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A guide to mastering the business lunch
Written by Tendai Tambudze
11 July 2012

Conducting business over a meal in a restaurant is akin to a fine art. The coordination of cutlery, crockery and table etiquette over a meeting agenda can be a daunting task if some forethought is not applied. 

Whether business is conducted over breakfast, lunch or supper, a few simple rules apply.

Make the intention clear

An invitation to meet at a restaurant can easily be interpreted as anything from a social gathering to a date. When sending an invitation for a business meeting, make the intention crystal clear.   In the same vein, inviting someone to lunch on a social pretext only to give them a pitch is not the way to do it either. Clearly stating the purpose of the meeting also enables anyone to claim a tax deduction on the meeting.

Location, location, location

The first step to getting it right is choosing the right venue. A business meeting should be held in an atmosphere conducive to business discussions. This means steering clear of loud and extremely busy places. Space is also an important factor; a table must be big enough to accommodate laptops and notepads with a plug in close proximity.  Making a reservation is non-negotiable. There is nothing more embarrassing than arriving somewhere with a potential client and waiting 30 minutes for a table to free up. Comedine is an online restaurant booking website that allows users to search and book for the perfect location in South Africa and has a particularly good business restaurant guide.

Mind your manners

Business etiquette 101 demands the best table manners. A few simple do’s and don’ts to keep in mind

  • Do let your guest order first
  • Do  switch off your cell phone
  • Do be polite to the waiter

The question of ordering alcohol is a grey area. When in doubt it is better not to imbibe. If alcohol is to be consumed a safe choice could be a glass of wine or something light - shots of tequila to go with starters will raise eyebrows.

  • Don’t order something that is difficult to eat or suggest a shared meal
  • Don’t eat too fast or lick your fingers
  • Don’t talk with food in your mouth

The conversation

The meeting held in a restaurant has a social aspect, so some small talk is expected and should be done masterfully.  Doing a bit of research about the person and the company is useful when attempting to keep the conversation flowing.  It is a good idea to wait until the drinks have arrived before diving into talking business; however, this all depends on how much time is available.

The bill

The bill issue is a no brainer. The one who sent the invitation is the host and is therefore wholly responsible for the bill. It is the host’s duty to pay with confidence without getting into a tug of war with their guest.   If the guest insists on paying, any assistance must be firmly but graciously declined.


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