Politeness and punctuality are key to good business relations, and initial meetings are often conducted formally and impersonally, becoming more open and social as things progress. Business cards are exchanged at introductions. Dress is formal, with dark suits preferred. Business hours are generally 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday with an hour taken at lunch.
Lunches are customary for business entertainment, while dinners tend to be more of a social event. Avoid talking business unless your Northern Irish counterpart clearly initiates such a discussion. From 1 July 2007 smoking will be banned in all enclosed public spaces, including pubs and restaurants; currently no smoking is allowed on public transport.
10 to 15% is expected in restaurants and upscale hotels if a service charge hasn’t been included. Hotel service staff receive an optional amount. Taxi drivers are usually given 10 to 15% of the fare. Other services are discretionary.
Greetings & Attire
When meeting and greeting, a light handshake is common. However, some women choose not to offer their hand. Men should always wait for a woman to extend her hand first. Men typically wear dark suits, plain shirts, conservative ties and polished black shoes to business meetings. Avoid striped ties—they can be seen as imitating prestigious regimental ties. Women should likewise dress conservatively, avoiding garish colors and too much jewelry. The standard interpersonal distance is about an arm’s length. In fact, two Irishmen in conversation will often stand at a 90-degree angle to each other rather than facing each other directly. Eye contact tends to be less direct than in more expressive cultures such as Italian, Greek or Brazilian. A direct gaze may be interpreted as rude and intrusive.
In the context of a business meeting, Irish do not generally give gifts. A better option would be to invite your colleagues to dinner. If invited to a private home, bring chocolates, liquor, champagne or flowers. Be sure to send along a handwritten thank-you note the next day.
Meetings & Negotiation
Northern Irish are put off by hype and exaggerated claims. Presentations should be straight-forward and factual. Humor is acceptable, but visitors from abroad should keep in mind that humor is sometimes lost in translation. Expect emphasis on the finer points of a written agreement. Should a dispute or disagreement arise, the Northern Irish tend to rely on the terms of the contract and could become suspicious if their counterpart invokes non-contractual issues.