Surviving the Greek Business Lunch: Popular Dishes and Mealtime Etiquette
Jumping into the business world in a foreign country can be intimidating, especially if you don’t go prepared with a basic knowledge of language and customs. The business lunch especially can be a searing ordeal if you don’t know your Ps and Qs when it comes to interacting with your colleagues on their home turf. Especially in Greece, which has a very extraverted culture, it can be overwhelming to be surrounded by locals and clueless as to how to act.
First things first: when it comes to a business lunch, don’t beat around the bush when it comes to ordering your meal. Luckily, with Greek cuisine chances are whatever you order will be delicious, but to be safe it would be best to know a little bit about the most typical dishes you will encounter in a restaurant. A common appetizer, or meze, could be stuffed grape leaves, or dolmathakia—a little bizarre for the American palate, but with fillings of steamed rice, pine nuts, and various herbs, they’re healthy and packed with flavor. Another choice you could go for is spanakopita—a crispy pie of filo dough, spinach, and feta cheese. When it comes to soups, there is fassolatha, a white bean soup, or avgolemona, a lemon-flavored chicken soup. Be sure to try the tzatziki sauce, a refreshing cucumber-yogurt dip which can be spread on pita wedges.
For a main course, try the moussaka, a casserole consisting of sliced eggplant, spiced meat, and a béchamel sauce, or souvlaki, skewers of roasted meat. If you prefer to eat vegetarian, try the fassolakia lathera, a savory dish of string beans cooked with tomatoes and olive oil. And for dessert, be sure to try baklava, a decadent pastry of filo dough, with a filling of chopped walnuts, spices, and honey—a surefire crowd-pleaser!
Of course, food is only one aspect of your business lunch: this is where you’ll give your associates a close-up and personal look at who you are underneath the suit and whether they want to go ahead with forging a relationship with you. In fact, it may take up to three social outings with your Greek counterparts before the business even begins—the first two are often devoted to socializing and developing a rapport of trust and respect. Just be sure to be friendly and relaxed and allow negotiations to develop naturally, but always stay on formal terms with your colleagues.
When it comes to table manners, just use your common sense; following Continental style, Greeks hold the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right. When eating, keep your hands above the table and your elbows off. Greek culture has a great reverence for the older generation, so wait to eat your meal until the oldest person at the table has been served. And, of course, if you are lucky enough to be invited to a Greek family dinner, be sure to ask for seconds and compliment the hostess earnestly and often! And if you show up already familiar with the basics of the Greek language, that will be highly appreciated all around. If you’d like to get a head-start on learning Greek, send us an inquiry and we’ll get you set up with the language course that’s right for you.