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Business Lunches – The Rules

Business Lunches – The Rules

Geoffrey Bean (pictured) is a partner in Tomlin Bean, a creative advertising and design agency specialising in location branding, retail, travel and leisure marketing founded in 1993. He has over 25 years experience in the advertising/creative industry, and was on the original creative team at Mills, Smith & Partners that developed BA Air Miles.

The days of the long boozy City or Fleet Street lunches are long gone. Four-hour long, three-course meals at expensive restaurants complete with accompanying alcohol is becoming increasingly rare.

The growing Americanisation of the business world means the rules of business lunches are becoming progressively less flexible.

With over twenty-five years experience in the advertising/creative industry, I have seen this shift firsthand. When I first started in the business there were no mobile phones and out to lunch often meant out for the rest of the day.

Business somehow got done but we all work much harder today and there is clearer line between business and pleasure. Many client companies have a strict ‘no alcohol during work hours’ policy.

As a result, my business partner, Nick Tomlin, and I usually follow a few simple guidelines to avoid any possible misunderstandings or embarrassment on either side of the table.

The first rule is that there are no fixed rules. Each occasion is different and should be adjusted accordingly. The choice of venue, however, is absolutely critical to a happy outcome.

Deciding where to take a client can really make or break a meeting. The location of a business lunch very much depends on age, sex, and any knowledge you may have of their preferences. If possible, a bit of research about the attendees prior to the meeting can help this immensely.

Ideally, the restaurant should be somewhere that they have not yet tried, but they have heard good reports about. Of course, if you know them well, and there is someplace in particular they prefer to go, that’s always an option as well.

Wherever you do choose, it should offer a reassuring mixture of well-known dishes and enticing new tastes, and the service must be courteous and efficient.

In terms of etiquette, it’s always a good idea to arrive early. Once you’ve arrived, order water (or white wine/Champagne if you know them well).

When you chose seats at the table, make sure your client/guest has the best seat at the table. When they arrive, stand, shake hands and welcome them formally.

Try and find out how long they have for lunch as soon as possible. This helps to determine your choices regarding starters/wine etc. If they only have an hour free, you’re not going to be able to fit in the four course meal you had planned.

The big question, and something that has changed drastically over the years, is whether or not you should drink.

We’ve always felt that taking the lead from your client/guest is the best policy. Unless you know them well, always ask them if they would like a glass of wine before ordering, or even looking at the wine list.

I’ve always found that immediately after ordering the food and drink is not the time to talk business. Sometimes establishing a general camaraderie and tone to the meeting is almost as important as what is actually discussed.

In fact, unless the client brings the conversation around to business, I never talk work before coffee, and sometimes not at all. Often these meetings simply offer an opportunity to put a face to the name, which helps to facilitate future communications.

If you do end up talking business, it is likely the conversation will end with a broad understanding with the details and final deal will be done in a formal meeting.

However, if you do by some miracle conclude a deal, you might want to seal it with a celebratory drink. But again, take your lead from the client/guest.

After the meal and any deals are complete, I’ve always found it best to simply thank your client/guest and wish them well. You can always follow things up after your lunch with an email/phone call/more formal meeting.

Overall, I think the most important thing that I’ve learned over the years about business lunches is to simply use your common sense and follow your client/guest’s lead.

This will generally save you from making embarrassing mistakes and will give the best impression of yourself and your company.

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