How to Act During a Business Lunch

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A business lunch might feel like a social gathering, but it’s actually an extension of the workplace -- and you’re expected to behave professionally. Whether you’re there with a prospective boss, your colleagues or a potential client, treat the event as seriously as you would a business meeting held at the office. Follow traditional dining etiquette and remember that how you handle yourself socially can influence your professional life.

Remember Your Manners

  • Follow basic etiquette during lunch, such as turning off your cell phone or setting it to vibrate. Never place it on the table, and if you think it might distract you, don’t bring it to the restaurant. Treat your guests with respect, and also be mindful of how you interact with restaurant employees and other people you encounter during the lunch. If you’re rude to the server, for example, your boss might think you lack people skills and find you unsuitable for a promotion. In most situations, refrain from ordering an alcoholic beverage even if others are enjoying one. Alcohol can impair your judgment and make it difficult to present your best self.

Don’t Talk Shop Right Away

  • Allow time for small talk to establish rapport and a comfortable atmosphere. Delay business conversation until after you’ve ordered and the server has brought you your drinks. Don’t get too personal during your opening conversation, though. Avoid discussing intimate details of your life that may damage your credibility or professional reputation. Business lunches are also about developing professional relationships, however, so some lighthearted conversation can go a long toward cementing them. If the other person wants to chat, follow his lead -- especially if he’s your boss, a prospective boss or a potential client.

Focus on the Other Person

  • Even if you have a goal for the lunch, such as making a deal with a client, don’t focus solely on moving your agenda forward. Instead, you might decide that a more effective goal is to demonstrate to the client that you're interested in a partnership -- not just adding another client to your roster. Because a business lunch is partly about business and partly about relationship-building, limit your pitch to about five minutes and spend the rest of the lunch getting to know the client. Engage him in conversation. Ask plenty of questions, such as what kinds of challenges he faces in his industry or the goals he has for his company.

Paying the Bill

  • Determine who will pick up the check before the meal so there’s no confusion. In general, whoever asked for the lunch should pay. However, if the other person is adamant about picking up the check or paying for his half, don’t insist on paying. If you pay, hand your credit card to the server without stopping the conversation and without breaking eye contact with the other people. Or call ahead or get to the restaurant early and give them your payment information.

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