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Ten tips for mastering the art of business dinners

Business dinners can be a little awkward. Should you be formal or friendly? Is it okay to order the priciest, or messiest, dish on the menu?

It's like dining with prospective in-laws for the first time - sort of.

According to etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore, table manners and social skills can actually make or break business relationships.

"Employers say that a person's table manners (or lack thereof) may be a deciding factor in securing a signed contract," Whitmore wrote on her website.

So, if you're a bread-dunker or a soup-slurper, pay attention.

Whitmore, who is an author and founder of Florida-based Protocol School of Palm Beach, outlines ten dining etiquette tips for mastering the art of a business meal.

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Watch your breadiquette:

Don't shove an entire piece of bread into your mouth. Break off a bite size piece, butter it and eat it.

Instead of buttering your bread directly from the butter dish, use your knife to transfer knob of butter from the butter dish to your bread plate first. Also, resist the urge to dunk your bread in soup or use it to mop up sauces on your plate.

No chivalry when it's about business:

The business arena is gender neutral nowadays, says Whitmore, therefore men are not required to pull out a woman's chair or stand when a woman approaches or leaves the table. And, whoever reaches the door first, regardless of gender, should hold it open for the other person.

Try it, you'll like it:

Be open to different kinds of food. By rejecting food that's served to you, you run the risk of insulting your host. If you can't finish the whole dish, eat what you can and engage in conversation with someone on the table.

Salt and pepper together:

It's best to pass both the salt and pepper shaker together as someone else at the table may want both. Be sure to place them in front of the receiver as passing them from hand to hand is considered bad luck in some cultures.

What hits the floor stays there:

No, the 10-second rule doesn't apply to business meals. If you drop a piece of silverware on the floor, leave it and ask the server for another. The only time you should pick up a dropped utensil is when dining at someone's home.

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Avoid chewable challenges:

As delectable as succulent spareribs or Alaskan king crab sound, steer clear of foods that are slippery, stringy, messy, cumbersome, unpredictable or difficult to maneuver.

Napkins belong on your lap:

Napkins are not to be used as a bib or handkerchief. Place your napkin on your lap once the host removes his or her napkin from the table. If you get up from the table, place the napkin on your chair. When you've finished eating, leave it on the left side of the plate.

Don't jump right in after the food is served:

You may be starving but wait until everyone at your table has been served before you begin eating. Rule of thumb: you may start eating after four or five people next to you have been served.

No need to constantly say 'thank you:'

But repeatedly speaking to your server can be distracting, says Whitmore. Instead of thanking your server each time he performs his duties, vary the way you express your gratitude either through a smile or a generous tip.

Think of others first:

If the food has been ordered family-style, it's courteous to offer some food to your neighbor first, and then serve yourself. Food should be passed around a table in a counterclockwise direction.