TCG 411: Do Right By “Let’s Do Lunch”

What NOT to Do at a Business Lunch

By Donna Farrugia, Executive Director of The Creative Group

I recently had lunch with some former colleagues whom I hadn’t seen in a while, and while I enjoyed the conversation and opportunity to catch up, I was a little taken aback by some of the behavior I witnessed. It was a good reminder to myself of how important it is to always pay attention to the details when meeting with business acquaintances, no matter how casual the situation may seem.

While meeting with clients, colleagues or potential employers over lunch (or breakfast or dinner) provides a great chance to forge stronger relationships, they also open the door to situations that can trip you up and spoil your professional standing. In addition to following the basic rules of etiquette, you’ll want to avoid these “meal misdeeds”:

  • Don’t rush – or be rushed. Schedule more time than you think you’ll need for the meal. You never know when you’re going to encounter slow service or a wait to be seated. Your dining companions might also want to make it a leisurely lunch, and it’s best to let them set the pace. If you’re in a hurry to get somewhere else, they’ll notice.
  • Don’t be extravagant. Make sure you don’t order the most expensive item on the menu. It can give the wrong impression, especially if you’re not paying. Eating something that’s also messy, like Alaskan King crab, is a double taboo.
  • Don’t disrespect the server. If you’re rude to wait staff, who’s to say you won’t be impatient and unkind to coworkers, too? That’s the impression your dining companions will get if you talk down to the server. Be gracious and polite, even if something goes wrong.
  • Don’t get distracted. Turn off your phone before you enter the restaurant. At the very least, put it on vibrate and stash it in your pocket or purse. Never put it on the table and, by all means, don’t answer it, especially if you’re in the middle of a job interview. It’s disrespectful. Moreover, it’s a waste of time. You have the undivided attention of the people who could be important to your career, and you don’t want to jeopardize that for something that can wait until after the meal.

Displaying good manners and behaving courteously at a business lunch can reap great rewards for your career, whether you’re dining with your boss, a colleague or potential employer. But don’t forget to also relax and enjoy yourself.  When you’re comfortable and upbeat, you put your dining companions at ease, and that can go a long way toward building a positive connection.

Donna Farrugia is executive director of The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and web professionals with a variety of firms. More information, including online job-hunting services, candidate portfolios and The Creative Group’s award-winning career magazine, can be found at