Let’s face it, going out to lunch with a prospective new boss or business partner can be awkward. Who pays? What do you order? How much small talk do you make?
The key, it turns out, lies in accepting one basic concept: It’s not about the food. That means you might need to skip your favorite dish if it’s too messy or too expensive (or too cheap, for that matter).
You also need to get a sense of the menu ahead of time, so you can order relatively quickly. And if you’re the one who’s hosting—look through our slide show for an easy tip on how to figure that out—consider giving the restaurant your credit card in advance to avoid all the confusion over who’s going to pay. It can ruin an otherwise smooth meal.
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Wait for Your Party
If you arrive at the restaurant first, wait to be seated until your guest arrives. Sitting down before them is a faux pas and can make it harder for them to find you.
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Forget About Your Gender
If you’re the one who arranged the meeting, then you’re the host, and you need to act that way by handling the bill, making sure your guest is comfortable, and possibly even making menu recommendations.
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Stay on Task
Embrace small talk, but don’t let it delay the meal. You’re there to get to know someone outside a business setting, but that doesn’t mean it should take all day. Place your orders before getting sidetracked talking about each other’s families. At the same time, protocol consultant Judith Bowman warns against bringing up business too soon in the meal. “Get to know them, build trust, and grow the relationship,” she says. She recommends waiting until your guest brings up work or raising the subject over dessert and coffee.
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Imitate the Others
Skip either the most expensive, or the cheapest, item on the menu, because it can signal to your guest that you’re focused on the price tag and make them feel uncomfortable about their own selections. Also, try to mirror the number of courses that your guest chooses. If they’re opting for a soup, salad, and main course, don’t just get one dish, or you’ll be watching them eat while you wait for your own food to arrive.
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Mind Your Manners
Remember what your mother taught you: Bring your food to your mouth, not vice versa; use your salad fork for the salad, and tilt the soup bowl away from you. Manners can make a good impression.
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Keep It Clean
No matter how much you’re craving pizza or ribs, skip it: They’re way too messy, and it’s pretty much impossible to look professional while eating with your hands.