Three years ago, Winter Park, Florida, sales consulting firm The Khoury Group gave its 30 employees a crash course in table manners, from navigating cutlery to passing a bread basket correctly. Founder and president Ziad Khoury, 41, wanted employees to know how to pre-sent themselves well in front of the company's clients, which range from Budget Rent A Car to Sandals Resorts. "They represent the company, so image is very important," says Khoury, who also took part in the half-day program.
If you think a potential client won't factor table manners into their decision to buy from you, think again. Manners reveal your attention to detail, and in a tougher economy, every little advantage counts. Unfortunately for companies, "there are a lot of Neanderthals around, and they don't even know it," says Ann Marie Sabath, founder of etiquette consulting firm At Ease Inc. and author of One Minute Manners.
Here is Sabath's list of the top four dining faux pas that businesspeople make--and how to get things right:
Confusing eating with dining: The point of a business meal is to bond; eating is secondary. Says Sabath, "People who leave business meals hungry are actually doing well because they are focusing on the other person."
Not looking to the host: A meal's host always sets the tone. If you're hosting, you may encourage others to begin eating without you. Otherwise, don't start eating before everyone at the table has been served.
Sending food back to the kitchen: If you're treating a client to a meal, avoid returning your food, even if it's not up to snuff. If your guest isn't satisfied, however, it's your role as host to bring it to the server's attention. To keep the meal in sync, Sabath suggests asking the server, "When you have a minute, would you also return mine and bring them back together?"
Managing hard-to-eat food: Linguine might sound wonderful, but it's a mandibular minefield. Order dishes you don't have to wrangle into submission. "Anything that you can control is what you [should] order," Sabath says.
Chris Penttila is a Washington, DC-based freelance journalist who covers workplace issues on her blog, Workplacediva.blogspot.com.