The Business Dinner
Following on from last week's suggestions for a successful business lunch, here I would like to cover some of the different situations one encounters as both a host and a guest at a formal business dinner.
The host will invite people an hour before dinner to enjoy cocktails or other simple libation which allows guests to greet one another and relax with some small talk. As a guest it is appropriate to arrive within 15 minutes of the time of the invitation. Skipping this part of the evening is disrespectful, and forfeiting this time takes away a good opportunity to network with others.
The attire for dinner is usually stated on the invitation. Business attire suggests a suit and tie is proper for men and a cocktail dress or business suit for women. A strand of pearls, a small dinner ring and/or a brooch might be recommended as accessories.
Black tie or business formal would suggest a choice of wearing a dinner jacket (sometimes referred to as a tuxedo), or a dark suit and tie. Women would wear a long or knee length dress. Men should wear a white shirt and black shoes.
The host will have a reason for inviting people to dinner and place cards will indicate where people are to sit. This helps facilitate the whatever agenda the host has in mind. The guest of honor customarily sits to the right of host. A male guest of honor might also be seated to the right of the hostess and with his wife seated to the right of the host. Order of precedence can play a factor also at formal dinners especially when elected officials are present.
The host will offer a welcoming toast once everyone is seated, following grace, if there is one. During the dessert course, the host will likely offer a toast to the guest of honor. This is suitably followed by a return toast to the host. Guests should raise their glasses, refraining from clinking and drink to the honoree, who does not touch his or her glass. A good tip for toasting is to be sure to practice your toast several times in advance. And remember the three 'B's; Begin, Be brief, and Be seated.
It is the host's duty, as with luncheons, to see to every detail. The host will also direct the conversation, eliciting comments from the guests. Guests are expected to stay on topic if there is one. But in many instances, the dinner is one to thank or congratulate associates for business accomplishments, and not to actually conduct business at all.
Wine is often accompanies the meal. Wines are usually selected by the host in advance and are poured by the wait staff at the instruction of the host. For example, a white wine may be served with a fish or soup course, followed by a red with the main course and champagne with dessert. Many combinations are possible and these details are sensibly worked out with the manager of the club or restaurant when the menu itself is discussed. The menu too can have variations ranging from a set menu to a special menu with a few choices to a full menu. Factors such as time and budget as well as a consideration for the types of food your guests would enjoy contribute to menu design. Sorting out and paying the bill is best discussed by the host and management. As always, the bill should not be brought to the table. In regards to gratuity, an 18% to 20% tip is not out of line, given the additional time and effort often required of the staff.
Centerpieces are a nice personal touch at any dinner table and should be kept low, not higher than 6 to 8 inches or very tall, about 24 inches with narrow holders for flowers so as not to obstruct cross table vision. At larger functions, menu cards and dinner programs can be set at each place.
The host will shine with confidence and make his or her guests feel relaxed and special if every detail is carefully planned for. There is no better way to show gratitude for a job well done; to welcome an out of town business associate to town; or to celebrate the accomplishments of a group of business people who have worked hard and achieved a goal. Guests truly enjoy getting all "shined up" for a lovely evening out. Business dinners are great occasions to put one's best foot forward and be grateful for the rewards of hard work.