• Debbie Rasure

10 Tips to Help You Host a Business Lunch Like a Pro

I love going to conferences - until it’s time to break for lunch. That’s when I revert to the geeky kid I was in high school. You know, the one hanging out in the cafeteria doorway looking for a friendly face.

During one such conference lunchbreak, I stood in the doorway of a crowded room with my brownbag in one hand and an ice-cold diet soda in the other, searching for an open table. Everywhere I looked, people were clustered into small groups eating, talking, and laughing – and I didn’t know a soul in the room.

But then I saw her. A woman sitting alone at a table, unpacking her lunch bag.

After looking around to be certain there were no other open tables, I swallowed hard, crossed the room, and timidly asked if I might join her. She nodded with a smile. I settled in, grateful to have someone – even a stranger – to share a meal with in this busy place.

I introduced myself and when she did the same, I nearly fell out of my chair. I had blundered my way into the lunch plans of an award-winning novelist and the president of my professional organization.

She was gracious.

I was star-struck.

If I’d been given a choice, it’s not at all how I would have “done lunch” with one of the big names of my genre. Instead, I would have done some planning. Here’s my advice for making sure your business lunch is memorable for all the right reasons:

1. Research a couple of restaurants to suggest

Before inviting your guest to lunch, you want to choose the best place to meet. Look for a restaurant that is nice but not extravagant. You want to be sure that the food and service are good, and that you can talk to each other without shouting. Review the menu to ensure that a broad selection is available. And don’t forget to check to see whether they take your type of credit card - if that’s how you intend to pay.

2. Send the invitation

These days, the best way to invite someone to a business lunch is simply by sending her an email. Your invitation message should be professional and to the point. If this person isn’t part of your business or social circle, start by introducing yourself (keep it brief), describe any connection you might have, ask if she would be your guest for lunch on the day and offer your two restaurant options, and tell her what you want to discuss. End by asking her to let you know whether she will be able to meet with you and which restaurant she prefers. If she accepts your invitation, great! Proceed to point #3.

If she turns your invitation down, be gracious. You don’t know what is going on in her life or what her commitments are – don’t take it personally. Reply simply by saying you’re sorry she won’t be able to meet with you and you hope there’ll be another opportunity in the future. Thank her for considering your request. Close by wishing her well -- “Best wishes” or “Best regards,” work nicely. Type your name and hit send.

Now, if she says yes…

3. Call the restaurant to make a reservation

As soon as you know your guest has accepted your invitation, call the restaurant to make a reservation. The day before your lunch, call to confirm that your reservation is still “on the book.” If the restaurant doesn’t take reservations, you get there early to get a table.

4. Dress appropriately

This is a bit tricky. You’ll have to use common sense. You want to appear professional but not as though you are interviewing for a job at Buckingham Palace. When in doubt, always go for a more “put together” look than casual. And please, (do I need to say this?) keep the flip-flops; short-shorts; ragged, baggy jeans; and themed t-shirts for times when you’re hanging out with friends. Dressing appropriately for a lunch meeting is one way to show your respect and appreciation for your guest. You want her to feel that you are worthy of her time and assistance.

5. Be a good host

Arrive a little early and wait in the foyer so you can greet your guest. When you get to the table, allow your guest to sit first. Be quiet while she looks at the menu. If you’re familiar with the food, you might make a few recommendations. When it seems she’s made her selection, make small talk until the wait staff takes your order.

6. Forget the alcohol

If your guest wants to order a drink, that’s fine, but you should skip it. The last thing you want is to get a little tipsy and say something you’ll later regret. This is, after all, a business meeting, not a social event.

7. Talk business

Once the orders are taken, you can initiate the business discussion. Remember, you’ve asked your guest to lunch because you want to hear from her – don’t dominate the conversation. Ask questions. Listen closely. Follow up with more questions or a brief remark that shows you understand or have experienced something similar. Listen more than you talk, but don’t be afraid to respond. It takes two people to have a conversation.

8. Mind your manners

I know you probably have excellent table manners, but it never hurts to review proper etiquette before your lunch meeting. You might also review the rules for introducing people, in case someone you know approaches you to say hello. The #1 piece of advice I’d give you though is to put your cell phone on vibrate and if it buzzes, ignore it – unless you have a relative on his deathbed. And if that’s the case, what are you doing there having lunch anyway?

9. Pay the check

You invited her to lunch, she’s your guest. It’s your responsibility to pay for her meal. That includes the tip. And don’t allow her to insist otherwise.

10. Send a thank you note

Yes, you paid for her lunch, but she gave you something much more valuable – her time and expertise. Send her a handwritten note thanking her for her time and her advice. Tell her (briefly) how she helped you and what you plan to do next as a result of your discussion.

Express your thanks again and close the note by wishing her well.

With these 10 tips you’re sure to impress your guest and maybe even make an influential friend.

Have you ever taken someone to lunch as part of a business meeting? What’s your best advice for hosting this type of event? Please comment and share using the links below. Thank you!


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