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If your boss invites you to lunch, flawless dining etiquette is essential.  Whether you’re just starting out at the company or are a seasoned employee, meal time with the boss is a time to impress. In fact, the meal itself is secondary to the protocol and etiquette for business dining. Consider the event an extension of the workplace and present your best self.

Here are some tips that will help alleviate anxiety and help you convey confidence, respect and professionalism, whether your boss is male or female:

  1. Arrive on time. Or better yet, arrive a few minutes early. Punctuality is a sign of respect for your boss and his or her time.
  2. Brush up on your dining etiquette. Your table manners should be impeccable. Know how to hold the silverware correctly and where to place the utensils on the plate in between bites or when you’re finished. If in doubt, mirror your boss’ dining etiquette (if it’s good!). Dip your soup spoon away from you when eating soup, and only butter one bite of your roll at a time. And, of course, don’t talk with food in your mouth or smack your lips.
  3. Follow the lead of your boss. Do not sit down until your boss indicates to you where to sit, since others may be joining you. Or, you may ask, “Where would you like me to sit?” Place your napkin in your lap after your boss does, and at the end of the meal place it loosely folded to the left of your plate only after your boss does. Begin eating each course only after your boss begins.  Be prepared to make small talk as you settle in at the table (the weather, weekend plans, sports, etc.), but refrain from bringing up any office gossip. Let your boss initiate and guide the business conversation, which is normally after you’ve ordered. Answer questions succinctly and allow your boss to introduce any new topics of conversation.
  4. Make wise menu choices. Your boss (as host) may indicate items from the menu that he or she enjoys. Don’t feel obligated to order those items, but use those suggestions as a gauge for what price range is acceptable. You may want to look at the restaurant’s menu online ahead of time so that you don’t need extra time to contemplate your choices once you’ve sat down.  Order easy-to-eat foods such as grilled meat and veggies. Avoid awkward or messy items such as spaghetti, French onion soup, or a large burger. You don’t want to be distracted by the food (or splattering marinara sauce on your tie) when your boss is trying to talk to you. Order an alcoholic beverage for lunch only if your boss does, and show self discipline by sticking with only one drink, preferably a lighter one such as a wine spritzer. Better yet, order water or iced tea. No matter what level of tolerance you think you have, you want to remain level-headed and not say or do something you may later regret. Stay away from carbonated beverage to reduce possible burping through a conversation.
  5. Treat the wait staff with respect. How you treat the server indicates to your boss how you might treat clients and customers. Mistakes happen…so if the server brought you the wrong meal or spilled a bit of water on your sleeve, accept his apology graciously; do not berate him.  It won’t win points with the boss and discredits your ability to communicate professionally if you respond with anything less than politeness when mishaps occur. Unless you’re in the middle of a conversation, you may quietly say “thank you” when the server brings your meal or refills your beverage.
  6. Stay focused.  Do not place your mobile phone on the table. It’s a distraction and not part of the place setting. Keep it tucked away in a handbag or pocket…on silent mode. Do not answer or make calls or text during the meal, even if your boss does. If you’re expecting an urgent call, let your boss know ahead of time, then excuse yourself from the table when the call comes and speak in a private place.
  7. Use appropriate body language. Greet your boss with a firm handshake when you meet at the restaurant and again when you stand to leave at the end of the meal. When your boss is talking, lean in a bit to show interest. Maintain good eye contact to show you’re listening.
  8. Show appreciation. If you boss issued the invitation, he or she will pay for the meal and tip. Express your thanks when you stand to leave. And, if this is a first-time lunch with the boss, or an infrequent one, take the time to write a hand-written thank-you note. Mention your appreciation for the great food or restaurant choice and the one-on-one time. If it was a brainstorming time for an upcoming event, comment on an idea you have for the event as a way to show you were listening. Keep it short, simple and sincere.

Your meal with the boss will be less stressful and more enjoyable if you employ these tips. Plus, you will be perceived by the boss as a gracious employee who reflects well on the company’s brand, image and reputation.

Rachel provides one-on-one dining etiquette training as well as small and large group dining etiquette training.

Learn more about business and dining etiquette at www.EtiquetteTrainer.com

Related article you may enjoy:

 “5 Things NOT to Order at a Business Lunch”