THE BLOG
01/28/2016 03:06 pm ET Updated Jan 28, 2017

Business Lunch

With all due respect, no one suggests "lunch" because they think we look hungry and need to be fed! Many business transactions are either strengthened or shattered as a result of something we may or may not have done right at lunch. The fact is, the little things orchestrated pre-, during and post-business meals are not small at all and do not "just happen."

When you take the time, go to the trouble, make the effort to know, prepare for, practice, master and execute the little things at any out-of-office repast, your actions are noticed and judged and, this signals you confer like attention to detail in (other) business matters.

Premise: You invite me to lunch. ... Who decides where we go?

The host selects the restaurant, based on guest's preference. This information can easily be obtained through the "mutually respected third party" or gatekeeper.

*Email or call the day before to re-confirm.
*Exchange cell phone numbers in advance to have, in the event of the unexpected.

"On time" is late. Observe the "15-minute rule" and arrive (at least) 15 minutes early... you have much advance work to do! Plus, you always want to be there first.

ARRIVE EARLY to:
• Select your table.
• Introduce yourself to wait staff.
• Review seating arrangements and the "order of ordering" with wait staff.
• Arrange for the check in advance.
• Familiarize yourself with everything in the restaurant, including location of restrooms, as you never want to be placed in the position of having anyone ask you anything to which you must reply "I don't know."

*Stand in the waiting area to personally meet, greet and receive guests.

Welcome them as you would a guest in your own home. Positive energy is contagious and should emanate from your voice, eyes, facial expression and body language.

Shake hands and employ finely honed "small talk" skills to set the tone. Thank guests for coming. Signal maitre d' you are ready to be seated.

Guests, by order of rank/status directly follow the maitre d'. Hosts are last in the procession to the table, regardless of gender...

*There are no gender rules in business.

Seating:
- Host is seated at the "head of the table," e.g. the seat facing the entrance.
- You honor the most important person by positioning them to host's right.
- The next most important is seated to host's left, etc.

Exceptions:
*Offer your guest of honor - best view or most comfortable seat.

- Sit angular to, versus across from your guest, eliminating the table as a "barrier" inviting a more personal rapport.

Once seated and before even opening menus ask, "How are we set for time?" Share this information with your server and pace accordingly.

Then suggest you look at menus to get ordering out of the way and optimize quality time together.

Host Duties
Host initiates everything including:

• Being seated.
• Saying grace.
• Removing napkins from the table to lap.
• Toasting.
• Conversation.
• Opening menus.
• Lifting utensils (before each course.)
• Bringing the meal to conclusion.
• Handling the check (in advance).
• Monitoring wait staff.

Hosts have the responsibility of making guests feel free to order whatever they would like, regardless of price by recommending specific items in various food categories and price points.

The Order of Ordering
 The person of honor always orders first.
 Next: ladies at the table order.
 Next: gentlemen order.
 Lastly: the host orders.
(Host has also pre-arranged ordering with waitstaff.)

Hosts: match dining companion and order course for course, regardless of personal preferences, so guests are not placed in the uncomfortable position of being watched as they eat!

Guests: do not order the most or least expensive items on the menu. Order mid-price point.

Diners: pace yourselves with other diners; do not be the first or last to finish eating.

Ordering: say three decisive words: "I would like... (i.e., the ABC)" and then, "I would like the DEF," and then, "I would like some XYZ ."

Handling the Check
Whenever le checque arrives, it is always a bit... awkward!

Hosts: eliminate any remote chance of an awkward moment at your table:

Upon arrival at the restaurant, present your credit card to the host/maitre d' and say: "Under no circumstances should the check be presented to the table." Instruct them to have the standard service charge (20-22 percent) added to your bill.

After ordering dessert/coffee, etc. quietly excuse yourself (no need to say where you are going) find wait staff, add gratuity, sign.

Le checque
is never seen!

Hosts: walk guests to the door ... or even to their car, to take advantage of yet another opportunity to make guests feel special, while continuing to advance the relationship.

Send a quick email note of thanks and follow-up with the timeless, traditional, hand-written note the same day or within 48 hours; the longer you delay, the less impact the gesture holds.

Top Tips
- Hold glasses with first three fingers; avoid "The Death Grip!"
- Break off one bit-size piece of bread at a time; "You touch it, you own it."
- Eat when they eat.

*Rule: Do not eat while your dining partner is disclosing important, personal or emotional information.

Focus on the speaker, not your food. Maintain good eye-contact, use active listening skills and body language to convey genuine interest; be an active dining participant.

- Business discussions, if at all, should take place after the main course has been
cleared, over dessert and coffee, unless mutually agreed upon, in advance.

- Engage with those seated on either side; be inclusive. Contribute.

- Write down personal information discussed to use in subsequent verbal
and written communication to advance relationships.

Don't:
- Season food before tasting (seen a rushing to judgment - from a business perspective.)
- Send food back ... it's not about the food!.
- Ask for a "doggie bag."
- Share food.

Judith Bowman is president and founder of Judith Bowman Enterprises and an author, speaker, business protocol coach. Email: Judith@protocolconsultants.com