Just last week I had a great client passing through and he invited me and several members of my office to lunch. It got me thinking about what makes for a successful business lunch. So I decided to pen down these simple rules to act as a guideline.
From the onset, recognize that the business "lunch" is no longer confined to our mid-day meal. The term was coined years ago when business was conducted in more of a nine-to-five atmosphere when business people would do deals over power lunches. In today's world, however, we are 24/7. When's the last time you had an eight-hour day? So the traditional lunch has merged into any meal or break, from an early morning breakfast to a mid-afternoon coffee.
Often when we introduce food into the equation people forget about the purpose of a meeting. Irrespective of the presence of food one must always remember one simple truth about the business lunch: it is just like any other meeting. So when you attend a business lunch you should have an agenda for what you want to discuss and defined goals for what you want to achieve.
Food evokes a feeling of comfort within us. When we are comfortable we can lose focus on our goal and, instead, relax to the point where we assume a more personal stance with the person with whom we are sharing a meal. Be mindful of this fact before your next business lunch. Some personal chit chat is expected, but steer clear of any deep personal discussions or revelations. This is about business. You have your agenda. You have your goals. Unless revealing personal information assists you in achieving one of your goals don't do it.
Nothing erodes confidence in one's ability faster than having a drink in the middle of the day. Gone are the days of the two martini lunch. You are expected to be responsible. Drinking impairs one's abilities. Do you really want to impair your ability to accomplish your agenda and goals for the meeting? Do you really want to project the image that you are going to return to the office to work on their important matters having consumed a few? No. So just say no
A business lunch can also be a place where other seemingly insignificant mannerisms can be exposed potentially damaging a relationship. Have you ever shared a meal with someone whose manners were like those of a caveman? Perhaps they continue to talk while chewing on food spitting little bits of food out of their mouth as they chat. Perhaps they reach over and grab something off of your plate inquiring only too late, "Are you going to eat that?" If you are at all concerned about proper etiquette pick up a copy of a guide to make sure you do not exhibit manners or behavior which could negatively impact your ability to accomplish your goals over a meal.
Nobody likes someone who talks constantly about themselves. People like dialogue, someone who listens and makes them feel as if the person with whom they are speaking cares about what they are saying. Listen more than you talk. Without violating the rule against being too personal, share enough to create a bond or answer questions that they have and then focus on what the other person has to say.
The person who asked for the meeting should generally pick up the check. As such, if you initiated the meeting when the check comes throw down your credit card. Consider whether all that you sought to achieve during the meeting has been accomplished. If not, can it be done now as the meeting is coming to its natural end? Also, never remind someone that you paid for the meal even in a joking fashion after the meal has concluded. While although you may mean it in a jocular manner it may be taken as an attempt a reminding someone they are beholden to you thus reducing the chances they will dine with you in the future. Lastly, if they insist on paying for the meal or splitting the check let them. If that is what they clearly want do not deny them that request.