Hosting a business associate over lunch can be a successful way to cement a working relationship, if planned and executed with care. From the invite to the paying of the bill, here are the steps to success.
Invitation – Be clear that you intend to host the lunch, thus signaling you will pick up the tab. Show respect for your guest’s time by suggesting choices of restaurants, dates, and times you know will be convenient for her, letting her make the final choices.
Preparation – Make reservations, if appropriate. Prepare an agenda so that time is efficiently spent. Remember, it is a business meeting, not a social event. Arrive early. Arrange with the staff to deliver the bill to you, or better yet supply your server with your credit card information prior to the meal and request that the bill not be delivered to the table.
Conversation – Relax your guest with comfortable small talk during ordering and avoid business topics until after the beverages are served. Stay away from highly personal topics, politics, or gossip. Listen more than you talk, making your guest feel valued.
Ordering – Invite your guest to order first encouraging her to choose whatever she likes. Make suggestions if you are familiar with the menu. Follow your guest’s lead by ordering similarly prepared and priced dishes. Do not order alcohol, even if your guest does. It is best to stay away from messy dishes or choices that may take extra time to prepare.
Etiquette – Displaying good manners over a meal says a lot about your attention to detail as well as respect for yourself and others. Here are some basic etiquette tips to practice:
- Napkin – Place your napkin in your lap when seated. Fold it in half using the top half to gently wipe your fingers and lips, and the bottom half to protect your clothing from soiling.
- Pace – Refrain from eating until everyone at the table has been served. Pace your eating based on the pace of others at the table, within time constraints.
- Utensils – Do not gesture with your utensils. Place them in the plate, side by side, facing 11 and 2 o’clock to signal the waiter you are finished eating.
- Beverages – Gently wipe your lips prior to taking a drink from your class. Look into your glass when drinking and not over the rim at your guest. If using a straw, pick up your glass when drinking; do not sip through the straw with the glass on the table.
- Condiments – Ask for condiments such as salt or pepper to be passed to you. Never reach in front of others to retrieve them.
- Bread – Rolls should be eaten by tearing off one small bite at a time and buttering that particular piece as it is eaten. Don’t split a roll in half and make a butter sandwich, or pick up the roll and bite off a chunk.
- Food Quality – If there is a problem with your food, work around it, and avoid complaining or returning it to the kitchen. You can address the issue with the restaurant after the meal. During a limited time over a lunch, try not to let food quality interrupt focus and atmosphere.
- Personal Needs – Any personal needs that arise during the meal, should be attended to in the restroom. This includes taking any medication or nose blowing, etc. Excuse yourself and return promptly.
- Cell Phone – Do not take calls during the meal. Do not text, surf the net, or otherwise look at your phone. If you think you may get an important call during lunch, pre-empt it by proactively making other arrangements with the caller.
With these basic etiquette tips and courtesy guidelines, you can conduct a successful meeting over lunch. Planning well, and being in control of the meeting will put both you and your guest at ease, allowing you to focus on the business at hand. A follow-up note to your guest is also a way to indicate to her how much you appreciated her time and attention.