Proper etiquette critical for corporate events

Corporate Event Planning

Jennifer Bartolotta speaks about business etiquette at a Train-2-Gain class.

Leave the phone in the car. Drink a tonic without the gin. If you’re on time, you’re late. Wear a suit. All are rules of thumb for corporate event etiquette, a practice that applies to the event’s host just as much as to the attendee.

No one knows the ins and outs of minding those business event Ps and Qs quite like Jennifer Bartolotta, chief executive officer of Train-2-Gain. For 13 years, Bartolotta, also director of Milwaukee-based Bartolotta Restaurant Group’s philanthropic arm, Care-a-lotta, has trained employees of all ages – and from various sizes of companies – in professional development and etiquette.

Jennifer Bartolotta speaks about business etiquette at a Train-2-Gain class.
Jennifer Bartolotta speaks about business etiquette at a Train-2-Gain class.

At well-established area companies, such as Robert W. Baird & Co. Inc. and Rockwell Automation Inc., her two biggest clients, she emphasizes the importance of etiquette for the greater purpose of protecting the company’s brand.

“What do I need to know to be a really gracious host or guest so I can deliver on a company’s investment in me?” she encourages her audiences, usually comprised of newly hired millennials, to ask themselves.

The host sets the event’s tone, starting with an invitation that should be tailored specifically to the guest.

“I would invite to dinner a CEO of a company who is retiring in five years differently than I would invite a millennial,” Bartolotta said.

For a smaller event, think a phone call or a written note versus an e-invitation or text message.

She also suggested sending a follow-up invitation via email that includes the host and venue information – down to every last valet and coat check detail.

During the actual event, it is the host’s job to generate conversation, announce his or her order, order and start the meal first, exhibit basic table manners and arrange to take care of the bill prior to the event.

Bartolotta advises her clients to think of their guests as their favorite grandmothers, ensuring that they always feel safe and comfortable in the event setting.

On the other hand, guests should be active participants at the event, but should always be mindful of the host. Their end goal is to represent the company in the manner in which that brand was built.

“When in doubt, follow the host,” Bartolotta said.

This rule applies to things like using the correct fork for salad or ordering a meal from an appropriate price range. If the host orders lobster bisque and surf and turf, it gives the guest permission to order any meal from the menu.

“Your job is to be social. Be mindful of what you say and how you make people feel,” said Jordan Boomer, senior talent development consultant at Baird. “Do your homework, show thoughtfulness and take care of things in advance.”

Boomer works with Baird’s newly hired financial advisors, who take Bartolotta’s etiquette course as part of an extensive training process. As Bartolotta’s client for the past four years, Boomer has seen the impact of consistent etiquette on representing Baird’s brand.

As a professional, he values event guests who clearly research the host and vice versa.

Researching the companies and even the accomplishments of those at the event allows for open-ended questions that will keep conversations informed and intentional—and hopefully, away from taboo topics including politics, race, sex and off-color jokes.

Bartolotta strongly advises against alcohol during corporate events, especially for young, newly hired employees who are transitioning from a college social setting.

Instead of a cocktail, order club soda or tonic water in a short glass with lemon or lime. Even if wine is served with dinner, Bartolotta suggests only taking one sip before leaving it on the table for the rest of the night.

“Don’t ever put yourself in a situation that will affect your reputation,” she said about alcohol consumption. “You could make a mistake that could be career-ending.”

Tardiness is another etiquette faux pas that is best avoided by following the rule: If you’re on time, you’re late.

Dionne Grayson, executive director of Milwaukee-based youth leadership nonprofit Lead2Change Inc., holds the same standards for the organization’s high school students – they must always be 15 minutes early because “if you are early, you have already ruled out half your competition.”

Lead2Change’s career readiness program has partnered with Bartolotta for the past two years for its “etiquette boot camp.” The program aims to train youth in professional development, career goal-setting and workforce preparation.

Although the high school demographic is quite a bit younger than Train-2-Gain’s usual millennial audience, advising the youngest generation in proper business event etiquette may give them an edge when they finally enter the professional world.

As for the curious, tech-savvy millennial generation, Bartolotta sees a real need for an improvement in social skills and etiquette to set them apart in a highly competitive professional environment.

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Maredithe has covered retail, restaurants, entertainment and tourism since 2018. Her duties as associate editor include copy editing, page proofing and managing work flow. Meyer earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University and still enjoys attending men’s basketball games to cheer on the Golden Eagles. Also in her free time, Meyer coaches high school field hockey and loves trying out new restaurants in Milwaukee.

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