Dining Etiquette Series – The Power of the Early Arrival

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Ford: …better three hours too soon than a minute too late.
~ William Shakespeare, The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act 2, Scene 2

“I must have missed it,” said Dumbledore cheerfully. “However, due to a lucky mistake, I arrived at the Ministry three hours early…”
~J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter Eight, The Hearing  

Both Windsor citizen Ford and Hogwarts’ Professor Dumbledore knew that by arriving early they could accomplish their goals. Three hours might seem to be a bit of an early lead, but I think we’d all agree that it depends on the mission.

The Formal  Affair

If you are invited to a State Dinner at the White House, a charity ball, corporate black-tie dinner, a wedding or similar formal affair, punctuality is crucial. For some occasions, you may receive instructions on the suggested arrival time. In any case, it is advisable to arrive no later than 20 minutes prior to the time indicated on the invitation, and I advise to arrive 30-40 minutes ahead of time, because:

  • Such events are highly organized and usually start on time.
  • There are often protocols and rituals to which you must attend before officially entering the main area in which the ceremonies are to be held, and you want to allow plenty of lead time.
  • You might require time to show your invitations; and for certain official venues you might have to go through a security check.
  • You’ll want to check your wraps or other items, freshen up in the restroom and rejoin your spouse or escort.
  • You might have an opportunity to meet and chat with fellow attendees for a few minutes.
  • You’ll be ready to enter the site of the festivities on time and composed.

Restaurant Dining

Whether you are meeting a recruiter, hiring manager, your boss, a client or other business associates at a restaurant, coffee shop hot dog stand, it is vital that you arrive early; approximately 15-20 minutes early is recommended.  Upon arrival at the eatery, look around the entrance area for your hosts. If you do not see them, advise the hostess or maître d’ that you are here and who you are meeting. Then, use the time freshen up in the restroom or look over your paperwork. Then, wait for your party(ies) where you are directed; if you have a choice you should wait in the reception area rather than the bar. If you are directed to wait at the bar or that seems to be the best place to wait, do not order a drink; first, you should not be drinking at an interview and, second, alcohol and business or first impressions are never a good combination.

If the occasion is a breakfast or reception hosted by your college or a company or group of companies for students, interns or job candidates, you should arrive early, freshen up, check in or register at the reception table or desk, pick up any materials and your name badge (which you will fasten to your right lapel or wear around your neck, depending on the style) and locate your hosts or table.

The One Exception: The Private Home

In contrast, and out of consideration for the hosts, the one time that you should never arrive early is when attending a dinner party at a private home. You should aim to arrive five minutes after the designated time, but no later than 15 minutes late. If you arrive too early, walk around the block until it’s time to ring the doorbell. If you find that you are running more than 15 minutes late, you must call your host and advise her, with your sincere apology, and give her or him an ETA. Then, arrive as soon as possible.

If you arrive late, plan to join the cocktail hour or dinner in progress and don’t expect any special accommodations. If you have missed the appetizer or salad course, do not request them; rather, graciously begin eating whichever course is currently being served. If the dinner is being served family style, then you likely will not have missed anything. The idea, of course, is not to inconvenience your host or the other guests–or in any way be disruptive–because of your late arrival. Don’t make a fuss or take over the conversation with explanations unless you are pressed; instead, say, “please don’t let me (us) interrupt—I’ll catch up with the conversation”; then, listen to the discussion or banter that is already underway. You want to arrive as a soft breeze, not a cyclone.

Conventional wisdom indicates that arriving early is the best policy for nearly every situation.  To arrive late for dinner is especially horrendous. To arrive late for any meeting or gathering screams, “disorganized! disrespectful! disruptive! – characteristics that can result in the loss of the job or the client, and can damage your brand and reputation. This Forbes article reinforces this concept with what the author calls, “Hustle Standard Time.”

Err on the side of caution. Be early and be viewed as polished, professional and powerful.

Until next time,

Jeanne

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