Congratulations! You’ve landed a business lunch. Whether it’s to network with potential clients, impress a future employer, or solidify a partnership, this lunch can be a springboard for exciting opportunities. But feeling a little nervous is perfectly normal. Fear not; with a little preparation, you can turn those jitters into confidence and have a successful business lunch.

This guide will serve as your personal checklist, walking you through everything you need to do before, during, and after your lunch to make a positive and lasting impression.

Before the Lunch: Research and Planning

The groundwork you lay before the lunch is crucial. Here’s how to ensure you enter the meeting well-prepared:

Do Your Research

This might seem obvious, but it’s worth emphasizing. Research the company, the people you’ll be meeting, and their industry. Look them up online, check their recent projects, and familiarize yourself with their current goals. This knowledge will not only show your initiative but also allow you to steer the conversation towards topics of mutual interest.

Set Your Goals

What do you hope to achieve from this lunch? Is it to build rapport, discuss a specific project, or simply learn more about the company? Having clear goals will help you tailor the conversation and focus your efforts.

Prepare Talking Points

Think about conversation starters and questions you can ask. Don’t just rehearse a script, but have a list of key points you want to convey or areas you’d like to explore. This way, the conversation can flow naturally while ensuring you hit your objectives.

Plan Your Attire

Business lunches tend to be a step less formal than traditional business meetings. However, it’s always better to err on the side of professionalism. Opt for neat, business-appropriate clothing that makes you feel confident and comfortable. You can read more here about what else you can bring to complete your business lunch look.

Paying the Bill

Preparing For A Business Lunch: A Checklist For Success
Wallet at Von Baer

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Confirm the reservation (if at a restaurant) a day or two beforehand. Know how long it will take to get to the venue and plan your travel accordingly. Traffic jams and getting lost can create a bad first impression, so factor in extra time for unexpected delays.

During the Lunch: Making a Great Impression

Now that you’re prepped, let’s navigate the actual lunch:

First Impressions Matter

Arrive on time, greet everyone with a firm handshake and a smile. Make eye contact and introduce yourself clearly. Remember names – a simple ‘It’s nice to meet you, [Name]’ goes a long way.

Table Manners 101

Brush up on basic table etiquette. Know which fork to use for which course, avoid talking with your mouth full, and maintain good posture. These subtle cues project confidence and demonstrate respect for your dining companions.

The Art of Conversation

Engage actively in the conversation. Ask thoughtful questions, listen attentively, and respond with genuine interest. Be mindful of dominating the conversation, but don’t be afraid to showcase your knowledge and expertise when relevant.

Body Language

Maintain good posture and avoid fidgeting. Make eye contact to show you’re engaged and interested. A confident posture and eye contact project professionalism and trustworthiness.

Focus on Building Rapport

While business is on the table, remember that this is also about building a connection. Find common ground and share personal anecdotes (within reason) to create a more relaxed atmosphere. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn from someone over a shared meal.

Mind Your Phone Manners

Unless you’re expecting an urgent call, keep your phone silenced and tucked away. Focus on the conversation at hand and avoid checking messages or social media during lunch.

Ordering Food

When it comes to food, choose something you’ll be comfortable eating and won’t require excessive manoeuvring. Avoid messy dishes or anything that might make conversation difficult.

Pro Tip: If you have dietary restrictions, politely inform the restaurant or your host beforehand.

After the Lunch: Following Up

Preparing For A Business Lunch: A Checklist For SuccessThe work doesn’t stop after you leave the restaurant:

Thank You Note

Sending a thank-you note within 24 hours of your lunch meeting is more than just a polite postscript; it’s an essential step in nurturing the relationships you’ve just begun to build. In this note, make it a point to reference a particular discussion or moment from the lunch that was meaningful to you.

This personal touch not only shows your attentiveness during the conversation but also solidifies the memory of your meeting in the minds of your recipients. Whether you choose the classic elegance of a handwritten letter or the swift efficiency of an email, ensure your message conveys genuine appreciation and a keen interest in future interactions.

The choice between a handwritten note and an email often depends on the context of your meeting and the industry norms. A handwritten note can distinguish you from others, offering a memorable touch of personal connection in a digital world.

However, a well-crafted email can also demonstrate professionalism and respect for the other person’s time, often providing a quicker way to reiterate your interest in continuing the dialogue. The key is to personalize your message in a way that resonates with the specific conversations and connections made, paving the way for ongoing collaboration.

Stay Connected

Following up by adding contacts to your address book and connecting on LinkedIn is not just a matter of expanding your network—it’s about weaving a web of mutually beneficial relationships. This step signifies your intention to keep the conversation alive beyond the confines of a single lunch meeting.

It’s an opportunity to share insights, resources, and support, fostering a sense of community and shared growth. Regularly engaging with your new contacts’ posts or sharing relevant information can demonstrate your value as a connection and keep you top of mind for future opportunities.

Staying connected also means being proactive in finding ways to be of assistance to your contacts. Whether it’s offering insights on a shared interest or introducing them to another professional in your network, these gestures can deepen the relationship. By maintaining a consistent presence and showing genuine interest in their achievements and challenges, you turn a one-time meeting into the foundation of a lasting professional partnership. It’s this approach that transforms your network from a list of contacts into a dynamic, supportive community.

Remember: Breathe, Be Yourself, and Have Fun!

Business lunches can be nerve-wracking, but with preparation and a positive attitude, you can turn them into successful networking opportunities. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, and let your personality shine through. After all, people do business with people they like and trust. Here are some additional tips to keep in mind:

Be Mindful of Cultural Differences

Navigating the nuances of cultural differences with sensitivity and respect is crucial in today’s global business environment. Taking the time to learn about and understand the customs, dining etiquette, and conversation norms of those you meet can greatly enhance your interactions. This mindfulness not only helps avoid potential misunderstandings but also demonstrates your respect for their culture and traditions. It’s an investment in building a rapport that acknowledges and celebrates diversity, fostering a deeper connection and mutual respect.

Offer to Pay (if appropriate)

The etiquette surrounding who pays for a business lunch can vary, but offering to cover the bill or suggesting to split it can be a gesture of goodwill. It’s a subtle way to show generosity and can set a positive tone for your future interactions. However, it’s important to read the situation and the signals from your counterparts to ensure this offer is made with tact and respect for the established norms of your relationship. Whether you end up paying or sharing the costs, the key is to handle the moment gracefully, ensuring it enhances, rather than detracts from, the overall experience of your meeting.

Navigate Sensitive Topics

The art of conversation at a business lunch extends beyond just sharing ideas; it involves steering clear of potentially divisive topics such as politics and religion. Focusing on industry trends, personal interests that are not contentious, and topics related to the business at hand can foster a more inclusive and comfortable environment.

This approach ensures that discussions remain productive and that the lunch serves as a platform for building relationships rather than creating divisions. By navigating away from sensitive subjects, you maintain a professional atmosphere that respects the diverse perspectives of all participants.

Embrace Silence Comfortably

Mastering the art of comfortable silence is an invaluable skill in any professional setting, especially during business lunches. Not every moment needs to be filled with conversation; indeed, pauses can provide time for reflection on what has been discussed and can lead to more thoughtful and meaningful exchanges.

Embracing silence shows confidence and allows for a natural flow of dialogue, avoiding the pitfalls of forced conversation that can detract from the authenticity of the interaction. Recognizing that silence can be a powerful communicator in its own right enables you to build deeper connections through more deliberate communication.

Focus on Quality, Not Quantity

In professional networking, the quality of your connections often outweighs the sheer number. Investing time and energy into a few select business lunches with individuals who align with your professional goals and values can yield far more significant benefits than attending numerous, less-targeted meetings. Focusing on building meaningful relationships with a smaller circle of contacts allows for deeper engagement and can lead to more substantial and rewarding professional opportunities. This strategy ensures that each business lunch is not just an item on your calendar but a meaningful step toward achieving your career objectives.

Bonus Tip: Practicing Table Manners

Preparing For A Business Lunch: A Checklist For SuccessWhile it may seem trivial to some, good table manners can leave a lasting impression on your business lunch companions. Taking the time to brush up on dining etiquette, from the correct use of silverware to the polite way to eat certain foods, can enhance your confidence and ensure that your focus remains on the conversation and connections rather than on navigating the place setting. A little practice at home can go a long way in making sure that your manners contribute positively to the impression you leave, allowing your personality and professionalism to shine through without distraction.


By following these tips and checklists, you can transform your business lunches from anxiety-inducing events into springboards for success. Remember, a business lunch is a two-way street. Approach it with an open mind, a willingness to learn, and a genuine desire to connect. Leave a lasting impression, and you might just find yourself forging valuable relationships that open doors to exciting new opportunities.