A successful business lunch moves as gracefully as a ballet. A little rehearsal is a smart idea. Whether you’re looking forward to a power lunch with a potential new client or want to steer a mentee down the right track, dig into some great tips with this list.
Write out the agenda you’d like to cover during this meeting. List important points you want to cover, and practice them just enough so you won’t forget them. Check that you’ve got the right balance between talking and asking questions, too. Remember, both you and your guests want a chance to eat as well as speak!
Review your directions to the restaurant, including the parking situation. If possible, take a glance at the menu online in advance, too. Picking your entree the day before saves you from agonizing between dishes. If you’re hosting the lunch, it’s an elegant gesture to be able to make recommendations.
Make Miss Manners Proud
Etiquette is especially important because you’re bringing professional expectations to an environment with plenty of opportunities for messy mistakes. Some people may even interpret a bad table habit (like rushing to gulp too-hot soup) as a sign that you’re impulsive or careless in other areas.
Start by waiting at the front until your party arrives, so they won’t have to hunt for you in a crowded restaurant. Put away your phone. Place your napkin in your lap, use the right fork, and no matter how excited you are about a new project, swallow that bite before you say a word! When the check comes, if you’re hosting, you pay. If you have any doubts, skim an etiquette guide beforehand.
Attacking a plate of ribs is not the best way to impress a new mentor. Steer clear of any dish that could leave you with a stained shirt or sticky handshake. Common offenders are:
- Oversized sandwiches
- Pasta with red sauce
- Nachos, ribs, and other finger foods
- Dishes with spinach and seeds that could get trapped in your teeth
Tip: Worried you’ll grab someone else’s roll? Discreetly, circle your thumbs and forefingers and extend your hand to form a lowercase “b” and “d.” You’ll see that your bread is on the left and drink is on the right.
Treat It Like a Meeting, Not a Date
Part of the reason you chose a business lunch was to get to know the other person better. It’s totally normal, and expected, to spend some time chatting. The trick is to be personable without oversharing, and know when to get down to brass tacks.
When to start discussing what’s on your agenda depends on the length of the meal. If you’re meeting for coffee or a simple meal, after you’ve ordered is probably fine. If your business lunch is a three-course affair, it might be smart to use the appetizer round to socialize and establish a good rapport. Feel free to share from the heart—as long as your story ties into your business goals in some way.
One of the most important parts of a successful lunch happens after the dishes are cleared away. Follow up, either that afternoon or the next day. Thank the other person for meeting with you, and let them know about any next steps you’re taking based on the meeting. If you promised to send them a link to an article or information about an upcoming event they’d enjoy, this is a good time to include that as well.
Over the next few days or weeks, keep in touch to make introductions or set a project in motion. This is your chance to build on the good impression you made plus take strides toward your business goals.
What are your best tips for a business lunch? What happened during the best business lunch you’ve ever attended? Tell us in the comments!