You’ve attended your share of special events and weddings and know how to behave under pressure, often with copious amounts of alcohol involved. As stellar as these social performances may be how’s your business lunch track record? A lack of preparation and a few etiquette faux pas can disrupt dialog, create uncomfortable silence, and missteps that derail the business lunch meeting.
Chances are you know your clients’ needs and business requirements, but, you may dread these encounters because you don’t know them and dread the interaction. Few of us do. But don’t let that hold you back. Approach these situations methodically to give yourself an advantage. Here’s what you need to know before your next dining appointment.
Do your research
Look at this as you would any other meeting, except there’s food and a lot more casual conversation often with people you have absolutely nothing in common. Besides knowing the purpose of the meeting, check LinkedIn to learn what you can about their interests and background. This is easy stuff, and it’s gold. If you're in charge of introductions, research makes those a breeze. If you’re the point person for this outing, share relevant information with others. If there are cultural differences, it's important to know that in advance to avoid any awkward moments, whether it's handshakes, or where you reserve a table. Speaking of which, consider the noise level in your restaurant choice. You don't want the conversation to be awkward, and it will be if you have to strain to hear or talk louder than usual to be heard over the roar of the crowd or music.
Introductions and seating
If you lack finesse when it comes to introducing people, just practice a little bit (out loud and alone in front of a mirror). The important thing is to know names, correct titles, and correct pronunciations. Doing research makes everything easier, but there is a right way to introduce business people so know the rules of etiquette. Your confidence and control of the situation will be appreciated and noticed. If you’re introducing a product SME to a customer be sure the seating arrangement is conducive to encourage their conversation so they aren't yelling across the table. The purpose of a lunch business meeting is to win business, or keep a client happy, so know the guidelines to follow when you have face-to-face meetings with customers.
Alcohol and smoking
First, don’t order alcohol at lunch unless your clients do and you know it's not going to violate company policy. It usually does, but not always, so check with you boss. If you do order an adult beverage only order one, and be sure it’s not something on the rocks. It's not a Mad Men episode, so it’s best to order beer or wine. Don't leave the table to go smoke. When you return the smell of smoke returns with you. You can't smell it, but everyone else can.
Placing your order
You being fed is not the primary reason for this particular gathering of the business minds. Delays mean less time to talk business and develop relationships. Indecisiveness on your part doesn't reflect well on your ability to handle work-related matters either. You need to know if you are guilty of any business lunch don'ts and avoid lunch blunders to make the best impression. Here are some important etiquette do's and don'ts:
- Always arrive early, get your table and let the server know you're picking up the tab.
- Let your guests order first.
- Don't order a big, heavy meal if others are eating light so you can finish eating about the same time. And, don't wolf down your food. If you are starving before lunch do a drive thru on the way to grab some fast food.
- If you are finicky or have food allergies or dietary restrictions, check the menu online or call ahead. That way you’re prepared to order without holding everything up or making a spectacle of yourself. Otherwise, open up that menu, scan it and decide quickly.
- Don't order anything that is messy to eat. A BBQ sandwich is quite tasty, but the sauce dripping down your hands and the corner of your mouth? Eww.
- Don’t order the most expensive item or anything labeled “market price.” It's bratty. If you get a menu without prices, use your deductive reasoning skills to figure it out.
- Don’t make any crazy substitutions. Vegetables for potatoes or any sides listed on the menu are acceptable, but be flexible and go with the flow.
- Don't complain about the food.
- Show the greatest respect for the wait staff. If you have a problem leave the table to address it.
With knowledge and preparation, you can easily slay at your next business lunch meeting. Don't underestimate how important style and finesse are to your professional success. Once you understand that and demonstrate new behaviors, you will set yourself apart from the crowd.
What tips do you have for other young professionals and entrepreneurs that make a business lunch a success?