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Small business etiquette question here:

My employer will occasionally fly people in from the remote office to get some face time at corporate HQ. During these visits this person and his/her team are invited to a modest company-sponsored dinner, usually on one day's advance notice.

Wouldn't it be more appropriate for the company to provide a hospitality lunch (instead of dinner), so as to avoid impinging on peoples' personal time unnecessarily, or at least to provide more advance notice?

(Sometimes I anticipate specific personal activities on those nights, and I have no desire to surrender them at a moment's notice to entertain a semi-stranger because the company is too cheap to spend a few extra minutes on it around lunchtime.)

Am I foolish to be bothered by this? Or is the "business hospitality dinner" more common than I thought, and should I simply be grateful for the free meal?

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Perhaps the very idea is to impinge on their personal time, or rather, not impinge on time they could be working? –  itcouldevenbeaboat Jul 29 at 16:59
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Even the shyest of guests, would prefer not to have dinner alone which is very likely to happen if someone at the company doesn't set something up and "encourage" coworkers to join. –  JeffO Jul 29 at 16:59

3 Answers 3

up vote 19 down vote accepted

Or is the "business hospitality dinner" more common than I thought, and should I simply be grateful for the free meal?

In my experience, this sort of "business hospitality dinner" is very common. As far as being grateful, that's up to you.

I work at a remote office in my company. Periodically, folks from the headquarters or other offices come by for a visit. There is always a dog-and-pony show or two, always a "lunch out with the visitors", and a dinner.

In my office, I am expected to participate in the show, I am expected to join them for lunch, but it's optional to join them for dinner (unless I'm the primary person they are meeting with - then I'm expected to arrange the dinner, send invites to relevant folks, and join them).

In general, if it fits in with my home life, I'll join them, enjoy the dinner, try to learn as much as I can, and build some political capital for the future.

But, if it conflicts with my home life, then I'll graciously decline the invitation. Frankly, since my home life is becoming busier these days, I have fewer nights free to dine with work colleagues, so I decline more often than I have in the past - particularly when I don't have much notice.

So far, at least in my company, there seem to be no adverse repercussions to that strategy. It's not a big deal.

Yet every company is different, and the expectations may vary. If you aren't sure of your company's culture in this regard, perhaps you could discuss it with your peers and/or you boss.

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This is a good answer. I would add that expectations are also likely to differ by role. At some levels of responsibility, this may be part of the job even if no one specifically mentions it. At others, you may be invited simply as a courtesy. As with many other things, it's best to discuss with your boss for general guidelines and clarification. –  Roger Jul 29 at 15:00

The hospitality dinner isn't there for the convenience of the home team, it's there to make out-of-town visitors feel welcome instead of dining by themselves in a hotel restaurant night after night. It makes sure that at least one night that the person is in town, he/she has some social interaction. When I was a little girl, my dad would bring visiting business people home with him for a family dinner if there was no dinner organized by the company. It's about valuing that employee who is willing to travel away from his/her family for the company.

This doesn't mean you have to attend every dinner if you already have plans, but when you can you should. It's kind and respectful, and it will grow you as a leader (if that is your aspiration) to make this sort of sacrifice because of its benefit to others rather than yourself.

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+1... but visits like these are rarely spontaneous, so it should be possible to schedule such dinners more than one day in advance, shouldn't it? Which appears to be the OP's main problem. –  Stephan Kolassa Jul 29 at 15:01
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@StephanKolassa Certainly it would be ideal to schedule in advance as that is most respectful for all involved, but sometimes the schedule is dictated by availability of key players, which may be hard to pin down. –  MJ6 Jul 29 at 15:20

As has already been pointed out, the purpose of these dinners is primarily to serve the out-of-town guest. I understand it would be nice to have more than one day's notice, especially if you find yourself having conflicts with your own personal schedule. You could ask your boss if several day's notice would be possible. You could also let them know as soon as you find out about your trip if you have schedule conflicts during the duration, maybe say to them:

Hey boss, Mr. X is in town from the 3rd to the 8th. I know you like to do dinners for our guests. I can come but I'm busy on the nights of the 4th and 5th so I can't make it then. Just so you know for when you go to book the dinner reservations.

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