Don’t Talk Business at a Business Lunch

This past Friday, I sat down with the owner of a law firm for my first ever business lunch. Being a stickler for proper business etiquette, I was a bit nervous of saying or doing the wrong thing; I agonized over what to order (we eat at Panera Bread) for fear of looking barbaric as I stuffed my face. In fact, I managed to overdress, arrive too early, and, in my opinion, order the wrong thing, yet lunch still went swimmingly.

I soon realized I was very lucky with who I was eating, because he took my inexperience in stride and freely gave me valuable advice on how to conduct myself in the future. He, being the owner of a law firm, and me, being a student and an intern, and much younger, there’s an economic status difference; because of that, and the fact that he invited me to lunch, it’s typical for someone in his position to offer to pay for your (the student’s) lunch. And don’t be shy about accepting, it’s a sincere offer, and a free meal is something no college student wants to pass up. Hence my mistake in arriving too early, I’d already ordered and paid for myself before he arrived. However, the most important thing about a business lunch is that it’s not really about getting any actual business done. Indirectly it is, because a business lunch is about getting to know somebody better, and typically that somebody is someone you are or are planning to do business with. A business lunch is about establishing a good relationship, or good rapport, so that future business can be conducted. Moreover, just like the informational interview with which I’m so familiar, a business lunch is about getting to know somebody, and learning from them.

For a student, especially in the communications or business fields, learning from established professionals in the field is the most valuable learning you’re going to get. Take any opportunity to meet with someone in the field you’re interested in, whether it’s an informational interview or a business lunch, or just for coffee. Picking the brains of those that have come before you is the best way to learn what you want to do later in life.

Do you have any ideas on how a business lunch should go? We’d love to hear from you.

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