Volume 12, no. 2
Art of the Business Meal or “Mama Always Said . . .”
By Robert C. (“T.J.”) Thurston
You’ve scheduled an important business lunch with a potential client and want to make a good impression. A glance at the clock says you’re due at the restaurant in 20 minutes, and you have yet to check your emails and voicemails, and you skipped breakfast, and you’re ready for either a monster Dagwood sandwich or the all-you-can-eat special at “The Trench and Trough.” Stop. Take a deep breath. And consider what your mother always said:
• Never be late for a business meal. It may be a “social” occasion, but it’s also an opportunity for your guest to judge whether or not you’ll be on time for a scheduled hearing in a case. Forget everything else and arrive at least five minutes early.
• Pick a “neutral food” restaurant. Your guest may not share your tastes for the lava-hot curry at your favorite Indian place, so choose a restaurant that offers variety (including vegetarian.) Remember, the meeting isn’t really about the meal.
• Dress appropriately. My mother always insisted that a lawyer should dress as if he or she were going to court. This is especially true when meeting a potential client, who’s likely to look at this as your “interview.” Unless you practice in Honolulu, lose the khaki shorts, penny loafers, and Tommy Bahama shirts. Exceptions—long-standing clients or colleagues when all have agreed on the level of casualness.
• Act appropriately. Speed read Emily Post on table manners or use the “phone a friend” option. I’m not talking about which fork to use for your salad (it’s the smaller one, BTW). You shouldn’t spill ketchup on your tie or discuss res ipsa loquitor with egg salad in your mouth or prove that you can spit a shrimp into someone’s water glass six tables away. No, no, no. Act like your mom is taking you out for a graduation lunch.
• Don’t drink alcohol at breakfast or lunch; drink sparingly at dinner. Don’t invite the question as to whether you require an intervention—or, worse, may be violating an ethics rule. Alcohol at breakfast or lunch brings into question your ability and desire to work afterward. Dinner drinks are acceptable in moderation, but only if your guest imbibes. Drinking alone is . . . well, drinking alone.
• Pay the bill. Be clear that you are not buying your guests’ business, simply that you appreciate that they joined you. It shows class.
Finally, send a nice note of thanks for their time, and, if true, let them know you really enjoyed yourself. Then call your mom and thank her for bringing you up right.