Successful business meals

Whether a business lunch or three-course menu: how to make a business meal a success

A business meal is the supreme discipline in dealing with customers and business partners. However, it's not always easy to do everything right at a business lunch: who chooses the restaurant? When do you start talking about business? And even if it’s your own boss who has invited you, you should know the rules of the game.

The different types of business meal

There are different reasons for a meal in the professional environment: you could be celebrating signing a contract with a customer, taking tough negotiations with a business partner into a relaxed environment or just simply taking a break from work to satisfy your hunger.

To make sure there’s always a good atmosphere at a business meal, you should know how the roles are allocated – and this depends on the occasion and who is present. There are different rules for a lunch with your boss than for a business lunch with a business partner.

The internal business meal

Who chooses the restaurant? Eating lunch regularly with your colleagues doesn’t fall into the category of an internal business meal and doesn’t require any arrangements. But if your boss invites you to eat, you should pay attention to a few things. In this case, it’s obviously your superior who will choose the restaurant.

Seating arrangement Just wait to see where your boss sits or whether they offer you a specific seat.

The conversation Usually your superior has something they want to talk about during the business meal. Go ahead and let them lead the conversation. But you can think about a few loose topics in advance, for example if you know what kind of hobbies your boss has.

Who pays? Since your boss invited you for the meal, they will also pay the bill.

The informal business lunch

Who chooses the restaurant? The informal business lunch usually serves the purpose as a break from work when business partners meet to discuss a project or negotiate and gradually start to get hungry. The person who has the home advantage should suggest a few restaurants to their business partners. Think practically: proximity and short waiting times are more important than the atmosphere. Be careful: not all restaurants offer warm meals in the afternoon.

Dress code Not an issue: you don’t have to change into a special outfit.

Seating arrangement In a larger group, it's recommendable to alternate where business partners and your own colleagues sit. It’s best to discuss this arrangement for the business lunch in advance with your colleague so that embarrassing chair swapping doesn’t happen.

The conversation Whether you will continue the conversation from the office or would rather talk about more everyday subjects depends on the participants. But perhaps you can use the business lunch as a welcome pause for breath – this is especially recommended if you’re involved in slow negotiations.

Who pays? There’s no single answer to this. Generally, the person with the home advantage should pay the business lunch. Anything else could be seen as stinginess.

The official business meal

Who chooses the restaurant? Official business meals usually take place in the evening. If you are doing the inviting, you should take your business partners into account when you choose the restaurant. If you already know each other for a while, you can accommodate their preferences. Otherwise, you can simply ask them what they like. If in doubt, choose a quiet restaurant with a wide range of dishes, including vegetarian ones. Check the atmosphere in the restaurant beforehand.

Dress code Really depends on the sector and the type of business relationship. At an evening meal, however, it should be at least a shirt and jacket with jeans.

Seating arrangement If there are numerous guests, the host should allocate seats at the table according to the hierarchy. The best seat should be reserved for the most senior colleague. As a guest, you should allow the host to sit down first. Introducing strangers to each other is also the host’s task.

The conversation A rule of thumb: no business talk before the dessert. After that, the host should lead the conversation in that direction. If the business partner starts to talk about business earlier, you should respond to that.

Who pays? The host should pay for the business meal discreetly. An elegant solution is to excuse yourself after dessert or coffee and pay out of the business partner’s sight.