The economy is improving — surely too slowly for some, but conditions are looking better and opportunities are on the increase. Business leaders may start planning for expansion, workers can see reasons to sharpen their skills, entrepreneurs and investors are stimulating new enterprises, everyone is looking to take advantage of a rebound. People may see their careers advance as resumés are polished and job interviews planned. If the offer looks to be serious, if the proposal feels like it could fly, there may be an invitation to discuss it over lunch. A life-changing event could develop in-between the Yankee bean soup and the chicken parmagiana.
The new book “Shine While You Dine: Business Dining Etiquette for the Virtual Age” is a step-by-step guide to adult table manners and social expectations. The author is Robert A. Shutt of Chenango Bridge, NY. He is a former college administrator and is now a consultant on business etiquette and communications through his firm RASolutions. The book addresses a simple but seldom appreciated fact about moving forward professionally: good interpersonal skills constitute a major part (Shutt says about 85%) of the basis for hiring someone. One way to judge people’s social skills is to observe them while they dine. There are rules and standards of conduct for this most elemental of human activities.
Knowing that your table manners may be scrutinized can be nerve-wracking, but learning and internalizing etiquette will convey a good impression. Shutt describes a business meal as a heirarchical experience. There is usually someone at the table who has invited the others and often a complex relationship among the participants.
When in doubt, follow the leader. When you are unsure about when to eat or how to behave, wait until others eat or act, then follow their lead. The worst case scenario is that you will be making the same mistake they are which is better than doing it solo. An added benefit is that you can speak to others at the table while you wait, demonstrating your mastery of the second guiding principle: it is about the conversation, the relationship, the business; it is not about the food or beverage. — from “Shine While You Dine”
Shutt reviews the historical background of today’s etiquette, the contrasts between American and Continental styles of handling utensils, and changes in etiquette with the emergence of gender equality. There are also many hints and clues about actions that will be observed as the meal progresses (always be polite to the waiter, even if the service is below standard). There is even helpful advice about conducting a conversation — the point of the entire exercise, after all.
Appropriate conversation is relatively simple if you remember to stay neutral and conservative. I find that the location — be it the restaurant, catering hall, hotel, neighborhood, city or state — is always a nice topic. A little preliminary research goes a long way. The arts, sports, human-interest stories, and so on are usually safe as well, especially when you remain neutral. — from “Shine While You Dine”
Robert A. Shutt joins Bill Jaker for good conversation about dining etiquette and standards of professional conduct.