Business Lunch Etiquette by Adeodata Czink

A business lunch is an excellent way to meet and connect with prospective or current clients. I believe lunch is much better than dinner because it is faster, cheaper, and it does not cut into evening time that may be reserved for family or friends.

When you invite someone to lunch, it’s your responsibility to choose the restaurant so have a couple of good establishments already in mind. Ask about your client’s like and dislikes and select the restaurant that best matches them. Have the address and phone number of the restaurants handy when you make the invitation so that you can give them to your guest. Let her know what you want to discuss over lunch so that she can come prepared.

Meeting Your Guest

You must always arrive first and wait for your guest. This means you should arrive at least five minutes earlier than your agreed meeting time in case you guest is a few minutes early too. If you are going to be late, call the restaurant and let them know you have a meeting with someone. Tell them what your guest looks like, not her name (her name isn’t written over his forehead!) and ask the restaurant to take care of her until you arrive. Then the wait is not as awkward for your guest since she won’t be wondering whether you will show or not.


Since you will arrive first, you have the choice of seats. Leave the best seat for your client. Always stand up when you guest arrives, regardless of your gender or theirs.

Ordering the Meal

A la carte means you have to order it and they make it from scratch. Table d’hôte means it is ready. Plate du jour means it is today’s specialty, that the restaurant has chosen it for you especially for today. It is usually cheaper and faster.

When the menu arrives, discuss it with you client. Make recommendations on what you think are good dishes based on your past experience. (You should have visited the restaurant at least once before to get a feel for the menu and the atmosphere.) Let her order first, then order a similar meal. If she has soup and main course, you also need to order two items. Thus, you will order soup, salad or appetizer plus a main course in the same price range to make your guest feel comfortable.

Only order alcohol if your guest does. You don’t want to be drinking alone. When you order, watch carefully how much it costs. Wine can drive the bill up quite a bit. If you are not a wine connoisseur, don’t pretend you are because someone else at the table might be, and they will see through you in seconds.

Talking Business

Initiate business after you have ordered. There is no need to wait until dessert. After all, you came to discuss business and both of you know that’s why you are dining together.

Paying the Bill

If you made the invitation, then you pay. In most fine restaurants, when there is a man and a woman at the table, the bill goes to the man. When there are two people of the same sex, the bill is given to the older one. If you are the person who is least likely to be handed the bill, make arrangements to pay beforehand. Even if you are the person most likely to get the bill, paying before the bill ever reaches the table is an elegant way to do things.

You can slip the waiter your credit card when you arrive, then at the end of the meal the waiter will give the receipt right to you and all you have to do is sign. Arriving early to wait for your guest gives you time to make such arranagements without your client’s knowledge.

Have a big bill with you always, folded and hidden among your credit cards just in case your credit card does not go through. Then you can comfortably and gracefully pull up the $50 bill rather than having to pay with loonies and toonies.

Parting Ways

Make it clear before you part when you expect to hear from your client. If she does not call soon after your agreed-upon time, call her. A friendly “Have you had a chance to give it some thought?” sounds a lot better than “Hey, you I haven’t heard from you.”


1) If I invite you for lunch, who pays?
2) If I invite you for lunch, who initiates business?
3) When is it proper to initiate business?

1) I do.
2) I do.
3) As soon as we have ordered.

Adeodata founded Business of Manners to share her vast knowledge of the social graces with others. Through her many workshops and seminars, Adeodata has helped people from all walks of life polish their image and improve their social confidence.

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