20 Tips for Important Dinner Engagements

Posted by Todd Smith

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I once had the privilege of attending a black tie dinner in Bangkok, Thailand. Not only was it a great opportunity to spend time with a group of distinguished leaders from around the world, but it was also served as a reminder of the importance of proper dinner etiquette. I am far from being Mr. Manners, but I have learned a lot over my career about how to handle myself at important dinner engagements.

In this lesson I will highlight the top twenty things I’ve learned about being a dinner guest. By following these simple rules you will make a positive impression on everyone at the table.

1. Prepare in advance—Make sure you know what you are going to wear including all the accessories and give yourself plenty of time to get ready. I won’t tell you about the time I left my tuxedo shirt at home and didn’t realize it until I was getting dressed in my hotel room.

2. Look good—Discover what the dress code is in advance and make sure you look your best. If you are unsure, you are better off over dressing than under dressing. One of the last things you want to do for an important dinner is to feel under dressed.

3. Arrive early—Not only do you want to be respectful of everyone’s time, but also it feels good to arrive at important appointments early. Being early is a stress reliever. Just don’t be too early as you don’t want to catch your host and hostess off guard and unprepared for your arrival.

4. Greet everyone—Make sure you greet each dinner guest with a warm smile, a firm handshake if appropriate, and repeat his or her name.

5. Wait to be seated—Ask the host where he or she would like you to sit. You want to be respectful of how they would like the group seated.

6. Don’t be the first to order an alcoholic drink—I enjoy a nice glass wine when dining out but I wait to see what the other guests request. A cold glass of water is a good choice and then if everyone else orders an alcoholic beverage, you can order one as well.

7. Go with the flow—If everyone at the table is drinking plain water, don’t ask for sparkling water. Remember, the more people feel they have something in common with you, the more connected they will feel with you. And it just plainly makes things easier.

8. Focus your attention on the person talking—When someone is talking, make sure you maintain 100% eye contact with this person. This demonstrates your respect for the person and indicates that the topic of conversation is of interest to you. This is even true when the waiter arrives at your table to take a drink or dinner order. If you turn your attention to the waiter, then you are indicating the waiter is more important than your dinner guest.

9. Include everyone when talking—When you are the one talking, be sure to share eye contact with each person at the table. This action demonstrates that each person is important to you. It also communicates to them that you understand the importance of including them in the conversation.

10. Think before you speak—Don’t be quick to jump into the conversation. Instead be a respectful listener and observer. When you do talk, carefully consider what you say.

11. Don’t talk about yourself—Unless someone asks you to talk about yourself, resist the temptation. Instead, show an interest in others by asking questions about them and their interests. Then listen attentively and continue the conversation accordingly.

12. Don’t start a side conversation—Be sure to focus your attention on the person speaking, even if they aren’t making eye contact with you. They may not understand its significance.

13. Don’t change the conversation—Unless a conversation is clearly over, don’t change the topic being discussed. If you change the conversation it could be perceived that you don’t have an interest in what’s being discussed.

14. Leaving the table—Don’t get up to leave the table in the middle of a conversation. Wait until there is a pause or a shift in the conversation. Otherwise your actions could be interpreted as a lack of interest in the conversation and the person speaking may well take offense.

15. Wait until everyone is served—Wait until everyone has received his or her food before you start eating.

16. Don’t cut up all the food on your plate—Since you are not feeding your two year old, cut up your food as you go. Sorry, if this sounds trivial or condescending but I have seen far too many people do this!

17. Don’t drink too much—Of all times you don’t want to over drink, important dinner engagements ranks at the top of the list. If you want more to drink, then wait until the dinner party is over.

18. Pass it—If someone asks for the rolls that are in front of your place, always pass them the basket without taking one. After they take what they want, you can ask that it be passed back to you and at that time it is appropriate to take one.

19. Be on your best behavior—Sit up straight; leave your elbows off the table; don’t pick your teeth and all the other things your mother taught you!

20. Help clean up—If the dinner engagement is at someone’s home, help clean up. If they decline your offer, simply say, “I would enjoy helping you clean up. Would you please allow me to help you?” When they accept your offer, help them clean up until the job is finished or until your host wants to take a break. If they decline your help because they would rather continue the conversation in another room, ask them again when the party is over.

Let me encourage you to follow these twenty tips at your next dinner engagement. If you do, you will make a positive impression on everyone, you will feel good about yourself and who you are becoming and your value to the market will grow.

If you like the lessons I am sharing through my daily blog posts and podcasts, I would appreciate it if you tell your friends, family and business associates about my blog at LittleThingsMatter.com.

Remember, you can make a positive impression on others if you will focus on the little things that matter.

About the Author:

Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 34 years and founder of Little Things Matter. To receive Todd’s lessons, subscribe here. All Todd’s lessons are also available on iTunes as downloadable podcasts.


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