Mark & Mike, great details so far. Just when I think your might've touched on everything... BAM!... you come out with another epic topic. I thought I knew a thing or two about this subject but there were a few things I had never considered (like the seating).

What a way to end the 'cast, a great M-T cliff hanger: how many drinks?!?!?

Also, I can't wait to hear the iced tea bit, please tell me that thought is finished in the second half (I'm glad to know I'm not the only one that hates when someone pours tea in my glass that already had the perfect blend of ice, tea and sweetener).

wendii's picture

this doesn't apply to me.. I remembered turning down a job because I didn't want to go to lunch with suppliers. And I thought about going to lunch with the clients I was meeting today, and I really nervous.

At least I'm confident now that I can seat and eat properly, now I just need to know who pays and how! Roll on next week!


bflynn's picture

[quote="DaveTehre"]Also, I can't wait to hear the iced tea bit, please tell me that thought is finished in the second half (I'm glad to know I'm not the only one that hates when someone pours tea in my glass that already had the perfect blend of ice, tea and sweetener).[/quote]

This reminds be of a personal experience, I'll share - I hope I'm not stealing Mark's thunder.

We were having a business lunch as part of a project kick off meeting in Austin, Texas. One lady, from the deep South, asked if they had "Sweet Tea". The conversation went like this:

Lady: Do you have Sweet Tea?
Waiter: What's that?
Lady: It's tea, brewed with sugar.
Waiter: Well, we have iced tea. I can bring some sugar.
Lady: I'll have a coke. She said it in a tone that conveyed "you don't understand, just bring me something that I know you can't mess up."

My point isn't to show that tea is a local thing - although different parts of the country do serve it differently. Its about the impression that this lady made. During this kick off meeting, before any of us knew her, the first act that we witnessed was one of her being picky, even arrogant about what she drank. Business meals aren't about the meal. Eat and drink safe things, even if they're boring. You don't want the food or drink to become a distraction.

BTW, for those who have never been to the southeastern US - tea is frequently served one way here, highly sugared and ice cold. In a half gallon of tea, there could be 2 cups of sugar added. It is a regional drink, one that you aren't likely to find anywhere else. You'll know that you're getting near the south when the wait staff starts asking if you want sweetened or unsweetened tea. You know that you've arrived in the south when they stop asking.


mauzenne's picture

Great story, Brian. You hit the nail on the head of course ... it ain't about eating!


MattJBeckwith's picture

Brian, that is classic. I remember years ago when I worked in the restaurant biz and customers used to ask if we had sweet tea. Being from Northern California I didn't know restaurants served it that way. Once I learned that little bit of (very useful) info I would always reply, "I am so sorry, we don't have sweet tea, I'd be happy to try and make a batch myself... but I'm sure I'll do a big injustice to what you're probably used to. So, I assume you're from the south... where abouts?" I always got great tips from those customers.

Mark's picture


Interestingly, if you're going out to a nice dinner, many executives and those with more refined tastes would look askance at ordering a soft drink with dinner. Totally messes up your palate for the food, and is seen as a teenage drink.

If you're not certain: water during, coffee if you like after.


MikeK's picture

Great podcast guys.

As for the waiting for food bit. I always try to wait. Friends, business, whatever. The problem and most ackward is when your host starts to eat before everyone is served (or any ONE person at the table when the rest are waiting). I've even been asked from someone, already eating, what are you waiting for??

Any recommendations to help smooth that over? Is it rude to say what you are waiting for if they already have their mouth full?? :oops:

D's picture

Hi Mark & Mike - certainly wasn't expecting meal etiquette from this podcast! But it couldn't have come at a better time! In my current job, I don't get a chance to do many business meals unless it is something very casual in our company cafe with other employees. I'm heading off to Washington, DC next week and meeting with some pretty high-level government officials pertaining to a contract our company was just rewarded. We will be having lunch and this podcast was a great refresher for me! A lot of your advice is common sense but it is amazing how many people really do the wrong thing. I have had lunch with folks that dunk their ties in their soup, splatter salad dressing all over a silk blouse (mine!!!), and order up meals so complicated that no kitchen or server could get it straight! I haven't listened to the second half yet but looking forward to finishing it up! Any restaurant suggestions for DC?

Mark's picture


When someone else is engaged in a social gaffe, it's impolite to make other than a gentle suggestion, and not to point out their error. So:

"I'll wait until everyone has their food." (Please - no thinly veiled contempt in your delivery)

If your associate keeps eating, that's their decision and it calls for no further action on your part.

The fact is, most restaurants are quite good about bringing meals at the appropriate time, and you won't have to wait long.


dbeene's picture

I drink unsweetened tea. (Yeah -- a northerner, but I have lived in the south . . . when they say sweetened tea, they mean it!)

Anyway, my first thought about the hazards of drinking iced tea was that tea is a diuretic. And even though biological functions are a fact of life for everyone, there's no sense in consuming food/drink that are a catalyst for nature's call. :)

russdev's picture

Interesting comment about coke like most things I suppose it depends on who you are meeting with as common in circle of my job for people to drink coke (we are IT based an you know how IT people love the caffeine)…

Also what is best thing is situations were meal moves from dinner to a bar of some kind as in terms you don’t want to be drinking more alcohol but lot of bars don’t serve many non-alcoholic drinks other than coke. What is best thing then…



Mark's picture


You're right about context. But if you drink Coke at dinner with executives, it's possible you'll be the IT guy, as opposed to an executive.

If you're not going to drink, water it is. Remember that my advice regarding these situations is not about getting you what you want to drink, but getting you what you want professionally. There are those who see my recommendations as too tight... but they are infallible, and I know too many folks who modify them "slightly" in their words, only to end up drunk or committing a faux pas.


russdev's picture


Dont worry I was more thinking outloud and collecting my thoughts I do see what you mean about coke...

Again this is just thinking outloud can i ask it is incorrect to say drink orange juice or does that have same stigma attached to it as coke just interested in what has stigma attached and why..

Also question just thought about what do you do about seating when the table round as is often case..


AManagerTool's picture

I often wonder about wine. I don't drink it and don't enjoy it particularly. When I go out for leadership conferences with our excecutives, they drink bottles and bottles of the stuff. I often drink a glass or two just to fit in and try NOT to comment on it and betray my total ignorance. If it is apparent that I have no idea what I am drinking and they find out, am I sending the message that I am not a leader?

If I order water, beer or something else that I actually enjoy what message does that send? You say you cannot go wrong with water but what if the crowd is REALLY into wine...LOL.

wendii's picture


I was thinking about something similar. I don't drink, ever, for lots of very personal reasons I wouldn't want to discuss, and some obvious ones like I don't like the taste! But I wonder if I there's an easy way of saying I'm not drinking without it sounding like there's more to that story than there is.


bflynn's picture


I was thinking about something similar. I don't drink, ever, for lots of very personal reasons I wouldn't want to discuss, and some obvious ones like I don't like the taste! But I wonder if I there's an easy way of saying I'm not drinking without it sounding like there's more to that story than there is.


Personally, I find that a simple "no, thank you", delivered in a very neutral tone works fine 99% of the time - someone might be curious, but it would be impolite to pry further. Also, it is generally accepted that some people don't drink alcohol and its OK if you are one of them. On the few occasions that I've been pressed for more, I usually explain that I don't sleep very well if I have a drink and the topic will be dropped.


AManagerTool's picture

I understand but think how the "no thank you" sounds to a prospective employer.

*This guy must be in AA! While I think it's great that he's getting his life back together, he is not doing it in my organization! Why should I take that risk on?*

Mark's picture

Folks, let's all calm down.

No thank you is all that is necessary. If someone were to question that, or take offense somehow, one wouldn't want them as associates.

Preparation is the key. Being fearful is normal, I suppose, but rational fear of failure can be a positive force for preparation.

Irrational fear is paranoia.

One must go, one must have liquids with one's meal, and one must be true to oneself without seeing a conspiracy in every suit. There are those who believe 9/11 was a US government plot - but that doesn't make it so... and it DOES make those who think such things cretins.

Water. No thank you to wine. And smile while making brilliant conversation and laughing, enjoying the gifts of freedom and usefulness and expense accounts.



csolomon's picture

I was at a business lunch, today, and was telling the story of this business business meal ettiquette podecast, and right after I got to the part about not eating drippy food like salads because it's going to wind up on your shirt, my boss everyone noticed that my boss's salsa had just dripped all over his shirt! Talk about timing!!

Everyone had a great laugh.

Mark's picture

There but for the Grace of God go we....

and we always intended this cast as humor. ;-)


pneuhardt's picture

Okay, I have one more suggestion for meal etiquette, one that will sound “Emily Post” at first but has a practical (and I hope Manager Tools-ish) reason behind it.

TAKE SMALL BITES!!!! And I mean pretty small ones. Almost certainly smaller than normal.

Okay yes, the late Ms. Post says it's more polite, and it is. Who wants to watch someone engorge themselves with food taken in the largest chunks possible? It tends to be much like watching a cow deal with it's cud.

But there is a practical reason as well. Look, the conversation at a business meal doesn't stop just because the meal has been served. In fact, if you follow the podcast's recommendations, that is when the business part of the discussion begins. At some point during the meal, someone is going to say something to you just as you fork a bite of food in to your mouth, and they are going to expect a response. It's called “conversation”.

So now that the food is in there, what do you do? Okay, we all know it's rude in the extreme to talk with your mouth full, so the only acceptable choice is to finish chewing, swallow and then answer. If you are chawin' down onna big ole hunka juicy steak its' going to take you at least 5 or 6 seconds to clear your mouth. That may not seem like a long time, but when you are the person sitting there waiting on a response to a statement it seems like an eternity. If it happens even once it can be annoying. Let it happen more than once during the meal and it can really disrupt the conversation.

Small bites allow you to clear your mouth and get back in the conversation again in 2 seconds, 3 at the most. It may not seem like much of a difference, but it is. In fact, it's huge. It is the difference between maintaining the flow of the conversation and having it flounder in fits and starts that are all your fault. You decide which impression you would rather give to the other people at the meal.

mauzenne's picture

Other than giving me flashbacks of my plebe year at West Point, a great tip! ;-)



Mark's picture

I am traveling, but was ready to respond with something about plebe year when I saw that Mike had.

I was once standing next to another plebe when he and I were stopped leaving the mess hall with some extra food tucked into our caps (this was not an honor violation, but it was against regulations, which I often saw as "guidance"). He was accosted (a polite term) for "taking food out of the mess hall". We thought we were in for it... when the senior cadet informed my friend that he had ketchup on his shirt.

Probably from bites that were too big!


code3banker's picture

Great show!! I thought your advice on tea was great. Now I would like to sollicit anyone's opinion on something that happened today at lunch. We went to a national chain restaurant and they put straws on the table for the drinks. How do you deal with that... pocket the straw wrapper? Reminds me a lot of the sugar packets--but this is a sorta have to deal with situation.

DanStratton's picture

I always shoot the straw wrapper at the waitress...

Those straws can be dangerous. I forgot I had a straw in the glass one time and rammed it up my nose trying to take a drink. Huge embarrasment! Since then, straws are for kids.

Mark's picture

Ladies and gentlemen do not drink through straws, nor open straws, nor fiddle with wrappers in any way.

There is a joke here about slippery slopes, but I am not that clever.

Leave them alone.


dweyland's picture

I was thinking back on all the good recommendations you give in your podcasts, and remembered there is one that I can't agree with!

In this podcast you recommended sitting at 12:00 and 3:00 at a square table if there are only 2 at the meal, rather than sitting across from each other. I actually tried that with a vendor, and it was so uncomfortable, I didn't last more than 10 seconds!

If I tried this with a female associate, I'd worry what others inferred from the seating arrangement - way to intimate for my taste.

Am I wrong? Anyone else think Mark is way off base on this? :wink:

Mark's picture

I don't. :wink:

Remember that it may be the table - if it's too small, it may seem to be a little too close.


GlennR's picture

I went to a lot of rock concerts in my younger days and now my hearing is not as sharp as it once was.

If you are the person selecting the restaurant, and you will be meeting people middle-aged or older, consider the noise level in the restaurant. (I don't remember if this was addressed in the podcast.)

Restaurants (frequently chains) that use the "one big room with concrete floors or tile" format are the worst. I'm sure they choose this layout for ease of staffing and cleaning, but the downside is usually increased noise level.

Look for restaurants with carpeting and dividers or multiple rooms where the walls and floor absorb, rather than reflect, noise.

If you don't have a hearing problem, this may not be obvious to you. But if the people you are meeting with do, then your meeting may be less productive because of the difficulty in communicating. They may uncomfortable in telling you that they can't hear. And remember, you want them to be comfortable so that you can conduct business.



Mark's picture

Glenn makes a GREAT point I'll piggyback on.

For most cities I go to, I have several different restaurants I keep on a short list. I have a "totally posh close the deal or deliver good or bad news at" spot, a quiet quiet discreet place where the right table sends a message of "total focus" message, and a couple of loud places where price varies widely but no one can overhear what we're going to say, and the tone makes any message less serious.

Example: Sam and Harry's in Washington DC sends a different message than Ruth's Chris in Northern VA. I love Hugo's Frog Bar (the bartenders there are quite good) in Chicago, but would rather close a deal at the Drake Hotel.

EACH of these choices considers acoustics. Quoting a price that you have to repeat because of the rock music blaring is embarrassing. And, having to whisper in order to avoid a list of names (sometimes it IS layoffs) being overheard is also galactically dumb.

We recommend each of you having a similar list in your hometown, so... don't ask for MY list. Your list ought to work for you.


PS: A bonus tip: You CAN "buy" extra tables around you at lunchtime, believe it or not. Go in advance, pick where you want to sit that considers the fewest tables you'd have to buy, tip the host(ess), get there VERY early, and ask them to leave a buffer around you, and pay dearly for it. I've done this several times, and while it's not cheap, it REALLY REALLY works well. A hundred dollars at lunch is the equivalent of a THOUSAND at dinner. If you go often, I bet you see the same waitress in a certain section. That makes it easier.

pneuhardt's picture


Once again you have given advice I had never heard anywhere else in "buying" the tables around you. I don't know when, if ever, I will need to do that, but this is one tip I will never forget.

The other memorable tip like that is one I first read about in a book by Harvey Mackay, and heard you repeat on your podcast (or at least I think I did) and that is to prepay for the dinner so that no check ever arrives at the table. I have used that to great advantage a couple of times. I would assume the two could be combined?

Mark's picture


I really don't think you can buy the nearby tables and NOT do it in advance. I've always paid and tipped in advance.

I've only used it, say, 5-7 times... and it works every time.


jwrobbs's picture

I listened to this cast in the car so I may have missed it. But do you (or anyone else) have any comments on handedness? If you know that the guest is left handed, does that trump other seating requirements? Would planning for handedness cross the line between politeness and rump kissing? I'm guessing yes and no respectively.


Mark's picture

Planning for handedness has a couple of subtleties, which are made slightly easier in the business world than in the more formal world of governmental relations and high society, where rank is more formal and etiquette more strictly adhered to.

If you are at a dinner that IS formal, one must simply make do. In other words, do not ask for nor expect to receive special seating (i.e., a corner seat). The formal ranks and privileges associated make it ... gauche, to use the language of such events.

It it highly unlikely that you will ever be at a formal dinner in a business function in the Americas. If you were, it would be senior executives, it would be black tie, and there would likely be a formal presentation, etc. These are RARE. I cannot speak to the potential use of formal etiquette in Europe, Asia, or Africa..but I would doubt it for 99% of Manager Tools listeners. Within 20 or 30 years, my guess is that that level of formality will only exist in old money ultra rich society dinners and formal diplomatic and state functions. ONLY.

As for 99% of situations that the rest of us will find ourselves in. [Please do not read this to say that etiquette is not to be used commonly - it is always appropriate, usually uplifting, and often missing.] If you are the host, it reasonable to assume to NOT plan for this. And...

If you are the guest, it is CERTAINLY reasonable to let your host know, and the gracious host will do his or her best to make changes, if there is a seating chart. If you notify the host and they seem nonplussed, that is THEIR issue, and if they do not accede to your wishes, use good manners and smile and forget and forgive.

Further, if all else fails and you are left, so to speak, to fend for your elbow's selves, simply inform your dinner partner (he or she seated to your left) that, "I am left handed, and I hope you do not easily bruise and that I do not eat as if my arms are chicken wings." Smiles will accompany your first course.

If, as is far more likely, you are at a dinner function in a restaurant and there IS no seating chart, you must asses the ranks and formality of the event (for which, refer above), and see if you cannot arrange a seat that protects your partner. If there are eyebrows raised, ensure that you characterize your move as a matter of courtesy to ANOTHER versus convenience for you. E.G., while smiling: "Just avoiding having someone on my left. I'm left-handed, and wouldn't want to be poking them all evening." [Evening, by the way, is a great word to send a subtle message about grace and formality.]

Finally, if you are a host, you may plan as if everyone is right handed, unless you specifically know better. If you are asked, do your best. If you cannot, apologize... and don't serve chicken wings.


rthibode's picture

Hi folks,

I have a question about table service. I've noticed that it is common in North America (at least where I've been) for waitstaff to clear the plates of individuals as soon as they've finished eating. In the European countries I've visited, it seemed much more common to clear the whole table once everyone has finished eating.

I MUCH prefer the latter. As a slow eater, I just hate to be left eating while my companions have already had their plates cleared. I either feel rushed through my meal, or (more often) I just ask the staff to take my plate at the same time. On those rare occasions that I'm the first person to finish, I also feel uncomfortable, as though I am rushing my companion.

Does anyone else think this is a problem? If so, what can be done?

aspiringceo's picture

Hi Rachelle,
Although this may be a North American habit, it is becoming more and more prevalent in Europe with the exception of good restaurants. The correct table etiquette is to wait until everyone has finished, or if it appears everyone is done to approach, the person with the most left on their plate and ask, “may I clear your plate"

In the main, I think the reason why plates are quickly cleared away is because it is an intentional gesture on behalf of the restaurant to try to get your group to hurry up and clear the table so they can seat someone else.

As to what can be done. I would suggest that if the waiter attempts to clear the table you politely ask him/her to wait for a bit longer.

Incidentally good etiquette would also suggest that if you are a slow eater that you should stop eating if your host is finished you should try to finish up in sync with your host/majority of your group—if you have a small portion left and it can be finished in 2 or 3 minutes, continue if you would like. If it would take longer than that, leave it, unless the host insists or the rest of the group is finishing their meal too.


MattJBeckwith's picture

Rachelle, for a number of years I worked in restaurants (and enjoyed it very much) and will add that clearing plates is often a necessity to avoid the clutter of having appetizer, salad and entree plates piling up. Done right, it can be a great service (provided the ones taking the dishes aren't too aggressive).

Although I can't offer any suggestion on how to get through it if you're the last one eating and feel compelled to let your plate go with half of the entree left I will say that you should remember this when you are the host. When I am hosting a meal I try to pick out the slowest eater and match his speed to help possibly avoid your predicament. It's never about the food, but, I'd like to allow everyone the opportunity to not feel rushed... if possible.

Given that he is a restaurateur, I wonder how Mike feels about this.

ekr1's picture

Hello- I just listened to the meal etiquette podcast and it was very good information. Thank you.

I did want to make a comment about different eating habits, specifically vegetarian. I try to not make my vegetarianism obvious, as it always spurs an unsavory discussion (animal rights, food processing, why are you such a freak, etc...) most often instigated by the meal companions. As inappropriate as it is to flaunt your atypical eating habit (veg, vegan, low salt, meat only, raw food, high fiber, low fiber, blah blah blah), I feel it is equally as inappropriate to put someone on the spot.

Since it was mentioned in the podcast, I also wanted to add that steak joints are a secret vegetarian heaven! And any vegetarian who does not know this, better listen up. Salads, a million sides, potatoes prepared every which way... if you can make it through the raw steak tour (wink).

ashdenver's picture

Here's a question I think I already know the answer to but I'll ask anyway.

When I am presented with a meal (or any portion thereof), I generally prepare to eat first. This means cutting everything into small, bite size portions (vegetables, meat, salad, etc.) Apparently this is considered "weird" but the reason is so that I may then relegate the consumption of the food to the background. I needn't worry about cutting anything. I can eat between conversation and focus on what's being said without interruption. The 'downside' is that there are times when the wait person will come back to ask "How is everything?" and I haven't yet even taken a single bite.

My husband tells me I'm "not allowed" to do this when I'm out with anyone other than him.

Is this too weird for a business meeting? Isn't it rude to focus on your plate of food when trying to carry on a conversation?

bflynn's picture

General question to apply for all circumstances - does it distract from the main purpose (the business)? If so, then avoid it. This isn't to say that you can't be an individual, but you don't want to call attention to yourself this way. It can come across as fussy, rigid and meticulous, but not in a good way.

Here - yes, I would try to restrain from cutting everything ahead of time. On top of being different, it actually can be a benefit during the conversation have a reason to pause. On a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of being a problem, this is a 1 or a 2, so don't worry much about it.

If it helps - think about how the getting everything ready is actually a little wrong if it gets in the way of the purpose of the meal.


Mark's picture


My apologies for my delay.

Etiquette suggests that your habit isn't appropriate. Ladies and gentlemen only prepare food that they are ready to eat right away. This is roughly equivalent of only buttering the piece of bread which you are going to put into your mouth, rather than the whole roll/slice etc.


Again, I regret my absence.


Mark's picture


Sorry this took so long.

WELL SAID. Etiquette is NEVER about judging. One's tastes must remain both uncommented upon.. and one's own.

Thanks for helping others learn that.

It's a privilege to serve you...particularly when you are serving others.


madamos's picture

Mark mentioned in this podcast about ordering Sweet Tea.
Well, here is an article I just read that gives a little insight into Sweet Tea.

What makes Southern sweet tea so special?