Why You Shouldn't Order Spicy Food At A Business Dinner

There's an etiquette for every kind of dinner, from those ordered through fast food drive-thrus to those served by waitstaff in elegant ballrooms. However, the ramifications for violating etiquette codes can vary significantly depending on the dinner type. You're probably not going to lose out on a promotion, for example, if you fail to observe proper table manners during a dinner party. At a business dinner, by contrast, such an outcome is indeed possible.

Typically, as Emily Post notes, business dinners are oriented toward networking or building relationships with potential clients. But these dinners can also take place as an introduction for new or potential hires, or among management and staff. Generally speaking, then, these are social situations where it's usually wise to avoid alcohol. But honestly, you should probably give spicy foods a pass, too.

Yes, spicy foods are considered a business dinner faux pas. Why? Anything that can make you appear sweaty, anxious, and aggressive is not recommended in a business context. Spicy foods aren't really good first-date food, either, and for similar reasons. But making a bad impression on someone you may never have met before pales in comparison to screwing things up with your boss or a valued client.

The unwanted phsyical reactions associated with spicy foods

The one thing common to most spicy foods is ingredients like hot peppers that contain capsaicin, a chemical compound capable of causing noticeable bodily reactions. When you eat spicy food, the presence of capsaicin sends an alert to your nervous system, which is tasked with preventing your body from overheating. You're not actually overheating, but your brain and body believe that you are. As a consequence, the body activates cooling mechanisms like perspiration. Yes, you begin to sweat, and since sweating is linked to an increase in anxiety, this also affects your mental state.

Did you know, for example, that eating spicy foods can also make you more aggressive? That was the finding from three small studies published in 2017 in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. According to the authors of these studies, consumption of spicy foods could be correlated with a more aggressive mindset and an enhanced perception of aggression from others.

It is possible that your increasingly combative posture, combined with your sweaty and flustered demeanor, will translate to that long-deserved raise. But the more likely outcome is that your boss, colleagues, or others at the business dinner will view you in a decidedly unflattering light.

Other etiquette mistakes to avoid at business dinners

Ordering spicy foods isn't the only mistake you can make at a business dinner. We mentioned alcohol. It's generally a good idea to avoid it — unless your host orders wine or a cocktail, and suggests you follow suit. Similarly, avoid tricky meals like deep-fried dishes or finger food, as this will make eating awkward and messy. Business dinners inevitably have a host, and it is to this person that you should look for guidance on what's appropriate to order. But even if the host encourages you to have a drink or to order whatever you like, it's wise to practice moderation. That includes not ordering the priciest menu items available.

If you are the host, then you already know better than to drink too much or order spicy foods. It's important to be considerate of others — whether they're your bosses, subordinates, or possible clients. Be punctual, observe basic table manners, and don't do anything that can be interpreted as disrespectful. Constantly checking your phone certainly qualifies in this regard, so it's best to silence it off beforehand.

It is a business dinner, so you'll likely be discussing business at some point. But the rule of thumb is to wait until the main course is served before delving into these topics. Follow your host's lead conversationally and don't introduce controversial subjects like politics or religion. If you can manage to do all that, you just might get that promotion after all.