Eating on the job
Getting past the oops moment: The art of the meal
By Donna Rosato, MONEY Magazine staff writer

NEW YORK (MONEY Magazine) - You douse a key client with bouillabaisse.

Don't just sit there.

Early in his career, Joseph Smith, a tax adviser to medical professionals, was dining with a vice president at the hospital where he worked in South Carolina when his attempt to slice a cherry tomato went terribly wrong. Juice shot up in an arc and onto the veep's lap.

Smith got lucky -- while he froze like a kid caught shoplifting, his lunch partner joked that she wanted to replace that skirt anyway.

What he should have done was try to help. That doesn't mean trying to clean it up yourself -- it's never a good idea to swab a colleague's body parts. Hand over a clean napkin and hail a waiter.

Don't just say you're sorry.

"Always offer to have stained clothing cleaned or replaced if it's been ruined," says Peter Post, a director at the Emily Post Institute and co-author of "The Etiquette Advantage" in Business.

Tip Don't order bouillabaisse at a business lunch.

At the end of a meal, the check arrives and sits awkwardly for many long minutes.

The person who did the inviting should pay, says Post. But if the host lets the check languish, you're in a tough spot: You could glance at the check with an awkward "Okay, let's see what the damage is," but that suggests you're eager to leave when in fact he might have every intention of paying when he's done doing business. Eventually you have to make a call: Wait it out or offer to split it.

Tip When you're the host, avoid putting guests in this position. Give the matre d' your card up front.

At Michael's, a Manhattan power spot, "Barbara Walters will hand me her credit card before the meal and ask me to add a 20 percent tip to the bill," says general manager Steve Millington.

The CEO starts choking.

Help! This is no time to be polite. If he's really in trouble, do the Heimlich. He'd rather have your fist in his stomach than a french fry in his esophagus. That may seem obvious, but hugging from behind the person who determines your salary isn't exactly instinctive.

One Manhattan media executive witnessed her boss choking on a salad while almost everyone sat, paralyzed, not sure whether to step in. One person did.

"When it came time for reviews, the boss was reminded that the person had saved his life. Let's just say she wasn't let go."

If your Heimlich is a little rusty, call a waiter. Don't scream for a doctor -- that'll embarrass your boss. Even when choking, bosses don't like to be embarrassed.

How to deal with:

Public speaking gaffes, the boss factor, interview irregularities, adventures in e-mail and eating on the job.


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