The Ordering Etiquette To Avoid An Awkward Business Lunch

Business lunches are a common way for professionals to gather in order to discuss important matters over a shared meal. It is an important and ubiquitous ritual in the process of conducting business. Whether it is a professional networking luncheon with hundreds of attendees or a small gathering to discuss details of a deal, these luncheons can be an important part of your working life.

Unlike a lunch meeting with your team over delivery pizza or eating alone in your office, business luncheon attendees are expected to behave in a formal and professional manner. Aside from commonly expected behavior such as dressing professionally and arriving on time, your dining etiquette can be a deciding factor in the eyes of your dining companions, and bad manners can ruin a carefully cultivated business relationship. Therefore, proper business luncheon etiquette is an important skill for professionals of all types, and one of the more important tips is following the lead when ordering.

Ordering lunch the right way

Although the food might be of secondary importance in the context of a business luncheon, attendees should pay close attention when ordering. The host of the luncheon will probably be the first to order their lunch, and as an attendee, you should pay close attention.

The key to proper ordering at a business luncheon is to follow the lead. If your host orders two courses, such as an appetizer and a main course, follow their lead and do the same. Never order more courses than the host as it would look like you are taking advantage of the host's generosity. Furthermore, pay attention to the dishes your host is ordering, and avoid ordering items that are pricier than their choices. It would be awkward if you chose an expensive steak while your host orders a simple salad. After all, bonding and displaying gracious behavior is the primary goal of a business lunch, while satisfying your food craving or your hunger is secondary. Ordering a much more expensive dish than your host's might signal that you are not paying attention to your host and that your desires come before their needs. 

Other tips for success

Aside from avoiding looking gluttonous, there are other things to watch out for when partaking in a business lunch. For example, try ordering items that are less likely to make a mess. A main course salad or a plate of grilled protein is less likely to make a mess than a plate of long pasta with red sauce, as stains on your business attire are never a good look.

Although the days of three-martini lunches are long behind us in these health-conscious times, alcohol might sometimes still be served during a business luncheon. If alcohol is served, drink modestly as you are expected to stay alert during a business lunch.

Instead of discussing business right after seating, engage in small talk with the host and other attendees about lighter subjects to put everyone at ease. Avoid contentious or polarizing topics such as politics and religion. Keep the conversation light until everyone has ordered their food.

Finally, if the setting is formal and there are multiple utensils at your place setting, make sure to use them from the outside in, starting with your salad fork and knife. The butter knife should remain on the bread plate on your left, and glasses should remain on the right-hand side.