As a professional, you will likely attend a business lunch at some point in your career – and most will frequently. While there is no handbook with hard rules or guidelines about lunching with colleagues or clients, there is a sort of “etiquette” that should be followed.
As far as picking the right restaurant for a business lunch, you should do your research! Always keep in mind the purpose of your business lunch, you want a place which isn’t too dark, too loud or boasts live music and waiter service is preferred. Ensure the menu has general items like soups, salads and small plates or appetizers and is not too eclectic or gourmet; I am a super picky eater and nothing is worse than attending a business lunch where there is nothing on the menu you are willing to actually eat.
Jodi Jackson is a blogger who travels all over sampling food and drinks and provides in depth critiques and photographs on her blog. When choosing a restaurant for a business lunch in an unfamiliar city, Jackson advises “My best advice is to ask a local or someone that works at your hotel.” Jackson also recommends using Yelp! or TripAdvisor.
Dress up or down for lunch?
So, what should you wear to a business lunch? Or more importantly, what should you definitely not wear? You should avoid looking overly dressy or too casual. If you are too dressed up for lunchtime it comes off like you are trying a little too hard and if you look too casual, you give the impression the lunch is not important enough for you to get dressed properly. You should wear what you would wear to any other business meeting that isn’t held at a restaurant, stick with your everyday professional attire. Jackson agrees and adds, “Business attire and nothing too revealing.” If you are really unsure, call the restaurant ahead of time and ask about a dress code.
What should I order?
What to order at a business lunch can be difficult and you do not want to come off as indecisive. It helps to let your lunch guest/host order first, this way you have some gauge for what to order for yourself. If the person you’re lunching with orders a cup of soup, you should avoid ordering a steak. According to Jackson, “A nice healthy salad is always good, something that will show the person that you are meeting with that your are interested in your health. No onions or garlic or that will repeat on you, or anything that creates gas.”
You should consider ease of consumption as well; choose something easy and clean to eat like a salad, chicken or fish and avoid messy items like spaghetti or ribs or anything requiring you to use your hands to eat. And do not, I repeat, do not order the most expensive item on the menu. Even if you are hosting the lunch, the most expensive menu on the item is still off limits. A business lunch is a lunch with a purpose and is not the right time to indulge. And if you just have to have something sweet after you eat, ask about a fruit salad or sorbet and avoid the triple chocolate fudge cake.
Is this a martini lunch?
Another common question is whether or not it is acceptable to order an alcoholic beverage during a business lunch? And if so, what is an acceptable drink? In some fields, drinking during business lunches are customary, while in others, they are seriously frowned upon. In the legal profession, drinking may be customary during firm happy hours or lunches with colleagues and bosses but for a business lunch with a client or subordinate, etc. you should err on the side of caution.
A glass of wine or a beer is generally ok, but stick to one – you never want to be that overly chatty person keeping everyone from leaving at the end of the meal nor do you want to show back up to the office drunk and having a martini or three with lunch is an outdated custom (think along the lines of Mad Men). According to Jackson, “Wine is what I would order depending on what type of dish you are having. White wine will keep you alert and awake while red wine might make you sleepy.” If you are unsure, order water and gauge yourself by what everyone else at the table orders. If appropriate, you can always order a drink when you order your meal.
Your cellphone is not welcome in your hands or on the table, turn it on silent and put it away before you enter the restaurant. Always arrive early! You cannot pre-plan for bad directions, traffic, lack of parking, etc. If you are running late, call as soon as you realize you may not make it so that no one is left standing around wondering whether or not you are going to show up. Make sure you are polite to the hostess and waiter/waitress; never snap your fingers to get their attention and use please and thank you.
If you follow these simple rules of etiquette, your next business lunch is sure to be a huge success!