What is Business Dining Etiquette?

Dan Cavallari

A business lunch or dinner can be a great way to network with potential clients, but it can also be a tricky endeavor if the host is inexperienced with proper business dining etiquette. While many of the rules and customs of business dining etiquette are the same as general rules of etiquette and manners, some additional practices can help the host make a great impression and give the participants a positive and comfortable experience.

It is important to end almost all business interactions, include a dinner, with a handshake.
It is important to end almost all business interactions, include a dinner, with a handshake.

First and foremost, the host must be sure to meet his guests at the door and show them where they should sit. This small but important step will set the guests at ease and make them feel welcome. It is important to remember that the host's primary responsibility is to make his or her guests feel welcome, and he must be certain to introduce the guests to each other. The host must also consider proper business dining etiquette when ordering food. If the host orders alcohol, the guests will feel comfortable doing so as well. If the host orders an appetizer, the guests will take a cue from him and feel comfortable ordering an appetizer as well. The host will set the example for the table, and he will set the tone for the business meeting end of it as well. The host must be sure to be polite and confident; he must take the lead on getting the meal underway.

The guests should take a cue from the host with regard to whether it's appropriate or not to order drinks or appetizers.
The guests should take a cue from the host with regard to whether it's appropriate or not to order drinks or appetizers.

Proper business dining etiquette will follow normal etiquette rules as well. For example, all guests, including the host, should place their napkins on their laps at the start of the meal. The napkins should remain there until it is time to leave the table. If the host must leave the table for any reason, he should place the napkin to the left of his plate until he returns to the table. The guests will generally wait for the host to begin eating before they begin themselves, so the host should be sure not to keep them waiting. The host should chew with is mouth closed and should not speak with food in his mouth.

When it comes time to pay the bill, proper business dining etiquette dictates that the host should take care of the bill discreetly. He should not make a spectacle of paying the bill; drawing attention to the payment will make the guests feel self-conscious. After the meal has been wrapped up and all business taken care of, the host must be sure to see his guests to the door and leave them with a handshake.

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Discussion Comments


I had an awkward moment a few years back where my boss asked me to dinner at this very fancy steak house. We had a nice meal, talked about business and what not not. But at the end of the meal when the check came he made no move to pay it. I ended up paying for the whole bill myself.

I was pretty put off by this. He asked me to dinner and he makes a lot more money than I do. Was I unreasonable to think that the responsibility for the check fell on him, or that at least we would split it? Was he just being a jerk?


I once had a manager who I went out to eat with on a few occasions and I was appalled at the way he acted. He was rude to wait staff, order huge amounts of food and ate disgustingly, drank to excess, made a mess and generally behaved like a gorilla.

These were not exactly business meals, there was a social element to it, but we did talk about business and he was my boss. I guess I was not so appalled that he would act that way in a business setting, but that he would act that way in any setting. You really see a person's true colors when you see them eat.


This is a trickier question than a lot of people realize and if you ask 10 people to explain it you will get 10 different answers.

But I think the most important thing to realize is that it depends a lot on context. There are all kinds of different business meals and they each call for a different response.

It matters if you are the buyer or the seller, the boss or the employee, the lush or the teetotaler. So understanding the situation you are in and how that affects the way you should order, eat, behave, pay, etc matters.

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