The Dos And Don’ts Of Business Lunches For Students And Grads


It’s the other type of brunch and it’s not nearly as relaxing. Business lunches are a major part of corporate culture.

Sitting down with clients or co-workers is about more than just sharing a meal. These luncheons can determine if you get the job, get the client or get the respect of your boss.

The biggest mistake that young hires make at business lunches is assuming that being out of the office means they are no longer in a professional setting, says Linda Allan, a professional etiquette expert and president of Linda Allan Inc. “It doesn’t matter how formal or informal the setting, the same standard of etiquette applies.”

What standard is that you ask? Well, let’s start at the beginning.


Dress appropriately. If you’re going straight from work, this shouldn’t be a problem, but if you’re meeting someone, make sure you leave the plaid shirt and short shorts behind. Business lunch means business wear.

If you have any dietary restrictions, check the menu or call ahead to make sure there’s something that suits your palate; this will avoid any uncomfortable negotiations once you sit down for your meeting.

Also, have a small snack before you head to your lunch. You don’t want your grumbling stomach to interrupt important business banter.

Show up early

Punctuality and professionalism go hand in hand and the best way to avoid being late is to show up a bit early. Linda recommends arriving around 10 minutes before your meeting. If you get to the restaurant before your host, wait in the lobby area. Don’t get seated until your lunch partner has arrived.

Cell phone policy

Before you arrive to the restaurant, make sure your phone is on vibrate. If you end up waiting for your host, do not start messing around on your phone. Angry Birds may be a good way to pass the time, but if you’re busy lining up the game-winning shot, you’re likely to miss your contact when they walk in the door.

Instead, Linda recommends that you keep your phone out in-case your host texts you, but generally try to stay alert so that, when they come in, you can immediately greet them with a professional handshake, rather than fumbling with your phone.

Once seated, consider your phone forbidden territory. Put it away and don’t check it for the rest of the meal. You’re there to do business. Texts about last night’s shenanigans can wait until after you’ve left lunch.

What’s on the menu?

When it comes to ordering, play follow the leader. If your host orders a salad, don’t order the filet mignon. Try to match the price point and number of courses as your dining buddy. Also, avoid ordering dishes that might be messy or anything that might stain. The spaghetti bolognese may look good on the menu, but it will be much less appealing when it splatters on your shirt.

The same rules apply for drinks. If your host orders alcohol, Linda says students can order a “big kid” drink as well, but at a lunch, it’s by no means necessary. If you decide to sip on the good stuff, limit yourself to one order and drink it slowly. This isn’t patio drinks with your friends. Getting drunk is out of the question.    

Table manners

Mom’s rules about table manners are even more applicable when you’re sitting down with professionals. Sit up straight, keep those elbows off the table, put your napkin on your lap, don’t talk with your mouth full, take small bites and don’t inhale your food like it’s the first meal you’ve had in weeks. Business lunches can take place at high-end restaurants or the neighbourhood taco truck, but according to Linda, the venue doesn’t matter. “Even if the food is casual, the manners are not,” she says.

Talking shop

The host generally decides when it’s time to get down to business, says Linda, “all you have to do as an invitee to the lunch is follow the lead of the host.” If you have questions that you really want answered, wait until after you’ve ordered and given your menus to the waiter. That will allow enough time for small talk and ensure that you get your answers.

Formal goodbye

The host will signal the end of the lunch, so again, just follow the leader. When the time comes, make sure to get up, shake their hands and thank them for their time. Much like a good dessert, you want to make sure that you end the meal sweetly.

Tip: For that added touch, Linda recommends sending a handwritten card after the meeting to thank your host for lunch.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, just a few sentences  to show your appreciation and leave a more memorable impression on your host.

 Photo credit: A business lunch on Manhattan, 18 Nov. 2008 by PhillipC on Flickr 


About the author

Ishani Nath is a proud McMaster alum, aspiring writer and current journalism grad student at Ryerson University. When she's not hammering out articles, she can usually be found on a patio or nestled on a couch trying to keep up with those crazy Kardashians. She hopes to one day have a job that makes her excited to get up each morning, or at least one that gives her free food. Intrigued? Enthralled? Learn more by following her on @ishaninath.