< back to articles listings

Business Etiquette

by Camille Stell |

Have you ever found yourself in a business or professional situation where you didn’t know what to do? Should you drink from the glass on the left or right? Where do you wear your nametag? Etiquette rules are designed to make you feel more comfortable in professional situations. Here are a few tips that I’ve found useful.


The correct place to wear a nametag is on the right side so the person shaking hands has easy eye contact with both the individual they are greeting and a good view of the nametag.


The proper way to introduce two people is to introduce the junior person to the senior person. For example, you would introduce your paralegal colleague to your supervising partner. “Mary, I’d like to introduce you to my friend from paralegal school, Sue Smith. Sue will be working with us on this new case.”

If you are in a situation where you cannot remember the person’s name, it is ok to say, “I’m sorry but I’ve forgotten your name.” It’s embarrassing and none of us want to do this, but better to admit the memory lapse than failing to introduce people to each other. Also, one of the most generous things you can do is to make sure that you automatically introduce yourself and perhaps even remind the person how you know each other, “I’m Camille Stell and we served together on an RWPA committee  a few years ago, so good to see you.”

Business Dining

As soon as you are seated, remove the napkin from your place setting and place it in your lap. If you excuse yourself from the table, loosely fold the napkin and place it beside your plate rather than leaving it in your chair.

Wait until everyone is served at your table before you begin to eat. Use the silverware farthest from your plate first. The salad fork will be to your far left, followed by dinner fork. Your dessert fork may be next or it may appear at the top of your dinner plate. Once used, your utensils should rest on the side of your plate rather than on the table. To signal that you are done with the food course, rest your fork, tines up, and knife blade in, with the handles resting at five o’clock and tips pointing to ten o’clock on your plate. Unused silverware is left on the table.

Food is served from the left and dishes are removed from the right. Butter or other spreads should be transferred from the serving dish to your plate before spreading or eating. Pass the bread basket and other food from the left to the right. Your bread plate will be located to the left of your dinner plate and your glassware located to your right.

It is considered rude to add salt and pepper before tasting your food. Cut only a bite or two of your food rather than cutting your entire steak.

Do not push away dirty dishes or stack them. Leave plates and glasses where they are for the waiter to remove.


Everything I’ve read lately suggests that 20 percent is the correct amount to tip. If any of you have ever worked in the food service industry, you know that your wait staff depends on tips to bring their salary to above minimum wage. My niece currently earns $2.17 per hour at the pizza restaurant where she works. Her ability to pay college tuition, rent and expenses depend on those who tip, as do the hundreds of thousands of other food service employees.

You should also tip your bartender. Sources vary on 10 percent to $1.00 per drink to other sources where it is considered proper to round up the 20 percent tip to the nearest dollar. People may argue about whether to tip on the cost of the alcohol, but again, sources such as the LA Weekly blog and others say emphatically – yes, tip includes the cost of alcohol.

However, you do not have to tip on the tax amount. When tip is included on a check for a large party, it is added in pretax amount. Of course, your servers are appreciative of when the tip is calculated on the total including tax.

What about the adage that it is ok to not tip or leave a bad tip if you receive bad service? In many restaurants, the tips are pooled – the guy who pours the water, the waiter or waitress, the bartender, the food runner and sometimes the hostess split your tip. Leaving a poor tip stiffs many people who may not be able to control an overcooked steak or a long wait. It is better to ask a manager to try to rectify the service issue at the time it is experienced than not to tip or to tip poorly.

In a buffet restaurant, 5 to 10 percent is suggested depending on how much work is done by the wait staff.

If you travel for work or conferences, perhaps you struggle with how to tip hotel employees, airline employees and cab drivers. If your hotel concierge service helps you make travel reservations or purchase tickets for shows, you should tip $5 to $20 per service depending on the difficulty of the reservation or ticket requested. No tip is necessary for directions or restaurant suggestions. Porters should get $1 or $2 per bag; housekeepers $2 to $5 a day. When you order room service, add 15 percent unless the tip is automatically included.

Porters or bellman should be tipped for storing your bags and helping you move boxes or equipment (war room set up, exhibits at the hotel conference center) and the tip should be commiserate with the work performed – from $1 per bag to more if lifting and moving boxes and placing them in your car is required.

Tour guides and drivers should collect 10 - 15 percent of the cost of the excursion and cab drivers should get 10 to 15 percent of the fare and $1 to $2 per bag for help with the luggage.

At the airport, you should tip $1 per bag for the skycap if you check-in curbside and $1 per bag for help with your luggage from the shuttle driver.

Professional success depends not only on your paralegal skills in the office, but the ease with which you can enjoy a client lunch or association banquet. For more information, view websites such as The Original Tipping Page, CNN Money, Emily Post and Letitia Baldrige’s Complete Guide to Executive Manners.

Camille Stell is the Vice President of Client Services for Lawyers Mutual. Camille has more than 20 years of experience in the legal field, as a paralegal, legal recruiter and business developer. Contact Camille at camille@lawyersmutualnc.com or 800.662.8843.

About the Author

Camille Stell

Camille Stell is President of Lawyers Mutual Consulting and Services, offering succession planning, business development coaching, keynote presentations and more. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at camille@lawyersmutualconsulting.com or 800.662.8843.

Read More by Camille >

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Newsletter Signup