Surviving a business lunch
Business and networking lunches a la Mad Men-style activities have decreased in popularity due to stricter expenses rules and the volume of work handled in-house through meetings, emails and phone-calls. But if you are invited, what are the protocols?
The Telegraph reported on the ‘death of the boozy business lunch’, and noted a steady decline since the 80s. Research has shown that workers do not have time to take lunch out of the office, and this includes with clients.
When staff do get the opportunity, they tend to spend less, eat lunch quicker, and most definitely do not indulge in afternoon drinking. Indeed, most of our employers will quite rightly have a ‘no alcohol’ policy around daytime entertaining.
However, there are benefits to establishing a ‘warm’ relationship over dinner, and some clients or fellow staff will request a restaurant meeting to engage outside an office environment.
If the idea of a ‘business lunch’ is completely alien to you, read our tips for lunching with style.
1. Check dietary requirements with your client or colleague
Awareness of allergies has now grown, along with any potential cultural sensitivities. Be sure you know that the place you have chosen won’t throw up any nasty surprises, such as all-you-can-eat-meat for a staunch vegetarian, or spicy satays for peanut allergy sufferers. This consideration for others will ultimately help any business relationships you want to establish or strengthen.
2. Choose a good restaurant, café or eatery that won’t be mobbed and blasting mood music
Preferably somewhere you have previously visited or has been recommended by the client or colleagues. Fast-food is out, but so are wait-list restaurants; think business-casual in an atmosphere with good-quality food.
Just don’t get lost in a sea of online reviews when searching for guidance (easily done!): you’ll be there for hours and probably no closer to choosing somewhere.
3. Think about you will order in advance
It’s one less decision to make at the table. If you know you’d like to eat what your client or colleague has ordered, then order the same – the food will be ready at the same time and prevent awkward waiting situations.
Same goes for the number of courses; if they order three then try and order similar. If you are aware that you are a slow or fast eater, factor this in.
4. Order ‘low-risk’ food
Things you know you can eat and will react well to. No surprise mussel-tinged sickness or the likes! Best to also avoid messy sauces or food that can only be eaten with hands – orange mouth-rings and dirty nails are best avoided!
5. Manners, manners, manners!
Whether that be how you interact with the wait staff, or whether you’re inclined to waffle with your mouth full. Good table manners will leave a better impression.
6. Turn off your phone, tablet, or gadgets when your lunch-attendee arrives
They want your full attention, just as you want theirs. If the other person isn’t inclined to do the same, they might be prompted by your own considerate action.
7. Try to structure your conversation
Necessary small talk first, big business later, and finishing with friendly rapport.
8. Prep what you want to discuss, in advance
If there are key projects or timelines you need to discuss then keep a note of what you need an answer to – find the right time to broach the issue. If you use the bathroom during the meal you can use this time to freshen up or reacquaint yourself with your notes.
Keep your notes off the table; lunch is a relationship-building activity so ditch the folio and reports.
9. Who arranged the lunch?
If it was you, then you’re paying! The host will usually pay for the meal and the tip.
10. Take ten minutes out of your day to send a thank-you note
Summarise the key points and what you are looking forward to implementing. This helps keeps all parties on the same track and shows that you are considerate.