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|Written by Will Parker|
|Wednesday, 11 March 2009 19:00|
I had heard stories about these meals before – afternoon lunches with A-type personalities, made-to-measure suits, and copious shop-talk. I had heard rumours about the fancy dining rooms filled with business people, blackberries set to vibrate, and copies of the National Post readily available should there ever be the need to kill some time. So when I reached a point in my life where it became painfully clear that these lunches would have to become part of my working routine, I was understandably hesitant. I’ll admit, I wondered what it would be like to look at a menu and not have to think about whether or not my charge card had enough credit left for me to get a starter and a main. With the swipe of some plastic and the stroke of a pen, I’d just expense it and charge it to the company. But that brief moment of arrogant pride would quickly fade when faced with the recognition that schmoozing, up-talking and closing the deal was the reason behind the rendezvous. Mixing business into your meal brings not-so-subtle nuances and rules into the equation which, for the beginner, carry heavy psychological and emotional considerations. Because there is nothing quite like the stress of the power lunch.
Having now sat through a number of these meetings, it seems the stories I heard may have been embellished slightly, and my imagination may have been prone to exaggeration. Nevertheless, my experience with this modern business staple has had its fair share of stereotypical Bay Street flavour. It is clear that even in the economic downturn, the need for the working business lunch continues to expand. While the corporate account may not be willing to shell out for that second bottle of the Premier Cru, people need to eat and business needs to get done. It’s inevitable – most people will have to endure some form of business lunch in their careers. Aside from the basics such as arriving on time, wearing appropriate attire, and using good table manners, navigating a modern power lunch can be difficult for even the business savvy. But fear not – there are some simple rules which will make even the greenest luncher a seasoned pro. I give to you, dear readers, the rules of the modern power lunch.
Rule Number One: Don’t Call it a Power Lunch. I challenge you to think of a phrase which connotes higher levels of douche-baggery. When scheduling your own power lunch, make sure you stick to less smarmy terms, like “business lunch” or “lunch with a client” or just plain old “lunch.”
Rule Number Two: Pick a Decent Location. You probably shouldn’t set up a business lunch at your local golden arches. Instead, think about where you’d take your partner’s parents when they’re visiting town. The goal is to impress, without looking desperate. It makes sense, therefore, to choose something classic and tasty. Now is not the time to try the new Ethiopian restaurant that you’ve just heard about. It’s also not the best time to go to somewhere on the outskirts of town. Choose somewhere easy, convenient and, ultimately, comfortable, so that the conversation can flow.
Rule Number Three: Watch the Booze. Unless you’re trying out for the Pussycat Dolls or Girlicious, getting sloshed on a business date doesn’t exactly scream professional. The best guideline is to avoid alcohol altogether. Sending the message that you take your job seriously is probably going to be better received than the potential mixed messages you might send when ordering a couple pints while on the clock. If you are going to drink, make sure that you limit your alcohol consumption to one beverage total. It’s a good idea to set the tone – order a glass of wine with your meal, but politely refuse any refills, cocktails or aperitifs.
Rule Number Four: Focus on the Conversation. This is why you’ve set up the meeting! While the food may be amazing, it’s not the reason you’ve scheduled a lunch date with this potential business associate. Be friendly, be engaging and be yourself. While it’s fine to talk about the weather, the last movie you saw, or the disappointing current standings on your local hockey team (seriously, what is with the Sens this year?!), again – your lunch date didn’t give you his or her time to talk fluff. Clearly you are there to talk business, so don’t spend most of your meal warming up for the big pitch.
Rule Number Five: Don’t Linger! Try to make sure you have already finished eating, asked for the cheque, paid and exchanged business cards before the conversation runs dry. You want to be sure you leave them wanting more, so end on a high-note and discuss your plans for the next meeting.
With these simple rules in hand, even a beginner can expertly navigate his or her way through the frightening power lunch. They’re really not as bad as they sound. The power lunch is kind of like a strange hybrid of a first date and job interview all rolled into one. By taking the time to put your best foot forward, you are sure to make the impression necessary to succeed in any business relationship. And hey – if you’re not feeling the power in your next business lunch, no worries. At least you got a decent meal out of it, right?