If you want to get ahead in business then don't smoke, don't drink and don't talk rubbish, according to a new survey on business etiquette. It's fine, however, to use your mobile phone at a business lunch, as well as the odd swear-word.
The Aziz Corporation survey, which polled 308 senior managers and company directors, found that the champagne lunches of the 1980s are out and today's business lunch is a more sober affair.
"In the past you'd say, 'let's have a meeting over lunch' and the wine would flow freely," says one theatre designer based in London. "Now, business lunches are more serious. Last week, a colleague ordered some wine and I was actually shocked." Today, most business managers believe not only that you shouldn't drink, but that you shouldn't even offer alcohol.
Professor Khalid Aziz, chairman of The Aziz Corporation, says that people are far too busy to enjoy a lunchtime booze-up, particularly outside London. This seems to hold true at Brighton and Hove Council, which last year banned its employees from drinking alcohol during working hours, including lunchtime.
Neil Bullen, a director at Turner & Townsend, an international construction and management consultancy, attends two or three business lunches a week. He says that in an increasing number of situations - such as multicultural events - alcohol is inappropriate. But at many business lunches clients will happily take a glass of wine, because alcohol is "still part of helping business go round".
City headhunter George Corbett, of Wheat Limited, says that alcohol may no longer be the norm but it's certainly not extinct, especially if the lunch is a celebration. However, some clients are too busy to lunch, preferring breakfast meetings, and American investment bankers would rather have dinner.
If booze is frowned upon, mobile phones are not. Those in their twenties are the most comfortable with taking a call during lunch, and Professor Aziz says that this reflects a business culture where it is seen as essential to be contactable at all times.
Bullen agrees that there is an increased use of mobiles, but says that if he's entertaining clients then he certainly wouldn't take a call. Likewise, Corbett is shocked at the idea that mobiles are in. "That is taboo. There is absolutely no way I would do that, it's downright rude. At a restaurant in the City the maitre d' would come and ask you to step outside."
But if taking a mobile call over a business lunch is seen as OK by some, smoking is definitely not. Almost 80 per cent of managers don't even approve of smoking immediately outside the office and half think that companies should prohibit smoking throughout their entire grounds.
Professor Aziz says that popular opinion has shifted, from viewing smoking as acceptable and even sophisticated, to seeing it as scruffy and a way of skiving off work. There is a great deal of resentment against those who pop out of a high-rise office several times a day to smoke, leaving non-smoking colleagues to pick up the phone. In anticipation of next year's expected ban on smoking in the workplace, Marks & Spencer has already barred employees from smoking in public when wearing company uniforms, and BT staff can no longer light up in their offices or company vans.
Managers also find staff talking flannel very annoying; they prefer language to be direct, honest and accurate. However, Professor Aziz says that many business presentations remain cliché-ridden and "there is a raft of people incapable of speaking plainly".
There are fewer objections to swearing, except among older bosses. The survey does not specify what sort of swearing is acceptable, but it says that the culture of television personalities such as Gordon Ramsay is permeating the business world. Professor Aziz recalls a recent presentation by an advertising guru who used the "c" word to a mixed audience of 300 and "just about got away with it".
Business managers also find the following people deeply annoying: those who constantly interrupt, finish other people's sentences, don't pay attention and order expensive items off the menu. So at your next business lunch, decline the booze and listen carefully, but you can leave your mobile phone switched on.Reuse content