Mastering a Business Lunch: Don't Drop the Meatball
September 15, 2014
By Chris Baker
Business lunches happen for all kinds of reasons, client meetings, recruiting, decision making meetings, networking, you name it. There are many ways to make a business lunch successful, but there are just as many ways to derail the meeting and make you wish you had never attended.
First, a quick story. I was at a business lunch last week at a fairly nice and well known restaurant in London, Ontario. The person who was joining me was running late and afforded me the opportunity to observe the business lunch world happening around me.
We will cover the what to order topic in a moment, but I noticed a group of business people engrossed in what appeared to be a very important meeting. I was able to watch as this meeting instantly fell apart, not because of disagreement, but because what one of the well-dressed business women ordered. Not only did she order spaghetti (a business lunch due to the "food fling factor") but the meatballs that came with it were enormous! Far larger than any meatball should ever be. Undaunted, she attempted to twirl her spaghetti around this meatball and as if in slow motion her fork slipped ever so slightly and away went the meatball, on its journey to destroying her light blue dress and ultimately derailing what appeared to be an otherwise productive lunch meeting.
Don't be a 'Mary meatball flinger'. Use the following tips to ensure your next business lunch leads to success (and less mess)!
Tip #1: The Invite: Make sure that everyone knows the meeting agenda. If you want to make the most out of the time you have (usually an hour or so) it helps to have everyone on the same page. If you are the attendee, try not to simply hit the "accept" button, ensure a personal note confirming your attendance and asking any questions you may have about the lunch agenda is included in your reply. It is polite, and it helps kick start the conversation when you arrive.
Tip #2: Research the attendees: If this meeting has the potential for securing subsequent meetings, a sale, or a future major decision and you are not completely familiar with the other business people attending this lunch, it is best to be prepared. A simple trip to LinkedIn, Google or other search avenues can give you a nice heads up on your counterparts and can make you the conversation hero if the lunch begins with the dreaded 'silence'.
Tip #3: Set the tone with the wait staff: If you are the organizer of the lunch, help out your guests by asking the wait staff to recommend an appetizer, meal and dessert from the menu. This takes the burden off of your guest, wondering if they can order those delicious looking garlic fries before their soup and sandwich or that lava cake that caught their eye following the main course. We have all been there, knowing we are not paying and wondering if it is safe to order something other than our main course. Set the expectation early and take the awkward feeling right out of the equation.
Tip #4: What to order: How many of you reading this right now have ordered a sandwich thinking you are going to get a reasonably sized 3 layer club, only to be presented with what seems like a ten foot tall behemoth with seven different sauces on it and a well hidden extra juicy tomato? Like our meatball slinging friend above, this can really throw a wrench into an otherwise productive lunch.
If you are the guest, ask your lunch organizer if they have ever been here before and what they tried the last time. You will almost always get a reply with a reasonable, not so messy, choice.
If you organized the lunch offer up recommendations to your attendees before your guests get a chance to order that watery chicken wrap. It is a courteous gesture and your guests will be thankful you saved them from their next dry cleaning bill.
Tip #5: Productive Conversation: This can be where the rubber meets the road in your lunch meeting. If you are the organizer, allow a few minutes for your guests to set up the flow of the conversation. It helps you stay on their level and get a better sense of how they expect the meeting to go. If you are the guest, show off a little bit of that LinkedIn and Google research you did earlier to get the conversation flowing. Ask open ended questions about what they do and how they do it. A master of an open ended question is a master of the business lunch.
Tip #6: The Bill: If you did the inviting, expect to pay for the lunch, it's that simple. Unless you have set out the expectation that everyone is on their own in the initial invitation, don't let the bill take your agenda off course. Tell the wait staff at the beginning that the bill is coming to you and remove all doubt. If the opportunity arises, consider excusing yourself for a moment and settle the bill away from the table.
If you are the guest and you have no idea if you should be paying, first, shame on the host, and second, some well-placed questioning can lead to bill clarity. A question like, do you know what forms of payment they accept here, will usually work.
Tip #7: The wrap up: For some reason the meeting wrap up can feel a little awkward. The bill is paid, but the conversation has continued and you don't want to look like you are trying to make a getaway.
Whether you are the organizer or a guest, if it is time to wrap things up or you need to leave; the traditional meeting wrap up is the best way to go. Begin by recapping what was talked about. Ask for or set up next steps and confirm that the conversation will continue by setting up a follow up call or meeting or at the very least promising to follow up in the next week or so.
Tip #8: Manners throughout the meeting: What would my mother say if I didn't bring this up? Manners, as much as anything else can destroy the success of a meeting. It is always safe to be polite in the presence of a rude person but it is never safe to be rude in the presence of anyone. Remember, your guest or your host may be fine with it, but at a restaurant you are not alone and next December's important year end lunch meeting may be sitting just one table away observing your behaviour.
Here are some fail safe pointers on the display of good manners:
1. Thank your host for inviting you. As host, thank your guests for coming.
2. Thank the wait staff for everything brought to the table or any order given.
3. Place your napkin on your lap and NEVER down the front of your shirt. You might laugh at that, but it happens and it is not a pie eating contest.
4. Do not leave your accessories on the table. This goes for your smartphone, keys, etc.
There are many other points to the manners conversation but that could become a post in itself. These tips should help get you started with your next business lunch and set you up to combat any lunchtime surprises you may encounter.
May a meatball never escape your plate and on to your lap. Best of luck.
About the author: Chris Baker is Director, Buiness Develoment at Freedom 55 Financial in London Canada where he helps to build teams to success. He is a certified professional speaker (Canadian Association of Public Sepakers) and is involved in coaching, leadership development and management.
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