Life lessons

Top 10 Etiquette Rules for Business Meals


Last week, I had the privilege of interviewing some college students who were at an etiquette dinner. I had seen the posters around the UW-River Falls campus and I was curious to see for myself, if young people were interested or if proper etiquette was even on their radar.

Not only are students interested, some want to master etiquette and have attended multiple times, like Osceola resident Donald Carufel.

I’ve known Carufel for years. My oldest son played football with him in high school. When Carufel would come over for pre-game dinners, he was very polite and shy. Now he is a tall handsome well-dressed confident man, who proudly explained the importance of proper etiquette.

“This is the tenth dinner I’ve attended and I learn something new every time,” said Carufel. Not only is learning about how to eat at a social event important, but also the way you dress and if you should pay the bill or not. There are many things you need to learn. I want to get all the skills I can before I enter the work force, continued Carufel.

Carufel is graduating this spring and others like him will be ahead of their peer’s etiquette skills and may land their dream job by understanding what to do at a business meal.

Many companies conduct business meetings over a meal. They can be formal or even a casual lunch and knowing what to do can make or break a deal.

According to a survey conducted by an independent research firm, developed by Robert Half, one of the worlds largest staffing service firms, says almost 50 percent of chief financial officers said their most successful business meetings that occurred outside of the office, were held over lunch or dinner. Employers also said that a person’s table manners or the lack of can be a deciding factor in obtaining a signed contract.

Melissa Wilson, the director of Career Services at UW-River Falls, agrees with experts who say it is very important to not only have the right job skills, but also the right table manners.

Wilson is also a certified etiquette teacher. There are different etiquette teachers around the U.S., and they all seem to realize how important etiquette skills are becoming in a very competitive job market. It doesn’t matter whether you are old or young these skills are becoming more and more important.

One of the nations leading experts in etiquette, Jacqueline Whitmor, says don’t worry what your peers may think of you, they are not the ones making the decisions.

I’m sure some of you may be thinking no one notices “how” we eat, but people do.

There are some people I would prefer not to eat with. They talk with food in their mouth.  Others reach across the table, knocking filled glasses over. I have had people drag their shirt cuffs through my dinner plate or even their tie—very rude! You would think those were bad enough. Nope. I have been at business meals when someone has passed gas, picked their nose and used a tooth pick to clean their ears—thank goodness not all at the same time! There seems to be no limit to bad table manners. It is very easy to offend someone at the dinner table—many people have very strong food aversions and any association with something gross can give them a negative view of you.

This is my own proper Business Dinner Etiquette list, but it coincides with what other professionals have put together.

  1. When you arrive, greet your host with good eye contact and a firm hand shake. Do not sit down until your host is seated.
  1. If you are at a restaurant, order a menu item that costs less than what the host orders. If they have not ordered yet, ask for their recommendations. Also, order something easy to eat. Save the ribs for when you are out with the family.
  1. Remember to say please and thank you. Do not reach across the table for the salt and pepper—ask to have it passed.
  1. Do not order alcohol—for many reasons, even if the host does.
  1. Order something, it can come across rude if you don’t.
  1. Place your napkin on your lap when your food comes. Use the silverware from the outside in and YOUR bread will be on your left and YOUR drinks to the right of your plate—sometimes the table setting are so close, it’s hard to tell what is yours and the person sitting next to you.
  1. Do not touch your food with your fingers, share sauces (spoon some on your own plate), or butter your dinner roll and eat it like a sandwich (break off a small piece at a time).
  1. Only cut one piece of meat at a time. Don’t be tempted to cut your entire steak into bite size pieces. Pace your meal—don’t inhale your food!
  1. Don’t talk with food in your mouth, put your elbows on the table, or talk about controversial issues, like politics and religion.
  1. Remember to smile—when you don’t have a mouthful!


Things not to do at a formal dinner.
What pirates do at formal dinners

Lisa Erickson is a food writer who loves an adventure—especially when food is involved. You can find more recipes on her blog at or email her at with questions or comments.



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