How to Master the Business Lunch

Overhead view of a group of business people eating lunch /

A business meeting can make or break your reputation as a professional, depending on how you handle yourself and what you discuss. It’s not a time to indulge in good food and get merry on the company’s expense.

Instead, it’s a way to get to know a colleague or business partner in a less formal setting, while still delving into the business matters that you wish to discuss.

To make sure this doesn’t slip into the back of your mind, we’ve listed 15 top dining and etiquette tips to follow to help you master the business lunch.

1. Dress professionally

When attending any business meeting, it’s important to dress the part in order to feel the part.

That said, you should dress according to the type of restaurant you’re visiting; if you turn up in a business suit or a smart dress in a casual restaurant, you’ll look a little out of place, which could knock your confidence. But just because it’s a casual setting, that doesn’t mean you should turn up to your meeting in ripped jeans and scuffed Converse shoes!

Be sure to research the restaurant beforehand. If you’re still not sure what to wear, call ahead and ask someone at the restaurant what the dress code is!

2. Pick a convenient location

If you’re hosting the corporate lunch, it’s essential to pick a location that’s convenient for your client or colleague. After all, you don’t want them wasting their time commuting to the restaurant, so it may be a good idea to ask them what’s convenient for them.

You also need to take the restaurant’s waiting time into consideration. If the restaurant usually takes a while to take orders and serve food, then it’s probably best to go with something that has a quicker turnaround time.

You should aim to be in and out of the restaurant within an hour and a half.

3. Consider menu options

In addition to the previous point, it’s important to consider menu options when selecting the restaurant. If your guest prefers gluten-free food or if they’re vegan, for example, make sure there are many options for them on the menu. It’s also a good idea to ask your guest if they have any allergies when arranging your meeting.

4. Arrive early

As the host of a business lunch, it’s important to arrive at the restaurant before your guest does. There’s nothing more embarrassing than running into a restaurant to greet your guest while you’re out of breath.

If you’re the guest, you should also aim to be at the restaurant at least five minutes before the scheduled time. You never know what traffic issues you may run into.

If you’re running late for any reason, be sure to call ahead and let the other person know.

5. Be mindful of your food choices

Although the sloppy burger or bowl of spaghetti Bolognese sounds appetising, a business lunch is not the right time or place to curb your carb cravings. Instead, choose something that’s easy to cut and eat (and with a limited amount of crunching involved).

On that note, don’t select the most expensive option on the menu just because someone else is picking up the bill! Similarly, don’t choose a starter or dessert unless everyone else is – after all, you don’t want to be eating a course on your own when you could be discussing business.

6. Stick to soft drinks

Gone are the days where three martinis were acceptable during a business lunch. These days it’s generally frowned upon if you order more than one alcoholic beverage.

If you’re hosting the lunch, allow your guest to order and then follow their lead. If they ask for a glass of wine, you could do the same, but try to drag the glass out across the entire lunch.

If you’re the guest, you could ask for an alcoholic beverage, but if you sense any awkwardness, it’s best to stick to the soft drinks.

7. Don’t make the bill payment awkward

If you’ve invited someone for lunch, you’ll typically have to pick up the bill.

Don’t make it awkward by arguing over who will pay and how much or by looking at the bill for too long. It’s best to ask for the bill, check the receipt and give them your card to process the payment.

To make things even smoother, give the waiter your card before your guest arrives to avoid waiting around at the end of the meal. It’s also probably best to pay by card for two reasons: the first being that it’s easier for expense purposes and the second is that you don’t have to wait around for change.

8. Master small talk

Small talk is vital when networking; you need to form a bond over mutual interests and get to know the other person beyond their job role. And by mastering small talk, you can avoid awkward silences and pauses.

Get to know your guest by talking about the weather, their hobbies or their pets (if they have any) and asking how they got into what they do and what their passions are.

9. Mind your table manners

A common rule when partaking in a lunch meeting is to show proper table manners. Make sure you only drink from your own glass, you use the correct cutlery, and you chew politely without talking with a mouthful of food. There’s nothing more off-putting than trying to concentrate on what someone is saying when you can see their lunch swirling around in their mouth!

Remember: poor table manners can negatively impact your business’s reputation.

10. Remember it’s not about the food

Although a lunch meeting is usually set outside of the office and in a restaurant, it’s important to remember that this meeting isn’t about food but about business! So, don’t go to a meeting with a belly grumbling louder than a tower clock, and don’t devour the entire contents of your plate in less than five minutes!

The purpose of the lunch is to interact with your client, so always keep that at the forefront of your mind during the entire meal.

11. Mind your body language

Just as you would in a job interview, you should also mind your body language during a corporate lunch.

To show you’re engaged in the conversation, sit up straight and make eye contact with the person who’s talking to you. Likewise, don’t let your eyes wander over to the next table, and don’t slouch over your plate.

And remember: chew with your mouth closed, don’t talk while eating, and keep your elbows off the table!

12. Go to the bathroom before you sit down

Bathroom breaks can be awkward in a business setting, even if the setting is a public restaurant. You don’t want to be sitting at the table, squirming in your seat and thinking about when you can go to the toilet. And you don’t want to say ‘hello’, place your belongings down and rush to the bathroom, either.

To avoid any awkwardness, go to the bathroom before you sit down or greet your guest or host. That way you can just focus on lunch and your business discussion.

13. Don’t dive into business immediately

During an office meeting, you’ll usually get down to business right away. However, when you’re entertaining someone at a corporate lunch, it’s essential to keep the mood light until after you’ve eaten. You also wouldn’t want to be interrupted mid-thought by the waiter bringing your food.

14. Keep your phone off the table

Phones can be extremely distracting in any situation. To avoid the temptation of glancing down at your phone, be sure to keep it off the table so that all your attention is focused on what your guest or host is saying. You won’t be there all day, so it’s important that you offer the other person the undivided attention they deserve.

15. Follow up after your meal

As a guest, common etiquette after a business lunch is to follow up with your host and thank them for the meal. At this point, you can recap on any critical points that you discussed and add any significant pieces of information that you may have missed.

If you wish to return the favour, you could even suggest another business lunch for a later date.

Think of a business lunch as a corporate social event; you will still need to be mindful of business, but you should also feel relaxed and comfortable in your setting. By sticking to these rules, you’ll show proper etiquette and professionalism at the same time.

Do you have any tips you’d like to share for a successful business lunch? Join the conversation down below and let us know.