- Don’t eat sushi around squeamish people whose faces turn fainting-white when you mention that raw fish is on the menu. Those people are as rare as the fish, thank goodness (I love sushi and sashimi). Just be sensitive and watch their facial expressions when the menu is discussed.
- Don’t eat pork when dining with Jews or Moslems (or with both – - – yes, it has happened to me). Just the idea of pigs can make some people nauseous.
Should you drink alcohol at business functions? Some business gurus say drinking is OK and then others advise total alcohol abstinence! My answer is . . . yes, you can drink, but with a few caveats. First let’s discuss the cultural issue. In many cultures, business meals are occasions to get to know people. Alcohol is viewed as the universal social lubricant. And only after the other party gets to know you and likes you, will they have meaningful business discussions with you.
If you are dining with people from Western Europe, the Slavic countries of Eastern Europe, the Scandinavian countries, Japan, Korea or China, bring a spare liver! Drinking alcohol is likely to be an accepted part of the business experience and you’ll seem odd if you don’t partake at least a little. Sorry but I don’t make the rules of international business.
With other groups of people, in the US for example, you have more options. Here are some basic guidelines:
- If everyone else is drinking and if you would like a drink, then have one. But limit it to one or two drinks throughout the activity.
- If you don’t drink, say so and don’t drink! You don’t owe anyone a detailed explanation but if you feel obligated to explain, say you are slightly allergic to alcohol and it upsets your stomach. That should settle it.
- But if you are hosting a guest at a business dinner (prospective employee, client, possible teammate, etc.), you should order a glass of wine. Period. Do this either when initially seated or with the meal but do it. Do this whether you drink alcohol or not. You do this to clearly indicate to your guest(s) that their having a drink is fine with you. Words won’t communicate that point nearly as well as your $7 glass of red wine. And if there is a toast, you have something to toast with (you can put it up to your lips and then set it down). If you don’t drink, let it sit and get tossed after the meal. If asked why you didn’t drink it, say that you didn’t like the taste (they won’t know if you tried it or not).
One more rule here: If you are a US defense contractor, you’ll need to deduct the cost of the alcohol from the total receipt, showing it separately. It is not an allowable expense in most cases. Your company may or may not reimburse you for your drink. And they can only deduct half the value of the business meal anyway in most cases (thank you IRS).
Who should pay for the meal?
- If the meal is with teammates (other firms) and they will have the chance to reciprocate rotationally at their facilities, then the host organization should pay. This should be by prior arrangement among the principles.
- You, personally, should pay if . . .
- You invited the others to dinner and no Dutch Treat (each person/team pays) arrangement was discussed.
- You are trying to win the business of the guests and they are not government employees. Most US Federal and State government employees are prohibited from accepting meals or gifts of any kind.
- You are trying to win the business of the guests, they are from other firms, and those firms do not prohibit their employees from accepting gifts (including meals) from potential suppliers (like you). Some firms’ ethics policies prohibit their employees from accepting meals or “anything of value”. Other firms prohibit anything above a dollar limit, $25.00 for example. And some firms have no policy at all on this subject.
- Split the check if your firms are of comparable size, you will benefit equally from any subsequent business, you are not on an expense account and are expected to be frugal with the company’s travel budget, the other side sincerely offers to help pay, and there is no expectation of future meals out like that one (no expectation of reciprocation “the next time”).
In short, use your common sense regarding eating and drinking at business functions. And if you drink, limit yourself to one or two drinks. When in doubt as to the appropriate behavior, ask the financial or legal people in your organization. And I’d ask them either before or after a trip: Calling their cell phone, from the restaurant, late at night, might get you an answer you DON’T want!
Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation
—Mack McKinney is on a personal crusade to eliminate conflict and stress in our lives. Mack’s mantra is “People treat you like you TRAIN them to treat you!” His company Solid Thinking Corporation teaches creativity, concept development, relationship management and high-performance project leadership to major US corporations and the US government