It’s the stuff from which comedy skits are made.
You’re at a business dinner and you order something that has the potential to be especially messy. Nevertheless, you say to yourself, “What are the odds that I would actually be klutzy enough to spill the food?”
But sure enough, you end up being another victim of Murphy’s Law – the sauce spills on your dress or you dip your tie into the soup. Or even worse, you mishandle a dish or glass and the contents are suddenly all over your potential new boss, client, or someone else you are trying to impress.
You apologize profusely. And while the other person may be gracious (best-case scenario), the fizz for the business dinner suddenly is gone. No matter what you say or do for the rest of the evening, you know that the spilled food will be what is remembered most clearly.
That’s not to say that you can’t turn things around and create a generally favorable impression. But it sure is going to be much harder.
So, what can you do to minimize the chances of this kind of thing from happening?
Ellen Durnin, dean of the School of Business at Southern, says following proper etiquette can act as somewhat of an insurance policy toward those types of disasters. That’s not to say they still can’t happen, but it’s smart to play the odds in these settings.
“You want to create a positive impression during a business meal – whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner,” Durnin says. “While eating is certainly part of a business meal, your primary objective is usually business-related. It is better to leave the encounter with a half empty stomach than create a half-baked impression.”
She recommends eating before the meeting so that your focus can be on the business at hand.
“If you suddenly feel famished during the business meal, remember that you can always eat until your heart’s content after the meeting, either at home or at another restaurant, Durnin says.
The dean points to several suggestions offered by many business and etiquette experts to make a good impression. They include:
• Arrive on time.
• Be prepared for the meeting or discussion.
• Demonstrate good table manners.
• If you did the inviting, be sure to offer to pay the bill.
• Don’t get distracted by your meal.
• Remember B-M-W for identifying your place setting: from left to right – bread, meal, water. (This avoids the inevitable, “is that my bread plate or yours?”)
• Avoid ordering difficult-to-eat, messy or sticky foods.
• Select a meal from the menu that is in the middle price range of options.
So, what do you do if despite your best efforts, food or drink gets splashed the way of your dinner partner?
“Your response should be quick and sincere,” Durnin says. “Do NOT attempt to wipe the offending substance from their clothes. Instead, say, ‘I apologize. Please send your dry cleaning bill to me.’”
Durnin suggests moving on with the conversation at the table. “The other person does not want to focus on their stained clothing for the rest of the meeting, but will appreciate you returning to the conversation at hand.”
She also suggests following up with a message to their office the next business day to request the bill. This shows that the offer from the previous day was not an empty gesture.