I have important business lunch news for any sloppy-food loving people who are rude and tardy.
But before I get to that, we should review a basic principle of business behaviour because the meals you have in a business context are never about food. Oh, sure, there’s food there all right but it is merely a prop used by others to disguise the real purpose of the business lunch – which is to lull you into a relaxed state so that whoever invited you to it can ask you for something.
Business meals fall into three broad categories. First, the group meal, which is meant to motivate greater performance. Second, the one-on-one meeting with your boss, which is meant to motivate greater performance. And finally, the group meal with peers, which is meant to motivate greater inebriation. The first two types are almost impossible to avoid. Over the years, I have attempted to get out of meals using excuses such as “fasting for Lent”, “bleeding gums” and “intestinal blockage.” None worked. Nothing can stop a boss intent on watching you chew.
And nothing stops bosses from judging your behaviour during lunch. Shocking confirmation of this comes courtesy of a US advertising agency, which surveyed executives about the behaviours they look for to stunt your career.
At the top of the list is “being rude to the restaurant staff”. You may think nothing of flinging a dessert spoon to get your server’s attention or telling them they can shove a napkin up a currently vacant orifice because the coffee wasn’t the decaf you ordered. But judgmental executives see this kind of stuff and think that you might be similarly disrespectful to your work colleagues, completely ignoring the fact that there are no dessert spoons in the stationery cabinet.
Half of the executives surveyed thought these kinds of actions, “hurt your chances of impressing a client”, which I interpret to mean that the other 50 per cent think it’s okay.
"Over the years, I have attempted to get out of meals using excuses such as 'fasting for Lent', 'bleeding gums' and 'intestinal blockage' "
Another thing that can hurt you is to arrive late for a lunch meeting. Around 36 per cent of executives believe that tardiness demonstrates a lack of respect on a par with being rude; and that being rude and late is completely unacceptable, unless you are the CEO.
The good news is that poor table manners and inappropriate attire won’t hurt you much. If you squeeze the mustard directly into your mouth or use a dinner fork instead of a salad fork to clean your toenails, only five per cent of executives think that current or potential clients might be offended.
Only four per cent think that dressing too casually is offensive, a remarkably low number when you consider that probably twice that number think you should have your legs amputated if you take their parking space.
If you want to make a good impression and ensure a smooth lunch, follow these tips:
Choose the right location. Pick a restaurant that doesn’t have any of the following words in its name: ‘trough’, ‘trans-fat’, ‘vermin’ or ‘nude’.
Arrive early. This way, you can berate the restaurant staff early, leaving lots of time for you to misuse your silverware. Pick a comfortable table and ensure that its underside is free of gum so that you can avoid embarrassing “spearmint pants”.
Avoid messy foods. Eschew entrees such as spareribs, spaghetti, beaks, weasel, racoon, lynx, badger and bat-on-a-stick.
Keep it short. Postpone talking about business until you’ve ordered, then blurt out your purpose between salad and entrée so that your guest has enough time to bolt from the table.
Give your lunch partner your undivided attention. Avoid taking mobile phone calls or fiddling smugly with your damn alphanumeric pager. Just sit back and enjoy your weasel.