"People skills" are important when you're out on a work dinner (or a date). The next day at the office, no one should mention your name in the same sentence as Animal House or Pretty Woman.
The Three Golden Rules
When you're out on a business dinner, follow the three golden rules.
1. You're not there to eat
A work dinner is a social occasion with an agenda. Eating might be your number one priority, but it's not the priority of your boss. This is not a pie-eating contest.
2. Follow your host
Do you remember the game "Simon Says?" Imagine Simon is your host (your boss or the person who sets up the meal). If Simon orders dessert, you can order dessert. If Simon wants to jump out of a plane, strap on your parachute. (If the waiter offers to take your order first, you can firmly but politely defer to your host.)
3. Be discreet
If you're not the host, you're invited to be part of the evening, not to be the star. Show that you're interested and informed, but don't try too hard to impress.
You may meet your Maitre D' when entering the restaurant. Ladies, the "D" may pull out your chair. Gentlemen, the "D" may put your napkin on your lap. He's not trying to be fresh. Just say thank you and move on.
If the "D" doesn't take care of your napkin, seize the moment and do so yourself. Your napkin should be on your lap at all times (or your chair if you have to excuse yourself from the table).
Once seated, do not pick up the menu right away. Talk to those around you. Create a comfortable atmosphere. You will be fed. (We promise.)
Since you may not know many of the people at your table, ask someone you do know for information about the others prior to the meal. Then you'll have some ammunition for small talk. But never go overboard. If you ask your client about her favorite movie, Bridget Jones's Diary, and her allergy to bee stings, that might be a little creepy.
On a business dinner, it's always nice to extend your hand when you first meet. (No fist bumps.) A proper handshake involves eye contact and a three-second, firm grip. That's it. Anything else could be considered hand jive. And don't count to three out loud.
Unfortunately, many people's handshakes can be classified into one of two categories:
A limp shake with no eye contact.
Not just a handshake, but a signal that says: "I can break you."
Try to find a happy medium -- say, a camel, or whatever.
Glasses and Bread Plates
You've taken your seat and are ready to claim your bread plate and water glass. Unfortunately, all of the place settings are so close to each other that you don't know what is yours.
Which glasses do you drink from? The ones on your right or left?
To avoid looking like a dinner rookie, remember this:
Glasses are on your right. Your bread plate is on your left. If anyone tries to use your glass or plate, tell him to back off.
Alternatively, place the blame on yourself and use the line, "I already used that glass to rinse my retainer."
Here's a memory device. Imagine these are your hands:
Hold your hands out in front of you and make "ok" signs. Use a little imagination, and you'll see a "b" for "bread" on your left and a "d" for "drink" on your right.
Ladies, monitor your lipstick when going out on a work dinner. If you're wearing too much lipstick, you'll get the "Lips on the Glass" look, which scares people. The same holds true for gentlemen.
If you're on a business dinner, you're probably imagining a word next to all items on the menu: FREE.
Yes, most business dinners mean free food for you, but you still let Simon show you the way. If Simon orders an appetizer, you should order an appetizer or a salad. It's no fun to watch a table of people eat. But if Simon only gets an entree, you're probably out of luck ordering goose livers.
Once you've decided on your meal, remember to close your menu. It seems obvious, but if you leave it open the server won't come to your table for your order.
General Menu Lingo
fish soup (with vegetables)
raw meat or fish
cooked snails, usually served as an appetizer
raw beef (appetizer)
deer meat (think Bambi)
Foie gras (fwah grah):
rich, buttery, and delicate ... goose liver
Red mullet (red muhl-it) :
fish, not a bad haircut
raw fish or shellfish over rice
rolls made of raw fish or some other item (like cucumber) wrapped in rice or seaweed
raw fish without the rice (you can remember this with "the fish shee-mees off the rice")
very spicy horseradish that looks like Play-Doh
Here's what you do. Add a little wasabi to the top of your food. Using chopsticks, dip your food in soy sauce and then your mouth. Chew, swallow, and smile. Then say, "This is pretty good sushi" (even if you've never had sushi before).
To look smart in a steakhouse, know that meat is muscle. People like unexercised, tender meat (like filet mignon). So if your significant other gives you hard time for looking "unexercised," tell him/her to treat you like a filet mignon.
T-bone and porterhouse:
Each is made up of two pieces of meat: a filet and a strip (one on each side of the bone). The porterhouse has a bigger filet than the T-bone.
Rib eye and prime rib:
These are the same cuts of meat, but each is cooked differently. The rib eye is grilled while the prime rib is slow roasted.
When your food arrives, you're going to look down at your place setting and see an ocean of silverware before you. Use the diagram above to help you navigate the high seas.
When figuring out what silverware to use, the rule of thumb is always to work from the outside in. The first courses will use the outer utensils.
Never allow used silverware to rest on the table. It should always be on your dish.
If you have two teaspoons, the outside spoon is reserved for throwing, not the inside spoon. If you throw the inside spoon, you'll look foolish. Actually, we can't find a good reason for a second spoon other than pretension.
You should always "butter your plate" first and use this butter for your bread. You want to avoid continually returning to the original butter. "Can you pass the butter ... again ... please?"
Once you've finally finished eating, put your silverware on your plate, fork tongs down, in roughly a 4 o'clock position. In nice restaurants, servers are actually trained to look for this position; when they see it, they know to take your food.
Generally speaking, you shouldn't ask for a doggie bag if you're out on a business dinner. Again, you don't want to call attention to yourself by saying, "Hi everybody. I'm poor. I get to eat this for lunch tomorrow." If you're puritanical about not wasting food, ask for a smaller portion when you order.
Business dinners are notorious for lasting a long time. Once the meal is over, get comfortable and take your cues from Simon.
On Bert's first business dinner, he knew that one of the "Golden Rules" was to follow his boss's lead. When his boss ordered steak, Bert ordered steak. When his boss chatted about golf, Bert chimed in the best he could. ("You always use the big end of the stick to hit the ball.") Unfortunately, Bert got so caught up in this game that he followed his boss into the restroom without thinking twice.
This may have been okay, but the rule "Men Don't Go into Ladies' Restrooms" supersedes all three of the Golden Rules.