Business lunches are an essential component of what makes up corporate America. They’re one of the most important aspects of networking, meeting potential clients and vendors, and discussing a contract or agreement’s minute details. Business lunches are an excellent opportunity to meet face-to-face, hammer out nuances, and discuss strategy and process. However, when attending a business lunch, you’re representing your company, so you should understand the established etiquettes of a business lunch before you get there. As important as social media networking became in 2020, there’s just no substitute for meeting and getting to know people in person.
Business lunches are one of the most popular forms of networking and client meetings. They provide a more relaxed environment, and that’s often a great incentive for stakeholders to attend. In addition, business lunches offer a calm atmosphere where individuals can relax and feel more comfortable surrounded by good food and good company.
Business Lunch Tips
Always Schedule the Business Lunch
If you’re looking to garner some one-on-one time or a meeting with a group of people, it’s best to initiate and get a business lunch arranged. That accomplishes one of two things. Firstly, it can help you to establish yourself as the host of the lunch. Doing so will look more proper and professional, and you’ll get to set the scene. Secondly, it allows you to place a level of emphasis and importance on the need to meet. Business lunches, for the most part, do not happen every day. Showing your willingness to invite clients to a business lunch indicates just how important the subject matter is likely to be.
However, before sending an invitation, always be sure that one is needed and expected. Although many people love being asked to a business lunch, others may find the invitation intrusive. You can feel around the possibility of such a meeting when you talk to or exchange emails with a potential customer – and you don’t ever want to appear pushy. If and when you send a business lunch invite, be sure to include a brief, rough schedule of the topics planned for discussion.
Choose an Appropriate Restaurant
There are always a bunch of good restaurants and dining locations to choose from. Your choice should be a location with a waitering system and one where you’ll be seated while awaiting your food. The restaurant should be more expensive than a regular lunch order but should not be too excessive and make your guests uncomfortable. Your product should always be the star of the show, not the prices on the menu!
The restaurant should be well lit, with comfortable seating that allows for conversation. There should be ample room on the table for documents or laptops, without interference from the appetizers and main course. Also, the restaurant should serve safe, friendly food that is relatively well-known. Safe food generally includes pasta or steak, and you should look to avoid any exotic or unknown foods which your guests may be wary of trying. Lastly, as you are inviting your guests, you want to make it as easy on them as possible. Choose a restaurant that is closer to their office. You can trek a few extra miles as a form of courtesy.
Make a Reservation
You want to appear as professional and buttoned-up as possible. Be sure to set up a reservation as soon as all individuals have been accounted for. You don’t want to end up at the restaurant and have to wait half an hour for a seat. You can either call the establishment or use a service such as OpenTable when booking the reservation.
Also, you may look to notify the restaurant that this is a business lunch. Ask for minimal interruptions and that the check be provided immediately once the food has been eaten. You should also ask that the waiter or waitress hand the check directly to you.
As this is a business lunch, most individuals will be dressed in business wear. However, be sure to remember to dress slightly above average on the day of the lunch. You want to look good and presentable when meeting with colleagues and clients. You shouldn’t go overboard unless the restaurant dress code calls for formal business clothing.
Scope the Restaurant Out Beforehand
Before the lunch, plan to arrive at least fifteen minutes early. Utilize the extra time to scope out the area and familiarize yourself with the layout of the restaurant. You should know where the bathroom is located and use it before your guests arrive. You can also let the front desk know you’ve arrived and remind them that this is a business meeting and go over your needs.
Lastly, be sure to review the menu once more. You should know what you’re going to order and have suggestions and recommendations for the rest of your party if they’re needed. If you’d like, you can also order a few appetizers to share across the table, but this is highly dependent on whom you are meeting and what type of gathering you’re hosting.
Once your guests arrive, the etiquettes of a business lunch call for them to be seated first. That is to allow them to choose the seat they prefer and feel most comfortable with. Be sure to let them follow the waiter first to the table and motion to them to seat themselves first.
Turn off your cell phone or set it on silent. Nothing is worse or less professional than someone whose phone won’t stop ringing during a meeting. You want to give your guests your undivided attention and be listening to every word they say. You should also be ready with small talk and discussions to break the ice. You can always find conversation in the weather, the restaurant, or the commute.
Food Ordering and Alcohol
Ordering of the main course should be done by your guests first. Look to mirror and remain within the same budget as them. You don’t want clients to feel they’ve offended you if you order a $20 item versus their $40 item. Similarly, you don’t want to order an extravagant item compared to their smaller one. You should look to avoid any problematic, smelly, or unknown dishes. These take longer to prepare and may put your guests off. Similarly, don’t order anything which is messy or requires you to eat with your hands. You want to remain as clean and professional as possible.
When it comes to alcohol, you should understand your company policy and what’s generally accepted. Ask your guests if they would like a bottle of wine or an alcoholic beverage to go alongside the lunch. Follow their lead – if they don’t choose any alcoholic drinks, then neither should you. If they do, you can order for yourself, but be frugal with your intake.
In 1961 two United States Air Force researchers analyzed personality datasets to make five main measures. These personality measures are known through the acronym OCEAN, standing for Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. However, only conscientiousness stood out as the central correlator to success.
Conscientiousness is simply a personality trait of being both careful and diligent. From a corporate perspective, it is the quality of wishing to do one’s work well. Paul Tough, in his book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Power of Hidden Character, states, “It would actually be nice if there were some negative things that went along with conscientiousness, but at this point it’s emerging as one of the primary dimensions of successful functioning across the lifespan. It really goes cradle to grave in terms of how people do.”
In essence, having a conscientious personality is known to be one of the greatest ways to succeed in life. Someone who is conscientious and makes an effort to ensure the very best in their work will have a higher likelihood of achieving, no matter the situation they find themselves in.
Why do I mention this? By being conscientious about every aspect of a work lunch and predetermining the discussions you would like to have, you place yourself at an advantage. Being diligent, hardworking, determined, and prepared are all characteristics that promote success. Although it may be just a work lunch, it is also an opportunity for you to show off your knowledge, personality, and relationship building skills.
Things to Discuss
There’s a reason that business lunches form a significant part of corporate culture – they’re a way to combine social activity with business goals. Besides discussing the agenda items, you will want to bring up and discuss non-work-related topics. You’re looking to build a relationship and in order to do that, you’ll need to have an understanding of the individuals present on a more personal level.
That being said, remember not to get too personal. After all, it’s still business, and you’re at work. You want to remain professional and regard certain topics off-limits, or you risk showing a lack of etiquette. Stick to the topics below, and you should stay in a neutral zone without offending anyone.
- The Weather – the weather is one of the best conversation topics. It affects everyone similarly and can be discussed at nearly any time of the day. You can discuss your personal preferences, how the weather affected your commute or day, and the worst weather you’ve experienced.
- Your Commute – everyone has a commute. Some commutes are easier than others. Regardless, commuting is difficult, and nearly everyone has some complaint about it. It’s a great way to bond with colleagues and clients.
- Upcoming Holidays – nearly everyone looks forward to the holidays. Whether it’s a religious holiday or not, people enjoy the time off and may have upcoming vacations they are looking forward to. You may choose to refer to certain holidays only as that, without the need to refer to their names.
- Vacations – if you’ve recently taken a break or have plans to go on one soon, it’s a great conversation starter. You can talk about your plans and what you would like to do, opening up the conversation for others to discuss recent vacations of their own.
- A Recent Purchase – you may not want to discuss a recent large purchase, such as a house or car, but discussing new headphones or a new laptop you’ve purchased and its qualities is a great way to start conversations. Others will also likely have questions or answers depending on the popularity of the item.
- Recent Adventures – It’s also great to talk about recent adventures you’ve had. Whether it was hiking a nearby mountain or kayaking the local river. You don’t want to brag about your recent experiences, but a quick gist will help the conversation get going.
- Other Restaurants – Perhaps above all else, it’s great to talk about other or nearby restaurants you’ve tried. You can discuss when you went, for what occasion, and what you had. You can discuss what you did and didn’t like about it, allowing other members to discuss their recent restaurant outings too.
Perhaps the most nerve-wracking part of the entire process is the check. You, as the host, should always take care of payment. That’s of utmost importance and cannot be overstated. Never, ever let your guests pay for any part of the meal. You should handle the check gracefully and confidently. Have your credit card prepared and do a quick glance over – then hand the check and the card to the waiter immediately and jump back into the conversation with your guests.
You never want to haggle on the price or discuss prices. Also, you don’t want to complain to your guests or the waiter. Handle it confidently and without worry. You should show appreciation and thankfulness to the waiter as well as leaving a healthy tip.
The Etiquettes of a Business Lunch: Things You Should Never Do
Although you might feel nervous about hosting a business lunch, remember – your guests will be feeling nervous too, and they have their own worries! In reality, the etiquettes of a business lunch are pretty straightforward. You should remain calm, composed, and professional in every turn and instance. Always have your items buttoned up and be ready for any unforeseen issues. Here’s a list of what not to do at a business lunch:
- Don’t drink too much or get drunk
- Don’t forget to make a reservation
- Don’t under or overdress
- Don’t haggle on price or have your guests pay
- Don’t answer your phone or check emails unless it’s an emergency
- Don’t argue with the waiter or the manager
- Don’t badmouth anyone, including your company or employees
- Don’t force the conversation; let it come naturally
- Don’t order smelly or messy dishes
What to Do When a Client Cancels Lunch?
Meeting a client or a vendor for a business lunch is one of the best ways to build rapport and develop deeper relationships. However, many times, clients may need to cancel. Whether that cancellation is made well in advance or last minute, there are specific steps and processes you’ll want to take to reschedule and get a meeting back on the books.
Client’s First Cancellation
The benefits of a business lunch are undoubted, and when there’s a delay, try not to take it personally. The client’s first cancellation should always be understood and forgiven. No matter the reason, you will want to be understanding and appreciative of the notification. Most clients don’t want to cancel a previously scheduled meeting, especially not a lunch. When that does happen, you should try to be as respectful and understanding as possible.
In these situations, you’ll want to utilize the ECS acronym. ECS stands for Empathy, Consensus, and Solution. That approach should be used in situations where you want to show understanding, agree on a common problem, and come to a solution agreeable for both parties. As an example, when utilizing the ECS solution, you’ll want to approach an email in a similar manner to below:
“[Empathy] I truly appreciate the heads up regarding the fact that you will not be able to make the lunch and fully understand the challenges in finding a time that works for everyone. [Consensus] I’ve heard similar challenges from other small business owners and understand the constant demands which get placed on the owners. [Solution] However, I would love to reschedule this meeting at the same location. Would you be able to let me know your availability?”
The above response builds on a level of understanding with the client and lets them know that you understand their challenges. It allows you to show empathy and warmth and leave open the possibility of meeting later.
Client’s Second Cancellation
A client’s second cancellation is more challenging to handle than the first. If the client has canceled for a second time, you’ll need to determine why. Again, it could be a simple coincidence, but you will want to rule out every possible scenario to ensure the meeting eventually happens.
Ask yourself the following questions. If you feel that any one of these messages is missing or that you may not be providing enough value or detail via the meeting or invitation, then try a new methodology when reaching back out to the client.
- Am I providing value in reaching out to the client? Do they see the value clearly?
- Am I confirming the appointment? Have I received an exact date and time which works for the client?
- What are the expectations of this meeting? Have I sent the client a plan of what will be discussed and how it is beneficial to them and their business?
- Is the lunch meeting scheduled for too long? Is the restaurant too far from their office?
Although you will still want to reschedule the meeting, you’ll need to be a bit firmer regarding your expectations. A phone call to confirm a rescheduling of the appointment is probably best. While on the phone with the client, you should express the potential benefits of a meeting and the agenda items. Don’t make the call about yourself; make it about the solutions you have. You’re meeting with the client for them, and you are providing a solution to a problem of theirs.
While on the phone with the client, be sure to have them make sure that the date and time work for them. In addition, send out the meeting invite while you’re still on the phone, having them confirm that they’ve received it and can confirm it is on their calendar.
Client’s Third Cancellation
If a client cancels a business lunch for the third time, it’s probably safe to assume they’re no longer interested. You should send a respectful email detailing your attempts to meet, but state that it doesn’t appear that they’re interested. Remain professional throughout and remind the client of your offerings towards the end of the email. State that you’re always available for a call if they would like.
Although it might be tempting to cast aside their information, you should continue to hold onto that. Send every prospective client an email every few months> Include any new offerings and solutions that are current, and always leave an open invitation if they want to just drop in at your office. Although they may not respond, you will want to be cordial and respectful in every interaction. No matter how cold a lead sometimes appears to be – situations and needs can change suddenly, and people always remember politeness and courtesy!
Conclusion: The Etiquettes of a Business Lunch
The etiquettes of a business lunch are important, and while it can seem like there’s a lot to remember, it’s surprising how quickly they become second nature. Business lunches can be enjoyable and productive in terms of sales and building relationships. Always remember to maintain a relaxed and friendly demeanor, and never make your guests feel even slightly uncomfortable.
In the age of the internet and apps – and as important as being on LinkedIn is – sitting down and talking is still great when you can do that. As more and more of us conduct meetings via video conferencing software, there just isn’t a substitute for meeting leads and clients in a comfortable, real-world setting. It’s incredible what a lunch can achieve, so don’t forget to enjoy yourself!