Business lunches can induce anxiety, especially those high-stakes meetings with investors and potential clients. Good manners make a big difference in these meetings, improving the odds that the meeting will have good results. Whether you’re meeting with a longtime business associate, an employee or a potential business partner, it’s important to order carefully to prevent sending the wrong message. Here are a few things to avoid at your next business lunch.
1. Messy foods.
I have to admit that I was inspired to write this post after a lobster dinner during my most recent business trip to New York City. I was with some close work associates, so I didn't feel all that bad when my lobster became messy as I cracked and ate it.
I realized at the time that this wouldn't have worked if I had been dining with a boss or supervisor, however. It’s difficult to have good manners when you’re spilling items on your shirt or food is dripping down your chin. So, save that feast for a weekend meal with friends or the family. At your business dinner, stick with easy-to-eat items that you can cut into small pieces to avoid a mess.
While browsing the menu, consider the impact various food choices will have on your teeth, mouth, and fingers. Don’t order foods that will stain your teeth or lips and avoid anything that has to be eaten by hand. A business luncheon is the perfect time to put all of the utensils beside your plate to use.
2. Disruptive foods
Skip all foods that take a toll on your digestive system. Business lunches can often drag on well after the meal is complete, which means you’ll want to avoid a gastrointestinal incident. This is especially true if you’ll be spending the time following your lunch with someone of importance, doing things like touring your local office or going over financials back at the office.
You should also avoid obnoxious lunch choices like fajitas or garlic-infused dishes. The odor produced by these meals can overwhelm an entire table, introducing a distraction that wouldn’t otherwise have been there. That odor may linger on your dining companions’ clothing for the remainder of the day, leading to an undesirable lasting impression.
3. Pricey menu items.
If the other person is paying, the worst thing you can do is order the most expensive item on the menu, even if everyone else at the table is doing so. Even if the other person isn’t taking care of the check, ordering showy, overpriced menu items can make you appear as though you’re wasteful with your business’s funds. This likely isn’t the impression you want to make on potential business partners.
Pay attention to what your dining companion orders and stay somewhere in that realm. If the other people at the table are having salads, it might not be a good idea to splurge on the prime rib. Conversely, if everyone else has asked for a pricey steak, a salad might stand out, making it necessary to perhaps order a less expensive menu item like grilled chicken or pork chops.
Alcohol is a tricky topic for business meetings, but it’s important to avoid getting inebriated during any work-related function. So many people abstain from alcohol for personal reasons, it can lead to an awkward moment if you order alcohol first. For that reason, follow the other person’s lead and only order an alcoholic beverage if he or she does.
If the meal does bring alcohol, order your usual drink and sip it slowly to avoid overindulging. If your client orders a second drink and you feel that you can comfortably handle it, go for it, but continue to sip slowly on the second drink, as well. One popular rule of thumb is drink water at the same time as your alcoholic beverage to avoid dehydration and improve digestion.
These are general guidelines, since you likely know which foods you can eat gracefully. While it’s important to relax and be yourself, it’s also important to demonstrate the best manners possible at all times.