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Avoid business-lunch blunders
Avoid business-lunch blunders
Business lunches and dinners, as anyone knows who attended many of them, are not about fun - they're about business. Unfortunately, too many folks - from interns to experienced execs - forget basic niceties at business meals. Here are seven rules from Robin Jay, author of The Art of the Business Lunch (Career Press, $14.99), to help keep you from committing a serious faux pas.

Never, ever talk with your mouth full! When Jay was writing her book, "almost everyone I talked to asked me to mention this," she says. "Apparently there are a lot of otherwise successful executives who never learned that they should not talk with food in their mouths." Take small bites, so you can quickly swallow if somebody asks you a question.

Watch what you drink. "Drinking clouds your judgment, so unless your client takes the lead, don't suggest a round of cocktails," says Jay. If the other party orders alcohol, order something light, like a wine spritzer. Then, don't finish it.

Whenever possible, meet at the client's office beforehand. Meeting at the restaurant may save a little time if you've met before and will easily recognize each other, but if not, "imagine the two of you waiting for each other to arrive, when you've each already been seated," says Jay. This happens a lot and is, she observes, "a colossal waste of time."

Always be kind to the wait staff. "Anyone who is nice to you but nasty to their server is not a nice person," says Jay. "Be polite to restaurant staff, no matter what happens." This can be tough when a waiter has just spilled a hot bowl of soup on your best suit, but grit your teeth and do it anyway.

Know your client's business. "Never head off to a business meal without knowing everything you can about your client's business and current trends in the industry," Jay says. Take 20 minutes or so to do a Google search before you leave for lunch.

Don't ask your guest to help you figure out the tip. "Is there anything tackier than showing someone how much you just spent on them?" asks Jay. "If you can't read the check without your glasses, then have them with you at all times."

Put some thought into choosing the right restaurant. "This is extremely important," Jay says. "Your choice says a lot about you and about how you feel toward the client. Too casual or inexpensive and the client may not feel valued. Too extravagant and expensive and they may perceive you as wasteful and wonder how careful you'll be with their money if you win their business." When in doubt, suggest that the client pick the place. Their choice will tell you a lot about them, too.

Last updated December 19 2007: 7:58 AM ET
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