Business Lunch Etiquette: 5 Tips

The business lunch has a mystique to it, like an ancient ritual. It's also seen as a "free lunch" which is definitely wide of the mark. A business lunch is actually a semi-social gathering. It removes some of the constraints of the office environment, but in practice it's more like an office party, and some caution is required. It's advisable to remember that the word "business" has a lot to do with these lunches.

We've come up with some tips for survival and dealing with business lunch etiquette.

1. Invitations

Just being invited to a business lunch is no accident. You're there either at the request of your boss, a client, or in some cases both. If that sounds like the "business" angle is alive and well in the invitation, it is. You're there to be functional in a business sense, too. It is actually a compliment to be invited, so acceptance is the norm. Unless there's some compelling, verifiable, reason to be absent, you should accept the invitation.

2. Dress

Just about everybody will be in suits or normal business attire, and those that aren't will be feeling very self conscious unless they know everybody very well. On the night before the lunch, make sure you have a good set of clothes, preferably pressed, ready for use.

In some cases, the lunch may be considerably more informal, but that's the exception, rather than the rule. If you're not sure, ask your boss or the senior person attending what you should wear. This is a matter of "corporate image", and you'll feel any disapproval if you make a mistake.

Note: Some upmarket restaurants have strict dress codes. Make sure you find out what the dress code is, to spare yourself the embarrassment of being turned away for some minor omission.

3. Dining etiquette

Some business lunches can be quite impressive events. They can be full five course meals,  The usual running order of these meals is:

  • Aperitifs
  • Entree
  • Main meal
  • Dessert (usually small at a lunch)
  • Coffee

Don't get put off by the dining setting, if you're confronted by a mass of cutlery. The utensils are set out left to right. Follow the cue of others if you get lost.

4. Conduct

Conduct at a business lunch is important. Generally speaking, if you're a junior person, you dine with your mouth shut, in terms of communications, unless you're spoken to. You also stay strictly within the bounds of normal behavior. You do not start food fights or get drunk, whatever the movies say.

You're there to be part of the function, and in some cases represent your employer. Do not do or say anything which could attract adverse comment. If you're the senior person there, you'll also be held responsible for the conduct of your juniors, so stay on the ball.

5. Communications

At any business gathering, what is said, and how it's said, matters. If you put your foot in your mouth, it can be expected to be all oer the office by the time you get back. Think before you speak, or just don't speak at all.