How to Develop Networking Etiquette for Business

Networking etiquette is as important as networking, itself, to your professional image and career positioning. You must be good at networking and you must be good at networking etiquette. The two go hand-in-hand with career success, so you must master both. Networking is a social event, or any opportunity you have to meet new people who may be potential business clients or resources with whom you can share information.

Let us look into the details of networking. Networking can be complicated for some, and easy for others, depending on your personality. No matter what your profession, networking allows you to build solid relationships and networks of people who can help you promote your business, promote your company, share ideas, brainstorm, resolve problems, and promote creativity and innovation. The value of networking should never be unrecognized or undervalued.

Depending on your line of business, networking opportunities may be frequent, or may only present themselves a few times per year. You need to be in a position to receive as much benefit from a networking opportunity as possible. How you network, and how well you network, increases the likelihood the networking opportunity will benefit you personally.

We will discuss networking details, tips to improve your current networking capabilities, and good etiquette strategies in greater detail in this article.

All of us who are involved in business environments understand that in order to grow our company or business, we need to grow and maintain clients, suppliers, and strategic alliances that place our company in a position to increase market share and profit. Whether you work for a corporation, or are the owner of a small business, your networking opportunities can lead to 22 to 40 percent of your business market.

A networking opportunity is a great gift. It gives you the opportunity to present yourself, your business, or your organization to peers, colleagues, industry leaders, and potential clients for your business. Networking opportunities can be a combination of luck, skill, and savvy. Your goal should be to optimize your chances of success, while at the networking event. Exhibiting good professional demeanor and polished professional behavior will represent you and your company in a positive light with those with whom you are networking. Knowing the appropriate behavior and protocols for networking opportunities is an important part of networking well.

First, let's look at networking approaches. How are you currently networking? Where do you network? How often are you networking? Do you consider networking events fun and enjoyable, with significant benefit? Or, do you feel uncomfortable at the event and wish you better understood what you should be doing. Let's help you develop some parameters by which you can more easily determine your approach for networking.

You never know when a networking event may present itself. Opportunities may come in the form of sporting events, civic or church groups, or a local pub. You never know -- so be ready.

  • When you network, always try to put the other person at ease. Make them feel comfortable so they want to do business with you.

  • Never look at networking as work; if you do, you are in the wrong business. Look at each chance as a great opportunity! These are people you don't see every day.

You have to look at networking as one of the best mechanisms to better your career. You also must understand it is more art than science, and will be a skill you need to practice and develop your personal approach. What makes you different, and someone people want to do business with. What is your niche? Sometimes it helps to look at your networking skills as you would a SWOT analysis. Ask yourself, "What are my networking strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats?" Are you good at introducing yourself and what you do, but otherwise have a hard time finding conversation? Look at that as an opportunity for you to develop skills. Remember: Don't look at networking as work, but as opportunity.

Three typical phases you will use in networking/pre-networking preparation, actions during networking, and after-networking follow-up. Your key to the successful execution of a networking event will be dependent on how well you execute the three phases of networking. Let's take a look at all three of these in detail.

Networking preparation

Let us take a look at preparation for a networking event. You should be as prepared as possible in these key areas and bring these key items with you. As you prepare for your networking event, check local policy and ethical guidelines for your organization to make sure there are no prohibited actions regarding networking.

  • Ask the event coordinator if they have a list of attendees to help you in being prepared for the event.

  • Review the list for name pronunciation and to determine with whom you want to focus energy and interaction.

  • Research the attendees you want to meet with, so you know the background of their company. The more you know, the more your conversation can be engaged, and you will be more productive. Don't forget: Part of networking is mingling with multiple people you may not know, but you also want to focus your efforts on the most gain from a business prospective.

  • Be aware in your planning of how much time to devote to each individual you want to meet, so you can network with all of them. If the event is two hours, and you want to meet with 20 people, part of the time they may be engaged speaking with someone else and you may have to catch up with them later.

During the networking event

When the day of the event arrives, there are several details prior to arrival. These are summarized here:

  • Dress professionally. If there is a dress code indicated on the invitation, adhere to the instructions. Make sure you check the mirror upon arrival to the event to ensure you look your best, including hair and clothes.

  • Place your business cards in an easy-to-reach pocket. Place incoming cards from those you network with in a different pocket to avoid confusion.

  • Eat something small prior to the event to prevent lack of focus, because you are hungry; also, you want to focus on meeting others, not the buffet table of the event. It's fine to visit the table, but remember your focus.

  • Stop at the entry point and pick up your name tag and any required information for the event. Affix your badge to your right shoulder. Enter the room with a warm smile and an approachable demeanor. Project enthusiasm for the opportunities at the event.

  • Extend your hand and offer a smile with each individual you meet.

  • Always stand, too; it allows for flexibility and movement around the room. Sitting may limit your mobility, or require too much time with an individual you had not intended to spend much time with.

  • Use tact to dismiss yourself from a person you may be stuck with, whom you have determined is of no value to you and your purpose for networking. Politely excuse yourself, letting them know you have a matter you must take care of requiring immediate attention.

  • Be sure to thank everyone you speak with for the opportunity, and exchange business cards. Ask them if you may offer a card to them. This works twofold. One, you can gauge their interest, and two, you know where you stand if they decline. Never ask a top level CEO for their card; ask for an individual's card who is lower ranking in the organization. CEOs and top-level leaders usually share cards only among top level leaders.

  • If you have met the primary people you intended to network with, meet and shake hands with others. You never know how they may be able to help your business now, or down the road.

  • Immediately on departure, look through your business cards and write any notes you may need, or anything specific you need to remember, such as a request for a document, so you do not forget or get it confused later. There is nothing worse than having two or three clients who requested information from you, and you forget which one asked for it, because you have multiple business cards on Monday morning when you are trying to follow up with contacts.

After the networking event

Post event activities are the most productive for you, because you have had the introduction. Now it is time to make the networking work for you and your business.

  • Make sure you follow up with every contact you made, not just the ones you feel can help you in the short term. This is the opportunity to reach out and build relationships for the future.

  • A handwritten follow-up is best, unless an email was specifically requested. It shows a level of commitment and professionalism to clients that you follow through and took the time to go above and beyond.

  • It would also be appropriate to follow up by phone, if you need clarity, or were unable to finish a conversation.

Additional networking tips

  • Similar to other business events, use alcohol in moderation when networking. Know your limits and present a professional image.

  • Have your introduction developed in advance. An example is, "Hello, I am Stewart Overlease; I am the Director of Logistics for Roh Technologies."

Restaurant Etiquette

Inevitably there will be opportunities in your career that require proper restaurant etiquette. The interesting thing about restaurant etiquette is that it touches almost every person at every level in their career, no matter what industry you work in. Restaurant etiquette can be simple, if you are at a fast food restaurant, or it can become quite complex, if you are at a five-star restaurant. A great deal can be riding on the meal and your actions, such as the sale of a building or a multi-million dollar contract. Sometimes you could encounter a restaurant bill totaling in the thousands, where very specific etiquette rules should be followed for things such as silverware placement, who goes first, and what kind of wine you order. Whether you are "grabbing a sandwich" from a street side cafe, or dining at an exquisite restaurant, there are guidelines to follow to ensure your professional image is portrayed in the best manner.

When you are at a restaurant, whether it is with a co-worker, your boss, or a client, remember why you are there. Is it a quick bite to eat? Or, is it for a client to make a decision on your product, a major purchase, or even a company merger?

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Business Etiquette course?

Let's start with the basic dining rules, then tips to help you show the "seasoned and refined look."

Restaurant etiquette is quite possibly one of the most difficult -- simply because it involves a large amount of information to remember, which may not be intuitive if you do not use it frequently.

Restaurant etiquette is best practiced by reviewing this material, then practicing with a table place setting at home, gravitating to increasing levels of upscale restaurants. Remember, it all boils down to how you carry yourself, and how you present yourself during a meal.

How complex do you need to be? It depends on your line of work and the expectations. In some work environments, formal dining will not be common. If you are in a sales position, you may frequently invite customers to dine with you to discuss products. If you are an attorney, you may formally dine to discuss issues related to a case, or the future plans for your practice. For many, you should be able to judge the number of opportunities for formal dining you will have on a routine basis. The more you do so, the more opportunities you have to perfect your etiquette.

For very formal events, determine first your requirement or position at the meal. Is your company arranging the meeting? Are you an attendee or a guest invited by a client? Are you the host? Who is responsible for reservations and coordination?

If you are the host, follow these principles:

  • Arrive at least 20 minutes early to the event.

  • Arrange in advance to pay for the bill.

  • Identify seating arrangements in advance, and notify the maître d.

  • Ask the maître d if parties may be seated without all guests present, so you understand how guests will arrive.

  • Once this is complete, wait for your guests in the lobby

  • Never order drinks prior to your guest's arrival. You want the appearance you have just arrived and are focused on your guests, not that you have waited so long you went to the bar to get a drink.

  • Make sure guests are introduced to one another upon arrival; or, if they arrive at the same time, introduce one another and shake hands. Mention why you are there, but that you are there first to relax and enjoy the meal. Reserve business cards for later.

  • Clients and guests should be seated first, followed by you. In formal business situations, hierarchy takes the place of gender precedence.

  • If there is a guest at the table you have not met yet, move around the table and introduce yourself before being seated.

Expectations once the table is seated:

  • Once you are seated, use good posture -- not too stiff, but not slouching. Lean forward slightly.

  • Place your napkin in your lap after the host places theirs in their lap.

  • Never place forearms or elbows on the table.

  • Engage in friendly conversation, but avoid controversial subjects, such as politics or religion; and avoid sharing details of your personal life.

  • Be cautious of alcohol intake. Know your limits. If your guests do not order alcohol, follow in suit.

  • Focus on the meal and your initial conversation. The tone of the meal and liveliness of the discussion will lead into later business discussion.

Once the meal arrives:

  • Let the host take the first drink at the table and begin eating first.

  • The host may offer a toast before the meal. The toast should be short, something to the effect of, "Welcome and here's to dining with fellow colleagues."

Now that we are seated and engaged in good discussion, let's talk about formal table settings. We have a diagram below that shows the general arrangement for a place setting. Placement should be similar at most place settings: the plate will be in the center, forks to the left, spoons and knives to the right, and glasses to your upper right. The number of forks and glasses may vary, such as tea cups or additional dessert plates. Generally, these will come with their own silverware, if they are brought after the meal.

These are the key rules to remember for utensils and place setting, whether the meal is formal or casual.

  • Use the utensils on the outside of the place setting and work your way in.

  • The bread plate is always to the left, and drinks are always on the right.

  • The main plate should always be front and center. If soup or salad is served first, it will be placed on a service plate.

  • Utensils: Remember, forks to the left and knives and spoons to the right. Desert silverware is at the top of the place setting above the dinner plate. In formal settings you may have three forks. The one to the left is your salad fork, the one in the middle is a fish fork, and the one to the left is the dinner or entrée fork. The entree knife will be nearest the plate. Don't panic, you can be an instant expert at this. If you are not sure which utensil to use, take a slow sip of your beverage and wait for the others to start.

  • Always taste your food first, before adding salt or pepper. Immediately salting and peppering food is an insult to the cook.

  • Glassware should be easy to figure out, simply because the server will be filling each glass for you.

Dining mechanics and tips:

  • When placing your order during a business dinner order an item similar in price to the others at the table. If in doubt, as you are reviewing the menu, choose a medium-priced item.

  • The meal will likely involve talking, so you want to time your completion with your guests, mainly because you do not want to have a full plate of food when they are done eating, or vice versa.

  • Be cautious of what you order to avoid unforeseen problems. This includes foods you have never tried before, where you run the risk of allergic reactions; foods that may be messy or drip on clothing, such as gravy or spaghetti; foods that require significant interaction -- cracking shells or significant cutting -- like ribs or lobster. This includes messy finger foods.

  • Eat food carefully and respectfully, only one or two bites at a time. Swallow before adding an additional bite.

  • When you are done eating, lay your utensils (fork and knife) diagonally on your plate, with the bottom of your utensils at 4 four o'clock position. Do not push the plate away from you.

  • If a bread basket is offered, take bread and pass the basket to your left.

  • When it is time for dessert, take the fork and spoon at the top of the place setting, and move the spoon with your right hand, and fork in your left.

  • When you are finished eating, your napkin is folded and placed on the left side of your plate.

  • If you must leave your seat, simply and excuse yourself from the table, placing your napkin in your seat.

Wine ordering

Ordering wine is the most complex part of business restaurant etiquette, but the more savvy you are, the more likely you are to impress your high-end clients and your boss. Wine enhances any meal and allows for a cultural infusion into the meal. Wines spark curiosity for most diners, and they are often eager to try various wines. Ordering wines for a group can be unnerving for some, but we will provide you the basic tips for pairing and selection, based on your meal and preferences. Do not feel too intimidated when ordering. If you are uncertain what to order, ask your server for recommendations. Although wines are often paired with light and dark fare, many wine experts drink what they like, regardless of common pairings so you can't go too wrong in the wine world.

Traditionally, red wines are paired with red meats, and white wines are paired with fish.

Going with common pairings -- let's break this down further.

  • Red wines are paired with meat, cheese, and fowl and include Cabernet Sauvignon, Sirah, or Zinfandel.

  • Pasta can be paired with white or red wine, such as Merlot or Cabernet Franc.

  • White wines are paired with seafood and white meats, such as chicken, can be paired with Pinot Grigio or German Riesling.

  • Celebration wines are typically sparkling wines. These include Champagne, Asti Spumanti, and Schramsberg.

  • Appetizer wines include Dubonnet, Dry Sherry, or Vermouth.

  • After dinner drinks include Cognac, Crème de menthe, or Port.

  • Dessert wines include Sweet Sherry, Madeira, and Sauternes.

  • Champagne is for celebrating and normally are served before a meal, or with dessert.

Wine serving:

  • The host typically orders wine from the wine list.

  • Ask your guests if they have preferences.

  • If you are ordering, have a price in mind. Remember, price does not always equate to good wines. Trying to impress others by ordering a high-priced wine may leave you with a wine that is difficult to drink and not enjoyable for your dining guests.

  • One bottle contains approximately four glasses of wine, so order appropriately, based on the number of guests.

  • A general rule of thumb is to order the second most expensive wine from the list, as this is often the wine buyer's pick.

Wine serving normally occurs in three steps. 1) The waiter shows you the bottle to confirm it is what you ordered and you verify the label. 2) The waiter opens the bottle and will hand you the cork. You may sniff the cork; if you wish otherwise place it on the table. 3) The waiter will pour a small amount of wine for you to taste, then you indicate for them to pour for anyone at the table desiring wine.

Difficult foods and problems:

You are bound to run into an awkward situation at some point with foods, beverages, or utensils. Let's walk through some ways to recover from awkward situations.

  • Issue - You have dropped your fork on the ground.

  • Action - Ask the wait staff for a new one.

  • Issue - You bite into gristle, a bone, fish scale or something else awkward.

  • Action - Place it on your fork and lower it to your plate. If possible cover it up.

  • Issue - You find a foreign object in your food.

  • Action - Tell your server discreetly.

  • Issue - Food is not cooked properly.

  • Action - Depending on whether you have time, contact your server.

  • Issue - You notice someone seated by you has something in their teeth, or on their face.

  • Action - Get their attention and motion to the area of the food.

  • Issue – What if you have pitted foods, such as olives?

  • Action - Remove the pits by hand and place them on your service plate.