Part III: General Etiquette Tips

EtiquetteThis is Part III of “Business Etiquette FUN-damentals,” a three-part series for Progressions. 

If you have followed my previous two posts (Part I and Part II) about Business Etiquette, you know that etiquette is really grounded in the essence of making others feel comfortable. I have listed some general business/event questions that might arise at your workplace or during a social gathering.

General Etiquette Tips

  • Holding the door: Whoever reaches the door first holds the door for others. (This is quite a change from several years ago.) There are still many who feel the man always holds the door for the lady. Ladies, if you see a gentleman reach for the door, let him and say, “Thank you.” Now, no one has to feel uncomfortable when approaching a door.
  • Entering and exiting an elevator: The person who reaches the elevator first or is closest to the door, regardless of gender, enters or exits an elevator first. However, this can be similar to the “holding the door” scenario mentioned above – just exit the elevator graciously.
  • Picking up the tab for a meal – business occasion: Generally, the person who initiated the invitation to dine is the one who pays. If it won’t embarrass your dining partner(s), it is nice to offer to help with the check. If you are treating a client to a meal, arrange with your waiter or restaurant to have the check brought to you so there is no after-meal hassle or hesitation. P.S. No doggie bags at business lunches!
  • Picking up the tab for a meal – casual gathering: In more casual dining (colleagues getting together frequently), paying is usually cleared up easily with frank conversation before the meal: “Let’s go Dutch.” “I’ll get the check this time, you get it next.” “Is everyone ok with separate checks?” Clear this up before anyone orders, and make sure the restaurant is able to provide you with separate checks. Doggie bags are OK for casual meal with friends/co-workers.
  • Dress etiquette (for men and women): At work, ask colleagues, the human resources department or your boss what is meant by business dress or “business casual,” “corporate casual,” “smart casual,” or “resort casual.” If you are asked to plan an event, make sure you are very clear what the dress code is for the guests. Don’t leave folks uncertain or uneasy about what they should wear. Definitions of each style vary widely from corporation to corporation or from person to person.
  • Food stuck in teeth or lipstick on teeth: Should you tell your boss or the CEO that she/he has spinach stuck in her/his teeth? Yes, privately and discreetly. “I thought you would like to know you have spinach stuck in your teeth on the right side.” Do not belabor the point. Would you like someone to tell you? Of course.
  • Party etiquette or special occasion with co-workers: Act with dignity and respect. This does not mean you cannot have a great time. It does mean you should do nothing that would make you memorable/the topic of conversation for years. Crazy, drunken, juvenile behavior can quickly become the “stuff” of which office legend and lore is made. In addition, none of it should be mentioned on any social media site.
  • The mnemonic BMW and food placement on the table: I love this hint from Business Insider about where your food and water glass is placed. BMW stands for “bread, meal, and water,” so remember that “your bread-and-butter plate is on the left, the meal is in the middle, and your water glass is on the right.” When placing eating utensils, “your fork (four letters) goes to the left (four letters); your knife and spoon (five letters each) go to the right (five letters).”
  • Placing flags on a stage: A random “rule” that may impact a meeting you’re organizing (and because I had to know this recently): When displaying flags at business, civic, or social events, the American flag is placed on the speaker’s right. State and organizations’ flags are placed on the speaker’s left.

I hope these tips help you maintain your poise and increase your confidence whether at you’re doing business or relaxing after hours. Happy, gracious living.

Are there any important general etiquette tips that I missed? Add them in the comments below.

Geri A. Evans, APR is President/CEO of Evans PR Group. She is a member of the PRSA National Board and is a PRSA Board Liaison to PRSSA. Find her on Twitter at @gevans22.

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