Etiquette at Work

Setting the table for a business meal

The opportunity has finally arrived. You’ve ­attended business meals with your boss and with ­clients, but you haven’t hosted one yourself. This is your chance to shine. But it can also be your chance to flame out. You might choose a restaurant that is so noisy you can’t hear or try that new place in town ­only to discover that the food is only adequate at best. What can you do to make sure your business meal comes off without a hitch? Here are seven tips:

Know your guest. What kind of food does he or she like? The best way to find out is to ask your guest or an assistant when you call. If asking directly feels too awkward, suggest two or three different types of restaurants and ask the preferences of the guest.

Choose a restaurant you know. You should always check out a restaurant first. Poor food will quickly put a damper on any event. Food quality and noise levels are important. But so, too, are comfortable chairs and spacing between tables to allow for confidential ­conversation. Location matters as well: Choose a place that is relatively convenient for your guest.


Invite in advance. Last-minute invitations stand a much greater chance of being turned down — one week’s notice at a minimum.

Get Talking Points in your inbox:
An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Who’s paying. Traditionally, the person doing the asking is the host and does the paying. You should be prepared to pay the bill, so choose a restaurant that’s within your budget. If you can do it, arrange to pay the bill ahead of time so a check never even comes to the table. That way your focus remains on your guest and not on checking the bill and figuring the tip.

Establish the “why.” Let your guest know the ­purpose of your getting together so he can bring ­pertinent materials with him. Or, it may simply be a friendly meal, an opportunity to get to know each other better. As the host, it’s your decision as to whether any business will be discussed.

Reserve ahead of time. It should go without ­saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Make a reservation, and make it early. Arriving without one is a sure-fire way to end up embarrassed.

Reconfirm. That means check with your guest again on the morning of the lunch or dinner. For a breakfast meeting, check the afternoon before. And while you’re at it, check with the restaurant, too, just to be sure your reservation is in order.

E-mail questions about business etiquette to ­