Surviving a business lunch

Picture of a business lunch
By Alex Burden, Senior Digital Editor

22 June 2016

Business and networking lunches a la Mad Men-style activities have decreased in popularity due to a) the need to be sober in the workplace, and b) the volume of work handled in-house through meetings, emails and phone-calls.  

Earlier this year, The Telegraph reported 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, make sure you don’t look to film culture for explanation – they are highly unlikely to play out in a Wolf of Wall Street manner! Instead 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. It 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. (Notes that you do not have out on the table at any point – 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 always pay for the meal and the tip.

10. Take ten minutes out of your day to send a thank-you

Note to your lunch-partner. Summarise the key points and what you are looking forward to implement or do. This helps keeps all parties on the same track and shows that you are considerate.


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