Tips for Better Business Lunches

business lunch
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Business lunches are the professional equivalent of trying to pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time: some people seem to be able to do it, but most of us just wind up looking kind of silly. Too bad, then, that eating with colleagues is bound to come up sooner or later in your career. The good news is that with practice, you can get good at having business lunches. (You're on your own with the other trick.)

Whether you're having a job interview at a coffee shop or dining with the boss to discuss a possible promotion, you'll need to look and act your best to pull it off. Here's how.

5 Tips for Better Business Lunches

1. When possible, pick a restaurant or cuisine you like – or are at least familiar with.

Now is not the time to try octopus for the first time, or to roll the dice with your food allergies by opting for a restaurant that's an unknown quantity. (Ask anyone who's waited tables: not all places are as careful as they should be to observe customer requests.)

That said, if you can help it, don't make your requirements into a big deal. State your needs, but don't perseverate on the topic. You don't want to draw attention to any food issues, no matter how legitimate they are. Unless you're interviewing at a health food company, now is not the time to focus their thoughts on your paleo regime or vegan diet.

You want your colleague focused on your ideas, not your personal life.

2. Don't order anything messy.

In addition to avoiding the usual suspects – spaghetti, huge sandwiches, anything that might spray or crumble or drip – pay attention to your own personal nemeses. You know whether red wine tends to stain your teeth, or spinach get caught, only to gather air and sail into your interviewer's water glass like a tiny, germy parachute.

Stick to food that's tidy and easy to manage. If you have a funny story that involves this dish, it's probably not a great choice.

3. Don't drink, or drink lightly. 

Many career experts will tell you not to drink at all during a business function, and that's a perfectly valid, safe choice. If you do choose to have a drink, follow the other person's lead – don't order until they do. Most importantly of all, make it one drink. Remember that judgment, the very thing you need to tell you to switch to water, declines with every beverage. Don't rely on your gut to give you good information about when it's time to stop. Cap it ahead of time.

4. Observe good table manners.

You'd be surprised how many people need this reminder, but good table manners are essential when you're dining with a co-worker, hiring manager, or boss. Manners exist to make life easier and more pleasant for everyone. This is especially important to remember when food is involved. Do something gross, and you'll put your dining companion off their feed, as well as doing damage to your career.

5. Don't go hungry.

How is your business lunch like a trip to the grocery store? If you go hungry, you'll regret it. You don't need to spend the meal pretending that eating is just a hobby for you, but if you're ravenous, you'll have trouble observing the caution above about table manners.

Eat breakfast that day, and maybe even a light snack mid-morning. This is especially important if you're a person who gets hangry when you're running low on fuel.

Finally, if you're really nervous about business lunches, you might want to enlist the help of a friend to make sure you're observing all of these rules. Go out to lunch together, and ask them to keep an eye on you, and report back.

You might not realize that, for example, you tend to eat hunched over your plate like someone's going to steal it, or that you rest your elbows on the table, or even that you talk with your mouth full. A friend who can offer constructive and supportive criticism should be able to clue you in.

If nothing else, the practice will make you comfortable eating lunch out – no mean feat, in these days when so many of us eat at our desks while continuing to plug away at our work.

Who knows? You might like it enough to make lunch a regular part of your workday, meeting or no meeting.

Job Interview Etiquette Tips