The New Business Lunch Etiquette: Five Tips for Today’s Foodies

If Don Draper asks you to lunch, you'll definitely need to reserve in the restaurant's smoking section. In 1965.

Business lunches have been around since before the days of Don Draper and martinis at 1PM. While the rules used to be a bit more relaxed back then in terms of boozing, business lunches have always had a reputation for being buttoned-up events. However, since we’ve become a nation of foodies, have the rules for breaking bread at noon relaxed at all? I checked in with careers and HR executive Liz Ryan to find out.

Ryan, who advises careerists and consults for major companies at Ask Liz Ryan, thinks things have, in fact, relaxed. “Food and drink have become a conversation piece in our culture. Sharing a meal is definitely a way to increase your bond with a business associate.” Ryan shared five tips for making sure you make the most of your next business lunch in the United States of Arugula.

1. Choose carefully. Where you lunch says a lot about you, so select with care. Says Ryan, “It’s a marker if your initial suggestion is the charmless hotel-lobby restaurant and the standard club sandwich. It’s going to change the intimacy level of conversation. Conversely, there are certain restaurants where you have to take off your shoes or eat unfamiliar — or just truly spectacular — food, and that is definitely going to impact the quality of the conversation.” She cautions, “There can be a power segment in an invitation, if one person is suggesting where to eat. To avoid that, always ask, if not where your lunch companion likes to eat but, what she likes to eat to inform your choice.”

2. Booze or lose? Lunch isn’t always as much fun as dinner because most folks don’t usually have a cocktail with it. But what if Mr. or Ms. Influence (the person with the most power or who’s doing you a favor) sits down and orders up a perfect Manhattan? Do you jump on the bandwagon? As long as you normally enjoy an adult beverage from time to time, sure. “Even if you’re just nursing it, you order a drink, so that you’re joining in,” says Ryan. What if the drink just sits there? “What’s the big deal? It’s eight bucks. This is about social finesse,” she notes.

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