Business Meals for Dummies

I’d like to welcome Joe Kiszka back for a guest post today! You may remember him from the “My Corporate Life” series. Joe runs his own food blog, “Dine at Joe’s” , where he takes pictures of all of the meals he eats out. He can be reached by e-mail at


In some way, shape, or form, we are all salespeople. However, while my “Business Development Manager” title at my job sounds like a “salesman,” I don’t really see myself as a “salesman.” In fact, I don’t really look at my job at all like a salesman. I’m more of a support guy. As a support guy, my job is to act as kind of an internal resource for my customers. This requires me to build lasting, consultative relationships at my customers. Therefore, we’re ultimately “selling.”

There’s multiple ways this is achieved amongst different types of business, some more clever than others. Golf is one of the most popular. Depending on your type of customer, succeeding here may consist of a better score, or how many cigars you can smoke and Bloody Marys you can drink while driving the golf cart. I’ll do this, but I’m more of a comedy golfer. (“Comedy” in that it’s awful funny when I tally up my golf score and I end up with the high score every time. This is why you should look for scramble tournaments, fellow comedy golfers!)

Of course, I’ve hosted other events to help build relationships with customers. This has included regional training seminars with continuing education credits attached to them, movies, fantasy football leagues, and heck—we’ve even done Whirlyball. All these are great. However, in my opinion, the best one is “eating out.”

Today, I’m going to explain to you how to be good at eating out while selling yourself. How does this article apply to you, no matter who you are? At some point, you’re going to need to sell yourself to someone else. Whether it’s dating a potential future spouse or closing a big business deal, one of the easiest ways in our culture to gain rapport, interest, and build any relationship, is to eat out.

There are two sets of rules here that I can offer when dining out. There’s the extremely serious “business dining guidelines” and the seemingly less serious list from my father: “Dad’s rules of life for eating out.” (Both lists—dining guidelines and rules of life—actually were taught to me by my father.) I’m going to outline them all, starting with the business dining guidelines, as you should certainly master them before doing anything else. The guidelines will “get you to the table”, and the rules of life will help you master the art.

Before I delve into these guidelines, I offer one important caveat: These guidelines assume that you are in the United States and are within our local culture. Some of the things on this list would NOT apply in other cultures.


Prior to arriving to their office, do your homework. Have a few restaurants in mind where you can hear your customer speak, you won’t have to wait an hour for a table, you won’t offend anyone, and of course, the food is awesome. If it’s a steakhouse or something very nice (especially for dinner), confirm the number attending with your customer, and make a reservation. Err on the side of caution—if you think the venue might make your customer uncomfortable, don’t bring them there. I recommend looking up restaurants on Yelp prior to going to them to ensure a positive experience.

Arrive early, and always take the seat facing the door. This will allow you (hopefully) to view the door while waiting for your customer. If you can’t see the door, ask to be seated (if possible) at a table where you can see the door, or give the customer’s first name to the host or hostess. When you see your customer walk in (if you know them), you’ll be able to see them and wave at them.

If you’ve never met them before, call to confirm your appointment and then let them know what you will be wearing. This makes for less “are you here” awkward cell phone calls.

Shake hands APPROPRIATELY. When shaking their hand, don’t try to squeeze their hand as hard as you can. However, don’t go for the cold fish handshake as well. Find a happy median. And, of course, it should be common sense to know that you ALWAYS shake with your RIGHT hand.

Don’t order alcohol until your customer does. Try your best not to order your drink or meal first. Let them order alcoholic beverages first, and then follow suit accordingly. If you absolutely must go first, order a non-alcoholic beverage, and if they order one, then follow suit by saying “On second thought, go ahead and give me an (INSERT ALCHOLIC DRINK NAME HERE) instead.” You can’t un-order a beer without looking like a moron. Don’t forget—not everyone believes in drinking. Ordering alcohol can make them feel uncomfortable.

The company party is NOT really a party. This isn’t a frat party. Keep it under control. Don’t drink to excess.

Don’t order the most expensive thing on the menu. This isn’t such a huge deal, but you don’t want to look wasteful or too excessive. Keep this under control. If you really want the most expensive thing on the menu, order it, but don’t be excessive about it.

Be nice to your server. If the server hasn’t been around for a while, don’t be a jerk about it. Also, if your food didn’t come exactly as you ordered it, don’t send it back. This makes you look like a jerk in front of your customer and makes them uncomfortable. Also (unless there’s some extremely compelling reason not to), leave AT LEAST 20% when dining on an expense account. Not doing this could make you look cheap.

Know some basic information about wines. Know what you like, know what you don’t like, know how to pronounce the different types of wines. (Wikipedia can help with this.) Know that a red wine glass is bigger than a white wine glass. Know that when drinking red wine, you generally hold the glass by the cup, whereas when drinking white wine, you hold the glass by the stem. Most importantly, know how to DRINK wine. The smell is important. The taste is important. (We’re not doing shots here. Think “art meets food.”) Don’t be ashamed to ask about pairings (“Will the Merlot go with my ____?”). Google this as well—there’s many pages about this topic around the internet.

Use good table manners. Also, know which utensil is the correct utensil. (Generally speaking, you start with the silverware farthest away from your plate and work your way in.) Cut a chunk of butter off and put it on your butter plate—use this as your master. When eating bread, after buttering it, tear it apart into bite size chunks. Don’t take a bite out of it. (Don’t take huge bites, as this can be awkward to finish the bite of food in your mouth when a customer asks you a question.) As you finish a bowl of soup, tilt the bowl away from you while you scoop to get to the last of the soup. Enough said—there’s entire books, websites, YouTube videos, and other forms of media dedicated to this subject. For manners, the onus is on YOU.

Don’t season your food before you try it. Think about it—pouring salt / pepper / whatever your condiment of choice all over your meal before trying it can show that you don’t have an open mind or are not easily satisfied. (I’ve worked for an employer before where if an applicant did this, they were eliminated from contention for the job.) Kind of silly, I know, but be careful.

Ask for the next meeting. More specifically, if it went well, you’re talking to the right folks, and it’s a relationship worth maintaining, make sure to ask for the next meeting. Don’t be pushy about this. “Let’s do this again! How about we get you on the calendar for _____?”

Skip the doggie bag. When you get done with your meal, if you haven’t finished, DO NOT get a doggie bag. This makes you look extraordinarily tacky and cheap.

Now that we’ve got the basics, here’s the fun part…


When I was a child, my father instilled upon my sister and I these basic rules of life for eating out. Some are funny, some are graphic. They are all true. Sure, exceptions exist—but generally speaking, these should all be heeded. (Example: If you look at Rule #2, I’m sure there’s very good steakhouses in Boston. However, if you’re visiting, you’d likely have better experiences ordering seafood—like lobster, shrimp, etc—as it is appropriate to the region.)

I’m not going to explain these, as I find them rather self-explanatory. If I need to be more specific, feel free to e-mail me.

Rule #1 – Never ask a skinny person where to eat.

Rule #2 – Don’t eat at regionally inappropriate restaurants. (i.e. – Don’t eat at a Taco Bell in San Antonio. Or–don’t go to Boston and order beef.)

Rule #3 – Never eat seafood at a place that has an inflatable crab on the roof.

Rule #4 -Don’t order cuisine-inappropriate dishes. (i.e. – don’t go to a Mexican restaurant and order a cheeseburger.)

Rule #5 – Don’t ever go to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day. Rule #6 – Don’t ever eat hot peppers (like habaneros), and then go to the restroom. Rule #7 – Life is too short to drink cheap beer.

Rule #8 – Don’t ever eat Kimchee prior to boarding an airplane.

Rule #8.5 – Better yet, don’t ever eat Kimchee period.

Rule #9 – Don’t ever eat at a restaurant called “Mom’s”, or anywhere that advertises “just like home”, or “home-cooked”.

Rule #10 – Only eat sushi if the sushi chef is Japanese. Rule #11 – Never eat sushi or raw seafood in a country where you cannot drink the water. Rule #12 – Only eat in Mexican restaurants that display a crucifix and a likeness of “our Lady of Guadalupe”. Rule #13 – Only eat in BBQ restaurants where the silverware does not match. Rule #14 – Never eat sushi in a restaurant that advertises Korean, Chinese, or Thai cuisine in addition to sushi.

Rule #15 – Generally speaking, the larger a pepper grinder used in a restaurant, the worse the food.

Rule #16 – The price of a meal is directly proportional to how high the restaurant’s location is with relation to the ground.

Rule #17 – The quality of a meal is inversely proportional to how high the restaurant’s location is with relation to the ground.

Rule #18 – Don’t eat at restaurants that rotate.

Rule #19 – Don’t ever eat at a restaurant that also sells bait.


If you keep this advice in mind when eating out, your customers will appreciate it, and a better experience will be had by all… good luck out there. Until next time, fellow business diners—Ciao!


Proper Length

With all the Tweeting, blogging, academic papers, and business proposals I’ve been writing over the years, I still haven’t found an answer to, “How long should it be?” Thus, I thought I’d give some suggestions that I’ve heard over the years.

“The length of your paper should be like the length of a girl’s skirt: long enough to cover the topic, but short enough to keep things interesting.” Hilarious, a little bit off-color… but really true when you think about it! This advice was given by one of my least favorite college professors. This is probably one of two things I remember from that class, and the other is not nearly as funny.

“Executives don’t have time to read all your fancy writing. Make your papers 5 pages or less, or they don’t get graded.” This advice was given by one of my favorite college professors, amid a myriad of other great advice. I’ve found that brevity is much more effective in real-world business proposals, so while it’s not necessary to adhere to a strict page limit, it is necessary to keep proposals concise.

“This document gives step-by-step instructions for every possible question. If it can’t be answered by this document, it probably shouldn’t be asked in the first place.” I rarely agree 100% with this advice, but I’ve written several documents with numbered instructions, example scenarios, and screenshots. Thus, it really annoys me when I get phone calls that state, “I got this person’s information… what do I do now?” I generally try to respond in a helpful, non-annoyed way, but I direct them first to the insanely detailed document that I’d emailed previously.

“Don’t make your customers think too hard.” I said this phrase to one of my companies about their marketing material. They were using the same piece to target all of their unique segments, and it was cluttered and hard to parse. I suggested splitting the information for each segment into different marketing pieces, and on the rare occasion that a customer fell into more than one segment, we could give that customer all the sets of marketing materials. We talk a lot about being information overload in marketing, so help your customers out by ensuring that they don’t have too think too hard to figure out what you’re saying.

“Don’t ruin the content with the headline.” I think this applies to Tweets and press releases in particular. One classmate asked me for advice about her company’s Twitter feed, saying they had few followers, few re-tweets, and very little traffic to their website from Twitter. Upon viewing their feed, I saw that every headline gave away all the content in the articles, so readers had no motivation to click on the link for more information. Headlines should give just enough information to whet the appetite, but not so much that a person feels they’ve gained all the information.

So, to all the professional writers out there, how do you find the proper length? Is there a formula that works every time? I think it’s more about knowing your audience, so I rely on different lengths for different projects.

Contributor: The Daily Muse

I’m excited to be contributing at The Daily Muse today! My piece talks about extreme behaviors to avoid, so click over to read my take on balancing extreme behavior.

The Daily Muse is a great new site that explores all facets of building and maintaining a career, and I highly recommend browsing around the articles. Some of my favorites include handling criticism at work, working with a boss of a different gender, and motivating your team.


Resume Rules

I had the opportunity to comment on some resumes recently, and the request for feedback warrants a post. I noticed significant differences in the style, information included, and length of the resumes of these candidates than resumes for candidates more similar to myself. I attribute these differences partly to generational differences, and partly to career tracks. Let’s a take a look, shall we?

Long resumes. Each of the resumes was 4-6 pages in length! This, to me, was pretty surprising, as the latest standard that I’ve heard is a 2-page maximum. Prior to the 2-page maximum, they told us in high school that our resumes should be a maximum of 1 page in length. In college, most professors explained that executives and hiring managers don’t have time to “waste” reading your 8 page resume, so you need to treat it like any other business proposal: short, concise, value-proposition. They wanted us to make sure our resumes were “executive summaries”, versus a “life story” of our career history.

Repetitive Information. Several candidates included repetitive information, which contributed to the extra length in the resume. Instead of only including their additional duties in a new position, they would copy and paste all the duties from their past positions. If they’d made a lateral move that included the same duties, they simply wrote down the exact same list under each position and company. To me, it makes more sense to organize a resume by skill-type if most of your positions fall under a broad set of skills. For example, my resume is broken down into Marketing and Customer Service, Project Management, and Presentation and Public Speaking. I then list each position and the specific accomplishments, versus the broad description, “created Marketing material” under 3 or 4 different companies/positions.

Full history. It was also interesting to see that these candidates included career history that did not relate or contribute to their qualifications for the position at hand, which, again, contributed to the additional pages on the resume. Many of these candidates have been in the industry for 20-30 years, but their first position in the industry isn’t really relevant to their ability to do the position we’re hiring for. The candidates also enumerated education and courses that were not applicable for the position. It seemed that many of the resumes were not tailored for the position, but just a running list of the last 30 years their career. I suggest tailoring your resume and including only the relevant experience and education, even if you have experience outside the description. For example, my theater resume includes my height, weight, hair/eye color, and sizes/measurements, as well as past shows, and vocal and dance training. The personal details are illegal to ask about in a professional interview for a corporation, and the vocal and dance training are irrelevant to my ability to do marketing. While they may show dedication to perfecting a skill, they don’t contribute to the skills in question.

Broad descriptions. Many of the resumes used broad descriptions like, “improved sales” or “handled customer complaints.” Today’s resume gurus stress using hard numbers or specific accomplishments. Instead of “improved sales”, today’s resumes require, “increased sales from $1,000 per day to $1,200 per day”. “Handled customer complaints” would become, “reduced customer complaints by 20%” or “increased monthly customer satisfaction score by 10%”. Since many people work in positions that require soft skills, there are too many ways to interpret these broad terms. A lot of people “manage” or “improve” an area, but specific examples will set you apart.

References. Each resume either included reference names, or included “references available on request”. From what I’ve heard over the past 3 years, “references on request” is out. The assumption is that if someone wants references, they know to ask, so there’s no need to tell them, “it’s ok to ask”. Further, with technology today, many companies can run a background check to verify much of the information on your resume, so they are less dependent on personal references than in the past. These days, if you want to know if someone is worth their salt, you can probably just go to LinkedIn and take a look at the “recommendations” on their profile! Also, today’s laws prevent employers from providing a lot of information, so references are not as useful as they once were. Some companies still check references, but many do not ask. I have not been asked to provide references or letters of recommendation outside of academics for any of my past positions.

Experience track. I noticed that many of these candidates have experience versus education. This is not a bad thing, it’s just different than myself and my peers. I think this is partly a generational issue, in that 20 years ago, a college degree was less important than it is today. Many of my parents’ friends don’t have college degrees, and they’ve been quite successful. This is almost unheard of among my friends, as we all attended college, and many are pursuing or considering graduate education. These candidates worked their way up from the bottom over the last 20-30 years, whereas younger candidates seem to emphasize education early in their career. From what I’ve seen, the education does appear to fast-track people, even if they’re older. For example, most executives in my company are in their 40s, and possess at least a Bachelor’s, and many, an MBA. These executives have held Senior positions at various companies with only 10-15 years of experience, instead of 20-30 years of experience like their less educated peers. They’ve moved higher in the organization and at a faster rate than those with less education.

Overall, this was a great opportunity to get a glimpse of how hiring in my industry occurs. It was also interesting to note how times have changed in resume style, and in experience/educational requirements. All of these candidates appear to be well-qualified for the position we’re offering, but it took a deeper look at their resume to figure that out. How have resume rules evolved since you’ve been out of school or interviewed for a position?

Pride Goes Before the Fall

“Pride goes before the fall” is conventional wisdom, often told to children to help them understand that arrogance will generally come around and bite you. The same conventional wisdom can be applied to corporations, especially in the slowly-recovering economy. I’ve had two conversations about corporate arrogance over the past week, so the resulting blog post stems from these discussions. Namely, the the companies in question are about to fall flat on their faces, due in part to their arrogance.Why is their pride about to lead to a fall?

Arrogance is off-putting. It’s a well-known fact that no one likes a bragger, so rolling up in your Lambo while the client is driving their old reliable Honda and then bragging about your new Ferrari sitting in the garage generally leaves a bad taste in the client’s mouth. This can foster an attitude of wanting you to fail, just so that you’ll be brought back down to reality. Do you really want your clients resenting you from the start? It goes back to knowing your customers. One company mentioned in the recent discussion with a colleague related that a corporation wanted to get more money from a client. The President of the client’s company always road coach, drove a sensible car, and made it clear that he was just a hard-working, normal individual. The corporation flew a private jet to the client’s headquarters, signaling that they were superior in work and lifestyle to their client. How do you think this affects the business relationship?

Arrogance reveals incongruence. As in the story related above, the corporation’s arrogance showed that their interests were not really aligned with the client’s interests. If the client is trying to make wise financial decisions to try to weather storm, a corporation’s careless spending does not signal an opportunity for a strong business partnership. Similarly, if you don’t treat your front-line employees well, a client might worry that those people will jump ship. This again signals a poor foundation for a business relationship, since the goals are not aligned from the top-down. The same is true of inter-company interactions. Top management may say they are committed to building and maintaining a talented team of satisfied individuals, but they can’t do that if they’re constantly flashing six-figure bonuses and denying reasonable compensation and perks to lower-level employees. Are you really keeping the company’s and employees’ best interests in mind when laying people off due to “budget restrictions”, while taking a huge bonus and buying fancy toys? This inconsistency leads top performers to seek an environment where top management’s goals are more in line with their personal goals.

Arrogance leads to isolation. Both discussions lead to comments that employees were leaving the company left and right, since management didn’t value the employees. These employees took their customers with them, since the corporations weren’t doing anything to make the customer feel valued. Guess what… with no customers, and no employees, you don’t actually have a successful corporation! The big bonuses and flashy lifestyle that accompany a big paycheck rely on the “little people”… you know, the customers and employees? If you’re so amazing all by yourself, customers and employees are happy to go to a place where they’re needed and appreciated. Since arrogance is off-putting, people will try to get away from the discomfort, leaving an arrogant corporation without a means to support the “stuff” that made them arrogant in the first place.

It’s one thing to have options, which makes you confident and successful. It’s another thing to be so full of yourself that you think you can’t fail, which causes you to alienate customers and talented employees. Recent discussions about corporate arrogance have proven that pride really does go before the fall.

First Name Basis

I saw an email recently that begin, “Dear <<Name>>”. Apparently the mail merge function wasn’t working properly, and instead of saying my name or the company name, it just gave the fill-in-the-blank. I know we all use form emails and mail merge functionality at some point in our careers, but I’ve found these tools to be a little risky, depending on the situation. I know the theory that says you should address people by their name, but I think it does more harm than good to call them by the wrong name. Prior to getting married, I booked an overseas trip with my family under my maiden name. I ended up getting married before we left for the trip, so my new husband joined the family for the trip. This was an unusually luxurious trip, as we were booked for First Class seating. Part of this luxury included flight attendants who learned your name and called you by name throughout the flight. Imagine the confusion when they learned my name as “Mrs. MaidenName”, instead of “Mrs. MarriedName”. Then I explained that I was married, and they started calling my husband “Mr. MaidenName”. It took several minutes to explain the names and why the name didn’t match the passport and ticket anymore. I was content to just be called “Ashley”, but they were insistent on using my “proper” title. Everyone in the situation laughed and took it in stride, but there are people out there who are genuinely offended when their name or title is used incorrectly. Good business says that you should know your customers and call them by name to solidify the relationship, and I completely agree that using someone’s name helps the business transaction. But, this means you must make sure that all the tools are used correctly to meet this goal. For this reason, I tend to stick with “Hello” at the top of an email to strangers, and “Ms.” or “Mr.” until told otherwise by a new associate.

Guest Post for The New Professional

I’m excited to be guest posting for The New Professional today! Click over to Angeline’s blog to see my post on “Self-Promotion: How to do it right”. Angeline does a great job posting about work-related issues and fashion-related issues. She’s got great corporate style, and great advice for business professionals, so read through her other posts after you check out my guest post!

A 3C Lunch

I’ve been in the corporate world for a few years now, and I’ve encountered some normal-but-kind-of-awkward lunch situations. Who orders first? Are we planning to stay for a while, or make it quick? I’m always a little weird when it comes to who picks up the check, particularly in a situation where most of the parties are “equal”. So, I figured I should write a post and see what the rest of the corporate world would do in these situations.

The company lunch. This one isn’t as awkward about picking up the check, as it’s highly likely that the most senior member at the company lunch will take care of it, and let you know well in advance. The awkward part here is knowing who picks the table, who orders first, and how long you’re staying. Theoretically, the most senior person who’s paying would make all these choices, but this has not been my experience. In a male-dominated field in the South, most of my bosses and colleagues try to be gentlemen by letting me walk in front, order first, etc. This is really awkward, because it means I generally have no senior person to set the price point or length of stay. Should I get the soup or the steak? I know they’re trying to be nice, but it puts me in a weird position because I’m technically not the person who should be setting the tone for the meal! I’ve been trying to deal with this by immediately asking a more senior person what they usually order, or what sounds good to them. This usually helps pin down a price range and length of stay, and I think it comes out pretty naturally vs. “Yeah, I don’t know how this lunch is supposed to go, so can you tell me?”

The colleague lunch. This one is a little more dicey regarding who picks up the check. Again, old-school etiquette would either advise that the most senior person pick up the check, or that the person who initiates the meal picks up the check. But what if you’re both equal? And, what if it’s not really a formal invite, but more of a casual meal? For example, when I attended the tradeshow, I ended up spending most of my time with a more senior colleague from a different department. This colleague is not my supervisor, and rarely works with me, so he’s only “senior” by tenure at the company. We both have to fill out expense reports, and we both have to eat and make it to the show floor. Who pays? He said that generally the most senior person picks up the check, which would be “standard” business etiquette. What about when you have three senior people who are all the same level, but in different departments? I still haven’t figured out a graceful way to determine who pays in this situation, or who orders first to set the tone. Again, the soup or the steak? The $5 quick meal or the $30 stay for hours meal?

The client lunch. This one should be pretty easy, as the company representative would usually pay for the client’s lunch. But what happens when you’re the client, but the person inviting you is basically on the same level? My issue here is that I’m not really the final decision-maker, but I am a very valuable gate-keeper. If your offering doesn’t meet my standards/instructions, it doesn’t get sent over to the final decision-maker. All else being equal, I do get to make the choice between two or three items that meet the standards from the decision-maker. So, you do want to keep me happy… but happy enough to invite me to lunch? Or, are we splitting it, as a “friendly” way to have a much-needed discussion in-person, without the boring office atmosphere? I think this situation qualifies as quasi-client, which makes things much more muddy.

So, for those of you who’ve been in the corporate world for much longer, how do I handle these awkward situations? Am I the only one that thinks it’s awkward? Is it just a lack of experience?