UK Business Etiquette and Dress Code

This is the second part of LLM Info’s series on International Business Etiquette. Last week, we covered Brazil Business Etiquette and Dress Code. This week we cover the UK.

The UK is made up of four separate countries: Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, but everyone is considered British. Each country has its own cultural nuances, values, and standards. For instance, the English tend to be polite and reserved; Scots tend to be aloof; the Welsh strongly emphasize the importance of family; and the Irish value friendship and sincerity. Therefore, it is important to understand varying social norms in each country in order to best follow UK business etiquette.

Conducting Business in the UK

Following proper etiquette when conducting your business in the UK is critical. Always set up meetings in advance and arrive on time. When you arrive, shake hands with everyone, including any children. Women should extend their hand first in greeting. You must also shake hands upon your departure.

Handshakes in the UK are light and brief. Address each person with their appropriate title and last name unless you are asked to use their first name.

The British prefer their personal space, so keep a respectable amount of room between you and the rest of the party.

In the UK, a congenial business relationship is the norm. This means meetings start after an exchange of pleasantries and friendly conversation.

Most companies have a board of directors who make the final decision on all deals, which can result in slower deals than Americans are familiar with. Each meeting will have a primary objective. If you will be presenting at a meeting, keep your presentation subdued, yet detailed.

Gifts should not be given in a business setting.

In most cases, business is conducted during lunch at a pub or restaurant. It is customary for the host to cover the costs. You may also be invited to attend a cricket match or regatta. Be sure to wear a blue blazer or tweed sport coat to these events.

If you will be attending dinner at a person’s home, send flowers ahead of time or bring a small gift with you. Do not discuss business unless the host begins the conversation.

If dinner meetings occur at a restaurant in England, you should arrive on time. Generally, the English value punctuality, though it is not a big deal if you are 10 to 20 minutes late (however, note that you should call ahead if you know you will arrive after the scheduled time). Arrive on time if you are in Scotland or Wales. A written thank you note should be sent after the dinner, and a reciprocal invitation should be extended.

Tips for Women in the UK

In general, many executives and other high-level employees are men, but women from outside the UK are not at a disadvantage when doing business in the UK.

While it is acceptable for a woman to ask a British man to dinner, it is best to choose lunch to avoid any misunderstanding. If the woman intends to pay for the meal, she must state this at the beginning of the meal. It is also important for a woman to understand that she may be called “dearie,” “darling” or “love,” which are terms that are completely acceptable in British society.

Business Dress in the UK

If you will be working in a larger city, such as London, dress more formally. For business meetings, it is best for men to wear dark-colored suits and for women to wear a business suit, dress, or skirt and blouse.

Blazers are considered casual clothing and should not be worn in a business setting in the UK. Before attending a formal event, men should inquire about which type of suit is most appropriate. Avoid wearing striped ties that resemble any British regimentals.

Additional Cultural Traditions

  • Keep your speaking subdued and do not accompany your speech with excessive hand gestures. Use proper English as much as possible.
  • Do not ask to tour a home or ask personal questions. Never talk about money.
  • Honor rank, allowing those with higher ranks to enter a room first.