7 Tips to Ace the Business Lunch
by: Marina Theodotou
So you decided to invite a business contact or mentor to lunch. When it comes to dining professionally, preparation trumps spontaneity every time. Here are seven magic tips to ace that meal:
1. Initiating the invite
Sending the invitation via email is easy and most used today. Be concise, specific and cordial. Decide on the place, date and time and request an RSVP. Choose a restaurant you know well, close to the office, or a mutually convenient location. The restaurant should be classy, but not too pricey, with good service and ambience (not too loud) and have a variety of options. Don’t forget to make a reservation and confirm it the day before with the restaurant.
2. Dressing the part
So it’s the day of your business lunch. It’s important to dress the part and look professional. Don’t forget to check the weather report that day and carry an umbrella in case you need it. You don’t want to show up at your lunch drenched by the rain!
3. Acting the part
Before you arrive at the restaurant, check the menu online. You should have an idea of what to order ahead of time, and then you might be able to recommend something for your guest, too. I like to arrive 5 minutes early so I can be there to greet my guest. Allow your guest to sit down first and make meaningful small talk about their day, the weather or a current event in your business arena.
You may want to recommend a few dishes that you have tried before, and maybe say what you’re ordering. Doing so usually sets the parameters for your guest in terms of number of courses and price. Be gracious though and let them select what they please. As for you, don’t select anything that may stain (e.g. spaghetti), drip (e.g. mussels, sauces), pop (cherry tomatoes), or jump out of the plate (e.g. escargot)! If any of these situations do happen, be a good sport, clean up, keep calm and carry on.
As a rule of thumb, you should not initiate the ordering of alcohol. But if everyone else at the lunch is getting a drink, then feel free to participate–but absolutely no more than one.
5. Talking the talk
Once you order your meals and beverages, you can initiate the business talk. What was the goal of this lunch? Surely not the food. Be pleasant and focused, yet open-minded. You don’t want to put your guest in a difficult situation. If you need guidance or perspective, state so with a smile. If you are excited to discuss a new idea, make sure you’ve done your homework so that the discussion can be valuable for your guest and yourself. Whatever the goal of your luncheon, remember to be yourself!
6. Minding your table manners
Needless to say, your elbows should be off the table. Your cell phone should be on vibrate in your purse. Enjoy your meal and, just like your mother said, “don’t chew with your mouth open” and “don’t try to talk while chewing”!
When the check arrives, you must pay, even if your guest insists otherwise. Take a quick look to ensure that all is correct.
7. Following up after the lunch
After the lunch, that afternoon or the following morning, it’s both professional and courteous to send a follow up note via email to your guest. In the note you can thank your guest for their time, insight and input. Summarize in 2-3 bullet points the takeaways from the lunch discussion and next steps/action items if any.