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A guide to the etiquette of business lunches

Business Life 23-07-2019

There’s no such thing as a free lunch. How you eat and act during a business lunch reveals a lot about you as a person. So if you’re invited to a lunch ‘meeting’, or taking a client out, you’ll do well to remember Asian Wealth’s guide

A business lunch is always a great opportunity for business colleagues. Getting out of the office and meeting over food and drink can be more conducive when you want to get to know someone better or want to seal a deal in a laid-back environment. “The ritual of eating together puts people at ease because you’re sharing an experience which is part of human nature,” says Asian Wealth Publisher, Kalpesh Patel. “It not only shows that you value their company, but it is an opportunity get to experience a different side to them.”

Where to meet:

Where you decide to eat will certainly set the tone of your meeting. If you’re hosting, rather than suggest a place you’ve never been, aim to go somewhere you have been before and know its ambience. If it’s too noisy, you will struggle to communicate. If it’s too intimate and quiet, you could have moments of awkward silence. 

Plan ahead:

Check out the menu before you select the restaurant. It’s essential to know the restaurant actually has something for you and your guest’s diet. For example, a steakhouse would be wholly inappropriate if your guest is vegan so always check in advance what they can eat. Scoping a menu in advance avoids you appearing indecisive while ordering.

Dress the part:

While a lunch meeting may be less formal to an office boardroom, it is still effectively a meeting. So dress appropriately. Check if the restaurant has its own dress code. Will they get stuffy about smart jeans? Dress as you would to any business meeting, regardless of how casual your host might suggest it is.

Use the loo beforehand:

Nothing can disturb a flow of conversation more than the need to visit the ladies’ or gents’. Don’t risk having to cross and uncross your legs for the entire duration of your lunch and having to get up to visit the loo in the middle of an important conversation can look awkward and clumsy. Be smart, use the facilities.

Be on time:

The host of a business lunch should always arrive at the restaurant at least ten minutes before the guest. Let the staff know who you are expecting so they can lead them to you. If you’re the guest, aim to be at the restaurant around five minutes before your scheduled time. Plan your journey taking traffic, parking or tube delays into account. It’s also a good idea to check when your guest needs to leave. The last thing you want to do is run out of time or rush what is actually on the agenda.

Where to sit:

As the host, always seat your guests looking out to the world. They should never be facing the wall behind you, let them enjoy the view and appreciate the surroundings.

Don’t start hungry:

Don’t go to a work lunch hungry. Have a small snack such as nuts or a cereal bar beforehand so you can focus on whatever’s on the agenda rather than salivating over the bread basket.

Remember table manners:

Table manners are actually a test of meeting outside a boardroom so put your childhood lessons instructions into practice. Remember to shake hands with your dinner guest/host, looking them in the eyes. Place your napkin on your lap, and don’t put your elbows on the table or talk with your mouth full. And never share from each other’s plate, however much you might want to. Don’t charge straight into the business agenda. Make small talk…discuss the weather, their journey in, their family. Whatever you do, don’t complain of your journey, however difficult it might have been. That would make the host uncomfortable and starting a meeting with an apology will be awkward.

What to order from the menu:

This is where your research comes into use. Having checked the menu beforehand, you should have some idea of what to order. If you’re the guest, follow your host’s lead. If they are skipping straight through to mains, don’t order a starter. If they are choosing a small meal, make yours a small plate too. Don’t choose the most expensive thing on the menu or something that the chef will have to prepare especially—rather than making you look classy, it can be seen as awkward and grabby. If you’re the host, there’s absolutely no need to show off and select the most expensive wine or champagne. It can make you look like you’re trying too hard to impress your guest. And since your lunch is work-focused, avoid fussy or messy food. You might feel like a spaghetti dish, but navigating it while discussing an important subject might be another story. Also avoid foods that might stain or get stuck in your teeth. It doesn’t matter how exciting your conversation, if you have a strand of spinach stuck in your jaw, that memory cannot be erased.

Don’t drink up:

You’re officially on business, so stay sober. Take note of your host’s drink. If they are having only soft drinks, do the same. If they order a wine, restrict yourself to just one.

No phone zone:

It’s might be more acceptable to have your phone on the table during a meal, but checking your messages constantly or jumping every time in buzzes is rude. If you feel it might be a distraction, put the phone away so you can be attentive to the person you’re meeting.

Be polite:

Be respectful whatever the circumstances. Don’t talk down to staff, or moan about the menu choices. It creates an atmosphere, and can be very insulting to your host.

Footing the bill:

If you’ve invited someone for lunch, you should pick up the bill. If you were invited, order considerately and be gracious. Be sure to to follow up with your host later in the day and thank them for the meal. 

Words by Nima Suchak
Photographs by Anthony Hall
On location at ‘The Joker’ (Croydon)

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