Food for Meeting Thoughts

By Christine Neuberger

At meetings, meals can nourish your career – or cause major professional heartburn. Jana M. Kemp, a meetings expert, tells ways to make meals and food benefit your group. For starters, get the seating right, Kemp advises. How? Consult an etiquette book about protocol and guidelines for appropriately honoring your guests. Be sure to seat company presidents and honored guests at head or reserved tables alongside hosts responsible for table introductions and introductions to the entire group. What are reserved tables? Tables at the front or center. Hosts who issue invitations and wish to sit with guests should assign seats. But invitations offered on a first-come, first-seated basis makes open seating acceptable.

Self-serve buffets have pros and cons. The plusses: Self-service gives attendees control over portions while offering variety and choice. It fuels more socializing and encourages networking. The minuses: it may demand more food than a full-service meal and have more food leftover. Self-service meals also may consume more time and the increased socializing may have a downside.

On the other hand, it’s easy to make cases for – and against – plated meals. The advantages? A served meal is elegant and time controlled. You can begin a program while serving continues and you control the menu. The disadvantages? A full-service meal typically costs more than a buffet. It curbs networking time. A served meal gets noisy when servers clear or bring dessert. And unless you ask about dietary restrictions, you may fail to meet the needs of everyone.

Finally, some mealtime no-noes: Never use a dinner knife for butter if a butter knife or fork is available. Never put a napkin on a plate at meal’s end; it goes on the table. Never touch up lipstick at the table; go to the restroom. Never argue over who pays the bill; make arrangements ahead of time with the server.