HOW TO MAKE YOUR BUSINESS LUNCH A SUCCESS
With the start of the new school year just around the corner, Think Manners takes a look at a crucial aspect of business relationships: the business lunch!
Indeed, more than a simple meal, the business lunch combines a work meeting and a convivial moment. It serves as a means to break the ice and a way to get to know each other better. Within this more relaxed atmosphere, exchanges and negotiations can take place more serenely, increasing the chances of ultimately reaching an agreement.
In some cultures (in Asia, the Middle East, etc.), engaging in a business relationship with someone you do not know is simply not an option.
Thus, a meal, whether be a lunch or a dinner, is absolutely necessary to establish personal ties before any other form of business exchange can be considered.
The business meal is therefore an essential skill required of any good professional to have.
Think Manners has put together a checklist for successful business lunches, with a simple rule of thumb to keep in mind:
It is the host who is in charge of the smooth running of the lunch and who guides his guests.
The invitation should be as clear as possible to avoid any ambiguity or misunderstandings from the start.
Clearly state the purpose of the invitation:
– to discuss a particular project
– review a proposal
– finalize the details of a contract
– or simply to get to know each other better in the context of a future business relationship.
Also be clear about the date, time and place.
Once you have accepted the invitation, if you need to cancel, do so quickly, and always in person (do not have your assistant call). Suggest an alternative date to limit the negative impact.
This applies to both the inviter and the guest.
Choosing the restaurant
You can offer several restaurants with different atmospheres and cuisines.
To help you, find out about the tastes of the person you are inviting (and any allergies) from their assistant for example.
However, keep it rather conventional, don’t suggest too unusual places or too eccentric culinary experiences.
You must remain focused on the objective: the particularities of the meal or the decor must not overshadow the business discussions.
If you are inviting someone from a very different culture, find out about their customs and habits and try to compromise on their timetables or specific eating habits.
The place you choose should also be easy to get to, easy to find, not too far from your office or your host’s office, but above all … it should be quiet so that discussions can take place in the best possible conditions.
Confirm with the restaurant your reservation and with your guest the appointment the day before the event. At this stage you can still deal with an unforeseen event. On the day itself is often too late.
The menu & ordering
Arrive about 15 minutes before the appointed time to be able to settle the final details and above all to ensure that your instructions: choice of table, payment of the bill, etc. have been respected.
Concerning the table placement:
The maître d’ will place the guest of honour first, facing the room if possible, so that he/she has the best view, you will then position yourself opposite, then all the other guests will take the remaining seats without any other form of protocol.
The rules for seating at the table are different from those for a formal dinner or with friends. No distinction is made on the basis of gender or function. Only the guest of honour and the host are distinguised.
The inviting guest must then show what is called “the limit of his hospitality”. In other words, he or she must skilfully drop a few hints about what he or she is prepared to offer in terms of menus, à la carte choices, or dishes. He may suggest this or that dish, or ask if this or that formule would be appreciated by everyone.
Of course, care must be taken not to make any mistakes by insisting on the benefits of the cheapest menu or by embarking on lavish spending (at the expense of the company).
It’s all about balance: not too much, not too little.
When you are sure that everyone has made their choice, call the maître d’ and place the order yourself for all the guests (if there are not too many of them, of course!), then yourself last.
Putting your phone on silent and vibrate (and in your pocket or bag and not on the table) is basic courtesy and will be greatly appreciated by your guests, who of course will want to do the same.
Anything that distracts you during this time of exchange should be avoided (unless it is absolutely urgent, of course).
It is also essential to talk to everyone around the table so that no one feels excluded and uncomfortable, or feels that they are not interesting enough in a hierarchical sense to be spoken to.
Now let’s get to the heart of the matter: the purpose of the business lunch!
It is about business, but it would be indelicate to discuss these topics in the first few minutes.
So, it’s a good idea to wait to start talking about business until after the order has been placed or the first course has arrived.
When your guests arrive, sit down at the table, order drinks, discuss the menu and place the order, are all good times to talk about trivial matters in a more relaxed tone of voice, not related to the business at hand.
Paying the bill
It is of course the host of the lunch (male or female) who will pay the bill, but if for some reason this status as host is not obvious to everyone, then simply state:
“you are my guest”.
One way to do this is to pay the bill in advance, i.e. give your bank details to the maître d’ when you arrive (before the guests) so that the amount of the meal can be debited directly from your card once the meal is over.
This is quite an elegant procedure and avoids the small fuss at the table about this bill before departure.
If you have not been able to pay beforehand, it is best to get up at the end of the meal and pay at the reception desk, the more discreet the better.
It is usually the guest of honour who ends the meal and thanks you for your hospitality.
As an additional consideration, I propose a subsidiary question:
What about a breakfast or dinner instead of a business lunch?
For a first contact, breakfast can be adapted because it lasts less time, is easier to organise and does not require talking for hours over many dishes.
As for dinners, bear in mind that they are always more social and sometimes involve the spouses. This may not be the best time to make agreements. However, they are very useful for getting to know each other better.
Here’s to your successful future business lunches !