Etiquette Tips for a Business Dinner

Most business travels entail a dinner meetup with a client, investor, or higher-up. The dinner is essentially a formal get-together where you discuss and flesh out the details of a potential deal or partnership. As such, it’s vital that you adhere to professionalism, mannerism, and basic dining etiquette. Yes, you do need to behave professionally and not pig out on the complimentary bread and butter.

Luckily, some mannerisms are near-universal, so they apply even when meeting with a foreign client with vastly different cultural values.

Pre-Dinner Checkmarks

As the host, it’s your duty to be an early bird. Upon arrival, wait in the lobby. Also, take this time to instruct that the check be handed directly to you. The client or investor is your guest, so you should be the one to pay even if the other party insists on footing the bill.

Also, know exactly who will be in attendance and research the names of each guest, including family members that your guests may bring along. If young children will be in attendance, consider a small gift for them.

At the Dinner Table

When the waiter assigns your group to your table, stand behind your seat and formally welcome everyone before taking a seat. As you sit, leave the plates and utensils in their place. As for the napkin, gently unfold it and place it on your lap. While this practice may seem overly formal and even a bit Victorian-ish, it’s a good show of professionalism.

As for your posture, sit upright and keep your elbows off the table. When in conversation, be sure to guide the topic of discussion. Try to keep the topic business-related and avoid controversial subjects like politics and social issues. However, feel free to engage in those topics initiated by another guest.


If everyone has their own individual entrees, do not touch yours until everyone’s dishes have arrived. If the food is laid out in the center of the table for everyone to serve themselves – such as the case with most Chinese restaurants – serve your guests by filling their plates for them. If family members are in attendance, start with the children, then the spouse, then the client/investor. Serve yourself last.

Once everyone is served, do a toast where you thank everyone for their attendance. As you eat, use every one of your utensils, cutting up your food into smaller pieces before taking a bite. Utensils not in use should rest neatly on the side.

A Few Additional Etiquette Tips

  • It’s okay to take a bite of your food when in a lengthy conversation; just be sure not to break eye contact
  • It’s impolite to use hand gestures with utensils in your hand
  • Instead of reaching over the table for a dish, ask a guest to pass it over
  • Never chew on the ice in your drink
  • If there are contracts or documents to be signed, wait until the meal is over or during dessert.

As for your mobile device, it goes without saying that it should be shut off. Of course, you should still have it on hand. See this global roaming charges page to see if your phone will work in the area of travel.

While formality and etiquette are important in a business dinner, don’t forget to relax, or else you come off as overly stiff and trying too hard.

Dan McCarthy is an Event Manager at Mask, an event management company based in the UK. Dan has 6 years of event project management under his belt. He has worked on many successful events, and currently, he shares his knowledge by writing on the company blog. Follow him on Twitter @DanCarthy2.

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