Neels & Company - Strategic Business Communication
Trusted Advisor
Gretchen Neels
Gretchen Neels, President, Neels & Company

Dear Trusted Advisor

Often I need to select wine for the table when entertaining business guests at a restaurant. Do you have a few tips to keep in mind when doing so? I always get queasy when it’s my turn to choose, and invariably go for something expensive and hope for the best.
M.D., Philadelphia, PA

Dear M.D.,
You are not alone! I was amazed to find that many smart and otherwise sophisticated professionals cringe at the thought of choosing wine for their guests. My painfully obvious suggestion to confer with the restaurant’s sommelier was met with such disdain, I sought the advice of an expert.

Jane Cahill of The Winery in Alexandria, suggests you understand the three Ps before ordering: Purpose, Preferences and Price . If it’s an informal lunch or dinner, go with lighter wines, such as sauvignon blanc (white) or pinot noir (red). A formal dinner will call for more complex selections, both white and red, and perhaps a dessert wine or port.

Ask people their preferences. There’s nothing wrong with asking, “what’s everyone in the mood for?”

Know your price point before ordering. Jane shared with me that many fine restaurants price their low- and mid-range wine at two or three times their retail price, but offer their best wine at a minimum mark-up so that you’ll try them. In other words, the $15 bottle of shiraz you buy at the store might run between $30 and $45 at the restaurant, but the yummy California cab retailing at $75 might only be $110. She agrees there is no sin in enlisting the help of the sommelier, but he or she will also need your party’s three Ps as a guide.


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Leaving Money on the Table?

Here are a few things I’ve seen with my own two eyes while dining out recently: a woman flossing her teeth at the table between courses; a young, well-dressed professional lick all five fingers of his right hand while lunching at a four-star restaurant in the financial district; and what I now refer to as the “lift and lick,” where after taking a portion of Thai food, a diner actually licked the edge of the serving plate before passing it to his companion. Charming, that’s a vision.

What has happened? It may be that people are so casual these days that they no longer care about how they comport themselves at the table, but when it comes to doing business, table manners are a must. Many employers I talk to take hopeful candidates out to lunch for the sole purpose of learning whether or not they are capable of successfully dining with clients.

How do your business generators measure up in this important area?

We’ve seen a sharp upturn in requests for dining etiquette training from both firms and business schools, and are delighted to give people the direction and education they either didn’t get at home or have, shall we say, forgotten.

More than food is left on the table when clients become turned off by rude and distracting behavior during lunch and dinner, then take their business elsewhere. Often I remind people that business dining isn’t about food! (In fact, I recommend people eat before they attend receptions, lunches or dinners so they can concentrate more fully on the business at hand.)

Here are some table etiquette absolutely, never evers I hope you will pass along to those who may dine at the restaurants you and I frequent:

Absolutely, never ever slouch or put elbows on the table, and please, dear God, no ball caps!
Absolutely, never ever answer your cell phone or check hand-held gadgets while dining. Turn your gizmos off and keep them off until you leave the restaurant.
Absolutely, never ever talk with food in your mouth. Take small bites, keep your lips closed when you chew, and speak only after you have swallowed.
Absolutely, never ever make noise when you eat. No slurping, sucking, chomping or smacking. Cut your food quietly, one piece at a time, and don’t stab and jab at your salad or vegetables as though you are playing a carnival game.
Absolutely, never ever pick your teeth or apply make-up at the table. Excuse yourself to the restroom and take care of any and all grooming needs there.

These, I believe, are a good start. I feel better already about my next meal at Ruth’s Chris. For more tips on dining and business etiquette basics, click here.

We provide soft skills training and consulting to professional services firms covering all areas of business communication.

Neels & Company – Strategic Business Communication
P. O. Box 623, Boston, MA 02117
800-975-7031 ext. 701
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