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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.

                1. Avoid alcohol, or keep it light - depending on the setting. You probably will have to order before the boss does, as she/he will be the host. Take a look around the restaurant or club room when you walk to the table and try to see what the most common dishes are. If you know in advance where you are going check chowhound, yelp, or whatever and find out what the place is known for. And yes, avoid things that are going to cause embarrassing stains, or cause you to go thru napkins like a 3 year old. Now if boss takes you to a cajun seafood restaurant where they dump your food out of a bucket onto the newspapers, then all bets are off. Dine with manners appropriate to the setting. If its the kind of place where you have to dive in, then dive in.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                    Now, as I am the "boss," or the "client," I order what suits me. I will let any others order what they wish.

                    During the day, and especially if I am driving, I will limit myself to one glass of wine, and will decide on which one, based on what I plan to order.

                    The same holds, if I am the "attending spouse," but then I get a "free pass," and also have my wife as my designated driver, so might order two glasses of wine, depending on how I feel, and what I am dining on.

                    As I host many "working lunches" at the hotel, where I am staying, I might also do two glasses of wine, but ONLY if I will not be driving.

                    Just me,


                  2. Friend of mine teaches at a University and one of the required classes is Lunch Etiquette during the last year before graduation. I worked during the 70's and 80's in a construction based field. Back then booze was an important part of the culture.Our office had a fully stocked bar and if you wanted something during the work day, no problem. Drinking lunches were the norm.

                    1. What kind of business ? it always depends on the business; and which business will impact the restaurant (lawyers will choose a different restaurant than a construction guy)

                      - if you are paying, select a restaurant that you can afford even the highest priced item.
                      - If you are not paying, go with middle-priced items.
                      - don't be uncomfortable if people order stuff you don't like.
                      - if ethnic food that you are unused to, order the simplest food you can find or be forward about it and ask the people you are eating with.
                      - go with lighter food items, usually you will have to work after.
                      - no red sauce pasta.
                      - 1 (or 2) glass of wine if ordering by the glass; 1 bottle of wine for a table of 4.
                      - Minimize finger food.
                      - no dessert, order coffee/tea instead.
                      - if business is continuing after the lunch, don't linger and get back to the office to close the deal.

                      1. I'll be honest here -- If I was paying for our business lunch and saw you eat only 1/3 of your lunch, I would think that you had no care for wasting money and resources. If I were your client, I would think that you would do the same with your work hours and money spent on my project.

                        I often have lunch with recruiters and brokers, as well as with our company owners, sometimes at dinners they invite me too, or at events like charity or industry banquets. Occasionally, I meet a customer for lunch. I usually order a salad or light entree (like chicken picatta with asparagus or mushroom risotto). I will order pasta because I'm a neat pasta eater but I don't order anything that requires hands (sandwiches are out). Then I finish all/most of it. I normally don't order alcohol. I usually stick to iced tea. If I did have to order, I'd get a glass of red wine and sip it slowly.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: boogiebaby

                          Our business lunches generally are at places where the lunch menu in "sandwichcentric" and most everybody orders one. Usually seems split about equally between some kind of sandwich or salad.

                          The simple thing to me seems to be; if you are a higher up, order whatever you want, lower down order what the herd orders. I have asked "what's good here" or "what are you going to get"? at many business lunches.

                          I have to agree that eating only a third of your meal looks bad. It implies wasteful or picky in my mind.

                          1. re: boogiebaby

                            Good points.

                            As my "business lunches" differ greatly, I do look at what is being ordered, and how it's being eaten. There CAN be messages, and insights there. I want everyone to be very comfortable, and to show that.


                          2. Cresyd is not in the US -- and outside the US, wine at lunch is still very acceptable, though not as common as it was ten years ago or so.

                            When I'm having lunch on the job (also outside the US), there's an alcoholic beverage available more often than not. Whether or not I partake depends entirely on the situation -- with whom I'm dining, whether or not they're drinking, whether or not I'm driving, and how soon I have to be "on" after lunch is over. (If I have to be back at work and functional, I don't drink- not because of any etiquette for or against, but because I'm an adult who understands that alcohol at lunch just makes me sleepy.)

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: sunshine842

                              With my business lunches in the UK, I almost always order wine, but then I am usually walking, and my guests are usually tubing-it, so no driving involved.


                              1. re: sunshine842

                                Yes, I think the attitudes about drinking at lunch in the US are definitely different. In general, I never order alcohol unless the person I'm dining with does before me - and I do work in a field and environment where that's not uncommon.

                                I recently got into an argument with a friend regarding business lunch or dinner etiquette, and it just made me wonder how other people think of the business lunch.

                              2. And this thread explains why my mother had to settle for disappointment when her baby boy refused to pursue a career that included an office and a suit. My wife is upper-middle management at our local college and I frequently tell her that I could never do her job and play office politics.

                                "The simple thing to me seems to be; if you are a higher up, order whatever you want, lower down order what the herd orders. I have asked "what's good here" or "what are you going to get"? at many business lunches."

                                Kengk, I completely understand your thought process behind this, but there is no way I could bring myself to do it. If the boss is paying, I'll order something in the middle price range, but if I am paying I'm ordering whatever I'm in the mood for. Granted, I'm not going to order something that takes an extended preparation time (like fried chicken) or takes a lot of work to eat (like a whole lobster), but if we go to a steak and seafood restaurant, I just may order a surf and turf (NY Strip with a cracked lobster tail sounds about right).

                                But as I stated before, I am not cut out for office politics.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: PotatoHouse

                                  "I am not cut out for office politics."

                                  In that case I would suggest the largest Lobster and Porterhouse steak they have in the house, and a $200 bottle of wine. It might get you a promotion. "We ordered club sandwiches and iced tea", this crazy bastard ordered a $500 meal".

                                  1. re: kengk

                                    As mentioned, I did just add a US $200 btl. of white wine, but had it billed to me, as I knew that my wife (the real "business person" in the mix) would greatly appreciate it. I never hesitate to order what I want, and if inappropriate for the event.

                                    Often, we host tables of guests at events, and at most, there are wines included. For my table, I often order "special wines," and pay for those from my pocket. For me, it is all about ultimate enjoyment, plus that of my guests, and especially my wife.

                                    At business lunches, when hosted, I often do the same - the fine wines are on me.


                                  2. re: PotatoHouse

                                    Just last night, at a business dinner, I ordered one of the more expensive mains, but that was what I wanted.

                                    As for the wines, there were two "table wines," but I knew that my wife would not be satisfied with the white selection, so ordered a nice Montrachet for her, and paid for that separately. I did imbibe, and also shared with two board members, who would appreciate it.

                                    I order what I want, whether the least, or most, expensive items on the menu. Same for the wines, but there, I often pick up MY tab, and especially if there are other wines available.

                                    To date, there have never been any issues.


                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                      I think the specific situation is key here - your fellow diners appreciated the better wine...but for OP, I'd be concerned that in many situations it could offend the hosts that you judge the wine on offer not up to snuff and order your own, better wine.

                                      1. re: akq

                                        That CAN be an issue.

                                        As we were hosting in that mentioned situation, then the hosts could not be offended. However, in other situations, that should be considered.


                                  3. I like to order no frills dishes: tortellini with cheese sauce......greekstyle cod with feta....sundried tomatoe and greek olives...stuffed pan roasted chicken breast.....I order one side either some type of potato...wild rice....rice pilaf or with pasta I order a small salad.Ice water with lemon or lime slices.No appetizers....no bread/butter....no cocktail or wine because I get tipsy on a 4 ounce glass of Muscato. No dessert but I always have one luxurious cup of strong coffee with cream and sugar (sugar cubes if they have them).I am semi retired from the medical field but on one of my long term nursing positions as an outpatient psychiatric RN I was given the duty of being the person who assisted all of the phamaceutical reps with arranging and co hosting their luncheons and dinners. The luncheons were fairly tame and often we had them catered into one of our huge outpatient conference rooms.The dinners were more of an "anything goes" after hours off hospital campus mentality.Enough said:) People dined very well at those hosted events and also ingested good wines and cocktails. The pharmaceutical reps have large expense accounts for doing "business'.

                                    1. Back in the day when my partner & I were both was employed in procurement, the business lunch was commonplace and, to be frank, very full advantage would be taken of it (as did most other procurement professionals I knew). Including alcohol consumption. Well, truth be told, *mainly* alcohol consumption.

                                      There then came a time when it became unacceptable to accept this sort of hospitality from suppliers and potential suppliers, except under very limited circumstances (with the potential for disciplinary action oom the employer for breach of ethics code). Same basic ethics rules were applied by my government agency employer and my wife's oil company employer.

                                      You gotta love the old days

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Harters

                                        Now John, you were not part of the Barklays Petrus group, were you? [Grin]


                                      2. While I've never done a lot of "business lunches," when I have gone to lunch with business associates I try to order something "less messy" lest I end up wearing some of it back to the job site. That was primarily things like spaghetti or other pasta with red sauce or things of that nature.

                                        My only hard and fast rule has always been never, ever, any alcoholic beverages during working hours. It doesn't matter whether I'm alone, with co-workers, or with business associates, I do not drink during working hours. Period. When the wine list is passed or the server asks, "Something for you, sir?" I simply say, "No, thank you."

                                        It helps, I guess, that with the tougher drunk-driving regulations and is become more acceptable to not drink or reduce one's alcoholic consumption. Simply saying, "No thanks, I'm driving." Is usually enough to get a pass.

                                        10 Replies
                                        1. re: al b. darned

                                          " I try to order something "less messy" lest I end up wearing some of it back to the job site"

                                          This works, unless you happen to be working in the deep South and barbecue is a) the restaurant of choice, or b) the ONLY choice.

                                          1. re: sunshine842

                                            Well, the Deep South CAN present some problems, or at least contribute to some considerations.


                                            PS - "less messy" is good!

                                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                                              I got pretty good at eating barbecue without destroying my white blouse. (but I always carried a scarf for camouflage, if needed)

                                              1. re: sunshine842

                                                guys have to make due with a neck tie. And not even that in Honolulu, thank goodness for aloha shirts.

                                                1. re: KaimukiMan

                                                  most of my male colleagues unashamedly wore a napkin like a bib to save their shirts and their ties... You don't have to replace many dress shirts or ties until you quit giving a damn about how it looks for a grown man to wear a bib.

                                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                                    Have you ever studied the napkins on many longer airline flights? Many have a "button-hole" in them, and that is designed to be affixed to a button on a shirt. As one sort of has to lean back a bit, having the napkin in a semi-bib placement, is very important. Even some senior flight attendants do not understand the button-hole.


                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                      Bill, I'm one of the unwashed masses who flies in cattle class and considers themselves lucky to get a paper napkin. I haven't seen the buttonhole because I have never had a cloth napkin on an airplane (even the couple of times I hit the frequent-flyer jackpot and got bumped to first)

                                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                                        Not sure about all airlines, BUT if one is on UAL, Emirates Airline, Cathay Pacific, Virgin Atlantic, and maybe some others, the napkins have a "button-hole" on one corner. Cannot speak for the rest, but UAL has had that, since the '70s, but is seldom noticed - except by a very few, and mostly older fliers, who know to look for it.


                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                          Virgin Atlantic only gives paper to the unwashed hordes.

                                                2. re: sunshine842

                                                  Now THAT is great! I will share it with my wife.



                                          2. What is appropriate obviously goes with what business you are in. I work for a large multinational institution. My clients/customers work in similar organizations. Entertaining is common. Generally, meals are in what most of you would consider fine dining places. In my experience, I have rarely seen anyone order an alcoholic drink at lunch. Business is typically being discussed at my lunch meetings. I don't want to have a head clouded by alcohol if I may be negotiating. I'm going back to the office afterwards anyways and I can't take a nap. Don't necessarily end up finishing a meal because of all the talking. I don't worry about that. Dinner however is a far more relaxed affair. It's less about the business and more about getting to know your counterparts. Cocktails often before any food has been ordered. White wine with starters, red with the main and whiskey afterwards is the norm. Lots of drinking, and lots of conversation and very little business. And before you get all worked up about how we can drink so much and drive, we don't. Black cars are ordered for everyone to take them home. In this environment, no one worries about what a dish costs. One of the perks of working at a big company.

                                            1. I'll have alcohol if a client is having it. Also I have no problems eating with my hands.

                                              I'm self-employed and have been for a long time so usually a business lunch is with a client.