A lot happens over meals and during social events. Lasting impressions are made, relationships are formed and strengthened, jobs and promotions are secured, and business gets done. With the holiday season in full swing, parties and celebratory meals are on almost everyone's schedule, making this the ideal time to brush up on your etiquette for formal and semi-formal dining events.
The first step, other than politely accepting or declining an invitation in a timely manner, is to know your way around the table. Formal settings can feel overwhelming, with a sea of glassware, bread plates and utensils. To determine which table settings are yours, try to use the "BMW" method. Bread first, on your left, your meal in the middle, and water or wine on the right. With silverware, work your way from the outside in, starting with your salad fork and knife. Stay poised and professional by eating slowly and carefully. Cut small pieces and take small bites. Use common sense, such as trying not to be a noisy eater, and never speak with your mouth full!
Networking and conversation can be nerve-wracking. Reduce your stress by preparing some conversational topics ahead of time, and be ready to ask polite questions of your dining companions, looking for common interests you can discuss. Make sure you introduce yourself, standing up to greet new arrivals, and be ready with some business cards if needed.
When it comes to holiday and office parties, take extra care to monitor your behavior. The last thing you want to do is embarrass yourself in front of colleagues and superiors. Practice moderation with food and alcohol. Careers have been derailed because someone got carried away and ended up intoxicated at a company party. Think about your attire and actions. Business parties aren't the time to dress seductively or to try out a wild new dance craze. You don't want to be remembered for the wrong reasons.
Remember to be courteous and take your cues from the host at all times. You can never be overly considerate or respectful, or have manners that are too good. While understanding etiquette is important, try not to worry too much and have some fun. Enjoy your time with your colleagues, friends or family.
When you are confident in your behavior, you can enjoy events using your new skills to help make a positive impression, build great relationships and even advance your career, not just during holidays, but throughout the year.
As a professor of marketing and an instructor of the Walsh College "Art of Business Dining" workshop, Linda Hagan, Ph.D., routinely hosts seminars focused on the elusive etiquette of business dining. Students learn practical tips on how to navigate the murky waters of fine and formal dining, understanding everything from how your bread should literally be buttered, to making the most of networking opportunities. Learn more at Walsh College's Success Center.
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