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How To Navigate Dinner With The Boss

Follow these basic rules of etiquette to make a good impression.

bossdinnerIn some organizations, it is rare to attend a luncheon, dinner meeting or a social event with the boss. But when this does happen, the single most important thing to keep in mind is that, ultimately, this still is work. Having face time with managers is a great opportunity to present yourself in a setting other than the office.

Here are some tips to help you put your best foot forward and position yourself for future success with the company.

Basic Etiquette

  • When you receive an invitation, promptly respond. If you are accepting via e-mail, make sure it is a concise, appreciative message, confirming the date and time.
  • Be on time, or several minutes early. If you are driving with your boss, be ready on time.
  • Don’t smoke beforehand, as the scent lingers.
  • Turn off your cell phone before you walk into the restaurant. Don’t put it on silent or vibrate modes, as it still will distract you.
  • If you are meeting the boss at the restaurant, shake his or her hand when you arrive.

Dining Room Etiquette

  • If the meeting is during work hours and your boss offers you a cocktail, politely decline. Even if he or she says it’s OK, you still are on the clock. If the meeting is after hours, and the boss offers you a drink, one is acceptable. Then switch to a nonalcoholic beverage.
  • Base your order upon what your boss orders. Don’t select the priciest menu item, or anything that is messy to eat. Avoid finger foods.
  • Review the standards for dining etiquette (i.e., proper silverware, etc.).
  •  If you run into someone you know, make the proper introductions. It is customary to introduce the “junior level” person to the “senior level” person first.
  • Consistently direct your attention to your immediate surroundings and those who are in your company.

Conversational Etiquette

  • Part of the impact you can have in this meeting is to demonstrate your professionalism, polish and aptitude. Your boss will likely (and subtly) have you under the management microscope to see how you present yourself, and will be thinking, “Will this individual stand up well in an executive meeting down the road?”
  • Stay focused on the conversation, don’t interrupt and never swear.
  • It’s definitely appropriate to make small talk and get to know each other. When discussing non-work-related topics, avoid discussions that can make someone uncomfortable.
  • Be cautious not to overstep your bounds. It’s a challenge to get a good read from the boss, so pay attention to his or her verbal and non-verbal cues.
  • When you are discussing work-related topics, concentrate on the positive and don’t get roped into office gossip or speaking about others. If there are projects you have been working on, be prepared to discuss them. Think and act at a higher level. (i.e., if you are a team leader, demonstrate your capacity to operate as a manager). Be mindful of subtle questions that indicate your boss is probing for more information.

Other Tips

  • Don’t interrupt.
  • Don’t swear.
  • Be aware of your tone and volume.
  • Speak positively.
  • Enjoy yourself and relax.

Post-Meeting Etiquette

Thank your boss for the invitation at the end of the meal. Afterwards, send a short note to say thank you again, and reference any significant points of your conversation.

Dining Etiquette Q & A

Need answers to pressing questions…
Who should sit down first?
Which fork is for what?
What if my napkin drops?
Which way do I pass the bread?
How do I order food if I can’t pronounce its name?


What if I get something stuck in my teeth?

Answers to these and other burning questions can be found in this article on dining etiquette. Don’t eat without reading it!


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Alison Rosenblum Meet the Author
Alison Rosenblum is the owner of Hudson River Career Resources and Strategic Resources. A participant in many business meals, Rosenblum advises upwardly mobile professionals not to overlook this important activity.

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