Guidelines for breaking bread with the boss

Your company’s chief information officer has arranged a lunch with you to discuss a management promotion that has opened up. While you’re flattered he has singled you out, you’re a little nervous about the prospect of meeting with a corporate executive over a formal meal.


schedules become more hectic, the business lunch continues to grow in popularity. It’s wise to be aware of the basics – such as which side the bread plate goes on (the left) – as the experience can determine whether or not you make a positive impression. Here are some tips for success at your next business meal:

Enter gracefully. You may be taking separate cars. If so, don’t be late. People typically have a limited amount of time for lunch.

Other tips? Greet your manager with a firm, warm handshake. Once everyone has been seated and your host has placed his napkin on his lap, immediately do the same.

Know your utensils. You know your way around a computer, but do you know your table settings? Beverages, soup spoons and knives will typically be on your right; forks and your bread plate will be on your left. Start from the outside and work inward when it comes to which utensils to use first.

Order with care. Ignore your craving for the barbecued pork sandwich or any other potentially messy dish. By sticking to easy-to-eat items, you’ll save yourself the embarrassment of sauce dripping down your shirt. Also, don’t order the most pricey entree if you’re not paying, and follow the lead of your host when it comes to appetizers, desserts and other extras. It’s best to refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages, even if your manager orders one.

Give your host your undivided attention. Don’t start eating until your boss does, and try not to leave the table until the meal has concluded unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you must exit, leave your napkin folded on your chair. Make sure your cell phone and pager are turned off before you’re seated.

Be pleasant and courteous to the wait staff. Nothing is more uncomfortable (or humiliating) than dining with someone who is surly or rude to the wait staff. The CIO may wonder how you treat your colleagues or the customers who call you with computer issues each day.

Take time to chat. Follow your host’s lead when it comes to shop talk. He has invited you to lunch and will likely bring up business once the meal is ordered. Until then, make light conversation, and try to go beyond the topic of weather.

Exit with ease. Once your host has finished and placed his napkin on the table, you should do the same. Don’t ask for a container for leftovers, and be sure to thank your host for the meal.

When you know the basics, dining out is a great way to get to know company executives, your manager or professional contacts on a more personal level. Bon appetit.

Stephen Mill is a regional manager for Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals.

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