When conducting a business meeting that involves food you have a business meal. This meeting can take many forms at different times of the day. Whether breakfast, lunch or dinner, this is a time when manners matter, consideration of those around you makes a huge impression and being able to talk without your mouth full of food will determine the type of impression you (and essentially the company you represent) will make. While you donít have to become a wine snob or be witty while whittling away at your steak, you do need to know how to use your utensils, eat with good manners and be comfortable with the idea of eating and meeting at the same time.
A breakfast meeting is typically what they term the Continental Breakfast. Youíll see the coffee/tea service, a few bread items, spreads for the breads and that may very well be all. When pouring your coffee, donít overfill as you can always go back. Watch the use of the cream - you donít want to be the one who uses it all in front of your client.
As for talk, business people find it very annoying to hear someone complain about the food. They also are not impressed when someone states that they donít drink coffee and/or tea...especially at a breakfast meeting. Many have come to rely on a caffeine hit (or two) at breakfast. There is not, therefore, a professional way to spin, ďI donít drink coffeeĒ without sounding like you are a purist and somehow better than the rest who truly need it in order to function. The best thing to do is pour a cup for yourself and not drink it. If you donít like the smell of coffee (some liken it to cigarette smoke) again, business etiquette would encourage you to not state this as it makes others around you either edgy or irritated.
As long as you donít slurp the coffee and be sure to chew with your mouth closed, you should be fine. With respect to breads, with the exception of a muffin, you donít need to slice. Just tear the bagle, roll, etc. and then butter the piece. Remember, small pieces and small bites. That allows you to talk more. Your concentration on what everyone is saying will be higher.
If the meeting happens during lunch thereís the chance you will be ordering rather than arriving with food laid out. If a meeting is running late, lunch may be ordered. Although a sandwich/soup bar or boxes are not out of the ordinary, quite often a lunch meeting occurs when the agenda is running long. Watch out for spaghetti and soup. Think light. Itís just an hour or so. You will need to talk fast and eat faster. No one wants to look at your unfinished food while they are ready to resume the meeting.
As for the dinner meeting, monitor your cocktail intake. You donít want to be bombed by the time the food arrives. Use a knife and fork. Cut, chew, then talk. Be aware of salads and coordinating which utensil goes with which course. You can refer to my articles on setting the table for a refresher course.
Meetings can run long. Meeting can piggyback meals. And meetings can be scheduled around a meal. In the business community you are bound to have to talk shop and eat at the same time. While this should not scare you, it should cause you to be aware that there was a reason your mother attempted to enforce certain rules while you were growing up. Now is the time to obey Momma.