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Your business lunch etiquette?

I want to know what Chowhounds business lunch tips are. Personally, I always try to order something on the heavy side that involes minimal attention to eat gracefully. This means I often order a risotto, so that if I end up only eating a third of the dish - I leave feeling full. Also as the dish is typically a lighter color the chances for embarrassing stains or visible food in my teeth is reduced. I'm also in a professional environment where alcohol is often ordered, so I like to be eating enough where I'm not at risk of getting tipsy.

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  1. Mid-day drinking is a risky proposition. The days of the Don Draper 3-martini lunches are long behind us, I would hope. So unless you are interviewing for a position as a sommelier, and protocol requires alcohol, order something with lots of ice, and sip it slowly. You are wise to avoid the messy stuff - spaghetti with the inevitable projectile sauce, soups, etc.

    Back in the last century (the ancient dark days of the 1980s) there was a school of thought at one of the big corporations that the final job interview was always over lunch. The applicant was observed more closely than they might think ... if he/she salted their food before tasting it, they were considered judgemental .... This was not MY assessment/experience; just passing it along...

    6 Replies
    1. re: Cheflambo

      <The days of the Don Draper 3-martini lunches are long behind us >

      That, Cheflambo, depends on the city and the industry you're talking about. I could easily walk into a well-known power-lunch restaurant where I live and find quite the opposite.

      1. re: latindancer

        I agree with this, latindancer. In the legal profession drinks at lunch are still quite customary. Liquid lunches are not at all out of place - I had one just yesterday with a colleague and may do the same again today. At least once every couple weeks one of my bosses will round up a group and start "happy hour" around 2pm or so. Mid-day drinking is very much predicated upon the industry and corporate culture. One of my best friends is a computer programmer - they constatly have a keg tapped in his office, and they drink beer and play ping pong or pool off and on throughout the day.

        I find that knowing the culture indicates the appropriate etiquette when it comes to business lunches. With bosses, most colleagues and familiar clients, I do as they do - if they drink, I'll drink, and if they abstain, I'll abstain. With clients I have yet to establish a rapport with I will never drink. With colleagues I consider friends as well as subordinates, I will drink freely. Always, I order conservatively, eat slowly and neatly, converse comfortably and pay more attention to those I'm dining with than anything else.

        1. re: MonMauler

          Mid-day drinking is still fairly widely practiced in new Orleans, as one might expect, but I've seen attorneys who used to pound-em-down in their twenties and thirties slow it down later. Then, too, that table might be celebrating a Summary Judgement they got at 10:00 that morning and no one is going back to work. But the overall pattern here remains as it was in NYC when I was a boy, or Boston some years later. (The Men's Bar at the Biltmore in New York was always full it seemes to me). As for the food, I don't see people eating light salads that much--some, yes, but not many. Fairly hearty stuff at the usual lunch spots.

          I only have something with alcohol during the day if it is Mardi Gras, Christmas Eve lunch, and similar events. My father was such a cagey drinker that he never had a cocktail during a workday and, if he had one at dinner, he likely would not have wine. With wine, no cocktail.

          1. re: hazelhurst

            No doubt...any favorable ruling immediately enacts the well-known "drinking holiday" provision. In fact, that may have been a question on the bar. Favorable rulings before noon customarily start with bloodys or Irish coffees; favorable rulings after noon generally start with scotch or beer. The "drinking holiday" provision is also enacted upon the completion of trial and as soon as any extensive briefing is finished. More than once several colleagues and I have been huddled around a computer, whiskey in hand, while an associate hurriedly files some briefing electronically at 4:58 when the deadline is 5.

            Light salads are pretty uncommon at our usual spots, too. Heavy salads are not - by this I mean massive salads consisting of every vegetable in the kitchen topped then with steak, chicken or seafood, cheese, croutons, dressing and, often, fries. Sandwiches, steaks and fish are all pretty much de rigueur. The lightest lunch possible is mostly the aforementioned liquid lunch. Also fairly light, and much beloved by me and my one good friend, is the whiskey-oyster lunch. We do not get out for whiskey-oyster lunch nearly often enough.

            1. re: hazelhurst

              I had to look up this "Biltmore in New York" as I'd never heard of it and have lived in NYC for quite some time. It closed in 1981.

        2. re: Cheflambo

          I agree with Cheflambo. I've never found *not* drinking alcohol at lunch to incur any snark. I stick to iced tea or coffee, depending on the season/what I feel like. In addition to not ordering projectile :-) stuff, I also try not to order anything prep or labor-intensive. In my business, the lunch hour might be stretched to an hour and a half, but not 3, and I don't want my codiners wait while the kitchen pipettes my spun sugar mousse swans, or whatever.

        3. I like to order what most others do, especially the higher ups. Would look pretty stupid ordering a lobster or porterhouse if the boss is eating a club sandwich.

          1. I don't think the days of business lunches as observations as Cheflambo describes are over. There was a semi-recent (probably NAF) thread that noted the "younger generation" sort of lacked in social graces, so poor or sloppy table manners could affect promotions, where client lunches or dinners were involved.
            Personally, I would try to avoid any alcohol, if possible, and only order something very light, like a wine spritzer, if could not avoid the partaking. Sip, not gulp.
            I would be afraid that ordering a dish and leaving most (as you leaving 2/3s of the risotto) would be seen, as picky and/or wasteful. I don't think a "doggy bag" would impress either. I would look for small plates, or order 2 appetizers, served to match the two courses of the others.
            If you are a woman, and perhaps the only one of the group, the server will likely (and properly) take your order first. So look to strike a middle ground, not the least but not the most expensive.

            1. You're really overthinking this. Unless you have some really awful table manners, order what appeals to you. I've genuinely never given it a second thought. Lunch is lunch.

              1. I avoid anything that requires me to use my hands. No sandwiches or burgers. Salads can be tricky if some of the ingredients require too much force to wrangle, cherry tomatoes come to mind.

                At my last job, the senior management was so horrified by the business development officers' table manners, they hired someone to come in and stage mock lunches to teach basic table manners. Hearing those guys (and they were all men) talk about it afterwards was hysterical.