Business lunches aren't as formal as dinners, but you can't be too casual about them either. If you’re involved in a start-up company, who has time for lunch? That’s something you shovel into your mouth at your desk between Skype meetings. It doesn’t have to be this way. Sure, lunch meetings can cost you unnecessary time and calories, but you need to weigh up the benefits.
We all need face time to build solid relationships. (Not just the app.)
Having a business lunch means we’re being social, but it’s more than this. It’s also about a work/life balance, and finding time to get out and smell the roses (in a mall parking lot).
Sometimes grabbing a coffee is all the time required to connect - there’s often no need to drag it out more than this. (And it’s far more productive than broken telephone and emails.) But sometimes we need to put in the time with colleagues, clients or bosses. It’s time to celebrate our humanity, to connect on special occasions, perhaps to butter someone up, or to thank them for their support.
What does ‘let’s do lunch' mean exactly? Are we being humoured, getting a polite, 'thanks but no thanks'?
Sometimes let’s 'do lunch' is a gentle way to get out of having further contact, set for an unspecified time in the future that may never arrive.
Sometimes it means just that and it comes with basic rules and options to consider. Below are a few suggestions.
Can the Commute
If you're meeting a client, choose a restaurant close to their office. Don’t make them travel for you. You don’t want a client arriving with road rage that even a world-class lasagne won’t cure.
Spice it Down
Go for generic eateries. Some people enjoy spicy food, some like it not. Don’t assume that reserving a table at the Meat Shack is going to work for your vegetarian meetup. A good option is to make some suggestions and let them decide what works for them.
Confirm the Details
Confirm lunch in advance to make sure that time and location is locked down. As well as that the table is booked if it’s a new, trendy eatery.
Small Talk for Big Results
You’ve chosen the perfect place, not too far for everyone. Everyone’s on time. Try not to dive straight into your presentation printouts.
Treat it like a date: start with some drinks and small talk - perhaps even a starter before getting serious. Getting food orders out of the way also helps to avoid having your business discussion interrupted.
Check out the restaurant’s menu online before you arrive. Have an idea of what you’d like to order so you don’t waste time or get distracted.
Read some reviews or ask the manager beforehand to find out what’s popular. 'I hear their schnitzels are really good'. Just don’t be a know-it-all or the world’s foremost foodie, getting the chef out of the kitchen to find out where they source their vegetables.
Unless you’re Gordon Ramsay, stick to business at hand.
Speaking of Drinks
If you aren’t close to the people you’re meeting, don’t order an alcoholic drink, even if they suggest that it’s fine.
Ordering that third drink in the afternoon doesn’t fill others with confidence that you’re going to remember what’s being discussed.
Don’t take advantage of the company credit card and need to Uber back to your desk for a nap.
You can have Apple and Blackberry for dessert. (Although who’s even using Blackberry nowadays anyway?)
Silence the phone and don’t spend your time glancing at the screen for any updates.
Give them your full attention, otherwise, why bother taking the time to meet in the middle of the day?
Keep it Classy
Avoid ordering food that will be a messy task to eat.
Foods like saucy pastas, ribs and nachos are going to add to your admin of trying to be relaxed and engaged. Gravy on your tie isn’t a good look. Also, wait until everyone is served before eating.
Don’t cut your lunch guest's food for them, even if you’re an A-type personality who prefers to micromanage. Say no to loud monopolisation of the conversation while chewing with your mouth open.
If you’re wanting to impress, senior people will often judge someone based on their table manners. Avoid gesturing with your utensils (even if passionate about your discussion) as well as licking plates, blowing your nose into your napkin, or picking your teeth with a fishbone.
Only startups should be hungry
Don’t go into the lunch hungry enough to eat an ice cream cone that got dropped onto the sidewalk.
Even though it’s lunch, business should be the focus, not the meal. A snack beforehand can help you to concentrate on conversation.
Paying with credit card looks better than cash. If you called the meeting, you’re generally responsible for the bill. (Unless you’re in Holland, where it’s fine to go Dutch. ;-)
Don’t fight over the bill if your host or someone else insists on paying.
Don’t be mean to the restaurant staff. Snide comments and undertipping can make you look douchey and insincere.
Avoid arguments over the price of your side order of creamed spinach. “We ordered the half portion, not the full portion! Get me your manager!” If there’s an issue, wait for your guests to leave, then query the oversight.
Say thanks to whomever paid and end cordially, not with a half-wave as you wander off into a sunglass shop to see what they have on sale.
Keep good eye contact. Avoid eyes down at the food, guzzling it as soon as it arrives.
Check your posture. So much communication is made through body language.
If others aren't taking their leftover food with them, don’t ask for their takeaways.
Even if you’re on a strict diet, try to order something - even if small - so your guests don’t have to self-consciously eat in front of you while you have your hands folded.
Lunch is meant to be fun. A reason why business lunches are effective is that it gets people out of the office and into a more relaxed setting, to focus on discussion. Be yourself, mind your manners, be a good host.
And try an icebreaker before or after the meal if the time is right.