Proper dining etiquette is a tool that can be used to make a favorable first impression. From making a reservation, to the proper way to handle the napkin, your behavior at a dinner table can say a lot about you, especially at a professional meeting.
In her book The Essentials of Business Etiquette, career coach Barbara Pachter discusses dining etiquette rules that you need to know.
The host is always in charge. Which means choosing the restaurant and making an appropriate reservation. The reservation is critical in a formal business situation because it may be busy during lunch or dinner and the last thing you want is to wait around for a table to become available.
Never pull someone’s chair out for them. It is an appropriate action in a more personal situation like a date. For a business meeting, however, you should leave social gender norms behind and allow a woman to pull out her chair.
Consider the restaurant when figuring out dietary restrictions. "Most people do not impose their dietary choices on others. Nevertheless, you can often judge what to order by the type of restaurant the host chooses," Pachter says. If you know your boss is a vegetarian but they take you to a steakhouse, then you are more than welcome to order a steak.
Keep the food balanced with your guest. If the person you are dining with orders an appetizer and dessert you should too. It is impolite to make the other person feel uncomfortable for eating a course alone.
Know which utensils to use. An easy way to remember what utensils to use is to work from the outside-in. Every course should have its utensil. The largest fork is for the entree, and the smaller one is for the salad. Once used, your utensils (including the handles), must not touch the table again.
Always break bread with your hands. You should never cut the bread with a knife. Tear away pieces with your hands then use your knife when you are ready to butter the roll. Butter spreads or dips should be transferred from the serving dish to your plate before spreading or eating
Do not push away or stack your dishes when you finish. You are not the waiter. Let the wait staff do their jobs," Pachter advises.
Do not use the napkin as a tissue. The only use for a napkin is to blot the sides of your mouth. If you need to blow your nose, excuse yourself and go the restroom. At the end of the meal, leave the napkin semi-folded at the left side of the place setting. It should not be crumpled or twisted; nor should it be folded. The napkin must also not be left on the chair.
Never ask for a to-go box. "You are there for business, not for the leftovers," Pachter writes. "Doggie bags are okay for family dinners but not during professional occasions."
The host should always pay. This is the hard part of a business meal. If you are the host, and you did the inviting, then you should be the one who pays regardless of gender. If a male colleague insists on paying then say something along the lines of, “Oh I’m not paying, the firm is.” Or she can excuse herself from the table and pay the bill away from the guests. This trick also works for males. However, the last thing you want to do is fight over it. If a male guest insists on paying the bill despite your best efforts, then let him.
Always say “please” and “thank you” to wait staff. "Do not complain or criticize the service or food," Pachter says. "Your complaints will appear negative, and it is an insult to your host to criticize."