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Here are 14 rules for putting your most professional self forward during business meals: 1. Let your greeting set the tone with servers. Some things are quite simple — when you give the right cues, that is. When hosting a meal, let a server know that you are the main contact person. For instance, when you are seated and the server first approaches you, greet the person with a “Good afternoon” followed by “My guests and I are looking forward to having lunch here today.” 2. Napkin rules. Place your napkin on your lap after everyone at the table has been seated. When excusing yourself for a fleeting moment, let the server know you’ll be back by laying your napkin to the left hand side of the place setting. The reason? Servers serve from the left and remove from the right. By placing your napkin on the left, you will be giving the cue that you will return. When you notice that the person across from you has something on his mouth, blot your mouth. There’s a chance that the person will mirror you by doing the same. When you are finished, yet others are still eating, keep your napkin on your lap. Finally, when everyone at the table has finished and is ready to leave, place your napkin to the right of your place setting. Whatever you do, never wad or place your napkin on your plate — even if it’s a paper napkin. 3. Outside in. Whether you find yourself staring at four utensils or 10 pieces of sterling, keep your composure by following the rule: outside in. In other words, begin with the utensils on the outside and work your way in. Note: The utensils above the place setting are typically your dessert utensils. After everyone has been served dessert, slide them to the left and right of your place setting. 4. Ice is not the edible part of your beverage. If you find yourself chewing ice, from this day forward, stop! 5. Alcohol should never act as truth serum. How often have you attended a business/social function and witnessed the beverage controlling the person? Rather than ever being described in this way, follow the rule: After consuming alcohol, if you find that you tend to talk about subjects that you would not think of bringing up with a glass of sparkling water, stick to the H2O! 6. Which bread plate is mine? When you find yourself in close quarters with your tablemates seated to your immediate left and right and wonder which is your bread and butter plate, just remember the initials BMW: bread plate, meal and water. This letter trick will prevent you from placing your roll on the plate of the person to your right. 7. Eating bread and rolls. Most people make bread and butter sandwiches. Faux pas! It’s more appropriate to break off a bite-sized piece of bread and butter that piece � over the bread and butter plate rather than in mid-air. Before inserting that bite-sized piece into your mouth, rest your knife across the top of your plate with the serrated edge toward you. 8. Avoid getting caught with a piece of food in your mouth. Rule One: Only put a bite-sized piece of food in your mouth. Rule two: Before putting that piece of food in your mouth, ask one of your table mates an open ended question, such as “What did you do on vacation?” 9. When food is not to your liking. It’s not your last supper. If you find that your food has been served undercooked yet everyone else’s seems to be fine, avoid making a fuss. Focus on what you do like and leave what you find not to your liking. By doing so, you will allow the meal to remain synchronized rather than sending your food back and making those around you feel obliged to stop eating. You also will be demonstrating your adaptability, an important quality in business. 10. When you need to cough or sneeze. Do so in the direction of the person you like the least. Just kidding. Cover your mouth with your left hand or with your napkin. And if you have to blow your nose, for the sake of those around you, leave the table. 11. Removing an olive pit from your mouth. Certainly it’s not with a quick spit. After all, what goes in with a utensil comes out the same way. A spoon for balance also works. When in doubt, avoid difficult to manage foods. 12. Social skills. An important part of business meals is your display of social skills. When there are people seated to both your left and right, remember to talk to someone different with each course. Note: It’s not quite as blatant as saying, “Soup’s over, you’re next.” Also, keep your antennas raised regarding who may feel like a third wheel. When you see the person to your immediate left or right uninvolved in a conversation, bring the person into your topic of conversation. 13. Who pays the bill? Whoever extends the invitation picks up the tab. Of course, if a client asks if you can meet her to grab a bite to eat, it goes without saying that you pick up the bill. In other words, whoever benefits from the get-together takes care of the bill. 14. Who sends the thank you? Anytime it takes someone more than 15 minutes to do something for you, send a thank you. Whether you are hosting a meal or are being treated, follow this 15-minute rule for following up. It will take you far. Ann Marie Sabath is the founder of At Ease Inc., a corporate etiquette training firm. Her Strategies for Enhancing Your Professional Style program has been presented at many major law firms.

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