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How Rude!

If your employees' dining habits are breaking deals, teach them to mind their manners.

This story appears in the May 2008 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Three years ago, Winter Park, , 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 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 consulting firm At Ease Inc. and author of One Minute Manners.

Here is Sabath's list of the top four 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 back to the : 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.

Khoury says he was able to stick to his budget of $6,000 and feels the company's investment in manners paid off for everyone, including himself. "The biggest thing for me was the pacing: pacing the food along with the customer and putting them at ease," he says. "When you're with a client, it's not about the food."

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