The timing of business meals in the USA can often come as a surprise to first time visitors.

Firstly, it is not uncommon to be invited to a breakfast meeting which might start as early as 7:00am and secondly, if invited for dinner, this may be scheduled for as early as 5:30 – 6:00pm. You can also, of course, be invited for lunch and this is probably the favoured time for business entertaining.

US business people have few qualms about discussing concrete commercial issues over a meal. The idea that the mealtime is set apart from business and that it is unmannerly to raise the subject of commerce over food is an alien concept in the States. Therefore, it is acceptable to view a business meal as an extension of the business meeting. (This does not mean that other, non-business issues cannot be discussed at these events.)

North Americans tend to only use the knife to cut food items. After the food has been cut, the knife is usually laid down and only the fork is then used. Some foods may be eaten by hand, with both the knife and fork laid to rest. Most restaurant staff rely heavily on tips to supplement their basic salary and tipping is therefore virtually mandatory. It is not uncommon for tips of between 10% – 20% to be left for good service provision — and the service is usually very good.

A brief overview of some key concepts to consider when doing business in the USA

Written and Produced by Keith Warburton

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This country profile has been produced to give a short overview of some of the key concepts to bear in mind when doing business with contacts in the USA. It is intended to be an aid to business people who have commercial dealings with counterparties in the country but should not be seen as an exhaustive guide to this topic or as a substitute for more substantial research should there be a need.

With this in mind, we have covered the areas which are key to a better understanding of the cultural mindset underpinning business dealings in the USA and which are, quite often, extremely different from the approach and thought processes associated with business in other parts of the world.

Therefore this briefing note is broken into short, bite-sized sections on the following topics:

  • Background to business
  • Business Structures
  • Management style
  • Meetings
  • Teamwork
  • Communication
  • Women in business
  • Entertaining
  • Top tips