How to politely tell a client about a food stain on their clothing

by Staff - Original publish date: January 19, 2012

Dear Annette,

What should I do at a business lunch when a client has food on his face or clothing and doesn't seem to notice? Say something? Suffer? Find another client?

No thanks, I already ate

Dear No Thanks,

My dog Dickie and I never have so much as a picnic without our People. Without them, who would reroute the ants or top our passionfruit salads with gold leaf? Presentation is everything, which your client will understand when he sees himself in that trendy bistro’s restroom mirror. Not good. Your job is to make sure he never knows how briefly he compromised his own fabulousness if for no other reason that he might blame the incident on you. Clients can be so touchy.

First, don’t feel you must sit at the table in agony as your appetite flees. The degree of formality in the restaurant or dining room should dictate your strategy.

If it’s Casual Friday and an avocado chunk from your client’s salad comes to rest in his shirt pocket, just point it out lightly and move on. Ditto food on the face. If it’s an oil stain and nothing can be done, remain silent.

You will have to take action if tomatoes are involved. A trick I learned in the cafes of Italy: quietly ask the server to bring aqua frizzante (bubbly water), and let the client mop spots without help from you. Be sure to treat this as a minor break in the conversation then return to what you were discussing.

Formal dining rooms pose a greater challenge because you are often eating with people who outrank you in seniority or status. Still, fabulousness is available to anyone, so demonstrate yours by allowing others closer to the throne to point out spinach-in-the-teeth (believe me, they see it) and by overlooking unpleasant scenes. There’s always a beautiful view in my world and there should be in yours as well. If it’s a client of equivalent standing, a light dab to your own face or jacket should be enough to assuage your conscience while alerting him or her. Your goal is to finish the meal with at least as many clients as you had when you first sat down.

Stay fabulous,