With the world of business is constantly evolving, it doesn’t come as a surprise to see that those too-formal business meetings have mostly been replaced with casual business lunches instead. It’s not just meetings with partners and associates that take place in nice restaurants, but a number of interviews too. Of course, this means that people hosting and attending these business lunch events for the first time can be a bit overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. Don’t worry – we wanted to help you out by preparing a list of rules that will ensure that your business lunch goes smoothly.
Scout the restaurant
This is something you should do if you’re hosting, but you can also do it if you’re a guest and you’re feeling a bit anxious about the upcoming lunch. As the host, you will want to head out there and check the restaurant in advance so that you can pick the best table for your lunch. Try to see what the atmosphere is like – if the music is too loud for you, you should talk to the manager and ask them to turn it down a bit. Also, you want everyone to have enough room to sit and eat comfortably without having to bump knees and elbows with others at the table, and you also want to know where the bathrooms are.
Talk to the manager first
This might seem like a bit too much, but you would be surprised how much you can do by just talking openly to the manager or the staff person responsible for your table in advance. Tell them what kind of lunch you’re planning and see if there’s anything they can do to help you make sure everything goes smoothly. Ask if they accept your “brand” of credit card in advance, and ask them to recommend the best table and the best dishes.
Pick the menu
This is something you should inquire with your guests in advance if you’re a host: ask them if they have any special preferences or requirements. You don’t want to book a restaurant that doesn’t have vegan and vegetarian options with your guests needing them, and you also want to “warn” the staff if any of the dishes need to be gluten or allergen-free. If you’re a guest and the host didn’t ask about it, feel free to email them stating that you’d prefer a vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free option as it’s important to do so before the lunch.
This should go without saying, but punctuality is appreciated and even expected. You are busy professionals and you value your time, so it’s only natural that you want to do the same for others. Hosts should arrive at least 15 minutes early to make sure everything is in order, and guests should be on time. This means that you should do a bit of research in advance to confirm the address of the place and see if there’s parking nearby. You don’t want to arrive on time only to discover that you have to park ten minutes away and be late.
Follow the lead
It will depend on the host whether they will dive straight into the business talk, but most people will ease into it slowly, choosing to talk about something else first. As a guest, you should do your homework and find out something about your host: their interests and hobbies are a great starting point.
If you find yourself stuck, you can always ask them why they chose this particular restaurant, as it might be their favorite, or they might disclose that they love Italian or French cuisine for one reason or the other.
Don’t get drunk
You don’t want to do everything right and then blow it by getting drunk before the final offer is signed. It’s fine to order a drink and sip it slowly (more slowly than the host), but don’t order more than one. If you’ve agreed on the offer and sign it, it’s perfectly acceptable for the host to order a bottle of champagne to celebrate.
Keep in mind that in some cultures, drinking heavily during a meal is not frowned upon, but you should never get drunk on a business lunch as it will make you seem unprofessional.
Mind your manners
Your table manners during a business lunch can make or break the deal. You should always sit up straight, and the moment you sit down, place the napkin on your lap. If you have to go to the bathroom, place the napkin on your chair, not the table.
If the host orders an entrée, you should follow, and if they’re having a light meal, don’t order a steak and five side dishes. Hold your fork like a pen and not a utensil, and don’t cut your bread roll in half to butter it like a sandwich. Instead, break it into smaller pieces and butter each one individually before eating it.
The matter of the bill
In case your host orders coffee after a meal, you can order one too – otherwise, skip it. When it comes to the bill, guests never pay – the host does. It is your obligation to settle the bill as you’ve initiated the lunch in the first place.
As a guest, you might feel a bit awkward standing there while the host handles the bill, but there is no need to chatter or do small talk while they do so.
If you’re early
It can happen that you arrive too early or that the other party is delayed and late (for whatever reason). You can wait for them either at the bar or at the table, depending on how well you know them. In general, it’s considered a good move to wait at the table, but you can also decide to wait at the bar if you know them well. If you decide to wait at the table, order water or perhaps a soft drink you like, but don’t order any alcohol while you’re waiting.
The most important thing is to try to enjoy the lunch, as your host will appreciate seeing you enjoying yourself. Being attentive yet relaxed during an important business lunch is the greatest compliment you can pay your host.
When you finish, shake their hand and tell them how much you enjoyed the lunch. Don’t worry, a simple “Thank you for this lovely lunch” is enough for the time being, but when you get home, make sure you follow up. Sending a “Thank You” email is a good idea, but if you can, try to send a handwritten thank-you note instead. Business lunches are a great opportunity for growth and making new connections, so make sure you’re prepared.
Don’t forget that these events are never “just lunches,” despite what the invitation says, as both sides have their share of homework to complete before and after. Of course, being a host carries more responsibilities, but you shouldn’t take things too lightly even if you’re attending as a guest.