Some business discussions are meant to happen in the office meeting rooms. For example, when you need to talk about company’s strategy for the next year or if you have to decide on a quarterly marketing budget. But in case of corporate networking, a meeting with prospective client or when you are willing to clarify some less important business details, a business lunch appointment is just what the doctor ordered.
Let’s revisit business lunch etiquette rules and make sure you did everything for the dining to go off without a hitch.
He who fails to plan, plans to fail
- If you are the initiator of the business lunch, you are the one who has to organize it.
- In case you are preparing to dine with more than one person, avoid any exotic places and stick to a restaurant with ‘classic’ menu. See if there are vegetarian dishes in the list for when some of the participants doesn’t eat meat. The best practice include asking the attendees about their meal preferences in advance.
- If you meet one person, you might want to invite her/him to dine at a place you know (s)he enjoys. Email or call the person and check if there is a place (s)he’d like to visit.
- It is essential to book a table before going to a place, especially if you know the restaurant is crowded during the lunch hours.
- Reserve a table in a familiar establishment. If you never been there before, check the restaurant before the meeting and preferably during lunch hours; see if the place is suitable for your get-together.
- The safe choice is a restaurant that is specialized on business lunches. Avoid ‘family friendly’ eating houses. You don’t want your partners to be annoyed by children running around the table.
- Try to book the best table at the place. It shouldn’t be too close to the kitchen or rest room doors or anywhere where people will pass by often.
- Email the reservation details (time, place and the restaurant’s web page if there is one) and full list of parties to all the participants. There should be no surprises for anyone; if you decide to invite someone else last-minute, it is always good to confirm that other people won’t mind the extra guest.
- Think of the outfit you chose for the business lunch. Unless you are confident other attendees will appear in casual, stick to the business attire. Even if you don’t have a strict office dress code, try to take some formal clothes with you and change before going to the meeting.
- If you are the host of the lunch, arrive at least 10 minutes early. You can check if the table position is good enough and review the menu while waiting for other guests.
Bad table manners is grounds for impeachment
- While at lunch switch off your mobile or at least put it on silent mode. Continuously ringing phone can turn the most loyal associate against you.
- Be polite with the stuff. Rude attitude towards a sluggish waiter can be a deal breaker at your meeting. No one likes to interact with ill-mannered individuals, especially when it comes to a potential business together.
- Always start with a small talk and don’t jump to the business discussions from the 1st minute. At the same time, if you are the host of the business lunch, it is you who will need to initiate the formal part of the conversation.
- When at the table, let the invited guests start with the order. If you were planning on eating a steak and your guests take a salad, go easy on the menu as well, business lunch is much more about business than about food. Sometimes it is a good idea to come to the rendezvous not that hungry, just in case your partners decide to keep it light.
- Don’t order a dessert initially. Wait till you are done with the main meal and see if you and other people would like to have the last course as well.
- Never order messy food. Avoid chicken wings and other ‘finger’ dishes.
- The lunch begins when the host unfolds her/his napkin. While eating, place the napkin on your lap and take it from there only if you need to go to the rest room. In such case, place the napkin on the chair and put it back on your knees when you are back.
- If there is a full tableware set if front of you and you are not sure which fork to use next, remember the ‘work from the outside in’ rule. Starting with the spoon, fork, or knife that is farthest from your plate, work your way in, using one utensil for each course.
- Salt & pepper always come together, even if someone asked you to pass salt only, always give the full set.
- Eat in small bites and don’t cut more than 2 bites at the time.
- Don’t talk with your mouth full, wait until you swallowed the food and then continue the conversation.
- Don’t get drunk at the business lunch. It is appropriate to order a glass of wine of beer while dining, but any strong alcoholic beverage should be excluded from your menu.
It’s what you do when you walk out. That’s when you’ve made a lasting impression.
- If you are the host of the lunch, you have to pay the bill. Even if your guests offer to split the bill, best practice would be to decline the proposal and take care of the check yourself. At the same time, as an invited person, you should always suggest covering part of the fees.
- As the host, you should leave generous tips to stuff. Even if you weren’t that happy with the service, business meeting is not a good place to display your dissatisfaction. Leave 10-15% tips and avoid the restaurant next time.
- If the dining didn’t go the way you hoped and you failed to find common ground with the attendees, thank the participants for the lunch and the time they took to meet you anyway.
- When you are back in the office, send a follow-up email with a thank you note to all the parties. In the email you may also highlight the most important discussion parts and conclusions.
Do you have some questions on Business Lunch Etiquette or you think we forgot to mention something important? Come talk with us! Leave your comment below!
Alona is the co-founder of Etiquette Tips - an online magazine that features articles on business etiquette, communication, dress code, table manners, international code of behaviour, gift giving, events & celebrations and more.
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