Getting down to business at your next business lunch

There’s no such thing as a free lunch; that’s why it’s important to make your next mealtime meeting count. In an increasingly casualised, fragmented workforce, the business lunch can be a pleasurable and productive way of doing business, particularly when you know how to maximise the out-of-office soiree.  

Mealtime meetings serve three important functions – strengthening business relationships, building social networks and improving your business. As a host, it’s important to put some prior planning into the meeting so it’s a fruitful one, not just a social get-together. It’s a good idea to make contact with the restaurant before the meeting to find out who will be responsible for your table and, if necessary, discuss special meal requirements and seating arrangements.

While luncheons tend to be the mealtime meeting of choice, breakfast and dinner meetings can be just as effective. Breakfast meetings are particularly advantageous because attendees are fresh and wide awake, there’s a simple menu, quick service and a work-imposed time limit to end the meeting. Business lunches provide a high degree of flexibility in timing and location, and are a good way to be seen in a business-meets-pleasure social environment. Dinner meetings are a more social affair to “wine and dine” important clients, particularly interstate or overseas guests. Very few big deals are settled over dinner, but you can always lock in a specific date for an office appointment so you can get down to business.

Whatever mealtime meeting you choose, strive to make the best use of everyone’s time. Pick a restaurant within easy reach of all attendees to cut down on travel time, and ask for an early reservation – you’ll get quicker service with less noise. As a rule of thumb, limit alcohol at lunch or dinner meetings – alcohol shortens the attention span and draws out the meeting.

A final word of advice, don’t be afraid of looking dorky by taking notes at the meeting. Always have business cards and brochures on hand as well. After the event, immediately write a brief email of appreciation and make diary notes on the outcome of the meeting, including follow-up actions and future deadlines.

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