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Social Grace 

Power Lunching

Wednesday, Mar 14 2001
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Dear Social Grace,
When you're having a business lunch at a restaurant, at what point should the chitchat end and the business begin? Is there an established rule on this? And I know you frown on cell-phone use in restaurants, but is it acceptable to take an important business-related call on a cell phone at a restaurant if I'm having a business meal? (I would never do this if it were a social occasion, but if I'm "working," I sometimes need to be available.)

New to Power Dining

Dear Dining Madam or Sir,
When business is conducted at a restaurant -- rather than, say, in a conference room or in someone's office -- it's usually because the people involved think some friendly chitchat is appropriate or necessary. Eating together is primarily a social activity, and that amiable socialization can be an important part of a business transaction. (If said transaction is occurring over lunch or dinner at a restaurant, the parties involved almost certainly think that social aspect is important.) Although there's no firm point at which one must switch the conversation to business, as a general rule (and especially if said business involves papers or laptop computers that must be set on the table), the heavy-duty business talk should wait until the entree plates have been cleared away. (We rely on the host to steer the conversation in the right direction.)

If you must be available for a phone call during a meal, explain that to the other diner(s) before the meal begins, with apologies. Keep your phone in a pocket or in your lap and turn the ringer off. When the call comes, excuse yourself and answer either outside or near the public phones -- this being the part of the restaurant set aside for telephone use. It's impolite to exclude dining companions from a conversation at table.

Dear Social Grace,
What is a rule of thumb about snapping gum? I hate the sound; for me, it's as annoying as the sound of fingernails on a chalkboard is to others.

But many people do it. Loudly. Usually I just put up with it. On the rare occasion that I politely ask someone to stop, they get so offended that you'd think I'd killed their child. Do you have any suggestions about what I can say to people to [get them to] stop snapping their gum? Or am I completely in the wrong on this issue?

Thank you,
Tracie

Dear Tracie,
Etiquette does agree with you on this point: Gum, while not without its uses (freshening breath, relieving eardrum pressure, aiding in breaking a nicotine addiction), is a private affair. Like food, gum should be chewed as quietly as possible in a closed mouth, so as not to turn others' stomachs. If a person must speak while chewing, he should tuck his wad of Juicy Fruit between his cheek and gums so his speech is understandable -- and not unpleasant to observe.

I must remind you, though, of an etiquette paradox that we keep coming back to in this column: Telling others that they are being rude is, itself, rude. Unless the gum snapper is your child (and you'd teach your children about proper gum etiquette, I'm sure) or similarly close to you, you may not give him tips on how to chew. Leave that kind of thing to etiquette columnists, who are in a better position to point out errors of behavior.

On that note, we'll close this letter with a reminder that gum is a particularly onerous kind of trash and must be disposed of properly -- wrapped in paper and put in a trash can -- lest someone step, sit, or put her hand upon it. A few months ago, Social Grace casually put a hand in some gum (left to warm in the sun on an outdoor window ledge near the Embarcadero) and was most disturbed by the situation.

Dear Social Grace,
How do I politely remind a co-worker to wash her hands after she uses the bathroom? I notice people at my office who neglect to do this all the time. It is frankly disgusting, but I don't want to be rude.

Disgusted in the Ladies' Room

Dear Disgusted Madam,
Aside from being very careful when enjoying unwrapped candy from the communal candy dish, I'm afraid there's very little you can do. It's just not nice to comment upon -- or even to notice -- a co-worker's behavior in the restroom. We'll have to let Social Grace take care of this one, too: Gentlepeople, please wash your hands before leaving the bathroom. There is no polite way for us to point out to you individually how disturbing -- and possibly dangerous -- not doing so is to the people around you, so we count on you to do the right thing. Practicing good personal hygiene is one of those small, sensible courtesies that go a long way toward making the world a better place to live.

Dear Social Grace,
I've heard that you should not tip the owner of a hair salon if that's who does your hair, although I've always tipped the man who does my hair, even though he is the salon's owner. Have I been insulting him all these years? Should I stop tipping him now, even though it's been my custom for a long time?

Sincerely,
Favorite Customer?

Dear Favorite Madam or Sir,
Every salon owner is different in this respect: Some charge more than the other stylists at their salons in lieu of tips, because they (mistakenly) think that accepting tips is unseemly. Others accept tips gladly.

The best thing to do in this situation is to ask the receptionist when you make your appointment: "I'm booked with the owner of the salon; does he accept tips?" (At a smaller salon, without a large staff that includes a receptionist, the owner is much likelier to accept gratuities.)

If your longtime practice has been to tip this salon owner -- and if you've never noticed any flinching when the money was offered -- it's safe to assume that your tip is appreciated. (On the flip side, if you're offered a tip that you cannot or will not accept, just decline it politely. It isn't rude to do so.)

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Social Grace

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