By: Catherine Ruschak

On Wednesday, April 13, AAF hosted the annual Business Etiquette Dinner in the Colonial Room of the Illini Union. Members who attended received not only a delicious four-course meal, but a lesson in fine dining as well. Speaker Elizabeth Reutter walked everyone through each course, covering everything from choosing a restaurant to eating properly. For those that couldn’t make it, here are a few tips for business dining.

Choosing a restaurant  For any business-related meal, it is proper etiquette for the host (the person who is planning the dinner) to choose the restaurant. It is recommended to choose a place that has relatively quiet seating and a higher-end atmosphere. For the Champaign area, Reutter suggests somewhere like Jim Gould’s. She also advises to not choose chain restaurants like TGI Friday’s or Applebee’s. It is also recommended to choose a restaurant that can accommodate any dietary restrictions your guests might have.

The Bill  It is generally proper etiquette for the host to pay for the meal. However, Reutter advises for all guests to bring enough money to pay for the meal, in case the host does not pay for it. If you are the host, do not allow your guest to pay for the meal. Even if the guest offers to pay for the tip, politely refuse- allowing them to cover the tip means they must see the bill.

Ordering  As it is the host’s job to pay for the meal, they are also responsible for giving their guests subtle cues as to what their budget is for the meal. If the host suggests an appetizer, dessert, or alcoholic beverage, they are implying that it is okay for their guest(s) to order accordingly. The same goes for your entrée course; if the host suggests the lobster, the guest is not obligated to order it. This is simply a hint from the host, letting the guest know about what price range they should order in. The guest should then glance at how much the lobster is priced on the menu, and order something similarly priced. If the host does not make an entrée suggestion, Reutter advises that the guest ask their host for a recommendation.

Eating  Reutter stresses that business dinners aren’t about food – they are about business. Focus should be on conversation. However, there are etiquette guidelines during the meal that should be followed:

  • Use the silverware on the outer edges of your place setting first, and work your way in.
  • When items such as dressing, sugar packets (for coffee or tea) and salt and pepper need to be passed around the table, they always go to the right and make their way around. Do not reach across the table to pass these objects. Also, Reutter notes that the salt and pepper shakers are a pair- even if someone asks only for the salt, send the pepper along for the ride.
  • Do not season your food with salt or pepper before tasting it. This is insulting to the chef, who prepared the meal to their best ability. Take a bite of your meal before adding seasoning.
  • Do not turn your plate once it is set in front of you. This is also insulting to the chef, who probably gave the waiter strict instructions on how to place the meal in front of you. Do not ruin the chef’s ideas of aesthetic.
  • If you need to take a drink between bites of food, set down your utensils in a resting position, blot your mouth with a napkin, and then take a drink. Do not take a drink with food in your mouth (and don’t talk with food in your mouth either!)
  • If you need to use the restroom, do not announce this; simply say, “Excuse me” and leave the table.
  • It is rude to leave your cell phone on during the meal. The only acceptable reasons, Reutter says, are if you are on-call at your job or have children at home with a babysitter. In these cases, leave your phone on silent and excuse yourself from the table if you must take a call.

These are just a few of Reutter’s tips, believe it or not. There are a lot more rules when it comes to business dining, especially with placement of silverware, how to hold it, and how food should properly be eaten. Further tips, such as Continental vs. America style of dining, can easily be researched online. As for the full experience, watch next year for another Business Etiquette Dinner to appear on AAF’s calendar!

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