City A.M. recently declared the death of the business lunch, after research showed two thirds of Brits have seen a decline in the number of professional restaurant rendezvous.
This is unsurprising, given our heavy workloads and the fashion of spending much of our time talking via email. While we may not have the professional inclination to take the whole afternoon off for a meet and greet over the dining table, however, lunches should remain a staple of the business diet.
So how can we beat the clock to ensure we book professional dinner dates while making the most of the opportunities on the table?
Picking the right time
Modern work calendars often look like a jungle of calls, presentations and meetings, making finding a suitable time the first barrier to overcome. Scheduling tools, like Doodle, can help solve the problem by notifying you of the best time for everyone without you having to do the leg work. Once organised, make sure you send an invite to lock down the time and avoid double-bookings.
Finding a location
The “when” is sorted but what about the “where”? Choosing the right restaurant can be a challenge, with considerations like distance, price, atmosphere and cuisine to take into account. Put your guests first, even if it means not going to your favourite steakhouse or heading across town for the meet. Restaurant booking apps have huge choices of local restaurants that can be reserved in seconds, saving time on endless research and phones calls checking reservations.
Looks are important
It may seem obvious but leave plenty of time to get there. Arriving late or sweating from a 100 metre dash won’t make a positive impression and will kick-off proceedings on the wrong foot. Giving yourself 10 minutes extra will also give you time to prepare your opening gambit and introductions.
Think about how you’re presenting yourself. Your choice of outfit should reflect the nature of the restaurant and who you’re meeting. The mantra “better overdressed than underdressed” will serve you well.
Consider the seating
Arriving first means you have control over where you sit. If there are more than two attendees, think about the best formation to engage everyone in the conversation and, if possible, mix people up from different organisations. Try to avoid isolating one person and don’t be afraid to move seats and tables around if needed.
The same rules apply to your body language when discussions begin. Looking engaged in the conversation is a must, but make sure your body language doesn’t block anyone out or alienate people furthest away from the conversation.
Set the agenda
Have a few kick-starters up your sleeve to ease into the lunch but be wary of being too overbearing with personal questions. Keep an agenda in mind to ensure all the points you want to discuss are covered. Lunches are meant to be less formal than meetings, so don’t feel you are the chairman and let the conversation flow. If you get the balance of casual conversation and business discussion right, you should get candid and honest business responses too.
Remember to follow-up
Send a thank you note to everyone at the lunch and outline any follow-up actions. It’s best to do this before looking at other emails or, before you know, you’ll be rushing out the door. If you’re a multitasker, it can be an efficient use of time to draft the email on the way back to the office.