To eat or not to eat?
Most networking events will have some sort of food and beverage provided. The food can range from cheese and vegetable trays to full flung heavy hor d'oeuvres and everything in between. The beverages could include water, soda, wine and beer. It is the intention of the host for those attending to enjoy these refreshments. They can be delicious and enticing. They can also be disastrous if not given proper respect.
I once attended an event with a full bar and full spread of some of the best food I have ever experienced while networking. I had done my research and knew some very influential individuals would be attending that I wanted to meet. They had not yet arrived so I piled up my appetizer plate with shrimp, meatballs, humus, and more. It was all delicious and I made sure to compliment the host on her taste. Everything was going well until I accidently bumped into the back of someone else attending and a meat ball rolled off of my plate and down the center of my white dress shirt. There is not a Tide Stick large enough to undo that kind of damage. Needless to say I did not meet the people I had hoped to as I hurriedly left the room to change.
Another example happened shortly after that event. A friend and I were attending an after work social. We had both left the office early that afternoon to arrive at the event about fifteen minutes early. People began to arrive and we each grabbed a beer and made our way around the room. He had grabbed a plate of food and was standing in the corner when a lady walked up to him and introduced herself. He fumbled with the plate, trying to find a place to set it down, and as he was bending down to put it on a nearby ledge he tipped his beer down the front of the her blouse. I have never seen that particular shade of red on a person’s face before as he apologized again and again. She was very calm as she tried to sop up the beer from her shirt. They both left shortly after the incident, him out of embarrassment and her to change clothes.
The food and drink at an event is typically a highlight. The host has gone to a lot of trouble putting in time and money to provide whatever they deem appropriate. It would be somewhat rude not to partake, but how to navigate a room, meet new people, and enjoy refreshments can be tricky. The best piece of advice I ever received on managing this – arrive early.
Arriving early, even five minutes early, can allow you the opportunity to enjoy some of the food and drink without the worry of how to shake hands, make small talk with a mouth full of food, or where to put finished plates and cups. It also gives you first choice at most of the items provided. Additional advantages to arriving early include being able to check out the name tags to see who else is attending, meeting the host and getting good quality time with him or her before other guests arrive, and the opportunity to talk with those who have had the same idea.
Another way to save yourself the hassle of trying to figure out what to do with a cup or plate is to only partake of one or the other at any given time. Instead of loading up a plate with food and grabbing something to drink, do one or the other. This will allow for an open hand to shake hands and also makes it much easier to navigate a room. Always keep one hand free because you never know when it may be needed.
The final pointer is to always enjoy in moderation. No one likes the person who has had one drink too many or walks around with a food plate piled to overflowing with food. The first impression is often the impression that sticks when meeting people for the first time. The food and drink provided by the host is meant to be enjoyed, so go ahead and enjoy it. At the same time, be sure to know your limits.