The Mannerly Business Lunch

Business Lunch

A business lunch is a social occasion with a goal that is professional.  Think of it as a networking event, but on a very small scale.

Minding your manners is also important when dining with clients, someone to whom you report, or potential employers.  Since a business lunch is usually one-on-one or with a small group, a blatant faux pas may not go unnoticed.

Having said that, you also want to appear comfortable in this environment.  Which is why practicing the tips I have for you here is essential.

When You Arrive

It's a good idea to find out if you are meeting your party in a lobby, waiting area, or at the table.  Knowing what to expect on your arrival helps keep you relaxed.

If you are hosting the lunch, arrive early enough to be there to greet your guest.  When you are shown to your table, indicate where you'd like your guest to sit and add a "Please, sit here."  This takes some pressure off your guest and also gives you a "take charge" appearance.

If you are the guest at lunch, wait and watch for the right time to sit.  Unless requested to sit first, give your host this option. 

In business, there is no need to assist others with their chairs.  This is one of the nuances separating business and certain social occasions.

If you have a bag or papers, keep them off the table.  And please, never place your cell phone on the table!  In fact, it should be turned off before you enter the restaurant.

Ordering at a Business Lunch

If you have the chance, it is a good practice to go online to view the restaurant's menu ahead of time.  This keeps menu-studying at bay and preps you to order quickly when the time comes.

Unless your host indicates you should order first (which is the polite thing to do), don't jump in to order.

As a general rule, order a dish that is mid-range in price.  And keep these restaurant ordering guidelines in mind so that you remain in line with what others order.

Business lunches aren't the time to be adventurous.  Choose foods that aren't messy and don't involve using your fingers.  After all, you are highly likely to be shaking hands at some point after eating and don't want to share your lunch this way.

Avoid ordering an alcoholic beverage.  Even if others at the table order one, lunch is not the best time of day for cocktails when you are trying to give your best impression of yourself.  Stick with water or another simple beverage.

Your Table Manners

  • Knowing your most comfortable dining style is a good start.
  • Remember to keep your hands and elbows off the table when there is food in front of you.
  • Even though there may be a time constraint (the proverbial lunch hour), it's important to appear unhurried.
  • Taking small bites solves many problems before they happen!  Including having conversation that isn't awkward with pauses to cover your mouth or swallow while attention is on you.
  • If you must use the salt or pepper to season your food, do so only after tasting your meal to ensure the necessity.
  • Don't be picky about your food or talk about diet or nutrition challenges.  Avoid discussing things you don't like.  This makes you appear negative.
  • Avoid asking for a doggy bag or take-out box.

The Conversation

This is where social and business tend to collide.  Anytime you dine with other professionals, it is understood there will be more socializing than in the office.

Small talk , table talk,  is useful in these occasions.  Just as you would for a networking event, have some friendly open-ended questions to present that will help start and continue the conversation.  Refrain from discussing religion, politics, gossip, or anything sensitive or very personal. 

Even though there is a point of business to discuss, let your host initiate that topic.  This is another opportunity to appeared unhurried and relaxed.

Use your listening skills.  Even though you may have other thoughts - especially if it is an interview lunch - don't interrupt others.  Excuse yourself if you do, and let it go.

If the lunch is part of an interview, it is very important that you have some knowledge of the company.  Keep some general company-focused questions in mind in case the conversation seems overly centered on you, or if you sense it is one-sided.

Avoid discussing negative or difficult subjects at lunch.  If you are the guest, and a topic is brought up by your host that is inappropriate, try and change the subject or ask to have the discussion in the office in private.  Aim to keep the conversation at a high level or courtesy and civility.

Ending the Meal

The end of a meal is typically signaled when the host places her napkin on the table.  If you sense that time is coming, or when it arrives, close out and follow suit.

When you leave the table and are saying your good-byes, thank your host for the lunch or your guest for joining you.  Mention something positive about your discussion and confirm any action items from your discussion.

As you leave, give yourself a virtual pat on the back.  You remembered your table manners, kept the conversation upbeat, learned a thing or two, and made a good impression.  When you get to your office, you will send a thank-you note to your host and will follow through on any agreements or actions as promised.

Good work!

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