We all know how easy it is to put our foot into our mouth by saying something pretty dumb or out and out stupid. I have made a career doing that! But what may be as equally bad is what we don’t say but do. Or when our actions speak louder than words. And no better place to showcase the silent killer is in business while entertaining prospects or clients over meals.

Today, growing your business is king. How do you do that? Acquire more prospects and convert them into customers as well as keeping tabs of your current clients. More employees are now being asked to participate in an area that they have not been in before; direct interaction with customers to show the commitment the business has to them. Unfortunately those can be unchartered waters for some rookies as well as season vets.

What better way to say “Thank You” to customers for their business and loyalty than to invite them out for lunch or dinner with several of your colleagues. Now the fun begins.

You go to a nice restaurant and before you is a sea of glasses, plates and silverware. What do I reach for? Did they put too many here in the first place?

Here is your road map to avoid confusion and having your clients talk about you on their way home from the meal. While you may not be dining with the Queen of England, having etiquette and table manners around the table will only enhance your image to those around you. This is a standard setup by a restaurant:

  • You are seated in your chair. Good start. You may have a dinner plate before you. Don’t move it to the side. Keep it there. Your salad/soup will be placed on it. It is probably not strong enough to support your elbows as well.
  • The napkin may be on the plate or above the plate. Place the napkin right away on your lap. Don’t wait until food is being served or toss the napkin elsewhere on the table. And please, don’t be like Uncle Otto and tuck your napkin in your shirt under your chin.
  • Look to your far right and you will see starting on the outside a big soup spoon, in the middle a teaspoon and closest to the plate a knife. Keep them separate until called into action.
  • Look to your far left and on the outside you’ll see a smaller salad fork, in the middle the dinner fork and closest to the plate a dessert fork. No need to use the same fork from salad to dinner to dessert. (Which I have been known to do at home)
  • Above the spoons and knife on your right will the glasses. A tulip shaped WHITE wine glass, a bowl shape RED wine glass and a water glass. Don’t grab your water glass and tell the server to “Fill it up” with wine. Let them do the work and selection process. No need to help them.
  • Above the forks is the ever so tricky bread plate and butter knife. You will score bonus points if you navigate through this. If the server offers you bread and you accept, they will place it on the bread plate and you don’t have to worry. However, if a basket of break is being past, watch how often people begin to look around the table as to where, what plate, their bread should land. It’s like they are searching for a lost treasure. Here is the hint of a lifetime; if the little butter knife that is on the plate, if you can grab the handle of the butter knife with your right hand, reaching across your body, that’s your plate. If you grab the butter knife with your left hand, then switch over the butter knife to your right hand, you grabbed the person’s knife next to you. This may lead to perhaps the worst nightmare while dining with customer of eating your customer’s bread!! A funny but sad line I heard at dinner once was when someone said, “Wow, I don’t remember taking a bite of this bread before” followed immediately by the person next to them, “That was my bread.” Talk about getting close to your customers!!

There is probably a very good chance that if you eat your salad with your dinner fork, your customers will not stop being your customer. But if anything, maybe the road map will relieve some stress/questions when dining out with others. Have fun. Let your personality and enthusiasm show! Bon Appetit.