Ah, the business lunch. A staple of the corporate world, this pesky professional ritual can be fraught with questions of etiquette and social anxiety. What should be a simple act- grabbing a meal with a colleague, mentor, or potential client- can quickly become a landmine of faux pas that can majorly throw you off your game and thwart your professional intentions.
So what exactly are the rules for business lunching in 2018? We’ve got a few simple tips and guidelines to help you navigate the troubled waters of this corporate institution.
- Be flexible when it comes to scheduling. Everyone is busy, so never assume that your scheduling needs come first. Instead of extending the invitation with a specific date, location, and time already in mind, politely ask if they would like to get lunch, and work together to find an ideal time for both parties.
- Choose your restaurant carefully. There’s a lot to be said about choosing a restaurant, and too many factors to cover with any nuance here. Suffice to say that your restaurant should be easy to get to for everyone, fit your budget, and have a simple menu with broad culinary appeal (i.e. not the time to try the hip new Ethiopian restaurant). We hate to say it, but chains and old standbys tend to work best for these kinds of affairs. If you’re going to try out a new place, at the very least make sure to check out the Yelp reviews before making any final decisions.
- Do your homework. It doesn’t have to be much. Take a few minutes to look up some industry news bites, cull some information from their LinkedIn, or practice some appropriate topics for small talk before you head out. Hosting guests from another country? Make sure you look up some basic etiquette and customs of their culture. If you’re a super detail-oriented (or anxious) person, take a look at the menu beforehand, scope out possible driving routes, or whatever else you need to do in order to feel prepared. Even the bare minimum of prep work can make a big difference to how smoothly the lunch goes.
- Mind your P’s and Q’s. A lot of the basic rules of etiquette haven’t changed too much over the years. If your parents told you to keep your elbows off the table, chew with your mouth closed, and mind your P’s and Q’s growing up, we’re sorry to tell you those rules are still generally in play today. There are plenty of formal nuances for social etiquette floating around out there, but polite, common sense manners generally fare the best.
- Don’t drink. I know, I know, it’s a bummer. But the days of the three-martini lunch are firmly over, and abstaining is the safest bet for making a good impression. If your host orders a drink and you’re so inclined, a glass of wine or beer is completely acceptable. But as a general rule, order an iced tea at the lunch table and have a cocktail with your friend after work instead.
- Careful with your order. Ordering your entrée at a business lunch can be complicated. You’ll be chatting between bites, so it needs to be something easy to eat with minimal mess. As a guest, you may feel anxious about ordering a meal at the right price point; as a host you want to make guest feel welcome while also setting the tone for the meal and the budget. The best advice we have is to skip the rack of ribs, and look to your host for social cues about what and how much to order.
- Keep it Light. Business lunches are not the time to discuss politics, religion, philosophy, or deeply personal matters. Keep conversation limited to light small talk, or work matters directly related to your professional relationship or industry. If you’re the kind of person who struggles to make natural small talk, we refer you to our reminder above to “do your homework.” Practice makes perfect.
- Stay off your phone. This one speaks for itself.
- Don’t fret over who pays. The bill is often regarded as the most stressful part of the meal, but it doesn’t have to be. In general, if you’ve invited a person out to lunch, you should expect to pay. In a situation with multiple employees and/or clients, the most senior person on the hosting team is expected to pay. If you’re in charge of the bill, try giving your credit card to the waiter before the meal or on a trip to the bathroom. It ensures that the bill gets taken care of quickly, efficiently, and with no embarrassment or misunderstanding.
- Tip well. As a host, the wait staff at a restaurant has played an integral role in the success of your meeting. Tipping your server well is not only polite compensation for smooth service; it also leaves a good impression on your guests.
- Say thank you. It should go without saying, but if you’ve been treated to lunch it’s essential to close it out with a firm handshake and a sincere “thank you.”
- Follow up. Whether you choose to send a follow up email (A) or a hand-written thank you note (A+), gratitude goes a long way and gives you an excuse to segue the conversation into the next phase of your professional relationship.
The business lunch can be a nerve-wracking prospect, but hopefully these tools and tips have given you the know-how to enter your next restaurant meeting with confidence. Hosting your next lunch meeting in-office? Make sure you have a handle on everything from room bookings to guest arrivals and catering deliveries with AskCody.