Can Sloppy Manners Mess Up Your Career?

Don’t let a great business deal slip through your fingers because you’re eating with your hands. Peggy Jackson ’98MHR teaches the art of making deals over meals.

At a formal business dinner with a potential client, do you know which fork to use with each course? At a job interview over lunch, are you worried about grabbing someone else’s water glass, or worse, eating off their bread plate?

What if you’re sitting near the boss and don’t have anything to say? Staying tongue-tied is hardly the best way to boost your career.

Business meals may seem fraught with hidden snares and secret rules, but they need not cause heartburn, said Peggy Jackson ’98MHR, founder of Thrive Development Partners.

“People worry that there’s a specific set of rules that no one has shared with them” says Jackson, who has spent more than a decade in human resources and corporate and leadership training.

To ease concerns and provide tips for navigating smoothly through a business meal at a sandwich shop or a formal dinner, Jackson gives seminars in the Art of Business Dining for Rollins undergraduates, graduate students, staff, and others in the corporate community beyond campus.

She knows how awkward it is to meet new people and try to find connections. “I used to think networking was a dirty word. I did not enjoy it,” says Jackson, whose company offers leadership and corporate training and development.

Her corporate dining seminars usually include a multi-course meal during which participants get a chance to practice their table talk and networking skills while learning the basics of good etiquette. Among her strategies for making business meals more palatable are these 10 tips:

1. Success at a business meal is not about the arcane rules of dining. It’s more about being at ease around others. “You should know enough of the rules to feel confident and make those around you feel comfortable,” Jackson says. “And that will help you make the most of business dining opportunities.”

2. You’re not expected to be a gourmet. “It’s not about the food,” Jackson says. “It’s about the people. For employers, it’s about a person’s fit for their corporation.”

3. Don’t dominate discussions. “Take your cues from the host.” The host usually has an idea of how he or she wants to pace the meal and where to lead the conversations.

4. Be prepared with some icebreakers. “Don’t wing it. Do take the time to prepare. Learn to ask good questions. That takes the pressure off of you and taps into your natural curiosity about other people.”

5. Avoid finger foods. Use commonsense. “You don’t want to be the person gnawing on ribs and getting sauce on yourself.”

6. Your parents were right. Eat slowly. Keep your elbows off the table. Don’t talk with your mouth full. And, for goodness sakes, don’t reach over someone’s plate to grab a dinner roll.

7. Don’t drink alcohol. Keep your wits about you. Stay sharp. Decline the wine. But if the host insists, you may accept a glass and savor slowly. “Sip,” Jackson warns. “Don’t guzzle,”

8. Work inward. If there are multiple courses and many forks and knives on the table in front of you, remember to use the flatware farthest from your plate for the first course. After that, work inward toward the plate with each successive course.

9. Whose glass is whose? Place your thumb and index finger together on each hand. Do you see how your left hand seems to form a lowercase B and the right hand forms a lowercase D? That’s a reminder that your bread plate is on the left and your drink is on the right.

10. Conversation should keep pace with the meal. The meal begins with appetizers, so the conversation also should be light at the start. The main course is more substantial and the discussion should be as well. As things wind down over dessert, the talk should likewise end with something sweet and easy.

Rollins College Etiquette Dinner and Networking Event
hosted by the Office of Career and Life Planning

Learn valuable interviewing skills over a four-course dinner.

February 17, 2015
5:30 - 8 p.m.
Mills Memorial Hall lobby
Open to Rollins students, alumni, and staff
Meal plan, TarBuc$, cash, and checks accepted

RSVP by February 9