How To Have a Successful Business Lunch
Several years ago, I attended a business lunch in a city I’d recently moved to for work. There were potential networking connections at the lunch, and I wanted to make a good impression.
However, I was new at the business-lunch game, and hadn’t put much thought into the meeting beforehand. I selected a nice, business-casual outfit, looked up directions to the restaurant, and made sure to get there early.
Then, I ordered a gigantic messy salad at lunch.
Halfway through the meal, one of my new connections said something funny and I laughed. As I did so, a gigantic piece of lettuce flew out of my mouth, caught air like a parachute, and wafted gently down into his drinking glass.
The meeting did not lead to thrilling professional opportunities. However, it did teach me one valuable lesson: when it comes to making your business lunch a success, it’s absolutely essential to have a plan.
I hope these tips help you formulate yours.
6 Tips for a Successful Business Lunch
Whether you’re having a job interview at a coffee shop, having lunch with an important client, or dining with the boss to discuss a possible promotion, you’ll need to look and act your best to pull it off. Here’s how.
1. Pick a Restaurant or Cuisine You Like
Now is not the time to try octopus for the first time, or to roll the dice with your food allergies by opting for a restaurant that’s an unknown quantity. Ask anyone who’s waited tables: not all places are as careful as they should be to observe customer requests.
That said, if you can help it, don’t make your requirements into a big deal. State your needs, but don’t perseverate on the topic. You don’t want to draw attention to any food issues, no matter how legitimate they are. Unless you’re interviewing at a health food company, now is not the time to focus their thoughts on your paleo regime or vegan diet. You want your colleague focused on your ideas, not your personal life.
2. Don’t Order Anything Messy
Learn from my mistake, and pick something that’s easy to eat.
If your lunch is messy, it will probably end up in the wrong place—just because you’re trying not to make a mess. In addition to avoiding the usual suspects—spaghetti, huge sandwiches, anything that might spray or crumble or drip—pay attention to your own personal nemeses.
You know whether red wine tends to give you fruit-punch mouth or broccoli often gets stuck in your teeth. Stick to food that’s simple, tidy, and easy to manage. If you have a funny story that involves this dish, it’s probably not a great choice.
3. Be Careful About Alcohol
Many career experts will tell you not to drink at all during a business function, and that’s a perfectly valid, safe choice. If you do choose to have a drink, follow the other person’s lead – don’t order until they do. Most importantly of all, make it one drink. And have a glass of water on the side.
Remember that judgment, the very thing you need to tell you to switch to water, declines with every beverage. Don’t rely on your gut to give you good information about when it’s time to stop. Cap it ahead of time.
4. Remember Your Table Manners
You’d be surprised how many people need this reminder, but good table manners are essential when you’re dining with a co-worker, hiring manager, or boss. Manners exist to make life easier and more pleasant for everyone. This is especially important to remember when food is involved.
Do something gross, and you’ll put your dining companion off their feed, as well as doing damage to your career. Brush up your table manners before you head off to the meeting, so you make the best impression.
5. Have a Snack Before You Go
How is your business lunch like a trip to the grocery store? If you go hungry, you’ll regret it. You don’t need to spend the meal pretending that eating is just a hobby for you, but if you’re ravenous, you’ll have trouble observing caution above about table manners.
Eat breakfast that day, and maybe even a light snack mid-morning. This is especially important if you’re a person who gets hangry when you’re running low on fuel.
6. Practice With a Friend
If you’re really nervous about business lunches, you might want to enlist the help of a friend to make sure you’re observing all of these rules. Go out to lunch together, and ask them to keep an eye on you, and report back.
You might not realize that, for example, you tend to eat hunched over your plate like someone’s going to steal it, or that you rest your elbows on the table, or even that you talk with your mouth full. A friend who can offer constructive and supportive criticism should be able to clue you in.
If nothing else, the practice will make you comfortable eating lunch out—no mean feat, in these days when so many of us eat at our desks while continuing to plug away at our work. Who knows? You might like it enough to make lunch a regular part of your workday—meeting or no meeting.