District Dining: The Art of Blending Food and Business

To keep with the theme of restaurant week, we wanted to offer TRAK insight to professional dining. Below are tips for blending food and business. We recommend great DC places to visit for conducting business, menu selections, and proper dining etiquette.
– Sarah and Sarah

Dos and Don’ts of Ordering:

Selecting an appropriate meal is important to enable conversation to flow smoothly, but can be stressful without guidance. When hosting, often it is helpful to discuss favorite dishes to offer cues politely indicating what price points you are comfortable with your guest(s) selecting. As a guest often it is helpful to ask your host what they like on the menu to understand price-points with which they are comfortable. Typically ordering slightly below the price point of your host is appropriate. Steer clear of options that are far above or below their selection. Order the same number of courses as your host, although forgoing dessert is acceptable.

Ordering foods that can be cut into bite-sized portions and eaten with a fork and knife is best. Chicken, fish, or other meat dishes are great (keep in mind that veal can be a controversial selection for some diners). Also grilled vegetable plates or pasta plates, penne and bow tie, are great options because they can all be easily cut into bite-sided portions.

Soups are extremely prone to spilling and slurping, both of which are inappropriate during business meals. I suggest steering clear of them. (French onion is the deadliest of them all – stringy cheeses and spilling can be expected!)

Sauces can possess the same hazards as soup, so things with thicker consistencies are safe selections, for example lightly sauced dishes like primavera, pesto, or alfredo are fine, but stay away from liquid-based options like white clam sauce, light gravies, or dark colored, heavy selections that could splatter or stain easily.

Salads are often considered safe choices when ordering in a business setting, but can be tricky because attempting to shove a big, leafy bite into your mouth mid-conversation can be awkward. Order dressings on the side to reduce the possibility of spilling and always cut your salad with a fork and knife.

Wings, Ribs and Any Other Finger Foods (unless dining at a BBQ restaurant where your host will be ordering something similar) are a definite no-no. The hazards of spilling, finger-licking or messy foods lingering on your face are far too high.

Alcohol should never be ordered at a business meal, even if your host has a drink. Period.

Minding Your P’s and Q’s (closing the deal!)

Immediately upon sitting down at the table place your napkin on your lap, or allow the waiter to place it there if this is the practice of the restaurant. Remember all of those little rules your mother, grandmother, or guardian insisted upon! No elbows on the table, chew with your mouth closed, say “please pass the…” instead of reaching across the table, when you are finished with a dish place your fork and knife next to each other in the 4:00 position on your plate. When taking butter to be shared among the table from a dish, portion some out for yourself on your bread/butter plate, and from there butter you bread; don’t take directly from the main serving dish to your bread. When buttering your bread, butter only the piece you are eating, rather than slathering across the whole piece and biting into it!

B-M-W is a helpful mnemonic device for placement of items at your place settings, or in other words, helping to keep your hands off your host’s plates! Bread plate on the left, Meal plate in the middle, Water on the right. With multiple place settings, work from the outside in toward your plate. Courses are usually served according to the line-up of your utensils.

Conversation Topics: Remember the host should talk the most – divide the rest of the conversation among the remaining people in your party. If people at the table are trying to get to know you be sure to fully answer a question, and then ask another related question to involve others at the table. Always, always, always, stick to business-appropriate topics! If the meal is focused on a specific topic, be sure to stay on track. If the conversation is more of an open discussion local DC events – sports, vacations, and books you are reading are all great go-to topics of conversation. Stay away from topics revealing overly personal matters (like your most recent break-up or a drama in the family), politics (unless this is a political discussion and you are sure of your audience), sex, religion, parties, and alcohol.

Check, Please and Thank You!
When hosting a meal it is typically expected you pay for your guests at the table. Guests: if your host offers to pay, one single offer to pay or split a meal is acceptable. More than one offer to pay is inappropriate and can be considered rude. If your host offers to pay never offer to cover the tip; if they are covering the bill, let them cover it. Always thank them for the wonderful meal before getting up from the table. A hand written thank you note or an email sent directly after the meal is a polite and professional touch. Check out Sarah I.’s article on thank-yous first!

Restaurant Selections and Pricing

If you are selecting the restaurant, make sure you consider the location of your guest(s) rather than convenience for you. Choose something close to their neighborhood or ask if they have a favorite place near their office. If you are the guest, always defer to your host’s choice, unless asked to choose. Below are a few great options at varying price points and locations around the city!

PAUL ($) is one of our favorite great budget-friendly options. With great food, attentive wait-staff, and an appealing, quiet atmosphere, it is a great choice for a business lunch.
Suggested Menu Items: Croque Monsieur or Madame (eaten with fork and knife), Quiche, Omelets – no matter how tempting – wait until another time to try the French Onion Soup!

Corner Bakery ($) is a great choice if you are looking for something on the less expensive side, but still with good food and plenty of places to sit, eat, and meet. Many restaurants around the city in this price range are too loud to conduct effective business and have a conversation, but Corner Bakery is one of the better options we have found.
Suggested Menu Items: Pesto Cavatappi, Mac & Three Cheese, Half Moon Cheese Ravioli, or any salad you can cut up or comes “chopped”

District Commons ($$) is a favorite among the TRAK staff for excellent service, business-oriented atmosphere (request a booth in the back for a quieter experience), and great food!
Suggested Menu Items: Tuna Nicoise Salad, Flatbread (eat with fork and knife), Brick Pressed Chicken, Grilled Salmon

Daily Grille ($$) is known for their outstanding customer service – which is always important, but especially if you have time constraints. Their large menu can accommodate most palettes and the wide price range is great for those on a budget or looking to splurge.
Suggested Menu Items: Tuscan Brick Chicken, Penne Pesto with Chicken, Moroccan Spiced Chicken, Simply Grilled Salmon

Capital Grille ($$$) is the perfect choice is you are looking to impress! You will likely see the “who’s-who” of Washington lunching near you.
Suggested Menu Items: Fresh Mozzarella, Tomato and Basil, Sliced Filet Mignon, Breast of Chicken Confit, Seared Citrus Glazed Salmon

Bistro Bis ($$$) is another great high-end choice. The menu is smaller, so keep in mind your guests preferences. This may be better if you know their likes and dislikes already.
Suggested Menu Items: Chicken Salade Gourmande, Salmon Normande, Crêpes au Potiron

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