If you’re new to the client lunch game, odds are there is some cardinal rules that can easily slip your mind or you’re not even quite aware of. Even if you’re a seasoned veteran, many courtesy staples can be forgotten after your first few rodeos.
Take heed of these simple tips that will ensure you always leave a good impression.
Shake hands with everyone at the table
This sets an air of professionalism as well as instills to everyone you’re here to talk business and meet expectations. Avoid leaning over the table or others to shake hands, instead patiently position yourself gracefully.
Always follow the lead of the host
Who set up the meeting? You or them? This is the “host” of the lunch – remember this definition for the following points. If multiple people are attending, the host will be the most senior employee of the host company. First up, don’t sit down until they do.
Don’t eat until everyone has their food
This is an obvious one, but still worth a mention. What would you mentally shout at a guest that started shoveling down their potatoes before everyone had even finished plating up their greens? Something along the lines of, “You barbarian, I’m emailing your CEO!” springs to mind.
Use the napkin
Harness the power of the table napkin correctly by putting it on your lap. If you want to get fancy about it, wait for the host to move their napkin first. This will also ensure the remainder of your afternoon in the office is sauce-splatter free.
Sit straight up, don’t tilt your chair, and as Sesame Street relentlessly drilled into us “elbows off the table!”
Choose your food carefully
A client meeting is not the time to give off the impression that you are indecisive. If you’re someone with a compulsive need to go over the menu multiple times, do it before the meeting, not on someone else’s lunch hour. Also, don’t order an appetizer or dessert unless the host does, and as a rule, avoid the most expensive items.
Do you have dietary requirements? Whether you’re lactose intolerant, vegan or gluten free, you must make sure the restaurant can cater to you prior to the lunch. If you get a calendar request to a Brazilian BBQ, and you don’t eat meat, call the restaurant and plan ahead.
Choose easy foods
How great are chicken wings? I would easily opt for some finger lickin’ goodness over a rib eye steak any day, however not at a client lunch. Stick to salads, chicken, fish and anything else that won’t require excessive cutting or end up dripping down your arm. Stick to something you know you’ll like, now is not the time to experiment.
No alcohol, unless it’s that kind of lunch
It’s usually pretty easy to tell the difference between the two, but when in doubt, look to the host as per usual.
Eating and speaking
To appear ultimately sophisticated, don’t speak holding your utensils. If you wish to contribute, finish your mouthful and then rest your cutlery on the plate. This signifies to the table you wish to say something and you’ll naturally command attention.
Don’t argue over the cheque. The host will take care of this. Offering to put in money without being asked will look rude in this case, as of course would be asking your guests for money.