Unspoken Rules of Team Dinner
Advice,  Work Tips

The Unspoken Rules of Team Dinner

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There are many unspoken rules of eating dinner with a team. When traveling for work and eating team dinner, there are a few dynamics that you will want to keep in mind. Check out these tips to remember when navigating the group meal.

What to eat

If you are just starting at the firm, you do not want to be the person who orders the most expensive thing on the menu. It’s nice to be able to expense your meals, which means you may get something you would not typically want to order at home. At home I will always drink water to save money, but when traveling for work I typically treat myself to a drink. When making your menu selections, be cautious of the price and order something at or below the median price. You’re welcome to order the steak, but there is no need to get the steak and lobster.

I typically wait for the team lead or partner to ask which appetizers the team wants, rather than assuming that we will order many. It is common for the most senior person to make the appetizer order, and I would not ask the waiter to tack on additional dishes unless you are familiar with the team and know that it is okay.

What to drink

It’s awkward if you’re the staff that orders a cocktail while everyone else is drinking a Coke. Have your backup options ready, and see what the rest of the group is doing. Ask the person next to you “Are you getting a drink?” to see what they had in mind. If everyone orders an alcoholic drink, if you are old enough you should feel comfortable to order one as well.

When asked if you would like a second drink, again I would be cautious and see what the group is doing. If everyone else orders a second round, then that is fine. If nobody else wants to order, you do not want to be the only one partying it up.

Dessert or no?

Again, try to gauge how the group feels. If your team has had a long day, such as a travel day, everyone may just want to go back to the hotel as quickly as possible. You do not want to hold everyone up if you are the only person eating dessert.

Most of the time, you will want to follow everyone else’s lead. Try not to order first. If you have a difficult time reading the room and the waiter speaks to you first, feel free to ask the waiter to “come back to you” and to continue looking at the menu. By making everyone else order first, you can better gauge what type of drinks or price range you are looking at.

Before the waiter comes, you should also feel comfortable asking your team what they are thinking. “What are you thinking of ordering?” or “What are you thinking of getting to drink?” are all valid questions and great small talk topics. Be cautious of the items you are ordering during your team dinner: you will want to avoid ordering anything too expensive, and to avoid ordering items that will keep your team in the restaurant for too long.


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Michelle Maraj is a consultant who frequently gets the opportunity to travel for work. Michelle loves pretending she knows how to use a camera, seeing new cities, and visiting touristy attractions. Michelle currently runs www.travelafterfive.com.

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