By Jennie Wong
The Charlotte Observer.
Breaking bread with our business associates is such a normal thing, sometimes we forget the fine points of dining while doing deals. So here’s a quick rundown of mistakes to avoid at your next business meal.
Mistake 1: Show up starving. At the beginning of “Gone with the Wind,” Scarlett O’Hara is told to eat before a party, and that’s still good advice. Sharing a meal with someone, be they a mentor, prospect, employee or client, is a chance to be fully present. Carving time out of everyone’s busy schedules to be at the same place, at the same time, drinking the same ice water with lemon should be treated as a special occasion.
So if you’re really hungry, take a moment before the appointed hour to have a snack. That way, when you arrive at lunch or happy hour, you can fully engage with the person you’re meeting, instead of with the plate in front of you. Sometimes, I even peruse the restaurant menu online, in advance, to better focus my attention on my dining companion.
Mistake 2: Rush the rapport. Everyone has a different tolerance for chit-chat before getting down to business. For someone you know very well, sometimes a warm greeting is all that is needed before diving into the details. For others, a business meal or drink is all about the bonding. Some people are looking to decide if they like and trust you before they decide whether they want a business relationship with you.
My natural preference is to jump right into the matter at hand, but over the years I’ve learned to sit back and let the other person take the lead at the beginning of a get-together. If the person across the table wants to break out the spreadsheets before we’ve even ordered, I couldn’t be happier.