Business Lunch Etiquette – Do’s and Don’ts

Have you ever had a stranger not thank you after you’ve held the door open for him? Or, as you’re searching the shelves in a supermarket, someone passes in front of you and doesn’t say “Excuse me?” In life, we should probably learn to let this little stuff go, in order to keep our sanity. But in business, we can’t afford to take anything for granted. Whether you’re the client or the business owner, you want to be on your best behavior and learn, as they say, how to “give good lunch.”

Etiquette, manners and behavior are second nature to some, but others may need a few Business Lunch Etiquette Reminders on how to best impress. Something that seems so small can actually have a lethal effect on a business transaction if it goes awry, so let’s keep it simple by brushing up on some business lunch rules that apply across the board:


Don’t Phone a Friend… Or Anyone Else

Before we discuss anything else, let’s talk about your phone: Turn it off. And keep it off the table. Even if your lunch mate keeps her phone on, think of the old adage, “Well, if so-and-so jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge…” etc. If your phone is on, you will most certainly be tempted to check it for texts and emails, even if it doesn’t ring, chime or beep. And if it does, it’s nothing more than an annoying distraction. Remember: You’re being considered as a potential colleague, so your priorities are under close scrutiny. Would you hire someone to do business with if his first priority was texting his roommate about what to buy for dinner, instead of focusing on the project that you’re planning with him? To put it plainly, using your phone at the table is tacky. Your friends and family shouldn’t let you get away with it; a potential business colleague won’t.

The Host(ess) with the Most(ess)
It’s up to the host to ensure a successful lunch, from beginning to end. If you did the inviting, it’s up to you to do the heavy lifting. From selecting the right place to picking up the check, it’s the host’s responsibility to see it through. Would you want to do business with someone who was interested in your services and invited you to lunch, but then picked an expensive place and then haggled with you over the check at the end of the meal? Probably not. If you’re the host, a good business lunch etiquette tip is to pick up the bill for the meal, staying in the conversation, keeping good eye contact and being discrete about tucking the credit card into the check booklet. That said, if you’ve been invited to lunch for an interview or a meeting, don’t ever assume that your host is going to pick up the tab. Use your keen awareness when the check comes, and unless the other person swipes the bill up when it arrives and insists on paying it, take out your wallet. Be prepared for anything when the bill comes, but if your host is worth her weight in salt, she’ll pick up the tab.

Early Bird Gets the Worm
“When you’re late, you’re not only wasting your time, you’re wasting mine. And everybody else’s,” said the biology teacher in tenth grade. How right he was! Allow enough time for traffic, train trouble, crowded sidewalks and any other potential delay. Getting there early will allow you to catch your breath, do a little extra tuck-in with your shirt, have a glass of water and be ready to roll. Nobody wants to dine with someone who’s huffing and panting because they ran all the way from the subway.

Choose Wisely
As a guest, take the lead from your host. Is he having a tiny side salad or the Peking Duck? Don’t order the most expensive thing on the menu, but “a glass of water with lemon” certainly isn’t going to put a prospective employer at ease while she has the pastrami on rye. Stay it in the middle. As the host, try and select a restaurant that you’re somewhat familiar with, be sure the tables offer some privacy, and be acquainted with some of the choice menu items. If your usual vernacular when ordering is “I’m gonna have…” make a conscious choice to replace that with “May I please have…” Never, ever snap your fingers to get the waitstaff’s attention. Make eye contact, and if need be, gently raise an arm. It’s all about character, common sense and manners; you want to lead by example in business lunch etiquette.

Don’t Lose Your Head
Successful business meetings start with clear minds. And you need yours to be as clear as possible. So remember this business lunch etiquette tip: NO DRINKING, especially as a guest. Although your host may choose to partake, you should choose not to, and if it makes you more comfortable, come up with an excuse ahead of time. The “Mad Men” days of the five-martini lunch are long gone. It’s not a Friday night happy hour; it’s a business meeting. Stick with club soda and a lemon wedge. It’s classy, and it’ll keep you fresh and alert.

Be Yourself
Ultimately, we all want to do business with someone we can go to lunch with. But be yourself at your self’s very best. Put your best foot forward and truly represent everything you have worked hard to achieve. Remember to listen, and not just talk. Lastly, in these business lunch etiquette tips, remember that, more often than not, being prepared equals success. Even a half hour of prep work before lunch can and will make all the difference in the world.

Good luck, happy lunching, as we’ll see you at Executive Suites!

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