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The Business Lunch: It’s a Success!

First impressions make lasting impressions in corporate networking and business relationships. Whether you’re building a business, representing your company or meeting a prospective employer, pulling off a successful business lunch will go smoothly when you remember a few fine points of dining while striking deals.

Who’s the Host?
If you have issued an invitation to meet another for lunch, you’re the host and are responsible for handling the bill and making sure your guest is at ease. Select a restaurant that offers a suitable volume level for conversation, and visit it a few days ahead to make a reservation; talk to the manager to ensure that excellent service will be available and the table will be appropriate.
Two schools of thought exist on taking care of the check. The first suggests that you, as host, give the restaurant your credit card on arrival to avoid confusion over payment. The second indicates that it’s acceptable to wait for the server to bring the check and then confidently (but not brashly or ostentatiously) pick it up.

Dress for Success
Since this is a business lunch, you’re likely in business attire. However, give some thought to the surroundings your client may consider appropriate; these might be considerably more formal than your own. Consider kicking your attire up a notch. This signals forethought and respect to your guest, and it’s usually a good thing to be slightly overdressed.

Etiquette Rules
You’ve arrived early and made sure that your table is ready. Your phone is off and stowed. When your guest arrives, allow her to precede you and to choose the best seat. This means allowing the guest to have a view of the room and to not be boxed into close quarters. In better restaurants, you may choose to alert the staff who your guest will be and have her escorted to the table. Rise and shake hands in greeting.

Ordering beverages can be a tricky task. Offering “Would you like a cocktail or glass of wine?” is acceptable; if they do and you imbibe, have one, but only one. If your personal choice is no alcohol, you can say, “I’ll have water for now.” That defers the question until later, when you may order tea or a soft drink. If your guest doesn’t, follow suit and have a nonalcoholic beverage. Keeping a clear head for the business before you is crucial.

Don’t Be a Hot Mess
Choosing food that doesn’t take both hands to eat is just as important as table manners. Spaghetti, ribs, pizza, soup or any food that might land on the table or, worse, on your clothing, should be avoided. Your guest should order first, but try to match course for course; it might create discomfort for your guest if she’s eating and you’re not.

It should go without saying, but remember that the simplest gaffe can sink a potential deal. Sit up straight. Put the napkin in your lap. Keep your elbows off the table and take the food to your mouth rather than the other way around. Please don’t chew with your mouth open or talk with food in your mouth.

Be Engaged
If this is your first meeting with the potential client, take some time to establish rapport. Be prepared with enough background on the individual’s company and interests that you can share polite conversation; be genuinely interested, listen closely and look for common interests, yet steer clear of potential minefields such as politics or religion. It’s a matter of establishing trust, in most cases; your guest may be deciding whether they like you or trust you before they want to have a business relationship with you.

Give It Time
Allow your guest to take the lead when it’s time to segue into the discussion of business. Everyone’s tolerance for conversation is different. In general, wait until coffee is served if there are papers to be spread out on the table. Be sensitive to cues that your guest is prepared to talk business; she may have a tight time schedule and need to move ahead.

Courtesy Counts
Along with developing rapport with your guest, you can establish yourself as a reputable and honest person by treating everyone you encounter during your meal with kindness and respect. This is especially important if something goes wrong. If your guest’s entrée is not as ordered, ask graciously that the situation be corrected. This displays not only that you care for their comfort, but also that you will be able to manage a similar business situation with equal aplomb.

Follow Through
Make notes of what you have discussed and deliver on any promises or agreements you have made. A sincere thank you in a hand-written note is never out of style and leaves a lasting positive impression of your business and relationship skills. And best of luck with making the deal!

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