Just because a business function takes place outside the corporate boardroom, never assume it's not about work! Professional breakfasts, power lunches and networking functions are all business meetings in dressed-up settings. So next time you're scheduled to meet outside the office, keep the following tips in mind and resist the temptation to totally let your hair down.

Food Facts
When planning a meeting over a meal, think about the agenda and the timing. A business breakfast should be reserved for urgent topics and last no more than an hour. If you're dragging someone out of bed early, make sure you choose a convenient restaurant and keep the small talk to a minimum.

Power lunches are better for more casual meetings, like entertaining clients or meeting new contacts. Make sure you schedule two hours though. An hour isn't enough time to order, eat and strategize. And no matter how casual the setting, remember you're still there to discuss business so don't drown in small talk. The best time to broach the purpose of the meeting is after the appetizers have been served.

If you need to meet with a business associate after work but wish to avoid cocktails, try tea. Tea is a great alternative if your company has concerns about mixing booze with business. And without alcohol in the mix, meetings tend to run faster and more smoothly.

Try to restrict business dinners if at all possible. Most of us spend too much time at work as is, and a business dinner really encroaches on everyone's personal time. If you do schedule a business dinner, have something relevant to address. Small talk is fine until you order, but once the waiter's left, move on to your business discussion.

Table Manners
Of course good table manners are an asset whenever you eat, but they're imperative at a business function. If you're ordering à la carte, don't choose the most expensive thing on the menu. No matter how good it sounds, the rack of lamb with a side of lobster is probably overdoing it. Unless your host sticks to a side salad, try not to order anything significantly more expensive than him or her. If no one else orders an appetizer, resist the urge. If you don't, you'll hold up the entire meal. Plus it's never pleasant eating when your companions are drooling and glaring at you. When your food arrives wait until everyone has been served before you begin eating. And never complain about the restaurant, food or service.

Picking up the Check
According to etiquette experts, the party who benefits most from the business association should pay –- regardless of which party extended the invitation. If it's not clear who benefits most from the relationship, the party who extended the invitation should pay. If you're really suave, make arrangements for the check before the bill reaches your table. This clears up any potentially awkward situations. If you're going out for a business dinner with a group of colleagues, the most senior executive at the table should deal with the check.

Networking
Industry events can be great for making contacts, but unless you act professionally you could come away from the evening with nothing more than a stomachache from too many off-season shrimp. Even if your ultimate goal in attending an industry function is to increase sales, resist the urge to make a sales pitch on the night. It's unprofessional and incredibly annoying to other attendees.

Circulate as much as possible. Spend around five minutes with each person, and make sure you devote as much time to their line of business as you do to your own. If you see a potential synergy, let the other person know you'd be interested in continuing your discussion another time. But don't thrust your business card on every person who crosses your path.

Buffet
Professional networking events usually include a buffet. The key here is to think casual snacking, not an all-you-can-eat extravaganza. When you're waiting in the buffet line, don't even think of pushing ahead. It's obnoxious and unprofessional. Plus you're missing a great opportunity to network (which is the whole purpose of the evening).

Once you reach the food, resist the urge to fill your plate to the breaking point. Even if the lobster is to die for and the caviar cost more than your first car, loading up looks really tacky. Always use the utensils provided and learn from Seinfeld's George Castanza's mistake and don't double dip – put some sauce on your plate instead.

Party Time
We've all heard at least one office-party horror story: the accountant who got drunk and passed out in his soup or the sales associate who dominated the karaoke machine with her rendition of every Carpenters song ever written. Even though it contains the word "party", don't get confused. You're still at work, so it pays to keep your wild side in check and these tips in mind:
Wear an appropriate outfit. It may be boring, but you'll have other opportunities to strut your stuff when your boss isn't around.
Be sure to mingle – it's still a networking opportunity even if you're with your colleagues.
Don't bring uninvited guests. If your partner is invited, it will say so on the invitation.
Resist the temptation to discuss controversial topics. Debating politics, sex and religion can create rifts that last indefinitely.
Don't drink too much.
Don't be the last to leave.


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