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Breaking bread together is one of the most popular ways to conduct business. While you can learn a lot about a person during a business meeting, one can certainly learn even more during a meal.

Many may remember the 1990s romantic comedy Pretty Woman, featuring Richard Gere and Julia Roberts. Gere played a high-powered businessman and in one scene Roberts’s character was his “date” as he entertained a very wealthy client at a fancy Beverly Hills restaurant. Hours before the dinner, she took a crash course in dining etiquette.
Here are a few things she learned:

Little things matter.

Butter your bread one small bite at a time. Know what silverware to use (start on the outside from your plate and work your way in), and how to cut your food (don’t saw it). 

Order the same number of courses.

The guest should order first and decide how many courses. The host should guide and follow. 

Make others feel comfortable.

Julia Roberts’s character didn’t know how to eat something and the VIP picked the appetizer up with his fingers and showed her how to eat it—just to make her feel comfortable. 

Take at least one bite.

Julia Roberts had no idea how to eat escargot and didn’t even know what it was. But she tried it. The last thing you should do during a meal is criticize the food or refuse to eat. I tell the children in my etiquette classes to simply “pretend” to be eating. Most people won’t even notice you’re not eating but they will notice if you make a fuss or just sit there doing nothing. 

Be kind.

Be courteous to each other, and be kind to your server. 

Suzanne Willis is the founder of Willis Consulting & Communications in Naples, which specializes in contemporary business, social and children’s etiquette. 

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