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ENTERTAINING ETIQUETTE
March 20, 2009
Section: Hotels & Travel
By: Tina Lofthouse


DON'T TALK WITH YOUR MOUTH FULL
So you know not to tuck your napkin into your collar – but it’s amazing how many faux
pas are still actually committed, whether you’re entertaining over dinner or at an
informal networking event, writes Tina Lofthouse.

A business-woman sits at a table in a top restaurant waiting for her client. As she waits she
applies lipstick, combs her hair – and then reaches into her suit jacket and pulls her breasts
up in her bra. Her guest arrives. Phew, thank god he hadn’t turned up a split second earlier.
She then notices with horror the mirrored wall facing her, which would have been fully visible
as he made his way from the entrance to the table. And yes, he’d seen her in action, as had
several other diners.

Mortifying, absolutely – and one of several cringe-worthy anecdotes told by Linda Allan, a
management consultant and coach specialising in business behaviours, on what not to do
when client entertaining. “I’ve seen people clean their specs or mop their head with a dinner
napkin,” she says.

“I once saw a well-dressed senior executive clean his shoes with his napkin while he waited
for his guests to arrive. He then put his napkin on his lap for the meal.” Another business
diner, she recalls, was waiving his steak knife in the air somewhat energetically as he talked
– nearly poking the waitress’s eye out in the process.

Causing offence
Extremes, maybe, but there are still plenty of other ways you can end up offending your
contacts when the whole idea of client entertaining is to impress. “Never keep your mobile
phone switched on,” says etiquette expert Heather Pickering of Protocol Plus. “Do not send
or receive text messages or calls. I was invited to lunch by someone, who used his mobile
continually at the table. After the first course, I said if he had more important things to do
than pay attention to me, I would leave him to it – which I did.”

Seating plan
Who sits where can be a minefield. “When accompanying guests to the table, allow them to
precede you. They should follow behind the wait staff who should pull the best chair out first.
The head guest takes the first chair pulled,” says Allan. Incidentally, “the host takes a chair
facing the kitchen or service area. Not only does that avoid guests having those views, it
ensures they will be easily able to monitor the flow of the meal and catch wait staff’s attention
if needed.”

The price is right?
Ah yes – sommeliers – the best are worth their weight in gold; others make you spend more
than you want, knowing full well you won’t say anything in front of business guests or won’t
care as it is on expenses. But with entertaining budgets being slashed, the pressure is on to
avoid that upselling sommelier.

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“The host retains control of the wine list – even if a wine connoisseur is among the guests,”
says Allan. “To get a recommendation at your desired price level, point to the price of a wine
on the list and say to the sommelier, ‘I was thinking of this wine. What do you think?’ If your
selection is not appropriate, the waiter should suggest an alternative – at a similar price level
to what you pointed to.”

See you at breakfast
‘Power breakfasts’ are on the rise and while the wine list isn’t something you need to worry
about (hopefully), there are still etiquette rules at play. “These breakfasts are meant to be
fast and productive – usually an hour at most,” says Allan. “It’s ok to bring a newspaper to
read but only while you’re waiting for guests! A more relaxed atmosphere usually prevails for
breakfast, but that doesn’t mean more relaxed table manners or dress.” Oh, and don’t yawn,
or turn up with the remnants of last night’s garlic bread on your breath.

Speaking of dress, find out from the restaurant or venue what the preferred dress code is
and convey that in advance to your guests, if necessary. This is even more important if the
event is a day at the races, for instance.

A grand day out
“As host, your role is to monitor the flow, pace and mood of the event, whatever the
occasion,” Allan points out. “And it is your job to ensure no one drinks too much. Hosts
should maintain control of drinks orders. Alert wait staff ahead of time that they should stop
filling a person’s wine glass if they drink too fast.”

At self-service events or where there is bar service, it’s difficult to guide guests appropriately
but, again, ask waiting staff in advance to inform you of anyone who drinks too much. “A
drunken guest will spoil the event for other guests and will tarnish the reputation of the host
and of the hosting organisation,” says Allan.

But, what do you do, when despite your best efforts, one of your guests has become rather
too enthusiastic with the free wine? Using tact, it is time to initiate the sharp exit: ‘Drunks
should be put in a taxi and sent home, preferably with a sober friend. Drunk women should
not be sent home on their own,’ says Pickering. ‘Drunks behave dreadfully – expect an
ocean of complaints about political correctness.’

Last one standing
Sounds exhausting. So when can you make your exit? Should you be the last person
standing at the bar? Afraid so. “If you are the host at a corporate event, you leave at the
end. Not before, unless you are the chairman or CEO,” says Heather. “You have to sign off
the bar consumption, check everyone has a lift home, liaise with the events person who has
organised the do, tip staff, dole out the flowers, look under the tables for lost property. Your
event, your responsibility.”

If it’s not your event, then never outstay your welcome – that means leaving 10 to 15 minutes
before the stated end time. Adds Allan: “At a meal, the host signals the end of the meal by
placing their napkin on the table. At that point, all guests should stop eating and drinking and
stand up to leave.”

International etiquette
And life gets even more complicated when these events go international, with etiquette
around the world varying hugely. In Japan and China, for example, guests should leave

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some food as it shows that the host has provided enough. In other cultures, eating
everything is the ultimate compliment.
Check out what the cultural expectations are beforehand regarding such seemingly simple
things as handshakes, presenting business cards, and when (or if) business can be
introduced as a topic of conversation. Typically, the host always pays the bill – but some
cultures will make a display of fighting to pay.

Even how you place your knife and fork to signal you have finished, or use them to eat,
varies between countries – in Germany, for instance, whatever you can cut with a fork do so
as using the knife indicates something is not tender. Incidentally, if you’re eating with
chopsticks, never leave them stuck out of your bowl vertically (it is symbolic of death) and it’s
never big or clever to use them as drumsticks.

Five top entertaining tips
1. Avoid difficult foods, says Allan: “Spaghetti, mussels in the shell in a sauce, quail or
   anything with small bones, whole cherry tomatoes, olives with pits, hamburgers and
   piled-high sandwiches – no matter how decadent the ingredients.”
2. No one, host or guest, ever clicks fingers at the wait staff, nor waves their napkin around,
   Michael Winner style, says Pickering.
3. Toothpicks – it’s pretty grim watching someone ferret around their mouth with a stick,
   chasing that stray piece of spinach. Still, they are routinely offered – and good manners
   in some cultures as long as put your free hand over your mouth.
4. At a buffet, put what you want on your plate and move away. Never eat over the table.
   Don’t hover – it is not the area for networking.
5. If extending a restaurant invite, always state where you’ll meet: in the foyer, bar, or at the
   table.




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