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Lydia Ramsey, author of Manners That Sell: Adding the Polish That Builds Profits, on the etiquette of drinking alcohol, ordering appetizers, checking e-mail, and picking up the check.

The business meal. So many ways it can be useful; so many ways it can go horribly wrong. [Insert visual of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman inadvertently flinging escargot at a waiter here.] So how to navigate the potential prandial minefield? I asked Lydia Ramsey, author of Manners That Sell: Adding the Polish That Builds Profits for advice about some sticky situations.

Q. My boss ordered a glass of wine. Should I do so as well?

A. If you enjoy a glass of wine, join your boss. Drink slowly and alternate your wine with water. Do not have more than one glass of wine, regardless of whether the boss orders another. If you do not drink, you can ask for something non-alcoholic. "Pretend drinking" is another way out with an insistent boss: take little sips without making it obvious that you are not drinking.

Q. The waiter asks for my order first. I order an appetizer and entrée, everyone else just ordered an entrée. Awkward?

A. Yes. If you are asked to order first, simply ask, "Is anyone having an appetizer?" If no one else is, then you should not. If you're the host, if one of your guests orders an appetizer, be sure to order one too.

Q. Who pays? And how can the bill be handled discreetly?

A. The person who does the inviting pays. The most polished way to handle the bill is to take care of it in advance. Either tell the maitre d' that you would like the bill given to you at the end of the meal, or if the server arrives with the bill and sets it in the middle of the table, pick it up immediately so there is not one moment's doubt about who is paying.

Q. Is it ever ok to text/e-mail/talk on the phone during a meal? Even if it's an emergency?

A. There is nothing you can do about someone else's bad manners so you just have to endure their texting and talking. However, make sure you are never guilty of such rude behavior.

Last updated: Dec 21, 2010

CLARISSA CRUZ | Columnist | Contributor

Clarissa Cruz is the Fashion Features Editor of O, The Oprah Magazine. She is the former Style Editor of People magazine and has written for Entertainment Weekly, InStyle, Food & Wine, and Budget Travel.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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