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9 tips to shine during a business meal

· French Etiquette

In the West, business meals are very common ways of talking business, whether it is for a customer meeting, a job interview or for a regular occasion. It is generally done at lunchtime when only a few partners are attending, or during dinner for more important gatherings. And because it's never easy to eat and do business at the same time, here are a few tips to keep in mind to nail your next business meal!

Arrive before your guest

Arriving earlier enables you to calm down and get prepared. Make sure you chose a restaurant that you know is comfortable, quiet and where the food is good. Sit somewhere facing the entrance so that you can see your guest coming. Be ready to stand up, shake hands and show the guest his or her seat. Always leave the most comfortable seat to your guest, especially to ladies. As a man, refrain from pulling the chair to the business partner if she is a lady: it is not appropriate in this context.

Avoid ordering risky dishes

Eating food with a lot of sauce or cutting required, for example, spaghetti, lobster or ribs may get your cloth and hands dirty as well as monopolizing your attention. Better stick to simple food which is both light and convenient to eat such as salad, rice or roasted vegetables.

Let the host choose the wine

It is for sure that the guests are free to order their food, however, it is usually the host’s responsibility to choose the wine. If you don’t drink wine as a guest, there is no obligation to follow the host’s wish to drink wine. In any case, the host will taste the wine first in order to ensure the quality is fine. Do not offer toasts unless you know the others well or if there is a special event to celebrate.

Put your phone away from the table

Don’t let your smartphone interrupt you when you are having a business meal. Having your phone on the table will make your potential business partner feel that you are not showing full attention. Thus, for men, put the phone on silent mode in your jacket’s pocket. For women, put it in your handbag.

Begin with some small talk

The starter is the perfect time for having some small talks. You don’t want to rush and start to talk about business immediately. Discuss something common such as weather, food, traveling. You can even take a look at the social media of your guest first to see what does he or she like in order to have a smoother talk. Small talk creates a comfortable atmosphere and lets you know the other person better. When the food arrives on the table, wait for the host to start eating before you do.

Wait for the main dish to talk business

Now that you have finished the starter, it's time to switch to the purpose of the meeting: the business matters. One thing to bare in mind is that you should introduce it smoothly, generally after starting eating the main course. Move to the point naturally, or simply wait for the host's signal. It is usually the host's reponsibility to introduce the business matters. As a guest, follow the conversation and be patient.

Don’t focus your attention on food

Remember that food is only an excuse to meet. Remind yourself of the objective for having this business meal and pay enough attention to your guest. Do not drink too much, don’t eat too fast, maintain sufficient eye contact with the business partner. Although we usually try to finish the food on the plate to avoid wasting, it is acceptable to leave food during such occasions, especially at lunchtime, as time is limited.

Replace dessert by cafe if not enough time to conclude

Business lunch is a very popular way of having business meetings in Europe and the US. It is also a tricky exercise which requires practice. In more or less 1 hour, you have to eat and conduct a business conversation at the same time, and eventually reach an agreement. If you had a starter before your main dish, you may not have sufficient time for dessert. In this case, order a cup of coffee instead and use that time to summarize and conclude the meeting.

The one who books the table pays the bill

If you are invited to a business meal, don’t worry about who’s going to make a payment, as it is generally the responsibility of the person booking the table to pay the bill. If you are the host, keep it low key when paying the bill. Instead of asking the waiter to come to your table and to pay in front of your guests, go to the counter, make the payment, and come back as if nothing happened. Guests will thank the host carefully for the meal when stepping outside the restaurant. It is of good habits to thank a second time later during the day or the morning after with a text message or an email, as a way to follow up after your meeting.

Founded in 2018 by Matthieu Ventelon, Hedonia is the first institution in China combining professional Wine and Etiquette expertise in the same training offer.

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