Business Meal Etiquette Expert Robin Jay

Business Meal Etiquette Still a Sticky Situation for Many

As “The Queen of the Business Lunch”, I am often asked to speak on business meal etiquette. I enjoy being able to help business executives discover the right way to conduct business over the table. It’s as much about not making mistakes as it is about doing things the right way! A bad lunch experience can destroy the opportunity to build a profitable business relationship. The key is to BE PREPARED! You can prepare for everything from casual conversation to choosing the right restaurant for your business meal.

Business Meal Etiquette Tips

Some of the most important tips I can share with you are:

  • Whoever does the inviting to a business meal picks up the check, unless your client asks, “When are we going to lunch?” In that case, YOU would pick up the check. That is actually a fabulous scenario because your client is giving you the opportunity to take the relationship to a higher level. And, this is the ULTIMATE purpose behind sharing a meal. Seize it! You can slip your credit card to your server when you are being seated.  Your clients will be settling in and won’t even notice. This also indicates to your server that YOU are the host of this business meal.
  • Is it ever okay to order alcohol at a business meal or whenever you are out with clients? I am asked this question more than just about any other; it tends to stump even the most seasoned business pros. I always recommend that you follow the leader when it comes to alcohol. That being said, be sure to TAKE IT EASY! You never want to get drunk when out with clients. Make sure you are not drinking on an empty stomach. And, if you’re at dinner and you want to offer wine, I have a simple method for ordering a nice bottle even if you’re not a wine aficianado – but your client is. In fact, my tip was published in Chicken Soup for the Wine Lover’s Soul. Don’t be intimidated! Remember, your servers are there to help you. Look at the wine list, select two options, then point to the wine list and ask your server, “Which of these two would you recommend?” Your server will direct their comments to the table. THAT is when you give your clients the opportunity to weigh in. And, most importantly, YOU will control the cost. If given the opportunity, many clients will order the most expensive bottle, hoping to impress you with their knowledge … or merely to take advantage of your expense account!
  • Be prepapared for casual conversation before a business meal. Be up to date on current events, industry trends, new technology (when applicable), community events, and world affairs. NEVER bring up any topic that could be considered “controversial” – ie: politics, religion, sex, drugs, etc. Read magazines, the latest best-seller, see the newest movie at theaters, and on the day of your lunch, try to catch at least 15 – 20 minutes of a national news show.
  • Avoid ordering foods that are challenging to eat. This includes most pastas, oversized burgers barbequed ribs, chocolate fondue … you get the picture! If you think you might end up wearing your meal, such as when you are served a sandwich that is too big to eat by hand, simply desconstruct it and eat it with your untensils.

Make Your Business Meals the Most Productive Time of the Day

From choosing the right restaurant in the right price range to deciding whether or not to pick up your client or meet them at the restaurant, there are many opportunities for a business meal to turn into a disaster. Don’t let this happen to you. Be prepared for your business meals by knowing what to do – and what NOT to do – before you go. Once you discover the benefits of sharing a business meal with your clients, you’ll start to see your business grow more than you ever thought possible.

If you have business meal questions, I’m here to help. Email me at Robin at and I’ll be happy to help you navigate your business meals to success.