Duds to Drinks: How to Avoid Business Dinner Faux Pas
As a twenty-something entering the world of PR, I have found myself in more than a couple of situations in which my age and lack of experience have left me feeling out of place and unsure of how to conduct myself. Work-related dinners and other social events can be particularly difficult to navigate. During my first year on the job, I’ve developed some tips and tricks for when work interactions extend past the 9 to 5. Follow these five simple rules to ensure that your business dining experience is a win.
Keep it Simple
Arguably, the most difficult part of a business dinner is in the preparation. Clothes? Hair? Make up? The goal, keep it simple.
You want the focus to be on your ideas, your experience, and the value you bring to the company. Your appearance should add to your professional air, not detract from it. That being said, authenticity is key. Do you love your curly hair? Don't straighten it! Can’t leave home without your leopard-print watch? Wear it! The aspects of you that make you unique are probably what got you this job in the first place. Don’t hide them.
Keep your hairstyle to an upgraded version of your everyday look. If your hair is straight, maybe blow it out or run a straightener through for a more polished look. If your hair is curly, add some gel or throw in a couple more curls with a curling iron. Avoid styles that will slowly degrade throughout the evening.
For makeup, add one element that you don’t typically do for daytime. Maybe add a red lip or a bit of eyeliner. Try to keep it to one or two changes so your nighttime look is refined, but you still look like you.
When choosing an outfit, pairing a structured dress with a blazer ensures that you are prepared for almost any décor and temperature. Low black pumps or flats go with everything and won’t leave you stumbling if it's a trek to the restaurant.
Research, Research, Research
A part of your pre-dinner prep should involve at least a little recon.
In full Devil Wears Prada form, collect a little data so that you know which topics to hit and which to avoid. Is your dinner guest recently divorced? Has he won an award? Has her company made any notable shifts like a change of leadership? Just a 10-minute Google search can help you impress a client with your knowledge or even make sure you avoid asking the wrong question.
Food and Drink
It’s best to choose something you are comfortable eating. Selecting a dish that requires using your hands can lead to mess and difficulties maintaining conversation throughout the meal. Stick with food you can cut into smaller bites. Additionally, if the dinner is on the client’s dime, order with care and consideration for the price. You don’t have to subsist on a side salad, but maybe save the lobster for a date night or when your parents are in town.
Then we come to drinks… Having a couple drinks with a client can be a great way to have everyone open up. These conversations can be crucial in developing the kind of relationship in which your client sees you as a friend and collaborator, rather than as someone simply hired for a service. However, though the clients should feel free to drink as much as they want, a two-drink maximum is a good rule of thumb for you. Feeling at ease is one thing; slurring is entirely another.
Stay engaged! It can be very easy to simply sit and eat while conversation buzzes around you, but don't forget, you were invited for a reason. Make your presence known and appreciated by actively listening when other people are talking. Pipe up when you a topic arises that you feel comfortable speaking to. Feel free to bring up personal anecdotes about your life outside of the office. These dinners are a great way to humanize the working world and develop a connection with your colleagues and clients.
The dinner is over, and you were fabulous! You charmed the client and your boss couldn’t be more proud. Now it's time to seal the deal. If you went out with a client, send a thank you email for a lovely evening that you hope to do it again some time.
Be sure to remember all you learned from this dinner. Whether it be that your client loves tennis or that they are considering restructuring their firm, all the information you gained is gold and will help you continue a fruitful relationship with the client and, by extension, your work-life will flourish.
What are some of your insider tricks when it comes to business dinners or professional after-hours meetings? Tell us in the comments below!