The time-honored tradition of the power lunch may conjure images of ‘80s financiers rubbing elbows at fancy steakhouses, but the practice of breaking-bread-over-business thrives. Where else can you get someone to stay put and pay attention to you (and your burgeoning business or next career-making move) for 30 plus minutes?
Being the guest is the easy—put the phone on vibrate, pay attention, and say thank you. It’s doing the inviting that intimidates most people.
Initiating and conducting a business lunch can require some tricky nav. But the more you plan ahead, the less stressful it will be. Here are four steps to a successful lunch.
You can avoid many of the stickiest business lunch situations with a well thought out invitation.
There is nothing wrong with contacting someone you’ve never met. In fact, it’s paid off in spades for some young entrepreneurs. However, every business person puts a value on time. Before they commit to a meeting, they want to be certain that time is going to be wasted. If you’re contacting a complete stranger, ask for something that promises to be shorter than lunch. Ask for a phone call or a discreet amount of time (no more than 30 minutes) at a location convenient for them.
If you do have some connection, be sure that you point this out in the first sentence of your email or phone call. Even better, include it in the first five words: “Dear Ms. Benson, Theresa Scanlon suggested I reach out to you…”
After you establish your association, get to the point and don’t be wishy-washy about it. “I’d love to bounce some ideas off you” is meaningless. If you want to find out more about someone’s pioneering marketing techniques, say it straight out.
The most dreaded moment in a business lunch is often when the check arrives. You can avoid the whole fighting-over-the-check situation by casually noting that this is your treat. “If you have time this week, I’d love to take you to a quick lunch.”
This is not the time to get all hoity-toity. Not only will suggesting a five-star restaurant with a seven-course meal come across as pretentious, it requires a greater time commitment than most can accommodate. Remember, a tightly-scheduled CEO won’t want to spend three hours at lunch no matter how charming you are.
Choose an eatery that doesn’t clash with your brand. If you’re launching a new yoga apparel line, suggesting that you grab a bite at the Heart Attack Grill will raise eyebrows. You want to demonstrate that your organization’s values are consistent with your own.
Since you’re the primary beneficiary of this lunch, you’re the one who travels. If possible, suggest a restaurant within ten minutes of your guest’s workplace.
What to eat? Don’t over-think it. There are however, some items to steer clear of: food that’s likely to wind up decorating your shirt (pastas with sauce, chips and salsa, chili) and meals that take a long time to prepare (like risotto), for example.
Keep the special food requests to a minimum. Even if you’re a lo-carb lactose-intolerant pescatarian with a peanut allergy and have to ask for changes. While one or two substitutions are fine, asking the chef to completely remake a dish to suit your needs sends the message that you are high maintenance and difficult to work with. If you’re afraid you won’t be able to find something you can eat, go online, check out the restaurant’s menu and choose something ahead of time.
If there’s absolutely nothing you can ingest without sending written instructions to the kitchen, do everyone a favor and simply go out for coffee instead.
THE WRAP UP
Unless the conversation is flowing like the Niagara, look to wrap things up around the 45 minute mark. This probably means forgoing dessert and coffee.
To make sure your waiter doesn’t hold you up, have your credit card ready as the check is delivered, and hand it over after taking a quick glance at the bill.
The next day, follow-up with a thank you email, letting your dining companion know that you appreciate their time.
While your first business lunch can be nerve-wracking, it gets easier each time. Just keep it simple and take it bite by bite.
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