It’s Never “Just Lunch” – a guide for navigating one of the more involved connecting experiences
In most scenarios when you meet someone and would like to get to know them better, you invite them to get together one on one. The two of you will agree to meet at someone’s office, grab coffee, or grab lunch. If lunch is suggested, there is a lot more to contend with and think about than any of the other options because a lunch is much more involved than a coffee with someone. In a coffee meeting, there is very little eating, no check to receive, and in most cases a third party (server) is not involved throughout the meeting. So it’s important to be prepared for all of the additional decisions and scenarios a lunch will introduce before you agree to it.
Always think: I. E.A.T. (Invite – Environment – Agenda – Thank You)
The Invite – This is often the most overlooked part of the lunch gathering but the way it’s handled can often save time and decisions later on. If you are the one inviting someone to lunch, you should make a conscious decision of the language you use because it communicates what will happen when the two of you meet. If you say “I’d like to take you to lunch” then you have made it clear at the very beginning that YOU will pay. When you say “Let’s grab lunch” you make it less clear and you will have a different experience when the bill comes than if that decision was made beforehand. There is no moment that feels stranger than when you both are staring at the bill wondering who is going to grab it, so setting this up from the moment of the invite takes less guess work later on. If you are invited to lunch and the other person does not say, “Let me take you to lunch!” be prepared to either pay or split based on the different points below.
The Environment – The place that you choose to have lunch can have a large effect on your meeting. If it’s a place that requires reservations it will have a much different vibe than a diner or a food court. Pay attention to how crowded places get and also how loud they get. The price points of the venue also can affect the way that the meeting is perceived. If it’s a pricey establishment you are saying something about the importance of the meeting whether you realize it or not. If you have not made it clear who is paying, you also may have set up an awkward situation later on if the person you invite is not in a place to split the bill. I’ve had a few experiences where I had someone ask to go to lunch to get my advice on something and then apologize that they couldn’t afford the place THEY had chosen to eat. I then was stuck with a pretty intense bill which changed the way I felt about the meeting. Remember that you can shape the experience by choosing the venue. If they choose the venue, be sure to research ahead of time so you know what you’re getting into.
The Agenda – It’s important to have some idea why the two of you are there because you’re going to be spending a good deal of time together. You will be first ordering your beverage, then the meal, and possibly dessert so it’s important to know how much time you both have before you get started. My friend Deborah Goldstein, who advises on strategic dining, always suggests finding out the amount of time you both have before you order. If you are both just getting to know one another, take some time to get into backgrounds. Invite your guest to tell you about their past experiences and share some of yours. My suggestion is to always try and keep the conversation even if you can. You don’t want to talk their ear off and they might get to a point where they feel like they have nothing left to say, so keep the conversation going with questions and let it flow back and forth. Pay attention to what you order and how easy it will be to eat and speak. The last thing you want is to be engaged in a conversation and have something dripping down your mouth. Ask open-ended questions to give you time to eat and speak for longer periods when the other person is eating so you both can get through the meal. Lastly, always treat your server well. I know that I always pay attention to how the person I’m dining with treats the server since it tells me a lot about how they interact with people in general. If they’re kind to you, but rude to the server, look out!
The Thank You – At the end of the meal you can decide how you want to thank someone for their time. If they gave you a lot of value but you had not offered to pay, you may choose to offer. If you have decided to split the check, make sure that you are being fair about the split of the bill. It’s pretty bad when you’ve had the lobster and they’ve had the salad to say that you should split the bill. If they offer to pay, always thank them and let them know how much you appreciate it. Most people forget to thank someone appropriately for buying the meal.
If you keep these points in mind, your lunches will run much more smoothly and you’ll find yourself less likely crying out, “Check please!” in desperation.