Networking is not a free food free-for-all like back in college. Good God man, show some dignity. I’ve seen too many people at events eating like my 9-year-old son does: he parks himself in a strategic spot in front of the honey BBQ chicken wings, forks over some ranch dip and then once finished, follows the server like she’s a Siren back to kitchen. You have seen food before, right? And this happens after he’s had four slices of pepperoni pizza.

Speaking of following the server, I’m reminded how back in my sailboat racing days in Charleston, fellows twenty and even thirty years out of college after races would follow the server at the yacht club because he had the fresh mini-quiches. Crumbs? Forget it. These guys were professionals.  

And that’s just it, at a networking event you want to be seen as the right kind of professional.

You don’t need to eat. You go to networking events to meet people you don’t know at all or know only through social networking. You go to these events to connect with others and to expand your sphere of influence.

Food is a distraction and it can get messy, so why put yourself through the pain and indignity?

Here are a few networking tips to help you survive the holidays with grace and professionalism:

  • Eat before you go! Maybe you can eat afterwards with some cool people you met at the event and want to get to know better.

 

  • It’s OK to have something to drink and hold it with your left hand so you can shake hands with your right. If you’re eating BBQ chicken wings you’d have to shake hands with your sticky fingers—yuck!
       

  • There aren’t too many tables at networking events so it’s darn hard to manage exchanging business cards, note taking and picture taking with no hands, a broken fork and no napkins. Think of the freedom you’ll have by not eating!

 

  • By not eating you won’t talk with your mouth full and you won’t spill anything on your tie or new dress that’s dry clean only.

 

Instead of thinking about eating, go to a networking event with a specific purpose in mind such as:

  • Meeting five new people in two different fields
  • Getting introduced to two people who are friends of your friends
  • Get more business cards that you give away
  • Answer at least three people’s questions

Before I close I probably should tell you I’m writing this post for restitution: I served BBQ chicken wings at a ladies networking evening event. I was told by the restaurant that it was the most popular food choice—what did I know? I should have consulted with an expert, but didn’t. The worst part was that not only were there BBQ wings, there was mustard and teriyaki and the only other food offered was celery. I tried to eat the wings, but it was a bloodbath. Sauce on your cheeks has to be worse that lipstick on your teeth. Instead of hiding under a table, I decided to make amends with a spinach dip that disappeared before I could say “Free wine.” Live and learn, especially when I brought home the leftovers that were even messy for eating in front of my sink.

Enjoy your holiday season and remember to eat a granola bar before you network!

Thank you, Dave Baldwin for giving me the inspiration to write this blog post! Check out his take on this subject here.

Your Turn:
 
What’s been your experience with food at networking events? Do you eat there? What’s the messiest food you’ve ever seen at an event?