Do’s and don’ts of business meals

If Nina Zagat knows anything, it’s how to have a successful business dinner. Zagat, who co-founded Zagat Survey restaurant guides, has dined out several times a week for more than 30 years.

The main goal of any meal with business colleagues is to leave the meal knowing more about who she is as a person, she says.

Other rules for business meals:

• Seek out a location where diners don’t have to strain to talk or be heard. The ideal restaurant will have tables placed far apart or several smaller dining rooms rather than one large space.

• Be low-key about food allergies or other dietary restrictions when eating or ordering. “At a business dinner, you’re not trying to draw a lot of attention to yourself and what you’re eating,” she says.

• Avoid complicated dishes, such as lobster and spaghetti. Food shouldn’t become the focus of the evening. If you’re not hungry, it’s fine to request a half-portion.

• Skip the appetizer or dessert course or coffee, if other diners are.

• Leave your napkin on the chair, rather than putting it on the table, if you leave the table momentarily.

• Referring to an e-mail or conferring with notes on a mobile device is acceptable, Zagat says. But she never leaves her phone on the table or lets it ring.

• Chit-chat before getting down to business. “If there are points you want to discuss, don’t throw them on the table right at the beginning,” she says. But do bring them up before dessert, so you can end the night on a casual note.

— Adapted from “How to Charm and Do Business Over Dinner,” Alina Dizik, The Wall Street Journal.

Tip: Read more advice in our free report, 14 Tips on Business Etiquette.