Tips for Surviving a Business Lunch

If you're asked to "do lunch" with an interviewer, client or contact, you're not just out to fill your stomach. Restaurants, with their more relaxed and social atmosphere, are a great place to get some important work done.

But when you conduct business over a meal, a high-stakes interview or meeting can be even more stressful. Now, on top of your business savvy, you're being judged on your table manners, choice of restaurant and yes, even your entrée. You may be the perfect candidate for the job, but it will be much harder to convince your interviewer when you have soup on your tie.

Here are some tips to help make any business meal invitation easier to swallow.

When you're meeting with a client or vendor...

If you're hosting the meal, it's all in the planning. It's up to you to choose the time, place and tone of the meeting.

First, consider how much time you and your guest have available for the meeting. If you have a limited schedule, breakfast meetings (which typically last an hour or less) or lunch meetings (which last less than an hour and a half) are good choices.

Be strategic about when you schedule your reservation, skipping the noon lunch rush if possible. "A 1 p.m. appointment allows you and your guest to complete a full morning's work and be ready for a more relaxed meal," advises Beverly Langford in her book, "The Etiquette Edge" (AMACOM).

Choosing the restaurant may be the most difficult – and important – part of your duties as host. This is not a time to be adventurous. Choose a restaurant you know has good food, good service, decent lighting and is quiet enough that you will be able to conduct business. And don't forget to confirm the place, date and time with your guests to avoid any embarrassing miscommunications.

Once there, don't get down to business too early. Experts advise waiting at the very least until after the menus have been cleared. Many recommend waiting until after the meal is finished to talk business. And if you are treating, slip the host or maitre d' your credit card early on to avoid any awkwardness when the check arrives.

When you're at a networking luncheon...

If you're attending a networking meeting where guests will be eating while standing and greeting other guests, be careful what you're putting into your mouth. Choose only foods that are easy to eat, like grapes or crackers – nothing messy. "Steer clear of the chewy, dripping, garlic-laced, heart-to-eat items at the hors d'oeuvres table," suggest Anne Baber and Lynne Waymon in their book "Make Your Contacts Count" (AMACOM).

Don't forget to take small bites. When you will be socializing and making frequent introductions, it's important not to talk with your mouth full or make others wait for you to swallow before you can speak.

If you make a connection with someone at a networking meeting, exchange business cards and set up a time to have lunch later that month. And when you do meet, it's best to split the check. After all, networking is supposed to be an equal relationship.

When you're at a lunch interview...

Although an interview over a burger may seem more relaxed than meeting in a stark conference room, don't lose your guard. You are still being evaluated. This is a chance for the interviewer to see you act when you feel the pressure's off or see how you would represent the company in front of clients.

First, be careful what you order. Order food that's easy to eat and can be easily managed with a fork. Spaghetti may be your all-time favorite food, but dribbling marinara sauce down your crisp white shirt looks far from professional. Get a salad instead.

Even if your interviewer encourages you to order anything on the menu, try to stick with something moderately priced. And don't drink anything alcoholic, even if everyone else at the table is having wine. You need to be sharp.

Although the meal may feel more social, stay focused on the job and your accomplishments. The interviewer will almost always pick up the tab, but bring enough money to cover your share, just in case. However, if you're invited out for a lunch interview and the company doesn't pay, it may be a sign of financial trouble.

When you're out with co-workers...

Dining out with co-workers is a much more casual event, but remember, you're not out with your college friends. Don't get too relaxed, gossip or share too much personal information.

Your menu options are more varied here – just remember to bring mints or gum to mask that garlic breath. Follow others' leads when it comes to alcohol. If everyone else is having a beer, you may have one too, but limit it to one for a lunchtime meal.

Next: 10 Things Not To Share With Your Coworkers >>

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