THE BLOG
09/17/2013 11:05 am ET | Updated Nov 13, 2013

6 Tips for the Business Lunch

For Women & Co., by Kelly Whalen, The Centsible Life

In the age of digital communication, face-to-face meetings may seem like a thing of the past, but planning a business lunch could be just what you need to get ahead. Whether you're taking potential clients to lunch, meeting with colleagues, or acting as a mentor to a young person, here are some tips that will help make your lunch a successful one.

1. Be prepared.
Whether you're the host or the guest, you'll want to plan ahead for your business lunch. For instance, look up your lunch companion's LinkedIn profile, check out their work and if you're wooing a potential client, study their website. If you're meeting with a junior colleague or someone you may mentor, spend a few minutes pulling together a list of books, websites, and other resources they may find helpful. When you're seeking information or advice, be sure to have several questions prepared in advance.

2. Who should be invited?
Who you invite will depend on the purpose of your lunch date. Do you need a final decision from a client or colleague? Invite the person or people who can make the decision to move forward on a project or sign a contract. If you're floating ideas or wooing potential clients, you'll want someone from the creative side of your business at the table. Is this strictly a meeting of the minds? Whether you're hoping to work through a problem or seeking advice and mentorship from a senior colleague, you'll want to keep the meal intimate.

3. Who picks the spot?
If you're inviting, offer some locations (ideally close to your lunch date's office) and let him or her choose. If someone has invited you, take the invitee's lead. In either case, be clear about any date or time restrictions you may have.

4. Who pays the bill?
It's generally straightforward: If you invite, you pay the bill. (In most cases the person setting up the lunch date is the one who benefits from advice or new business). When colleagues meet for lunch to catch up, generally everyone chips in. The exception would be celebratory lunches, where the guest of honor wouldn't be expected to pay. You should always go into a meal prepared to pay for yourself and your lunch date. When you find the meeting valuable, paying the bill shows that you appreciate his or her efforts.

5. Skip the alcohol.
Unless you're on the set of a certain throwback ad-agency television show, you shouldn't order alcohol with your meal. The exception is a celebratory meal -- though, even then, you should keep your intake to one glass.

6. Don't forget the follow-up.
After your meal, you'll want to be sure to follow up. Send a brief thank you email and include any documents or relevant information that will add value. This could include a pitch deck for new clients, resources with more information, or work that was promised. Follow up in a timely manner, and if the work or information you need to provide will take a few days, make sure to share a deadline in your email.