Etiquette Tips for Business Lunches

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At certain moments in your career, you might be presented with an opportunity to dine with a few higher-ups in the company. Whether these business lunches are scheduled on-site with a catered meal, or at a nearby restaurant, knowing how to conduct yourself according to an unwritten set of etiquette rules will help you make a positive impression. No matter how comfortable — or nervous — you might feel in this setting, here are a few tips you can use to put your best foot forward.

Be Prepared Although you might have the perfect professional outfit laid out the night before, getting ready for a business lunch means more than looking the part. Knowing where you're going and showing up on time are essential details that shouldn't be overlooked. Try to make sure you understand where the restaurant is ahead of time and be certain of the schedule. Will there be a brief mingling period ahead of time? Additionally, consider who you're meeting. Look up their LinkedIn profile and think of a few questions to ask ahead of time. Once you've managed to narrow down these details, you might find that you will be more at ease when the lunch begins.

Don't Dive Straight into Business Instead of beginning the meal with shop talk, try to ease into the setting a little. Whomever you're dining with should be given a chance to order his or her food first. Also, by holding off on business discussions until after the menus are put away and the meal is being prepared, you will likely have fewer interruptions from the restaurant's waitstaff. Until then, feel free to engage in pleasant chit chat. This will also give you a chance to ease into the situation and build positive rapport, which could help any lingering tensions melt away.

Put Your Cell Phone Away (and Leave It There) No matter what the topic of the lunch might be, having your smartphone on the table can tell your dining partner that you're still connected to the outside world, rather than focusing your attention on the present moment. When you've spent so long relying on these devices for business or leisure, it's difficult to ignore them when they vibrate or light up. By glancing down at them when they buzz, you're allowing yourself to be distracted. Even before the lunch begins, put the phone away, and don't take it out again until you leave the restaurant.

Skip the Alcohol Despite how comfortable you might be with the guest of honor, it's a good idea to avoid imbibing. When the drink menu is being passed around, try to take your cues from the host — if he or she has ordered one, feel free to do the same, but that first drink should be all you order. You know your body more than anyone else, so pay attention to it. If you feel like you're drinking more than you should, slow down and switch to water. At the same time, even before the drink menu has made its rounds, decide if you're comfortable enough in this setting to partake. If you're hesitant at all, it might be a better idea to hold back for now.

Remember to Follow Up After the lunch is over, don't forget the most important part — thanking the host for the opportunity. No matter what was discussed, this step will let you respond to any questions that might have been raised during your meal. The follow-up can be as simple as a quick note thanking the person for his or her time or can include any additional materials or resources you can gather that will help make a case for your ideas. If you're worried about an appropriate timeline for sharing these additional materials, don't fret — locating them can take some time, and as long as you share a brief deadline in your original thank-you email, you should have enough time to sort things out on your end.

About the Author

Rebecca Lindegren is the community relations manager for MBA@UNC, UNC Kenan Flagler’s online mba for executives. She is also passionate about digital marketing, social media, cycling and cooking. Check her out on twitter.