Work Hacks Wednesdays: Formal Lunches and Dinners

Social events are a wonderful bonding experience. They are also the best time to make connections with those who are normally outside your circle at work. On the flip side, they can also be a source of great embarrassment. I’ve managed to embarrass myself a few times (filed under “experience”). Here are a few lessons I’ve picked up along the way.

Order stuff that’s simple and easy to eat. Penne pasta, steaks, salads, sandwiches and rice generally work well. Noodles, burritos and spaghetti do not work well. Burgers are risky.

Learn how to eat comfortably with chopsticks. Most places allow for spoons but be prepared for all eventualities. I practiced having noodles with chopsticks for many months after a “ears-went-red” experience.

If the event is really formal and you expect to be hungry, eat in advance. It might help with the conversation, too. The conversation is generally the main event.

If you know where you are going, check the menu out in advance. Most restaurants have menu’s online and if you don’t understand the items on the cuisine, google is your friend.

If seating is not pre-determined, try and find a seat with someone you’d like to learn from. I’ve had really educational dinners with some very senior executives simply by asking if I could sit next to them in advance of the meal. This is more applicable when you are part of a large group, of course.

Research basic table manners in the place you are in. Obvious, but best stated. I’ve messed up in this domain a couple of times.

If you don’t know about prevailing table etiquette, always wait and look around. This is exceptionally helpful even to solve practical problems like not knowing know which cutlery to use. Look around and let the table be your guide. This has helped me on more occasions than I can count.

Be yourself and have fun. The caveat, of course. Don’t let the stuff above stress you out too much. The main purpose is to connect and have a lovely evening. If you mess up, laugh at yourself and move on. You are only embarrassed if you allow yourself to be. These learnings make for great stories!