Friday, November 17, 2006

Laying Down The Laws Of Lunch (Business Style)

I’m not sure if there are rules or etiquette about the ‘business lunch.’ If there are, I have not been exposed to them and I certainly haven’t sought them out. Perhaps that’s why my business lunches are so awkward – and why I try to avoid them at all costs, although it’s not the cost of them that bothers me.

When you take a client or business associate to lunch, let’s face it, there is a reason and it usually goes far beyond hunger. When are the appropriate times to discuss business? Do you cram some of it in before ordering drinks and ordering your entrée? Do you make small talk until the meal arrives? Do you wait and fight for the check or do you insist you pay? While these questions seem simple, if not executed properly, you can come out looking like an idiot or a graceless pig. Always remember that you need to be on your best behavior. You are not eating with your friends; you are eating with clients, business associates or the worst type of business lunch imaginable: upper management. If your friends have seen you eat and are still your friends, you’ve already cleared that public hurdle.

If you are taking a client to lunch, as I often have to do, it’s usually a foregone conclusion that you will be paying and hopefully it’s on the company dollar (although never abuse your expense account as it’s the closest most of us will get to money growing on trees). Knowing that someone else is paying for your meal is a weird situation and I think the proper thing is to diffuse it early on. That is why, even when there are ladies present and it seems like the rude thing to do, I suggest that you order first. To make your client feel comfortable when their turn comes to order, always order the most expensive thing on the menu. Really do it in style, because it puts everyone more at ease. What that means is don’t just order the lobster, politely demand that you get the biggest one in the tank (you know, the one that everybody OOHS and AHHHS about and the one that the staff has nicknamed), and top it off with the biggest filet mignon they offer. The steak will be easy to identify on the menu since it will probably start with the name ‘big’ or end in the word ‘special.’ Plenty of appetizers really kick the business lunch off well, too. Follow these steps and provided your company doesn’t terminate you when they see your receipts, your business lunches will always be comfortable and productive no matter how big the bill or when you actually begin discussing business.

Another common business lunch concern is the question of when to eat and when to talk. I usually fumble this one. Why is it I always get a great idea or comment when my mouth is full? It’s very difficult trying to disguise the fact that you are talking with your mouth full, but then it’s frustrating waiting to speak until after you have fully chewed your food and then what you wanted to say is already irrelevant. Hopefully you have not ordered something messy like chili cheese fries or super nachos, which make articulating your ideas a rather dirty affair. A safe rule of thumb is to never, ever order anything you can eat with your hands. I say: “if it requires a Utensil, U hands stay clean.” Ok, I’ve never really said that, but if the feedback is good then I might begin.

Since you always want to have your ‘A’ game and want to look professional during a business lunch, pay attention to the physical cues of the client sitting across from you. If they keep licking the corner of their mouth or wiping softly at their chin while you are speaking, treat them as a mirror and do what they are doing. Chances are these non-verbal clues are telling you that you’ve got salad dressing or drawn butter dripping down your face. If they take their hand and wipe it drastically across their face and mouth, you are an idiot for not noticing or feeling the massive amount of food stuck to you.

When something potentially embarrassing happens like a piece of food launches out of your mouth and achieves orbit or lands on the fake Tiffany lamp above you, or you spill something on your shirt, don’t hide from it, acknowledge it. A good way to disarm the criticism they will have of you after they leave the restaurant is to cuss loudly and say something like, “ Oh #$#$$*$##@, did you see that piece of meat? Can’t keep a good morsel down I always say!” “Holy @^$^&#@#, did you see that thing fly? I thought I ordered meat from a cow, not a bird,” always works well too. Should you accidentally spill your drink during the lunch, take ownership of it by suggesting the flavor wasn’t to your liking or that the dinosaur from “Jurassic Park” must be getting really close because he usually just causes beverages to ripple and not completely topple. Whatever the situation, don’t treat it like a pink elephant in the corner.

Although if you do happen to see a pink elephant in the corner and you have verified that the party with you does not see it, your lunch is over. Immediately put your drink down and call a taxi. Just make sure you grab a copy of the receipt for reimbursement…and remember to tip your waitress!

Thoughtful Tip For The Day: Tell someone that they inspired you today. The littlest things mean so much sometimes. You can say something like:

‘You’ve inspired me to be a better worker’
‘You’ve inspired me to be a better parent’
‘You’ve inspired me to take my health more seriously’
‘You’ve inspired me to take out a restraining order against you’
‘You’ve inspired me to go buy mouthwash’
‘You’ve inspired me to remove you permanently from my address book’

‘You’ve inspired me to denounce my American citizenship’

It makes people feel great to know that they have been an inspiration, so try it and tell someone that they have impacted your life today.


Odat said...

Our company cut costs so much we can't take people out to lunch, they can only take us and since we're so miserable we don't go.
But, if I did, you've certainly inspired me to eat properly and with clean hands.
Have a great weekend michael...and,

Josie said...

I have met people who have inspired me to change my phone number.

Ah, etiquette at lunch or dinner. I like that "If it requires a Utensil, U hands stay clean." Can I borrow it? Freddie (he's ten) seems to think the utensils are just table decorations.

Whenever I take someone out for lunch or dinner, I always say at the outset "This is my treat." Then that awkwardness is over with. I have never, however, "projectile chewed". Thanks goodness.... hah.


C said...

You've inspired me to use others as a social mirror. It's good to know that sometimes people will give you non-verbal cues to show you that you need to do something that will save you from utter embarrassment.

Bird on a Wire said...

In what restaurant are chili cheese fries or nachos the most expensive menu items?

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I was going to ask the same thing as Bird. You woo us with lobster and then suddenly, there are nachos on the plate?

What's with the switch and bait? Oh, that IS bait? Guess I'm gonna go eat worms.

Michael C said...

Odat: Doesn't cost cutting suck?!

Josie: You volunteering that you will pay is much, much braver than what I can do!

C: Now I feel so happy because I inspired someone...see, it really works!

Bird on a wire: Thanks for visiting. Those were the first 2 messy foods that came to mind...I was being a lazy writer when I selected them. That is not to say, however, that some eateries I frequent would be glad to boast of nachos and chili fries as their most expensive items.

Heart: My switch and bait was unintentional, I promise. I hate false advertising. See my reply above...I was just being a lazy writer ;-)

I have learned my lesson ;-)

thethinker said...

I'm glad I don't have to deal with business lunches, yet.

All I have to worry about is getting a spot at the front of the lunch line and a good seat in the cafeteria.

Lee said...

‘You’ve inspired me to denounce my American citizenship’

You've inspired me to giggle. Thank you!

Natalie said...

i am ok at lunches, it's the after work meet for a few drinks and talk business things that get me. Or the open bar functions where you are technically still suposed to network. I generally find myself in the corner drunk and hiding.