Business lunches have become a very common way for clients, customers, and competitors to meet and discuss new business opportunities. Often times this is a great, casual way to accomplish business in a causal environment, but it can lead to disaster quickly if proper manners and considerations are not made. An important point to remember when setting up or agreeing to a business lunch is that the purpose of your lunch is to MEET not to EAT. Below are the most important, and most commonly broken, rules for conducting a successful business lunch:
- Dress Appropriately: If you are organizing the meeting, it is courteous to offer your guest a subtle tip about appropriate attire (ex: “The restaurant is pretty casual, I’m coming from home so feel free to wear something comfortable”). If you’re the guest and didn’t receive a hint, feel free to ask. It will show that you’re self-assured enough to take charge and handle details (ex: “I usually wear khakis and a golf shirt to work, would that be appropriate?”)
- Arrive 5 minutes early: You should plan ahead for any traffic/parking issues you may have so that you will arrive five minutes early to your lunch appointment. Just like with a job interview, timeliness is an essential way to communicate your interest and enthusiasm about your meeting and arriving late communicates that you do not value the other party’s time.
- Put your phone away: Point blank, being on your phone during a meeting is rude. While you may think that having your phone out makes you look important, it actually gives the impression that you’re inept and unable to manage your life or business for the short time of your lunch meeting.
- Order something easy and practical to eat: If something spills on your clothes, or you’re wrestling with your food while you try to eat it, it will be very hard for others to be able to listen to you or take you seriously. If you’re the guest of the lunch, do not order the most expensive thing on the menu, even if your host does. Ordering lobster while everyone else opts for a sandwich reflects negatively on your personality and attitude.
- Remember your table manners: Keep your elbows off the table, take the time to cut your food, don’t chew with your mouth open or talk with your mouth full. These may seem like common sense but they are manner rules that are broken all the time.
If these suggestions sound to you like what you’d hear when you ask for advice on a date, then you’re going in the right direction. You should be as focused on your manners while you’re meeting with a colleague for lunch as when you are meeting with a potential romantic interest. When you’re on a business lunch, one of your key goals is to impress who you’re with and give a good impression of yourself and what you represent. These points may seem trivial and unoriginal, but breaking these simple rules can undo any credibility you may have and ruin your business meeting. Keep these tips in mind and your work, not your bad manners, will be what everyone remembers.