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Client meal conundrum


Pharmaceutical Representative

The nuances of etiquette for business dining.

Fact or fiction:

Two executives from a recruiting company - the president and vice president - were dining with a prospective client. When the meal was finished, the waiter asked all three if they wanted their leftovers wrapped. The president declined, as did the prospect. The vice president, however, said, "I'll have mine wrapped up, and since he's (pointing to the prospect) not taking his, I'll also take it." The president was mortified, but couldn't say anything at the time. The result is obvious - the recruiting firm did not get the business.

Fact! This really did happen.

Business meal manners extend well beyond "don't talk with your mouth full" or "don't place your elbows on the table."

Learning to navigate the business meal smoothly can prevent embarrassing social gaffes or missteps, which ultimately can make or break business relationships with doctors, your management and other key decision makers.

Table setting tips

Place settings can be perplexing. Facing multiple spoons, forks and beverage glasses can be confusing, and the more courses, the more utensils.

Here are three guidelines to steer you safely through the maze:

Napkin niceties: The napkin should go on your lap once everyone has been seated. If it is a large napkin, fold it in half. If you leave the table briefly mid-meal, the napkin should be placed on your chair. At the end of the meal, put your napkin to the left of your plate.

Managing silverware: Confused about which item is yours? Here's an easy way to remember: The word left has four letters; so does the word fork. The word right has five letters; so do the words knife and spoon. So the fork is on your left, and the knife and spoon are set to your right.

Bread plate basics: I'm sure that most professionals have looked at what they thought was their bread plate, only to find their neighbor using it. Here's the rule: Eat to your left, drink to your right. Any food dish to the left is yours, and any glass to the right is yours. If your neighbor has accidentally used your bread plate, don't embarrass him or her. Quietly ask the waiter for another.

Dutch treat?

Whenever you dine with one of your doctors or customers, you should know the overall etiquette rules concerning client meals and who pays before entering the restaurant. It goes without saying that, with strict Food and Drug Administration guidelines in place about giving doctors gifts, reps have to make sure they are following the letter of the law – and, of course, their own companies' policies.

Typically, whoever does the inviting pays. If a salesperson takes a customer to a restaurant, he or she should try to arrange beforehand for no check to come to the table – either prepay or provide a credit card number long before the guest arrives. If you are unable to arrange this ahead of time, then request the check when the meal is done. Either way, make sure you sign the receipt and give an appropriate tip. If your guest offers to pay, say something like, "Today you're the guest of XYZ Company."

Remember the basics

There are 10 basic points to remember about proper dining etiquette:

•Â Don't clean your plate. It's okay to leave the parsley or other garnish.

•Â Always treat your server with respect - address the person by name if requested; otherwise use "waiter," "waitress," "sir" or "ma'am." Never snap your fingers to get his or her attention.

•Â Don't turn your wine glass upside-down if you do not want wine. Say, "no thank you," shake your head or put your fingertips over the rim of the glass.

•Â Never cut bread or rolls. Break off and butter one piece at a time.

•Â When in doubt, use a utensil rather than your fingers, even with foods you eat by hand at home.

•Â Do not blow on your coffee, tea or soup to cool it.

•Â Tuck paper trash - empty sugar packs, plastic cups from creamer, straw wrappers – under the rim of your plate or on the edge of the saucer or butter plate.

•Â If you are unsure how to eat something that comes with what you've ordered, leave it or watch to see how others eat it and imitate them.

•Â And … don't ask for a "doggy bag" - for your leftovers or anyone else's!

Knowing the proper protocols concerning business meals will help make you and those who dine with you more comfortable … and that's the sign of a true professional. PR

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