The Hesitant Host

Tablecloth with fork, knife and a slice of bread on the plateI sometimes get invited to a business lunch as a potential client. Interestingly, at the last two lunches I’ve encountered hesitant hosts. That is, after sitting down with our food, the host has waited quite some time to start eating. The etiquette is for the guest to wait for the host to start eating before beginning, yet these hosts were just sitting there with the food in front of them.

At the first lunch, after waiting a while for the host to begin I finally started eating, yet the host still didn’t pick up her fork. So, I stopped eating. I thought maybe she thinks the client is supposed to begin first and is waiting for me to start. After a bit more time of sitting there she finally asked if we could say grace. Oh, so that’s what the hesitation was all about. At the second lunch the host again waited a while to start eating as she talked. I don’t think she knew she was supposed to begin eating first to signal I could eat. So, I waited and waited until finally she started eating her french fries.

I thought it would be helpful for me to talk about why we wait for the host to begin eating before the client or guest digs in. The host sets the timing of the meal. They are the ones in command. Even though the client is always king or queen at a business meal and is afforded deferential treatment (fodder for another blog post), the host is responsible for signaling when to eat. That is done by picking up his or her fork or soup spoon or by saying something like “go ahead and eat, my risotto is probably taking extra time and I don’t want your food to get cold.”

So, next time you are the host of a business meal, be sure you start eating, or signal otherwise, in a timely manner. Avoid keeping your guest or client waiting while their food gets cold.

Happy hosting!

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Arden Clise is founder and president of Clise Etiquette. Her love for business etiquette began in previous jobs when she was frequently asked for etiquette, public speaking and business attire advice by executives and board members. The passion for etiquette took hold and compelled Arden to start a consulting business to help others. Read more >>

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