinking wine, clink glasses after the toast. If not, don't bother. Always leave a little bit of liquid in your glass. It shows you're not rushing–and you never know when you'll need some more for a final unexpected toast.
4. Talk the talk
The business lunch is a North American staple, so make international guests feel at home by learning the rudiments of their language. At the very least, remember how to say “good morning” or “hello,” “thank you” and “cheers.” You may think you appear to be trying to score brownie points, but customer service, after all, is all about that. Here's a quick tutorial:
English French German Mandarin
good day/hello bonjour guten morgen/tag ni hao (knee-how)
thank you merci danke xie xie (syeh-syeh)
cheers (à votre) santé zum Wohl (wine) gan bei (gan-bay)
5. The spinach dilemma
We've all sat across from someone who has a spinach leaf or grain of pepper caught in his teeth and wondered whether it was polite to point it out. Or is it better to leave the unwitting person in the dark, only to suffer possible embarrassment later? Czink says it's always better to say something–subtly. Make eye contact and gently touch your own tooth with your finger, indicating where the troublesome morsel is. Far from getting angry or humiliated, your fellow diner will appreciate your discretion. In fact, they'll often flash you a quick smile, so you can check if the debris is still there. The best tactic is to avoid such adhesive foods.
6. Biggest turnoffs
The biggest no-no? Licking your knife. A few other mistakes: slurping, leaving a spoon in a mug, picking your teeth or sitting down before everyone has a chair. When it comes to the food, don't order saucy items because you might cause a mess; cut one piece of meat at a time rather than four or five; keep your cutlery at the 4 and 8 o'clock positions when at rest, both at 5 o'clock when you're done; and don't throw your napkin on top of your plate when finished. As host, make sure you finish each part of the meal last so that your guests are never eating alone. Remember all that and you won't find yourself at a table for one.