International Business Drinking Etiquette

As you navigate the international world of business, you’re bound to run into questions about business drinking etiquette. The first and best rule in business drinking etiquette, check with HR. Many countries, like the US and UK, have very lax rules about cocktails at business meetings. Make sure you check with individual companies, as some may have different values.

However, even the powers of the HR department only get you so far. Many business dinners happen outside of business hours, where local culture and custom reign supreme and business rules get lax. It’s easy to be torn between wanting to make a good lasting business impression while also wanting to relax and let your personality shine.

Keep reading to get some answers to some of the most common questions about business drinking etiquette.

A group of colleagues enjoying a drink and dinner together giving a thumbs up.

Business Drinking Etiquette – When to Send Alcohol as a Corporate Gift

When it comes to sending business gifts – the rules of the HR department reign supreme. Most companies have individual rules about the kinds of gifts they can accept, down to price limits. When you send a gift, you want to be sure you’re not putting anyone in an awkward position of having to refuse their gift.

Remember that some cultures and religions, such as Islam and Buddhism, do not allow alcohol. For this reason, you’ll want to avoid sending alcohol altogether to India and countries in the UAE.

For businesses that welcome alcohol gifts, a bottle of quality liquor is just the gift to send after closing a deal. You’ll find that sending a bottle to celebrate milestones will help your company stand out from the crowd. Make sure you mark important dates such as your first year of business together, or their birthday, in your calendar.

How Many Drinks Should You Have at a Business Dinner?

            A good business dinner often has a bottle (or two) of wine present. That doesn’t always mean you have to drink, but it’s good to double-check the business drinking etiquette of the country you’re in.

Japan – has very complex rules about drinks at a business dinner. Their after-work business meetings with drinks are called Nomikai. The most important thing to note is that it is considered rude to drink before everyone at the table has been served. Unlike other countries, getting drunk is something that isn’t uncommon during Nomikai, just be sure you don’t overdo it. After all, any bad actions during the evening can still ruin your business deal.

India – alcohol is not only uncommon at business dinners here but also often viewed negatively. It’s better to stay away from drinks at a business dinner in India and indulge in the amazing food instead.

Korea – business drinking etiquette at a Hweshik (dinner with coworkers) means you must be prepared to have at least one glass of alcohol. This first glass is had by everyone before the dinner even begins. After that, drinking becomes more of a choice, though getting drunk is not at all uncommon. In Korea, you’ll be expected to stay until the host leaves for the evening, and continuing to drink along with them will often elevate their opinion of you. If you pace yourself 3 to 5 drinks seem to be the sweet spot.

Vietnam – drinking is built into the social culture of Vietnam – so when doing business here, be prepared to have more than a casual glass of beer. The key to business drinking etiquette is to always drink with food. Even at a bar, plenty of snacks will be served along with your drinks. Make sure you partake in the food to help with your sobriety. Additionally, how much you can drink is still viewed by some as a sign of strength, but more important than that is how well you can hold your head. If you aren’t sure where your drinking limits are, it is better to look like the weaker drinker than the more out-of-control guest.

China – business dinners in China are an almost theatrical event. Every guest prepares to give a toast, ensuring the drinks last until the end of the meal. In the more traditional dinners, it is not uncommon to see businessmen drunk from trying to keep up. However, there is an active push among younger business professionals to change the customs to make them more relaxed and safer for guests.

England  – in England, business drinking etiquette is lax. It’s commonplace to invite co-workers and business partners out for a night at the pub. How much you drink should stay well within your own personal limits, and don’t worry if you don’t drink. If you buy a round for others, you’ll gain far more good favor than if you impress them with your drinking prowess.

Regardless of where you are, it’s important to stay safe and keep your wits about you. At the end of the day, a business dinner is just one of many moving parts in business deals.

Business Drinking Etiquette: Business associates enjoying a drink at a bar together

What Should You Drink at a Business Meeting?

When drinking at a business meeting, especially one where you know the drinks will flow for a few hours, it’s smart to stick to something relatively light like a wine or beer. However, certain cultures expect you to share drinks with the table, so be ready and open to trying new things.

If you stick to one drink, take the opportunity to make it memorable by picking a liquor off the top shelf. If you want to go the extra mile, do research on the area ahead of time. This can help you order from well-known local brands.

Quick Business Drinking Etiquette Tips

With so many unspoken rules of drinking culture in general, it gets more challenging when you mix business and other customs together. If you’re able, ask the host or event planner if there are any special rules you should know of.

When in doubt, follow the leader. If the boss (or highest-ranking team member) is drinking, it’s likely safe to have at least one drink. Skip the alcohol if they do, and to air on the side of caution wait until everyone at the table is present and served before taking a drink of your cocktail.

And most importantly – avoid getting sloppy drunk. You want to walk away remembering the eventful evening, confident you left a lasting good impression.

Now you’re caught up on international business drinking etiquette, what next?

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