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How to Close a Deal at a Business Lunch

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 2 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Business Lunch Successful Business Lunch

To an outsider a business lunch must seem like a really nice way of spending an hour or so away from the office being wined and dined at the company’s expense, yet that perception is more often than not very wide of the mark. Business lunches are often used to strike deals and many a company has lost a great deal of business as a result of a business lunch gone wrong. Many of them end up with no real decisions being made and sometimes the ‘business’ element ends up not being discussed at all. There are numerous facets to consider if you want to ensure that your business lunch is a success.

The Venue

Apart from the negotiations themselves, your choice of venue is probably the most important factor to consider when you are arranging a business lunch. If it’s too hot, too cold, too noisy, too crowded or too scruffy, you and your lunch guest are not really going to be in a conducive mood to discuss any sort of business which would result in a waste of time and the deal could even be lost. It’s always a good idea to choose a venue that’s close to your guest’s office or location. Don’t make them come to you and don’t choose a place where they have to drive through heavy traffic as they will end up being stressed before they even arrive at lunch. If possible, choose a place you’ve been to before. As you’ll be familiar with the setting, how things are run and small things like where the toilets are, will mean that you’ll be more at ease when your guest arrives. Alternatively, if the lunch has to be held at a place which you are unfamiliar with, try to visit it on another day before the meeting is to take place so you can get familiarised with the set up. Also, try to choose either a restaurant which has a varied menu with at least a couple of vegetarian options. Or, if you know your guest has a penchant for a particular type of food, e.g. Chinese, you might care to opt to choose a venue which will be ideal for his or her palate.

Communication Etiquette

Small talk and pleasantries will always usually precede any business negotiations at a lunch. If you know your client well, this won’t present much of a problem but if you’ve never met them before, it’s useful if you can establish some kind of rapport with them prior to the lunch so that your conversation when you finally meet them can sound free flowing and natural. Having a phone conversation with them first is usually the best way of going about this. You’ll be able to get a general ‘feel’ for the type of personality they’re likely to be which should help you determine if the lunch is likely to be more or less formal. They might also give you an insight into a hobby they have or tell you a bit about their family, depending on how the phone conversations go. It is important, however, that this tends to occur naturally as opposed to you putting them through ’20 questions’ before you’ve met simply so you can find out a bit more about them. If they’re in quite a high prominent position, you might also care to do a bit of research on the internet prior to the lunch.

Companies will often include short biographies of their key members of staff on their website, which will often give you both a personal, as well as a professional, insight into what they’re all about. Even a ‘Google’ search on their name might reveal some information about them. Remember, you’re not a private investigator here but this kind of preparation can be useful in giving you a bit of background as to the kind of person you’ll be dealing with which can often make a huge difference in a business lunch context.

Obviously, the amount of ‘small talk’ will vary in length, depending on how long the lunch is scheduled to last. Also, if they are very high-powered people, e.g. Chairmen, Chief Executives etc., you shouldn’t be expecting them to stay too long so introducing the ‘business’ element to your meeting may have to come sooner rather than later. In fact, proposing a breakfast meeting is becoming more popular, especially with high-powered executives as they can kill two birds with one stone. That is, getting something eaten just before work as opposed to having to make breakfast at home as well as it not interfering with the regular 9 to 5 demands of their work, other staff and clients.

Dining etiquette is also important and this is covered in another article contained on this website but, on the subject itself, you should always go easy on the alcohol, if you even decide to have any at all. Take your cue from when you greet your guest and offer them a drink and if they opt for a non-alcoholic beverage, it’s often better if you do likewise.

All of these tips can be useful and can sway a business deal in your favour. It’s all about doing your preparations both with regard to the business at hand and the arrangements and preparations beforehand, accepting that a meeting is all about give and take and to listen as much as, if not more, than you talk and knowing the right time when small talk should be switched to the business at hand. By following this advice, you’ll stand far more chance of closing a deal at a business lunch.

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