“Macaroni, you provoked me: now I’ll destroy you”: Alberto Sordi’s line from An American in Rome has become mythical and wonderfully illustrates the visceral relationship between Italians and food.
Among the many proverbs that celebrate this bond, there is also an old saying, which goes: “You don’t really know anyone until you have eaten with them“. Perhaps this is why lunches and dinners have become an essential component of working life, and an (almost) compulsory passage when it comes to doing business.
It is in fact in the “best eating-place in the whole state” that Bud Spencer and Terence Hill, impeccably dressed, reveal a lot about themselves – oh, how they do!
And like them, who we would like to transpire from our choice of clothes and accessories: but our gestures, tone of voice and conversation reveal who we really are, consciously or not. Dining makes us see partners, customers and colleagues in a different light. In a more relaxed environment, away from computers and desks, it becomes easier to bond more deeply with acquaintances, lay the foundations for future collaborations and consolidate existing relationships.
Provided, however, we make no faux pas.
«You know the rules, don’t you, Fantozzi? What you must do, what you must not do, right? We’ll see, we’ll see.»
Though it is true that eating is a pleasure, woe to forget that it is still work. It is therefore worthwhile to keep in mind a few aspects which could have unpleasant consequences (if not catastrophic, as the legendary accountant Fantozzi teaches us) when neglected.
At the top of the list of things we should never forget at a business lunch or dinner are good manners. Yes, the very same our grandmother taught us, and which are indispensable on these occasions. Sitting upright and showing we know bon ton at the table can only make us earn points in the eyes of our interlocutors.
So, be careful: keep your elbows off the table, keep your mouth closed while chewing, wipe your mouth with a serviette before and after drinking, place cutlery correctly once you’ve finished – evergreen advice, but all the more important when you sit down for work.
«Hello? No, not at all a bother! What’s happening?»
Phones must obviously be kept in your pocket, and silent. “Hello? No, not at all a bother! What’s happening?” Lines like this one (from Honeymooners) should really be avoided! Our meeting is important.
At a business lunch you should choose quickly from the menu and avoid special requests (which could make us pass for “difficult” people). It is also appropriate to choose food that’s fairly easy to eat, something not too “dirtying” that won’t get stuck between your teeth… Spaghetti with tomato sauce, roast chicken, shellfish and boiled spinach would be better enjoyed on other occasions. For obvious reasons, garlic- and / or onion-based dishes are forbidden.
Arriving too hungry is not a good idea: we might appear as greedy as Totò in Misery and Nobility, and hunger pangs could distract us from the central theme of the meeting. When in doubt, therefore, it would be better to have a small snack an hour before lunch.
Since it is responsible for the worst faux pas, alcohol is also worth mentioning. In general, the host decides whether to have alcoholic beverages or not. And if they do not order wine, ordering a glass would be misguided for reasons of “delicacy”. If alcohol is present, then we should exercise moderation. A glass, two at most if dinner stretches into the night, are the safety threshold we should never overstep to remain alert and avoid embarrassment.
«What? Are you ashamed of me?»
(«Ma che te vergogni de me?», in Roman accent).
True gentlemen can be spotted by how they treat service staff: always be extremely polite when interacting with waiters: do not clink your knife on the glass and or snap your fingers to call the waiter, if you simply raise your hand slightly it’ll be enough. Don’t get to the point of asking your dining-companion “What? Are you ashamed of me?” as a younger De Sica did in Ricky & Barabba.
Whoever pays (normally the one who organized the meeting, otherwise the “salesman” in the deal at hand) should do so with discretion. If previously arranged – as it often the case in informal situations – the cheque can be divided into equal shares, avoiding discussions about who-ordered-what.
Conversation is especially attention-worthy: Even at a business lunch, the most welcome guest is the one who knows how to entertain lightly. So: no pedantry (understood, Nanni Moretti?), no affectation; rather, empathy and a bit of patience. In order not to be found short on topics, it is a good idea to read (or at least glance at) newspapers, hunting for curious news to be shared with guests.
Clear enough, isn’t it? You’ll see, Applause for 92 minutes.