No Coupons!: Avoiding Business Lunch Screw-Ups
Before your counterpart arrives, you want to order some sort of beverage and scan the menu. You want to look around, you want to get comfortable and you want to be ready to receive your guest. The other person has the upper hand (since you're the one who needs something, and this place may be a place the other person suggested), but by getting there early, being seated early, getting a good table and deciding what you'll have—by being relaxed--you've made this place your place.
When your counterpart arrives, subtly direct him or her to the chair next to you. Pull the chair out, gesture toward the chair. (Note: Do not pat the seat of the chair while smiling. Unless your counterpart is a 5-year-old.)
Pass on the Red Sauce
The lunch part is easy. You eat, you talk. The business part is a little trickier. Because lunch is mostly about socializing and not business, it might help to wrangle your pitch into something that can be delivered quickly and then dispensed with. Says Jared Goralnick, founder and CEO of AwayFind, an e-mail productivity app: "Lunches are more about furthering the relationship than they are about furthering the deal. If I'm calling a lunch, I have a goal, but that goal is small, and it might be a five-minute thing. The rest of it is making them comfortable with that five-minute thing or making them comfortable just being around me."
You go to the place, you order the food, you do the pitch and then you have an actual conversation with an actual human being--about business or not. What the other person wants to see is someone who is comfortable being around a potential new business partner and to confirm that you and your business are as interesting as they initially thought. You can relax. You can have an interesting conversation. You can have an interesting meal. If, after you've done your five minutes, they want to bring up the business again, let them.
The best part about the business lunch is that it forces us to do something we don't do enough in our professional lives: be ourselves. And eat at a table for more than 15 minutes. But mostly, be ourselves.
Key Technical Matters
No red sauce.
No sandwiches involving red sauce.
But never pay with a gift card or coupon, such as those you've snagged on Groupon. Or change from the petty-cash drawer.
Say "appetizers," not "apps." At a business lunch, it might not be immediately apparent which kind of "app" you're referring to.
"Guac" presents no such confusion.
The Plate-Talking Indicator
If your plate is at least one-third fuller than the other person's, you are talking too much.
If your plate is at least one-third emptier than the other person's, he or she is talking too much.
If your plate is at least one-third larger than the other person's, you have ordered the Admiral's Feast.
If the other person checks their watch, immediately ask for the check.
If the other person checks their drink, immediately order them another.
If the other person checks their pulse, immediately ask for an ambulance. And maybe refine your pitch a little.
Hierarchy of Business Meals
The hierarchy of business meals (in descending order of productivity):
Post-convention hangover breakfast
Sharing Twix from vending machine
Monthly employee-recognition birthday cake time! Make it if you can!
Monthly employee-recognition birthday cake time. Mandatory.