Sales Etiquette Tips for the Business Dinner Meeting


Peter Drucker once said “so many business decisions are made over lunch and dinner meetings, yet even the business schools do little to no training here.”

We infer a lot about each other in the most common of social settings for business deals: lunch, coffee and dinner. Others are persuaded about whether or not they want to do business with us based on our character, on the real person underneath the cloak of the boardroom, office or shop. That decision is usually made in venues like the restaurant or coffee shop.

Sales Etiquette Tips

We need to let people in and let them get to know who we really are. But that does not mean that we forget our manners or do not display proper business etiquette. Remember, others are constantly evaluating whether or not we are the type of person they want to partner with.

Here are some etiquette tips for a formal business dinner meeting. Once you know these, Starbucks and Outback will be a breeze!

1. The Invitation

Provide choices of two to three locations and give the client the opportunity to suggest his or her favorite restaurant (don’t leave it up to the client to do all the work of deciding).

2. The Reservation

You should make the reservation in your name. If you know the restaurant well, request a table with little noise and traffic. If you have never been to the restaurant, it would be a good idea to drop-in and meet the Maitre d’ or owner prior to your reservation.

3. Arrive at Least 10 Minutes Early

You do not want to keep your client in the waiting area too long, so get there early and get things moving.

4. Seating Arrangements

Always offer the preferred seat (the most comfortable chair or with the best view) to the client. If there are several in the party, assign seating to members of your team and have your team wait until all of the guests are seated before everyone sits down.

5. The Napkin

The napkin should go in your lap as soon as you sit down and stay there the entire time you are at the restaurant. If you need to get up for any reason, place the napkin to the left of your plate (do not refold it or place it in your chair).

6. Ordering Drinks

Let the client order first and follow his or her lead. If s/he does not order, you should also decline. “No thank you,” or “Just the water,” is all you have to say. If the client orders a drink, you should too. If s/he orders an alcoholic beverage and you prefer not to drink, order a club soda or non-alcoholic drink.

7. When to Talk Business

It is good manners not to talk business until the meal has been ordered. Limit your business conversation to one to two topics. On another note, it is your responsibility, as the host, to insure that everyone is being serviced properly by the waiter.

8. The Table Setting

Here’s how to know your way around the table.

Forks should be to the left and knives to the right. There should never be more than three of each. Forks and knives from the outside-in should be: fish, meat and salad (closest to the plate). Sometimes the salad fork is on the outside (it can recognized as the smallest fork, unless there is an oyster fork). The water goblet (should be the largest glass on the table) will be to your right. Your bread & butter plate will be to your left.

Hint: If you can’t remember which bread or water is yours, rest each of your hands on your thighs and make the universal sign for “ok”; your left hand will form the letter “b” and your right the letter “d”: “b” is for bread and “d” is for drink.

9. Signaling the Waiter Silently

The position of your utensils is the silent code in nicer restaurants. Resting your fork across your knife (forming an “A” shape), tines down, on your plate when you are speaking (and not chewing) lets the waiter know that you are not finished eating (no need to interrupt your conversation to ask). Conversely, when you are finished and want the waiter to take your plate, the signal is: place your knife & fork together (side-by-side), tines down, in your plate with the handles at 4 o’clock and the tines at 10 o’clock.

10. Closing the Meal

You should encourage your guest to have desert and/or coffee. Again, follow their lead, if they order, so should you.

11. Paying the Bill

Settle the bill quietly at the table. If there are billing mistakes, do not challenge them at the table; settle them at the front desk.


Remember: deals are more often made outside of the boardroom than in. In this case, the dinner table is your boardroom!

Take every interaction with your prospect seriously and always be professional. After all, your personal presentation can make or break the deal!