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Turning The Tables

Power lunching at home.

Another day, another business lunch. If the prospect of dining with clients in yet another trendy (and overrated) restaurant strikes you as unappetizing, there's a simple solution: Serve lunch in your home.

Yes, we know it's a departure from the norm--but isn't that the whole point? Even etiquette authority Letitia Baldrige has labeled the power lunch at home as "chic."

"It's really just a way to be casual and straightforward and to laugh and chat in a way you don't in a restaurant," observes New York City entrepreneur Karen Fisher, who frequently hosts business lunches on her terrace. "By the time [clients] leave, I feel we've gotten to know each other in a way we never could have at a restaurant."

Not that a casual tone should connote a lack of preparation--or professionalism, for that matter. "It's business," stresses Barbara Pachter, co-author of Complete Business Etiquette Handbook (Prentice Hall). "It's still an extension of the workday. If you can, have [the lunch] catered. If not, at least use good [dishes]--don't bring out the paper plates."

For her part, Fisher gives considerable thought to meal presentation. "Everything should be special," says the owner of Designer Previews, a 13-year-old interior design referral service. This includes linen napkins as well as a carefully selected menu featuring nonmessy fare and foods that clients may have expressed a fondness for. One item probably best left off the menu: alcohol.

With such caveats to heed, might it be better to opt for that trendy restaurant after all? "It's often nice just to get away and go someplace else," points out Pachter, founder of the homebased Cherry Hill, New Jersey, business etiquette and communications training company Pachter & Associates.

Then again, how many clients would turn down an invitation to your house? "In general, people are very flattered," says Fisher. "An invitation to your home is a privilege." And, we suspect, a much quieter place to break bread.

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