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Beyond Please and Thank You

Written by Annie Beckmann
March 26, 2012

Business etiquette consultant Arden Clise can fill an entire evening with what's savvy and what's not for today's professionals who take part in a business meal or networking event. That's exactly what she does once a year for a capacity crowd of more than 100 Albers School of Business and Economics students. The most recent business etiquette dinner was Feb. 29 in the Student Center, where whole cherry tomatoes and long strands of spaghetti were challenging elements of the meal. 

There's a spike of interest in etiquette on university campuses nationwide as more students see how good handshakes, proper introductions and food and drink finesse can play a role in landing the jobs of their dreams.  At SU, this 15-year tradition speaks to preparing students to become business leaders.   

Here are many of the tips and tricks Clise shared:  

  • The handshake began as a way to show you didn't have a weapon in your hand. The proper way to shake hands? Eye contact first, followed by a firm grip all the way into the other person's hand, two to three pumps, then release.
  • Wear your name tag about four inches from your shoulder on the right so when you shake hands people can look up and read it easily.
  • Business introductions are based on authority, not gender and age. You start by saying the name of the person with the most authority: Mary (CEO), this is Bob (manager). The one exception? If the person is a client you say the name of the client first.
  • Try to have open body language at networking events with arms down, maybe just one hand in a pocket, not crossed arms or both hands in your pockets.
  • The best conversationalists are the good listeners. Don't be thinking about the next thing you're going to talk about.
  • At the table, there's a trick to remembering which bread plate and drinking glass is yours. Bring your thumb and forefinger together on each hand. Voila! The left forms a b (for bread), the right a d (for drink).
  • Never order alcohol at business lunches.
  • When your place setting features a dizzying array of silverware, always work your way from the outside inward. More often than not, the dessert fork and spoon are above the plate.
  • Fold your napkin into a rectangle before putting it on your lap. Blot your lips with your napkin before you take a first sip of your drink so you don't leave lipstick or greasy food stains on the glass. The napkin goes on your chair if you have to leave the table. After the meal, place the napkin to the left of the plate, crumpled to hide any stains.
  • When you host a business meal, you set the tone and guests follow your pace. Guests always get the nicest view. The host is the first to start eating, but only after everyone is served (for six or fewer people). For seven or more at the table, it's fine for the host to start when only a few have been served.
  • Pass food at the table to the right. It's fine to take some and then pass it.
  • If you have to lift more than one cheek off your chair, you're reaching too far for something at the table.  The best option is to request that it be passed your way.   
  • If someone asks you to pass the salt (more on that to follow) and it's within your reach (see the last tip), hand them the salt and pepper together. Salt and pepper are a little like a married couple.
  • Never salt your food before you taste it. Prospective employers and clients will notice and aren't likely to hire you if you do.
  • You can squeeze a wedge of lemon on your food, but a slice of lemon should find its way into your water or iced tea without squeezing.
  • When you know you'll be asked a lot of questions at a business meal, the key is to take small bites. That way if you're asked to respond mid-bite, you can swallow quickly and answer.
  • Soup is trickier to eat properly than you may think. Always scoop your spoonful of soup away from you before bringing it to your mouth. If you want crackers in your soup, only add a couple at a time.
  • Stab the firm, stem part of a whole cherry tomato with your fork, then cut it in half with your knife.
  • Don't order spaghetti (or anything else you sense might be difficult to eat) at a business meal.
  • If you must eat spaghetti, use your fork to pull just a few strands out of the pile to twirl at the edge of your plate.
  • It looks childish to cut up all your food on your plate before you eat it. That's what your parents did for you as a child.
  • If they're crisp and not limp, asparagus and bacon can be eaten with your fingers.
  • When you encounter gristle or bone in a mouthful, don't spit it on your fork or into your napkin. Instead, take it out of your mouth by cupping the fingertips of one hand to your lips, then put it on your plate where it won't be seen.
  • Elbows on the table are OK, but only between courses.
  • At a hosted occasion, when you have a complaint, don't address the wait staff directly. Complain to your host, who should then get up and speak separately with the wait staff.
  • If you feel you have food stuck in your teeth, pardon yourself and exit to the bathroom. Don't pick it out at the table. When you spot something in someone else's teeth, it's OK to tell them discreetly.
  • Don't request a doggie bag at a business meal.

For more about the recent Albers etiquette dinner, watch for an upcoming issue of Seattle University Magazine. To learn more about Arden Clise, her seminars (she teaches classes for children, too) and consulting, visit www.CliseEtiquette.com.