A LOT Can Go Wrong at a Business Lunch: Being Prepared Will Help

As I wrote in my last post, I spoke recently for HP in Southern California. I was brought in to speak because my clients appreciate the importance of doing a business lunch the right way. Whether you’ve been on more than 3,000 client lunches (like I have) or you’re just starting out, it is important that you feel comfortable and confident. This can come from knowing what to avoid or how to handle certain situations.

During the meal, I asked the printer resellers and distributors to try to “Stump the Speaker / Shock the Speaker.” I wanted to offer my BEST advice for their WORST situations. I haven’t been stumped yet because most challenges or problems that come up at business lunches are more common than people think, but I definitely heard some great stories and thought-provoking questions.

I asked our guests 1) what was the worst thing that EVER happened to them at a business lunch, 2) how they might have better handled the situation, and 3) to share anything they might have trouble with – in general – along the way.

I found it interesting that most people offered their OWN suggestions as to how they might have better handled a particular situation. I think most of us tend to “hash & rehash” those awful moments in our minds. Seems we’d ALL like “a ticket to ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda.'” My mantra is “be prepared,” but things can happen fast when at a business lunch. If you’re with a big client, you might be nervous. And then, there are just a LOT of things that can go wrong. We’re people – not robots – and we have emotions, as well as million thoughts a day. Hindsight is always 20/20. 😉 Good judgment – unfortunately – comes from bad experience.

Here are some of the best stories from last week:

Shannon said that a client dumped coffee in his lap. HOT coffee. YIKES! As to what he would do differently? He would not have ordered coffee for the table! THAT was easy! And, I can add this little tip:

IF YOU KNOW that your client likes something you don’t care for – such as alcohol, dessert, or sushi, bring someone from your office as a “buffer.” That way, your client won’t have to drink alone (and YOU of course will be Designated Driver!), YOU won’t have to try to find cooked entrees at a sushi bar, or you won’t have to see your morning workout get annulled by a giant slice of cake you forced down just because your client wanted dessert! Bringing a coworker (or boss) can be a very wise move, especially when you know your client is going to want something you don’t care for.

One executive ended up in a restaurant that was too noisy. We’ve ALL been to restaurants that are USUALLY just fine for a business lunch, but on the day WE are there, there is a baby shower going on at the next table or some other type of large, noisy party. We can’t prepare for EVERY distraction, but try asking your maitre d’ for a quiet table when you make your reservation. (Of COURSE you are going to make a reservation!)

NEVER Pay for a Business Lunch with CASH!

One of my guests asked, “What if your client wants to pay for lunch?”  I went into great detail in my book on how to avoid that situation by slipping your credit card to your server the moment you are seated. Not only does that help to avoid the fight over the check, but it also identifies YOU as the host of that party. This is an especially helpful tip for women when taking men to lunch. In many restaurants, servers still tend to give the check to the man. Ladies – take note! And you definitely want to pay for lunch with a credit card. Paying with cash can create a sort of “Let’s all chip in” or “Can I get the tip” atmosphere.

Alcohol … excessive alcohol, that is, … is the #1 cause of distress at business lunches! People have too much to drink or they are simply drinking a little on an empty stomach. Either way, they get drunk and it’s not long before their behavior gets sloppy. Chris said he brought a sales executive with him to a client lunch. The executive had too much to drink – and Chris ended up having the VP of his company call the client to apologize. I believe there is no quicker way to LOSE YOUR JOB than by getting drunk in front of clients. TAKE IT EASY!

It’s not a sin to eat a little something before you go. And – if you are attending a mixer at 5PM and lunch was at noon, you WILL BE drinking on an empty stomach. Park yourself by the food table when you first arrive. Remedy the situation. THEN, you’ll be free to mix and mingle with a drink in your hand without ending up on the floor! Besides, it’s impossible to eat, drink, AND hand out business cards! I keep a bag of nuts in my car, just in case I get hungry in the middle of the day or for any other time I’m not able to grab a quick bite.

How can you stop someone from drinking too much?  This is a bit touchy, but it’s a great chance to collaborate with your server. Excuse yourself to the restroom, find your server, and tell them to CUT OFF the supply of alcohol to your client! Let them be the bad guy. They can also cut someone’s drink enough to render it fairly harmless. If you suspect your client may be on their way to getting drunk, order appetizers and get your server involved. Have them weaken the drinks so you’ll have the chance to get your client to eat. And NEXT TIME, invite that client out to breakfast. It will be a lot easier for them to stop drinking if they never get started.

Lastly, if you slip and fall, injuring only your pride, just stand up, brush yourself off, and carry on! I always ask if ANYONE in the room has NEVER spilled a drink. I’ve yet to see a hand go up. We are human, floors are slippery. Don’t wear shoes you can’t walk in – THAT should help slightly. Then, watch your step. I’m not saying you’ll never fall again, but being prepared WILL help!

I want to send out special thanks to everyone that I got to meet in OC. I’m here for you if any other questions come to mind. And if YOU have a situation for which you would like to have my opinion or my advice, just ask!