A common way to celebrate big wins, offer warm congratulations, or strike an important business deal in the corporate world is by taking someone to lunch. Naturally, you should feel excited if you have a work lunch approaching! However, if you are unfamiliar with business lunch etiquette, your joyful occasion can quickly turn into a panicked one.
As you continue to grow in your professional life, it is important to learn proper business lunch etiquette! Your manners at the dining table can make a lasting impression on your business partners.
Why Is Business Lunch Etiquette So Important?
Imagine: the contract you have been working on has finally come to fruition! Your manager is thrilled, and the president of your division wants to take you out to a really nice lunch to celebrate.
You’re excited! But eating lunch with the president is intimidating. How do you make a good impression?
The desire to make a good impression is a sure sign you deserve a celebratory meal… and that you’re ready to learn appropriate business lunch etiquette. Handling yourself well in all social situations is key to your success as a business professional—lunches included!
Manners at mealtimes are different from other parts of your day. Even if you feel well-versed in professional etiquette, honing your behavior at the dining table can help you form important relationships and lead to greater success in your career.
8 Business Lunch Etiquette Basics
No matter what the occasion, these steps will help you feel more comfortable with business lunch etiquette. Use these eight tips as your guide to a successful professional dining experience.
The very first thing to consider before attending a business lunch is whether or not you know your way around a place setting. Bear in mind, every utensil has a specific job at a fine-dining restaurant!
Use the BMW (bread, meal, water) method to remember where your bread plate, meal plate, and water glass are each located! Your bread plate should always be on the left and your water glass should always be on the right, with your meal plate in between.
When faced with multiple forks or knives, start from the outside and move toward your plate with each course of your meal.
Aim For A Good First Impression
Even if you’re feeling a bit nervous, you should never walk into a business lunch frazzled or timid. Be sure to start your encounter with a confident handshake (even if you’re faking it at first!).
Eye contact and a friendly ‘hello’ set the tone for your business meal. You and everyone else in attendance will all feel more relaxed if you nail the greeting!
How you handle your napkin is very important to business lunch etiquette!
Once seated, place your napkin in your lap with the fold toward your waist. You should use your napkin every few bites to dab your mouth (even if you already feel clean).
When excusing yourself from the table, place the napkin on your chair—NOT on the table! A used napkin should never touch the table in the middle of your meal.
Only when the meal is completely finished, you can place your napkin on the left side of your place setting!
When To Talk Business
When you are seated at the lunch table, don’t start talking about business right away. Consider warming up with some small talk to put everyone at ease.
Some ideas for light-hearted conversation include:
- The weather
- Community activities
- A guest’s recent hiking trip
You can move on to discuss projects or business matters after everyone has ordered. Once the food arrives, you can make a judgment call as to whether business chatter should continue or small talk should resume.
This component of business lunch etiquette is incredibly important! Keep all devices off the table during the meal. This includes phones, tablets, laptops, eyeglasses, and handbags.
Acknowledging your devices during a professional meal sends the message that you’re distracted… and even inconsiderate. Show the other folks at your table that they have your undivided attention by keeping your gadgets out of sight.
Control Your Condiments & Be Courteous
Loading up with ketchup or heavily salting your food before you taste it is not a good idea at a business event. Masking the flavor of your meal suggests that you don’t like or appreciate the occasion, which certainly can’t be true!
Also, stick to smaller bites and neater foods. This helps you avoid awkward situations like spills or a full mouth during conversation.
Related: 4 Business Etiquette Rules You Should Never Break
Prepare In Advance
Just as you would rehearse for a regular meeting or an oral presentation, you should rehearse for a business meal. Prepare yourself by knowing who will be in attendance, topics that may be covered, and a general list of interests for others at your table.
Consider asking these types of questions:
- What is your role at the company?
- How long have you been working for Company X?
- How do you support this organization?
- What made you select Charity XYZ?
- What was your takeaway from the speaker?
- Did you like the presentation?
Demonstrating preparedness is essential when practicing business lunch etiquette! In the end, your lunch partners will be impressed by how well you steered the conversation.
Avoid Certain Topics
Of course, for every good conversation idea, there is a bad one. You should never bring up politics or religion during a business meal. Such topics are polarizing and could lead to arguments across the table.
You can also prepare to guide the conversation away from controversial topics if someone else brings them up. A quick subject-flip can help you make a good impression all around.
Business Lunch Etiquette Tips for When You’re A Guest
Business lunch etiquette differs slightly when you’re a guest versus a host.
Keep in mind these important guidelines for guests:
- As a guest, you must be sure to RSVP promptly. Respond in the same way your host asked you. For example, if they invited you by email, respond in the same way!
- Arrive at the restaurant or event space on time.
- If you are not sure how much to spend or the number of courses, then ask your host what they are ordering or for recommendations.
- Engage with your host! Practice your conversation skills. Wait for them to discuss business.
- At the end of the meal, show your gratitude with a warm thank you.
- Follow-up with a handwritten thank you note later on!
Overall, you want to come across as considerate and gracious whenever you are invited to a business meal. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll do just fine!
Business Lunch Etiquette: Hosting Gracefully
On the other hand, if you want to invite a client to lunch, you’ll need to make a few adjustments!
Here is everything you need to do to up-level yourself and represent your company well as a lunch host:
Setting Yourself and Your Guests Up For Success
First, extend a kind invitation! Phone or email are both acceptable methods for an invite. Ask if anyone has special dietary needs and be sure the restaurant you choose can accommodate them.
On the day of the event, arrive at the restaurant early to take care of the bill. You should speak with the manager and ask that the bill not be taken to the table. Instead, pay when your guests leave.
Give the best seats to your guests! You can invite them to sit down before you do.
Allow your guests to order first. You can share what you are ordering to put your guests at ease—show them how many courses you are ordering and give them some guidance as to how much you wish to spend. You can also make suggestions! For example, if you have eaten at the restaurant before and you know they have an excellent Caesar salad, share that with your guest.
During the meal, be attentive and make sure their needs are being taken care of by the restaurant staff.
Make Sure Everything Runs Smoothly
Put closure to the meal! If you have asked for the bill to be delivered privately after the meal, you need to signal the end of the meal in some other way.
Be sure to thank your guests and walk them to the door. Assist your guests with coat-check and valet, too.
When you get back to your desk, send an email to thank everyone for their time and let them know you enjoyed having lunch with them!
Covering each of these steps will ensure that your guests have a fabulous experience and want to do business with you in the future.
Practicing business lunch etiquette can help you grow professionally! You will carry yourself with more confidence when you familiarize yourself with the ins and outs of all sorts of business encounters.
Contact me for business etiquette training services for yourself or your business team! I have everything you need to build more confidence and self-awareness in your professional endeavors.