Food For Thought

What's On The Menu?

Some power lunches have clear-cut agendas, while others are simply a way to stay in touch, find out how your customer is doing, or merely say "thanks" for a client's continued business. Whatever the case, don't use the occasion for a purpose that isn't appropriate, such as inviting a customer to lunch to show your appreciation for his or her business and then launching into a hard sell of your new product. Whether the motive for your lunch date is strictly business or more for rapport building, here are a few key rules to follow:

1. Establish yourself as the host from the outset. Start by giving the person a choice of dates, restaurants and times. The choices should include restaurants where you feel comfortable and are known, and that have the right atmosphere.

Make reservations, if possible, and be certain to arrive at least 10 to 15 minutes early so you can greet your guests when they arrive. This also gives you time to make any last minute arrangements, such as making sure the bill is taken care of discretely.

2. Wait to discuss business. It's a good idea to wait until the major portion of the meal is over before bringing up business issues. That way, you're not chewing food while trying to pitch a new idea or more lucrative contract.

3. Practice proper business meal etiquette. Whether you're the host or the guest, etiquette is essential. Here are a few basic dos and don'ts:

  • Do let the guest order first, and follow his or her lead.
  • Do order items that are easy to eat.
  • Do leave your cellular phone behind, or turn it off and tuck it in your bag or pocket.
  • Don't use someone else's bread plate or water glass. A quick refresher: bread plate on the left, water glass on the right.
  • Don't use your hand to clear crumbs from the table, and don't lick your utensils.
  • Don't drink too much alcohol.
  • Don't fuss over your order or hassle the waiter. It sends a bad message about how you deal with people in general.

A power lunch or breakfast can be a pleasant way to accomplish a number of business objectives. But like any business activity, it takes planning and preparation to be 100 percent successful.

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This article was originally published in the September 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Food For Thought.

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