2016 Update: We stand by the advice below, but you can also check out our most recent discussion on dining etiquette for business lunches.
No, we’re neither Debrett’s nor Emily Post, but we know a thing or two about conducting ourselves properly at a business lunch… we’ve also seen some truly bad manners. Thus, whether you’ve been to a million business lunches or you’re just starting out, 10 Things You Should Know:
1. As soon as everyone at the table is seated, that napkin goes in your lap. If you need to get up at some point, the napkin should be folded and placed on your chair. (Not the table — no one likes to look at a dirty napkin.) At the very end of the meal, when everyone is finished eating, you should fold you napkin and put it beneath your plate, to the left. This holds true even if you’re eating at a diner with paper napkins.
2. Your water glass is to your right. Your bread dish is to your left. If you get confused, put your hands in your lap and touch the index finger of your left hand to your left thumb, and do the same with your right — your left hand should form a “b” (for BREAD) and your right hand should form a “d” (for DRINK). We’ve also heard to think “BMW”: bread, middle, water.
3. If you are the host (or assisting the host, as it with many mid-level people), it’s good manners to make sure things are passed: butter, cream, salt & pepper. Pass the salt & pepper as a unit. Even if someone only asks for salt.
4. If you’re confused about which silverware to use, use the piece of silverware farthest away from the plate. When you’re done eating, the silverware should be laid on the plate diagonally in the upper-righthand corner, to signify to the waiter that you’re done.
5. Pay attention to what other people are ordering. Don’t be the girl on the diet who won’t have an appetizer even though everyone else is. Also, don’t be that jerky guy to order an appetizer even though no one else did, and then sit there smacking your lips about how amazing the bisque is, when no one else GOT the bisque because we all thought it would be a nice, quick lunch. (Not that we’re bitter or anything.) It’s 100% acceptable to order an appetizer to start and an appetizer for the main entree — no one cares what you’re eating so long as you’re eating at the same time everyone else is.
6. When in doubt, cut your food with fork and knife. Huge piece of lettuce? Cut it. The rule with fries is that if you’re eating the rest of your meal with a knife and fork, fries should also be eaten with the fork. (E.g., steak frites.) If you’re eating the rest of your meal with your hands, however, fries should be eaten with your hands. (E.g., burger.)
7. Here’s the proper way to use a fork and knife, courtesy of CollegeRecruiter.com:
While there are several different ways to hold and use a knife and fork correctly, the most common method used in the United States is as follows:
• When you eat, your fork is held in your right hand, like a pencil. (For all of your lefties out there, the fork is still held in the right hand.) The tines (your prongs on the fork) face up.
• When you cut your food, switch hands. Fork goes in the left hand, knife goes in the right to cut. Using your index finger, point your fork with tines down to pierce your food.
• Switch the fork back in the right hand to eat.
8. Proper etiquette is not always what you might think: olives with pits should be placed in your mouth, and the pit should be removed with your hand and laid on the side of your plate. (Not hidden in your napkin or beneath your plate.) Asparagus is properly eaten with your hands, provided it is not covered in sauce.
9. Blackberries should be kept under the table at all times. You should excuse yourself from the table to use a cell phone.
10. All of the above goes out the window if the most senior person at the table is doing things differently. Unless they’re the adorably-batty-head-of-the-company-in-name-only, follow them.
Have more business etiquette questions? Write to [email protected] and we’ll either a) answer ’em, b) find someone who will, or c) do a poll. Because we heart polls. And etiquette. And answers. (In no particular order, clearly.)