Dealing and dining

Win them over with great table manners

Would you like to join me for lunch?” For most salespeople, this question rings with the delicious prospect of new business. For those not seasoned in the ways of business meal etiquette, however, it’s an invitation that promises a stomach full of butterflies.

“You must treat the person you’re dealing with as if they are the most important person in the world,” says Ann Marie Sabath, author of Business Etiquette: 101 Ways to Conduct Business With Charm and Savvy (Career Press, $11.99). A failure to exhibit proper table manners may be interpreted as offensive and result in a lost deal.

The fact that many business transactions are made at the dining table makes it essential for today’s sales professional to know the do’s and don’ts of eating out. Sabath offers some helpful hints to avoid leaving such meetings with egg all over your face:

  • Know your place-settings. Intimidated by all those utensils and don’t know which ones to use? Don’t worry-simply use silverware from the outside in. If in serious doubt, follow the leader.
  • Handle the “grace period” carefully. Religious practices are personal. So whether you are the host or someone else’s guest, avoid saying grace out loud. Pray silently.
  • Follow your diet quietly. Perhaps you have a special diet and don’t wish to offer an explanation to your clients. Call the restaurant in advance and explore your menu options.
  • Know your client’s culture. etiquette varies from one country to the next. For example, you would bow to a Japanese guest, not shake his or her hand. Before you entertain overseas guests, be sure to do your homework. It will show a great deal of respect.
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