In planning the perfect business dinner, most guests know that it’s not just important to have a seat at the table—it’s also about where you are seated at that table. Proper placement of guests is a vital component of any dinner event, especially when it has to do with a formal business occasion. When devising a seating chart, a host must take many things into consideration, including the position of honor, where to place international guests and details such as place cards and proper greetings. Knowing these finer points will help guests feel respected and held in high esteem and the host will be remembered for executing a most successful event.
Business dining seating strategies to consider:
- When selecting where to dine, always choose a restaurant or special event venue with which you are familiar. This will give you a head start on knowing menu choices, specialties and what the general level of service will be. Be sure to book the venue well in advance to secure the best table, avoiding tables that face a mirror or are near the kitchen or restrooms. If your dinner party will have an odd number of guests, be sure to request a round table so that no one sits next to an empty seat.
- When creating a seating chart, the position of honor is always to the right of the host. If you have more than one honored guest, then the second highest-ranking guest sits to your left. When there is a third honored guest, they sit to the right of your first honored guest. You’ll notice that gender does not play a role in determining a seat of honor while rank—or position of importance—always does.
- If multiple languages are to be spoken, include appropriately placed interpreters at the table. This will help persons of different cultures feel welcome in a host country.
- Once you have selected a restaurant or venue, share your seating plan with the maître d’ or let them know that you will be directing seating when you arrive. For large groups you may wish to use place cards.
- If you are hosting the event, you should arrive early and greet your guests at the entrance. If you and a guest arrive at the same time, walk in together, pause at the captain’s station, and allow the captain to lead you to your table. The guest follows the captain while you follow the guest. Once at the table, indicate to your guests where they should sit.
Other business dining tips to remember:
- If you must go to the table to await your guests, don’t order a drink or open your napkin. You want to look as if you just arrived.
- When your guests arrive, rise to greet them and remain standing until they are seated.
- Contrary to social rules that many of us were taught at an early age, you should never pull out a guest’s chair for them at a business dinner—regardless of gender. In a business dinner setting, gendered social rules do not apply.
- Leave your napkin on the table until all your guests have been seated. If there are business issues you’d like to address before the meal, leave your napkin on the table until those discussions are concluded. Placing your napkin in your lap will signal to the waitstaff that you are ready to order.
- Once the meal has been served, eat at a moderate speed and make sure that your guests are not waiting for you to finish. Even though you are dining, remember the first priority is business—not the food.
- Unless it’s a special celebration, alcoholic beverages should not be served at a business dinner. This will help keep things on a professional level during the course of your meal.
- For both the host and guests, try to refrain from leaving the table except in case of an emergency. If you must go to the restroom, simply excuse yourself and exit the table in a discrete manner.
- Before the business talk begins, a host should have some general conversation topics ready at all times. Topics to avoid include politics and religion or anything else that might promote too much debate.
Of course, not every point will apply to every entertaining setting or event. However, adhering to these basic guidelines as much as the situation allows will demonstrate respect and an understanding of executing a successful business dinner.
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