Mind Your Etiquette at a Business Tea

Afternoon tea at Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tennessee. Image Courtesy of Bruce Richardson.

Afternoon tea can be the perfect setting for both social and business occasions. In their search for a quiet place to wheel and deal, business leaders are learning to say to clients and business associates, “Let’s discuss this over tea.”

When planning a business tea, it is the duty of a host or hostess to handle the smallest detail, from the reservation to the tip. Plan to arrive at least fifteen minutes early to check the table and arrange payment of the bill. Select the table at which you wish to be seated and decide where each guest will sit. You may sign the check beforehand or ask the staff to hold it until you are ready to depart.

Lobby Meeting

Greet your guest with a handshake and usher him or her ahead of you as you are led to your table. In America’s business arena, it doesn’t matter who offers a hand first.

When there are only two of you at tea, don’t sit across from each other at a square or round table. Seat your guest to your right. When hosting two guests, and the table accommodates four, don’t place one guest on each side of you. To do so means you will be moving your head back and forth as if you were at a tennis match.

Table Meeting

Regardless of gender, the host stands when guests approach the table and remains standing until everyone at the table is seated. A professional woman should never assume that a male colleague will pull out her chair; but if he does, she accepts graciously.

Move to the right of your chair and enter from your left side. Your left hip touches the chair first. Exit the chair from the same side you entered. Always push the chair back in after you rise.

A Man Helping a Woman to Be Seated

Stand directly behind the chair, with both hands grasping the chair back. Gently pull out the chair. When the woman is half-seated, carefully push the chair in under her. Don’t push it in too far.

A Woman Being Helped with Her Chair

Move to the right of your chair and enter from your left side. Once the chair has been pulled out and you are half-seated, grasp the sides of the seat and lean your body forward while the chair is being pushed in. If you arrive at the table before anyone else, just seat yourself.

When the Tea Is Over

If you are a man, you should push back your chair, rise, and reposition it at the table. Then, stand behind the chair of the woman on your right, pull back her chair, and reposition it after she rises and moves away from the immediate area. You should also help the woman on your left, if necessary.

Purses, Briefcases, and Phones

Small purses go on your lap under the napkin. Large purses and briefcases are placed by your chair out of the path of the other guests and the waitstaff. In a public tearoom or hotel lounge, the safest place for a large purse or briefcase is between your feet. Cell phones should be turned off and stowed away.

A well-planned business meeting centered around a tea table can leave a lasting memory with your guests that might result in many prof table returns.