I enjoy speaking at leadership conferences. When attending college venues, I particularly enjoy the lunchtime meal because a business etiquette professional will be the lunchtime speaker showing these promising professionals the importance of a well-executed business meal. Employers and clients are paying attention to your manners and ability to conduct yourself properly at a meal.
1. Leave the best seat at the table for the guest of honor. Best view, head of the table, easy access in and out. Arrive early and be willing to have attendant move the table if it faces or is near the kitchen or bathroom. If you plan to pay for the meal, give the waiter your credit card in advance. Otherwise, the host(ess) pays.
2. Shake hands and be introduced or introduce yourself to all at the table. Concentrate on remembering names. One tip is repeating name three times. If possible, be prepared, look up the profiles on guests before the meal.
3. Remain standing until the host sits. Once seated, sit up straight and keep all four legs of your chair on the floor. Keep your elbows off the table. Place your napkin in your lap after all are seated. When leaving the table, napkin goes in your chair, never on the table.
4. Let the host(ess) take the lead in ordering. Find something on the menu that you can eat gracefully and without making a special order or asking a lot of questions. Avoid most expensive or unfamiliar food items. Be decisive.
5. Avoid alcohol. If you choose to drink, only order one, regardless what others do. Failure to keep to this rule could lose you the job or the client.
6. Cut your food, one bite or piece at a time. Avoid dicing it all at once. Break off bread and butter one small piece at a time. Avoid making a sandwich. Silverware should be placed on your plate, never on the table.
7. Never, never double dip. Avoid dipping your food into something available for others as well. When sharing communal provisions, spoon onto your plate (butter or dressing). Eat in moderation, never forego the meal or lick your utensils or fingers.
8. Speak without food in your mouth. Talking with food in your mouth is rude and a choking health hazard. Avoid any controversial topics, bad for the digestion. Listen more than you speak and remember to maintain good eye contact during the meal and when you depart. Leave with a firm handshake.
9. Say please and thank you, as well as yes and no, convincingly. It is noticed.
10. When in doubt, work from the outside in for your utensils. salad fork before dinner fork, soup spoon before teaspoon. Also, think b & d, bread and drinks. If you make an okay sign with your hands, it looks like a "b" on the left (bread) and a "d" on the right (drinks).
Finally, do not apply lipstick, comb your hair, or use a toothpick at the table.
Good luck and remember people are watching and will notice good manners.
My thanks to David Bamberg for the table setting photo.