Are Your Employees Literally Eating Your Budget Dollars When It Comes To Doing Business Over A Meal?

Find Out What You Can Do To Stop It!

Strategy Is The Key!

An employee’s dining etiquette & protocol skills can be impeccable; however, without a strategy, the business at hand is not accomplished. Results? Money down the drain!

Earlier in my career, our organization stayed away from conducting programs about dining or entertaining clients. I did want our corporate brand to be associated with “Ms. Manner” type etiquette courses. But all that changed one day with a phone call.

A young woman called our office and asked if we did training on how to conduct yourself at a business meal. I said, yes, as I knew that I could, and didn’t want to lose the business, but I was also intrigued that there was a need. So, I inquired what prompted her call. That company today is now a part of Cisco.

She stated that she was a highly educated and quite young for the position she held; however, her clients were older men and she always felt that they treated her like a daughter or granddaughter, not the businesswoman she was. She felt that she lost control when it came to dinner engagements. The “men” always took control, driving the outcome of the meeting (meal). After she gave me some examples as to how I knew where the ball was being dropped.


Since that day we have conducted hundreds of programs on how to conduct business over a meal. The biggest surprise to most is that it’s not just a class on “how to eat” correctly, although there is that aspect of the program, it is not the foundation.

The foundation is all about how to be strategic to maintain control so that you can reach your business objectives at hand.
It is estimated that more business deals are closed over a meal than in the boardroom. Mastering the nuances of having an effective business meeting is vital for your successful outcome.

This blog features a comprehensive overview of how to simultaneously dine while conducting business with professionalism and finesse. Are you, or your employees doing both seamlessly?

There are many, many different elements that go into dining, be it in a more casual or formal environment, while conducting business. I would like to highlight some of them for the purpose of this blog.


Personal Branding Center

Why take advantage of doing business over a meal? Because it’s the perfect place to do business. A place that’s less threatening than a business office. It provides the opportunity for you to build relationships outside of the office. It also offers you the opportunity to maintain better control of the meeting. In addition, you can:

  1.  Create new business relationships.
  2. Maintain current business relationships.
  3. Manage damage control.
  4. Reinforce and finalizing deals.
  5. Create a new business with current relationships.
  6. Meeting to discuss a project or proposal.

Before you set out to do such a business meeting, preparation is key! First, you must have the purpose of the meeting. Once that is identified you will want to have a briefing with your team to ensure that all has “buy-in” and understands his or her responsibilities. If you are going it alone, then be sure to stay on target.


We had a client from one of the major accounting firms and they were taking new college graduates out for dinner. They were trying to narrow down the eight students to hire, but there were only four positions available. We were not engaged at the time for this program, but it came up during a coaching session. When I asked how the dinner went, he said okay, but they still had not made a decision. When asked why not, he said that once the dinner started, it just became dinner.

You don’t ever want to make that type of mistake! What a waste of time AND money. After I gave him some pointers to ensure they met their purpose, he said that he wished he would have hired our firm to help with the dinner. They would have probably decided who would have been given an offer.

He asked me if there was one thing his team could have done differently, what would it be. I started out by suggesting that each place setting should have had “place cards”. It was a five-star restaurant and they were accustomed to doing this; however, you can do this yourself in most restaurants. To do this, simply purchase small frames from an arts and craft store, print, and insert the names of each guest within the frame.

The purpose of doing this was to ensure, one, that the leader of the meeting was at the head of the table, and two, ensure that there were students sitting in between each of the team members. I suggested that when a team member was speaking to a student on his or her right, they would primarily discuss business, when chatting with a student on his or her left, they were to mainly focus on the nonbusiness conversation.  Why do this?

This process would have given them a balanced view of each student when the debrief took place. Also, I asked if they paid attention to how the student’s handled themselves with the servers and how their table manners were. They only had one issue they could recall. Had the team knew what to look for, only then could they have made better judgments about the situation. Keep in mind that these students were to become employees and they were going to be interacting with the firm’s clients. This can be a big learning curve.

3-Business Meeting Engagement Opportunities

Dining-Wheel | Personal Branding Center

Another example of why dotting all your I’s and crossing all your t’s, it is critical to ensure a smooth business experience for both you and your guests. We were working with a District Manager in Texas for a major cable company. We presented the “Dining Management:  the art of doing business,” course during the day for his team who entertained and dined with clients a great deal. That evening we were going to a private club where the DM was a member to practice what the team had learned during the class that day.

When we got to the club the manager greeted the DM and invited him and his guests to the dining area, where he showed us to our table. I was in shock with what I saw. There was a round table with a rectangle table connected to each other. Well, sort of. Why they did this, I had no idea!

The round table was in the corner of the room and the rectangle table projected into the room. Vision the small letter “i”. That is what it looked like! I watched the DM as he approached and saw the surprise on his face. He did sit in the corner which was the “head” of the table as it were. What was the problem? The DM should have gone and inspected the area first. That’s the beauty of being a member of a place where you entertain clients. Had he been with clients, it would have started the meeting off as being pretty acquired. The key is to make the client’s experience be as great as possible.

As you plan your next dining engagement, below you will find a list of “Strategic Engagements” that it takes to conduct a productive business meeting over a meal. Prior to each engagement, be sure to start by thinking strategically.

Strategic Engagements

  • Have a purpose
  • Have a briefing and debriefing with your team or co-presenter
  • Identify goals and objectives
  • Know the culture of the organization(s)
  • Be aware of business etiquette & protocols
  • Control a meal without being aggressive
  • Understand the nuances of dining etiquette and protocol
  • Maximize communication skills…body, tone, words
  • Consider your time management skills
  • Apply effective presentation skills: opening and closing
  • Be aware of all responsibilities as a host and a guest

Strategy Without Dining Etiquette & Protocol Skills Can Be A Disaster!


Dining-Etiquette | Personal Branding Center

The foundation for dining while doing business is mostly based on your business and dining etiquette and protocol skills. To really implement these skills well, let’s get clear on the difference between etiquette and protocol, regardless of whether it is for business interaction or dining.

Etiquette is a code that defines expectations of one’s behavior within a particular group or society. A protocol is a set of rules that are set in stone and are not to be modified. The protocol is the when and how something is done.

For example, it is proper etiquette to introduce two people, but when and how is the protocol in which it is to be executed. To make a “toast” at dinner may be the proper thing to do (etiquette), but when and how one makes the toast ensures that proper protocol is followed. Exchanging business cards at a networking function is proper (etiquette), but when and how one exchanges his or her business card is the question (protocol). Get the idea?

Another confusion concerning etiquette and protocol is the difference between social etiquette and protocol and business etiquette and protocol. Social is gender-based and business is based on precedence. It is important to distinguish between the two so that you do not appear unrefined or offensive.

Business etiquette is genderless, meaning that the chivalry expected in proper social etiquette is not necessarily appropriate in a business setting. Business associates are expected to be treated as peers regardless of gender. It is professional to professional, not male to female.

Business etiquette dictates that all people are treated equally, but this does not mean that basic politeness should be abandoned. For example, during a business luncheon, when a female returns to the dining table, the men should not be expected to greet her by standing and helping her with her chair; however, socially this would be perfectly acceptable. On the other hand, women can initiate a handshake, unlike socially, years past, only men initiated a handshake.

As you begin to prepare for hosting a guest over a meal, consider the following “Strategic  Components” to ensure that the outcome of your meeting is attainable.

  1. host/guest responsibilities
  2. dress code/wardrobe
  3. location/atmosphere
  4. parking/transportation
  5. food/cuisine
  6. reservation procedures
  7. conversation management
  8. arrival and waiting
  9. ordering
  10. seating arrangement strategies
  11. body language management
  12. appropriate dining opportunities
  13. presentation strategies
  14. handling unexpected situations
  15. follow up strategies

Dining Opportunities, Which is Best?

There are three occasions where a meal might take place:  breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Below I listed the pros for choosing which opportunity to help you reach your goals and objectives.

Breakfast-Wheel-small | Personal Branding Center


Dinner-Wheel ? Personal Branding Center

I hope that you can begin to see how critical a business meal can be and should not ever be taken lightly. And know that, having a strategy without proper etiquette and protocol can be a problem, as well as having proper etiquette and protocol skills without a strategy, can be eaten at your dining budget. Know, that if you invest your time and energy upfront on both skill-sets, you will get an ROI on your investment; ten-fold!

To read more blogs on the topics of Business Etiquette and Protocol, click here. Keep in mind that we are constantly adding new blogs so be sure to check back!

You can also submit any questions concerning this topic or other personal branding topics by submitting your questions here. Our “ASK! the branding experts” will try to answer your question(s) in a blog!




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