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Drink greases global business bonds

Sharing a drink can be one way to grease the wheels of commerce.
Sharing a drink can be one way to grease the wheels of commerce.

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NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Executives caught in a social vortex of cocktail parties and dinners, restaurant wine lists and formal toasts, find that drinking is a big part of life on the road.

"There is tremendous pressure to indulge in alcohol on business-social occasions," said Fred Knapp, president and CEO of Frederick Knapp Associates Inc., New York-based providers of corporate leader development seminars.

"It is a factor in building business relationships, or bonding."

"The most popular safe business-image libations are wine and scotch, challenged in the last decade by vodka mixed drinks. But a vodka Martini, because it is so potent, is a negative at high visibility times," said Knapp.

Over the last 25 years he has coached the CEOs of 31 corporations, diplomats and top-level managers from 29 countries.

"Beer, if a client is drinking it, allows you to do the same -- but always order a premium or name brand."

Those who do not consume alcoholic beverages should have something that looks like one, or order a glass of wine and let it sit on the table, he told Reuters.

"At least be gracious to the point of ordering as part of the relationship-building process."

Certain other guidelines should be kept in mind.

"There is nothing inherently wrong with drinking," said Dr. Marc Galanter, professor of psychiatry at NYU School of Medicine, whose specialty is treating alcohol and drug abuse.

"Generally, you can metabolize one drink in an hour, so if you keep to that limit, you'll be able to maintain a reasonably sober state."

While business-related social drinking is the norm in many parts of the world, some countries ban alcohol or restrict its use.

With the exception of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran, alcohol is not illegal in Muslim countries in the Middle East, says Lin Todd, president of Washington-based Global Risk international security consultants, who recently returned from Kuwait and Iraq.

"In Kuwait, alcohol is not legally available to business travelers, although it is served at diplomatic functions," said Todd, who cautions travelers to be very careful not to bring alcohol in their luggage to a country that outlaws it.

Violators of the law risk arrest and prosecution.

Alcohol availability in Iraq depends on a variety of things, such as a specific location or restaurant patronage.

"In Baghdad, establishments will or will not serve alcohol in deference to their main customers. Those catering to local Arabs in religiously conservative neighborhoods will not, but for hotels that cater to foreign visitors or traveling executives, it is good business," said Todd, who has lived and worked in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon.

A warning note for frequent travelers: Sooner or later, out-of-towners will get ripped off in a bar. Some solid advice on avoiding "gyp-bars" can be found on page 33 of "The New American Bartender's Guide" (New American Library), by John J. Poister, president of General Strategics, Inc., a New York-based communications consulting company.

Poister, a world traveler and author of five books on food and wine, offers a number of tips on spotting ways that gyp-bars bilk clientele, including trick shot glasses, packing a glass with tiny cubes of "dice-ice," cheap off-brand liquor and "no-show" drinks.

"If a drink is warm, weak or watery, send it back," he says. "If you are paying for premium gin in your Martini, make sure you get it."

For executive training, customized FKA seminars can be arranged via and include Execu-Speak, Execu-Image, Execu-Style and Execu-Etiquette, which addresses topics such as business lunch, cocktail hour, what to drink - when and why, how to propose a toast and how to order from the wine list.

"When choosing a bottle of wine in a restaurant, many people get tense because they don't feel they are connoisseurs. But they should not be embarrassed to ask the wine steward to assist them," Knapp said. He recommends the wine list's mid-to upper range, the range from which stewards often select. Above middle price point is also a logical area, he adds.

Formal toasts are often given between courses. Instead of clinking the glass, however, it is better simply to rise and say: "May I have your attention, please," Knapp said.

A quick guide to international toasts is the Periodic Table of Toasts published by JFA, a Lexington, Virginia-based marketing communications company,

The poster, part of a series based on the theory of Guerilla Linguistics created by John Freivalds, features toasts of 35 countries -- from "Kippis" in Finland to "Gan Bei" in China -- along with the label of each nation's representative drink, Finlandia Vodka and Tsingtao beer.

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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