Grow Your Business

Business Etiquette: 8 Tips to Nail the Business Lunch

By MassMutual@Work

Whether you want to better understand a client’s needs, sell your services, strengthen a business relationship or just keep in touch, there’s nothing like the traditional business lunch for in-person impact. Here are eight tips to keep the mid-day dining efficient and productive.

Know your objectives.
A business lunch is just like any other meeting: It should have an agenda and defined goals. That’s not to say all business lunches need to be explicitly about business. If this is a first meeting with a potential client, your objective may simply be to establish rapport. You may choose to leave business out of the equation unless the client asks. The key is knowing what you want to accomplish.

Do your homework.
The business lunch is an opportunity to connect on a personal level as well as a professional one. To prepare, take some time in advance to learn what you can about your dining companion. LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are great resources for understanding what people find important and can fuel your conversation.

Set the stage.
Choose a quiet restaurant with a relaxed setting that’s conducive to conversation. Make reservations a few days prior and arrive early to meet the wait staff and make arrangements for a table. You may also wish to give the restaurant your credit card to avoid confusion about who will pay at the end of the meal.

Wait to be seated until your guest arrives, and turn off your cell phone so you are 100 percent available.

Make safe food choices.
Choose a dish in the middle price range – and one that you can eat gracefully, like a salad or fish. Stay away from food that is messy, gets stuck in your teeth or requires a lot of attention.

When it comes to a beverage, many people today choose not to drink alcohol in a business setting, but if you client orders a glass of wine or cocktail, it’s fine to do so yourself. Sip slowly and limit yourself to just one.

Begin your lunch by connecting on the personal level. Focus on your client, not yourself. This is your opportunity to learn what your client cares about while building trust. If you have specific business matters on the agenda, save them for after you place your order.

Mind your manners.
Not to sound like a parent, but table manners matter. Bad ones can leave a lasting impression. Always follow these basic rules of dining etiquette:

Put your napkin in your lap when you are seated. If you need to excuse yourself during the meal, put your napkin on the chair. Put it on the table when you leave.

Put your utensils on your plate, not the table.

Don’t talk with your mouth full.

Treat the wait staff with kindness and respect.

Keep an eye on time.
Plan on lunch lasting an hour and a half, but take your cues from the situation. If the conversation is lagging or your client hints of all the work that awaits back at the office, it’s fine to wrap up early. Propose a second meeting if necessary.

Wrap it up.
Send an email the next day to thank your client for joining you. Also jot down notes from your discussion. A cheat sheet of personal facts you learned about your client will be useful the next time you meet.