Election Season Etiquette: 10 Strategies for Catering in an Election Year

“Isn’t working with the public fabulous? Especially when people start talking about politics! Everyone is so respectful of each other’s viewpoints and stays polite – even when they disagree!”

–Said no one ever who works with the public

That’s why today, we’re going to talk about conversation etiquette and election season etiquette: 10 strategies for catering in an election year.restaurant-Long_view_2_sides

Because trying to work an event can be stressful enough. Why do they have to go and throw politics into the mix? (Especially with the choices we’ve got this year – I mean, have you seen who’s running?!)

When you’re running food and supervising waitstaff, the last thing you need is to get cornered by someone who wants to argue you down and convince you to vote for their candidate.

Or worse – you wouldn’t want to spout off about your politics and risk offending guests and clients. It may not be fair, but unfortunately, sometimes if people know your politics, they may not want to work with you in the future.

Maybe that doesn’t bother you, and you’re thinking, “That’s fine! I don’t want to work with them anyway.” On the flip side, why would you purposely alienate prospective clients who would otherwise hire you and maybe bring you more business? Why not steer the conversation away from politics and other divisive topics, so everyone can feel comfortable at your events?

If someone tries to talk to you about politics – or any topic you’d rather not discuss – try some of these 10 strategies for dealing with difficult conversations.

PART I: Avoiding the issues

1. Change the subject
Smoothly steer the conversation towards more palatable fare, such as the weather, the event – or really anything that doesn’t involve politics. (Or, if you’re really daring, one up them and switch to an even more awkward conversation topic that will send them for the hills!)

Party guest: Don’t you just love what My Candidate is going to do for healthcare?
Your options:

  • Uh-oh! I smell something burning. Excuse me, please! (Exit to kitchen)
  • Mmmmm … doesn’t the bride look lovely tonight?
  • Speaking of healthcare, did you know this wedding cake I made is also high in fiber? I heard the bride’s dad could use a little help in that department, if you know what I mean … care for a piece?

2. Give really vague answers
There are polite ways to acknowledge what someone is saying to you without agreeing or disagreeing. Try showing surprise at the comment or information without passing judgment or asking further questions, as you may not necessarily want to encourage the speaker to continue.

Party guest: My Candidate can out smart Putin AND beat him at arm wrestling!
Your options:

  • Oh? I hadn’t heard that. Interesting.
  • Wow, that’s quite a combination there!

Or, go with your stock Fargo responses of, “Well, how ‘bout that now?”, “Oh, geez!” and “You betcha!”

3. Turn the tables
People generally love to talk about themselves, and they love to hear themselves talk. So, if someone asks your point of view about a political topic and you’d rather not answer, just turn the focus back on them. Then, you can let them ramble for as long as you can stand it.

Party guest: What do you think about global warming? Science or sham?
Your options:

  • That’s a good question. What’s your take on it?
  • What do you make of the research?
  • How long do you think it will be before the planet just melts?

4. The honest-but-blunt approach
You can always be polite with your guest while being honest and direct. Just wear a big smile on your face while you say things, such as:

  • I don’t like to talk politics while I’m working.
  • I’d love to talk about this right now, but now’s not a good time.
  • I’m not really up for a political discussion right now, but thank you.

PART II: All right, I’ll talk
Should you decide to engage in a political conversation anyway, these next strategies will help you have a more reasonable, civil conversation (provided of course the other people in the conversation have read this article, too).

5. Stick to the facts
Make sure to stick to what you know – hard and fast facts and numbers you’ve gotten from reliable news sources. If you offer an opinion or an idea of your own, back it up in a logical fashion with facts X, Y, and Z that you’ve gathered from your news sources. (And no, your cousin who thinks he knows everything doesn’t count as a reliable news source.)

6. Don’t let it get emotional
Many of us get very passionate about politics and other things we believe in strongly. And that can cloud our judgment, especially in the middle of a heated debate. No matter what you’re discussing, try to keep your cool. Take an emotional step back from whatever you’re discussing. Remember – you’re not going to change the world or solve the problem you’re talking about right there in the moment. So, why let it get under your skin?

Is the person you’re talking with goading you or starting to make things personal? That’s you cue to respectfully, politely bow out of the conversation.

Party guest: It’s clear that My Candidate has the best record on national security, and anyone who doesn’t see that is an idiot!
You: I see you feel very passionately about Your Candidate. It was nice talking to you!

7. Try to find common ground
Here’s the crazy thing about all this arguing during election seasons. Deep down, each and every one of us really wants the same thing. We want what’s best for this country and for our communities. We just have very different ideas of how to make that happen.

And each one of us is just as scared as our political opponents that if we don’t get our way on important issues, the country is going to hell in a handbasket.

So, take the time to find the common ground in what you’re both saying. If the person you’re talking to feels like you’re really listening, it may help keep both of you stay calmer and more civil throughout the conversation.

A word of caution though … don’t use that common ground to make yourself sound superior. An example of that would be, “Well, I remember when my spouse left me and I was left with three kids. I never had to go on welfare or food stamps. I supported myself.” Or, “I lived without insurance, and I was just fine. The one time I did get sick, I paid all my bills within a year. Ate ramen all year to make that happen.”

That’s great for the person who is able to do that. However, statements like these are only going to make others feel bad – like they’re not good enough, because they weren’t able to accomplish what the speaker did. And you never know what individual life experiences helped one person while other experiences kept another person down.

Your reality and your experiences aren’t the same as everyone else’s. When looking for common ground, have some empathy for individual life experiences.

8. Don’t speak in absolutes
Avoid words and phrases that could come off as condescending or are absolutes, such as should or shouldn’t, always and never, “don’t you think…” (because if they did think that way, you two probably wouldn’t be arguing), and other judgmental phrases.

PART III: Prep work before the party
Before the event even happens, there are things you can do to prepare yourself for political discussions.

9. Get to know your opponent’s views
Why does the other side feel the way they do? You don’t have to agree with them to be able to understand or even empathize with them. You might LOVE LOVE LOVE chocolate ganache, but surely you can understand why someone might be enamored of key lime. The point is that knowing where other people are coming from politically will help you handle a conversation more gracefully with diplomacy and understanding.

10. Put your own spin on opinions you hear
Take the time to understand the issues well enough to form your own opinions and put them into your own words. This serves two purposes.

First, you’ll sound more intelligent and be able to back up your viewpoint better. Second, if you say where you got your opinion from, such as Rush Limbaugh or Rachel Maddow, you’ll instantly set off a bias in the other person. They may disregard everything you say from that point on. Have something original to say or at least put it in your own words.

Even after you’ve tried these 10 strategies for catering in an election year and handling awkward political conversations, the best piece of advice is: Stay calm and civil at all costs. After all, if you felt passionately about something and made the decision (rightly or wrongly) to share your passion and your ideas with someone else, how would you feel if that other person stomped all over you and your ideas?

It would feel incredibly lousy.

People may not always remember you, what you talked about, or even your name. But they will remember how you made them feel.

So, chin up! Put on your best game face! Keep those warm hors d’oeuvres coming – and maybe leave the heated discussions to the guests.

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