When my grandma would ask me what my strongest subject was in school, I used to announce proudly, “lunch!” (I was only half-kidding.) To my pint-sized self, it seemed like a fairly safe answer; “who could be bad at lunch?” I thought. It wasn’t until years later, once I had grown out of period 4 lunch at Bobcat Elementary and graduated into the world of semi-professional, often awkward business lunches, that I realized that it was, indeed, possible to fail at eating.

Unfortunately, proper business meal etiquette isn’t really something that’s baked into most university gen ed courses. When it comes to business lunch best practices, the best most of us have to go off of is word-of-mouth and unwritten rules. Yet, there a plenty of opportunities for semi-formal eating that pop up over the course of any career – from a first day lunch with a new boss to an introductory meal with a potential client.

If you’re looking to avoid making dining faux pas, pull up a seat at our table for five tips for successful business lunches:  

Logistics Lessons

First and foremost, there’s a lot of planning that goes into setting up business lunches long before any plates hit the table. For both hosts and guests alike, a little bit of preparation can go a long way towards avoiding missteps prior to lunchtime.

As a host, it is your responsibility to set reservations and clearly communicate the need-to-know information to your guests. Creating a calendar item with details like the address and time can be a huge help for getting everyone on the same page! When choosing a location for your event, avoid choosing a flashy, new restaurant that you’re dying to try (save that for your weekend adventures with friends.) Instead, take the safe route and make reservations somewhere you’ve been to before that’s dependable, consistent and convenient for all attendees – geographically and cuisine-wise.

As a guest, it’s important to stay up-to-date on all the important information about your lunch plans. If you receive a calendar invite for the event, make sure to reply with your status as soon as possible, even if you won’t be attending. Make note of suggested arrival times and apparel guidelines that may be listed. You don’t want to start things off on the wrong foot by looking out of place or, even worse, showing up late!

Curbing Costly Cuisine

Should you really go for the market price lobster? Have you been hankering for some caviar lately? Is that fresh truffle shaving really worth it? We could all use a taste of the finer things every now and then, but a professional lunch is not the proper time to indulge. Before you dive right into ordering the most expensive dish on the menu, consider being a bit more conservative with your selection. As a general rule, feel out the rest of the table and order something that’s in line with what the rest of your party is ordering.

Impeccable Pacing

Contrary to what my brother seems to think, eating is not a race! Okay, maybe it is if your chosen career path is that of a professional eater,  but in the case of most business lunches, there’s value in pacing yourself. On the one hand, you don’t want to finish too early and be stuck staring at your meal partner as they struggle to catch up with you. On the other hand, no one wants to be the person that everyone is waiting on to finally finish their dish. The key here is being perceptive of the pace of the rest of the table, and keeping up with that rhythm as much as possible. By maintaining a shared pace as a table, you’ll open up more opportunities for natural conversation!

Mid-day Moderation

Depending on the setting of your next professional meal, your host or a table mate might introduce alcohol into the mix. What should you do? First off, it’s important to always remember that you are by no means required to reciprocate drinking just because a fellow diner does so. If – for whatever reason – you are uncomfortable drinking, now’s the time to respectfully decline and order a different refreshing beverage. However, if you will be imbibing, the name of the game is our old friend pace. Just like with eating, there’s no prize for finishing your drink first! Instead, take small sips of your drink throughout the meal, and always be mindful of your limits.

Tip Top Tipping

There’s nothing that ruins a delightful dining experience than being seen as a terrible tipper. While leaving at least 20 percent of the bill as a tip for your server is absolutely necessary as a polite diner, being mindful of restaurant staff throughout your businesses lunches is even more important. If you’re a ray of sunshine when speaking with your lunch guests, but a storm cloud of negativity when the servers stop by, you’ll quickly lose credibility on both sides of the table. Your manners should extend to everyone at the restaurant, not just to the sales contact you’re connecting with or the new boss you’re hoping to impress!

Whether you’re looking to close a major deal over some salmon or celebrating a promotion with a little chicken pot pie, business lunches can actually be a lot trickier than most people expect. However, by paying attention to the details, being mindful of manners and always exercising moderation, you can relax knowing that your next cuisine adventure won’t be career ending!

What are your favorite tips for surviving business lunches? Share what’s on your menu in the comment section below!