The well-mannered lawyer

  • August 13, 2014

Looking for that little edge to help you impress a client, win over a recalcitrant foe or close that important deal? Believe it or not, the answer might lie in something as simple and time-honoured as the basic rules of dinner etiquette.

"Being polite reflects your image and that of the business you represent," says Louise Masson, founder of Beaux Gestes, a business that offers workshops in business and table etiquette. And Louis Dussault, former chief of protocol for the Ville de Montréal, agrees that the rules of etiquette can contribute to the success of a business occasion.

Etiquette experts say that professionals reveal the most about themselves at the dinner table, so they suggest the following tips to good table etiquette.

Leave your piece of bread on the side plate, and tear it with your fingers; don't bite into it. Keep your back straight and don't cross your legs under the table. You can, however, put your elbows on the table, at least until your plate arrives. And for heavens' sake, turn off your cell phone or pager when at a meal or a business meeting.

Remember that the host reserves the location and pays the bill. If you're doing the booking, avoid nasty surprises by choosing a restaurant that you know. Arrive first to ensure that you have a good table, and save the best seat for your guest. Take care of the bill when arriving by leaving your credit card with the maître d' and signing the statement in advance.

Then there's the minefield known as the wine list. If you're not a wine connoisseur, avoid a potentially embarrassing moment by having the maître d' choose the wine for you and verify its quality. Finally, the host should order first; this helps the guest to know what and for what price he or she can order.

So you're having a good meal and a nice discussion; but when can you politely turn the subject to business? At a short meal like breakfast, etiquette authorities say, you can begin the discussion as soon as the juice is served. If it's a business lunch, wait until the meal has been ordered. When hosting dinner, don't approach serious issues until the middle of the meal.

If spouses are present, avoid talking business except to specify details like the location or time of the next meeting. In all mealtime meetings, the host should be the one to bring up the subject of business. And never, ever talk money at the table.

A cocktail party also requires a bit of decorum. Hold your glass in your left hand and don't take a plate for snacks. That way, your right hand is free for when you meet someone.

Don't distribute your business card until you're asked. Present it right side up, so that the person receiving it can read it. In turn, when receiving a card, read what's written on it, then put it away. But never put it in the back pocket of your pants.

These might seem like small details, but in a highly competitive marketplace, and with clients more sophisticated by the day, even the simplest things can help you make a positive and lasting impression.