Fold your napkin into a triangle and fold the top over before laying it on your lap. Ladies, dab at your lipstick so you don’t leave a tacky lip mark on your water glass. Two glass of alcohol is more than enough for a business dinner.
Last night, I sat in rapt attention as Dr. Linda Hagan and Cheryl Carr presented on the etiquette of dining in business situations as the final class for COM 510, Walsh College’s first gateway class into the MBA program. I was there because they are a client, and I was coordinating media coverage of the dinner.
And of course, I learned more than I expected.
I ate continental style, knife and fork perpetually in hand. I learned not to cut my food into lots of pieces, but to cut one small bite at a time. I learned that while I thought I had manners, I didn’t know nearly enough about how to present myself with grace over food.
Truth be told, when I’ve had business meetings over food, I do worry about how to eat and what is served. Sometimes, instinct takes over; I pass by the pizza to avoid the grease and mess and fill my plate with salad. For an upcoming lunch, where they are serving Thai food, I ordered the rice bowl rather than slippery pad thai.
I’m not a complete neanderthal.
But I didn’t know half of what was taught last night, and the other half was a great reminder.
I know not to discuss politics, religion or sex at a business gathering, even when people start to comment on the whole 50 Shades craze.
Why teach dining etiquette as an entree into graduate business school?
It makes perfect sense to me. People do business with people. We must be comfortable interacting for the maximum success – making eye contact, navigating social situations, understanding the role that food plays.
By the way, it’s not a big role. It’s a backdrop. Eat before you go; make sure you’re not starving. It’s not about the food.
And really, it’s never about the food. We gather friends around the table to have conversation, make connections, enjoy one another’s company, know that we’re not alone in the world. The food is adornment, experience, detail. Not the point of it all.
I known they’re paying me to promote it, but I truly think it’s brilliant to have as a weed-out course to enter graduate business school a communications class that culminates in a gala dinner where you learn the do’s and don’ts of business etiquette over the table. What to wear, how to hold your business cards while balancing a wine glass and appetizer plate, how to break into a conversation when the room is already buzzing.
Hint: go to the person standing alone in the corner. They’ll be grateful, and so will you.