Emails and Cocktails

A roundup of basic business etiquette questions from local young professionals

During a recent business etiquette presentation at a New Orleans-based public relations firm, many of the attendees were in their 20s and 30s, and they were at varying stages of their careers.

Most of us don’t get business etiquette training before entering the professional world, so it’s important to seek it out in books, online, through workshops, and from columns like this one. If your company offers training, take advantage of it. Meanwhile, some of the questions asked by these young professionals were edited or combined for brevity.)

Can I open an email with “Hey” if a client does it?

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If you’ve worked with the client for some time and have a less formal style of communication, it’s fine to use casual language, but wait until they initiate it. Otherwise, err on the side of formality. Email is more casual than a letter, but in business, it’s still not completely informal. Begin with “Good morning” (or whatever time of day you are sending it), and the person’s name. Make sure to use a formal greeting — for example: Mr. Smith, Ms. Grant or Capt. Hernandez — for new clients or when you’re not on a first-name basis yet. Let them initiate the use of just first names. When engaged in a rapid exchange, it’s OK to drop the greeting and cut to the chase, but again, wait for the client to do it.

What’s the appropriate closing for an email?

It seems like a formality, but it is also a style. Close with any of the following:

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• Regards,

• Best wishes,

• Best regards,

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• Warmly,

• Thank you,
(Thanks and many thanks are also good)

• Sincerely,

• Cheers,

The level of warmth or humor depends on the business you work in or if you deal with international clients. For the latter, stick with formal. American culture is far more casual than other parts of the world.

If a client emails late at night, do I have to respond?

Communication is key, so get started on the right foot by letting clients know when you normally answer emails and calls. If you are in the middle of a high-priority project, discuss correspondence and response time to avoid misunderstandings. Otherwise, note that many people work odd hours to catch up or because that’s when they have a chance without the distraction of colleagues, ringing telephones or when working from home, children, pets and other family-related diversions. They usually don’t expect a response overnight. Always use your judgment and learn to prioritize.

If a client offers me wine at lunch, can I accept it? Also, if a client is visiting New Orleans from another city and wants to go out on the town to soak up the party vibes, how do I handle it if I’m tasked with entertaining?

New Orleans is, of course, different than most parts of the country (and the world, for that matter). Both the social and business mores are much more relaxed here in many ways, especially when it comes to alcohol and professionalism.

That said, always check your company’s policy. It doesn’t matter how laid-back it is in the Big Easy if your company policy is no drinking during work hours or with clients. If it’s not frowned upon, limit yourself to one drink at lunch — especially if your client is hosting you — consume it slowly and drink a lot of water. If you want to say no because of personal reasons or company policy, decline politely and don’t dwell on the subject.

When scheduled to entertain out-of-town clients, enjoy one or two drinks with them, then offer up a few suggestions of fun and safe places to go and politely excuse yourself. If they push you to stay, let them know you have an early work day tomorrow and wish them a festive night. The most important thing is to avoid being “overserved” and losing your composure in front of your clients. When in doubt, bow out. 

Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride Magazine. Her writing has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Houston Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune and Reuters. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions to



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