Who Sits Where
Whether you are the host or a guest at a business meal, selecting the right restaurant and knowing the seating protocol are crucial for a successful business meeting. The seating arrangements are a powerful way to facilitate verbal and nonverbal communications during the meal and to make your guests comfortable. A mistake in the seating strategy can send unspoken messages to your guests that may damage the business relationship.
If you are the one extending the invitation, as a host you are responsible for making sure that everything from selecting the restaurant to the end goes smoothly. Generally, lunch and breakfast are the more common meals around which business gatherings take place, lunch being the preferred meal.
If you are inviting clients, colleagues, or candidates for a job to dine with you over a business meal, making sure that all details are taken care of ahead of time will allow you to concentrate on your meeting and the relationship building without unnecessary distractions.
Selecting a Restaurant
Selecting the appropriate restaurant for the business meal is a critical part of the planning. You may want to offer your guest a choice of establishments, as he or she may have a personal or dietary preference. Choose a location that is convenient for most guests. When the guests know that you are taking their needs into consideration, your relationship will be stronger from the start.
Always make a reservation in advance. At the time that you make the reservation, you may ask if it is possible to request a particular table or area of the restaurant—one that is private and/or conducive to business conversation.
A day or two prior to the meeting, confirm with your guests and re-confirm with the restaurant. If your guests are unfamiliar with the city or the restaurant where you will have the meeting, send a link to the restaurant’s website in an email. This allows them to virtually visit the place ahead of time, become familiar with the menu, and get directions if necessary.
Arriving and Seating
As a host
You should arrive early so that you will be the first person present. This will give you time to check the table and the menu before the guests arrive. Introduce yourself to the waiter who will be serving you, and check the table to ensure it is adequate and to decide where you would like your guests to sit.
Greet your guests upon their arrival. As you greet them, make the appropriate introductions to ensure that everyone is acknowledged and feels comfortable.
Planning the seating arrangements ahead of time is part of the business meal planning. As the guests arrive, signal them where to sit. Seating at the table should be arranged by rank, authority, or importance.
Extend the best seat to your client or to the most important guest. They should always have the better view of the room. Seat yourself with your back facing the door or the main part of the room.
As a guest
You want to be on time. If you are going to be late, call the host ahead to give as much notice as you can. If you are waiting for a late dining partner and have not heard from him or her, wait at least 15 minutes before inquiring. Be gracious once he or she arrives, change the subject of tardiness, and move on as soon as possible.
Wait for your host to signal where to sit. If he or she does not offer, it is appropriate to ask where you should sit. Sit with your chair several inches from the table’s edge. Sit erect and avoid sliding down in the chair. If you are with several people at the dinner table, be sensitive of the space and do not crowd your neighbors.