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Top 5 Ways to Successfully “Do Lunch”

Top 5 way to Successfully “Do Lunch”

At some point, you will have a lunch business meeting. Whether this is sitting with a superior to discuss your career or a potentially ally that you need to convince, a lot can be accomplished. However, there is an art to the business lunch.

Here are my top 5 tips:

1) Location – You need to find a place you can talk and is not too crowded. This can be a rookie mistake if you go to some place and you can’t talk. Best bet – a nice sit-down restaurant that takes reservations.

2) Reminder – Often it can take 10 emails to set up a lunch meeting. And by the time, it is put on one’s schedule, people often forget. It is super key to do a quick email reminder the morning of the lunch. I have been accidentally stood up a few times because of my lack of reminding.

3) Ordering – Ideally always order second, so you can copy what the other person does. Generally go for something easy to eat (not a BBQ sandwich), not too messy. And always order an “Arnold Palmer” – its classy

4) Discussion – So the whole point of the lunch is to have a talk. Don’t just hop right into business. You need some warm-up to get people going – family, friends, sports, etc. But at the same time, you want to make sure you get to the topic you came to. I’ve had too many lunches that ended without the real topic ever getting discussed.

5) Follow-up – Yep…a theme in my posts lately. But it is key to follow-up on what was discussed at the lunch. It doesn’t have to be that afternoon and honestly I’d recommend the next day. Thank the person for lunch and go into the next steps you’ve discussed.

Also here are some other top 5’s of mine:
Top 5: Ways to Get Your Next Gov’t Job
Top 5: Best Places to Have a Government Job
Top 5: Worst Places to Have a Government Job
Top 5: Places to Network at Work
Top 5: Gov’t Shows That Should Exist
Top 5: Things I Wish the Boss Did
Top 5: Ways to Tell a Contractor Apart From a Govie
Top 5: Signs You Need A New Job

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Henry Brown

Make sure that PRIOR to lunch everyone fully understands who is going to pay for what. If it is a supervisor and or an outsider there are a significant number of regulations which must be adhered to at all times

Avatar photo Bill Brantley

I always try to schedule at 11:00 AM or after 1:00 PM so that you can avoid the noon crowd and the possibility of running into folks you know. It’s great to be friendly but they could end up inviting themselves to your table and ruining your opportunity.

It’s also a good idea to take lunch at some place far from your workplace (especially if you are job hunting). That way you can talk freely without having to look over your shoulder or worry about being spotted with someone.

If lunch is not possible, think about an afternoon coffee break. Coffee houses are good places to meet in the afternoon and you don’t seem to have the time pressure that you often do when you are doing lunch.

Tip Fallon

Great tips! I would also add: If you’re feeling hesitant to ask someone that’s in a higher-level position to lunch but have a little voice telling you it would be a good convo: Just do it.

There is a lot to be learned between more “early career” and the “tenured” crowd. And it can be intimidating to make that ask, but the outcomes can be exceptional. They can give advice you’d never thought of, and you can offer them perspective that they are probably far-removed from. Plus people are generally flattered when you seek them out for advice 😉

Bon appetit.

Deb Green

Discussion is SO important. It’s not just about business. So much of what gets done and for whom it actually gets done for is about the personalities involved. Break bread and don’t be afraid to banter before busting out into business. Especially if it’s a difficult or controversial topic. Banter first, business second when meeting outside of the office in a quasi-social environment.

Nichole Henley

Such great tips! But I think it all depends on who you’re having lunch with and why. My style is very laid back and warm and friendly and that’s generally how lunches I attend go. Your tone generally sets the mood for the lunch; if it’s just business than the conversation will tend to be smoky with all the BS and PC garbage you get a work- just in a different environment. If you’re honest and genuine and don’t create any unnecessary pressures, things end up working out for the better. All the lunches I have been on have been “just because” and many of those “just because” lunches have turned into future career positions or job offers. Be yourself! 😛


Really like this tip:
If you’re feeling hesitant to ask someone that’s in a higher-level position to lunch but have a little voice telling you it would be a good convo: Just do it.

Sid Burgess

Great post. One addition, I always send a hand-written note thanking them for their time. In an ever increasing digital world, don’t forget that most of us still appreciate it when someone takes the time to “manually” say thank you.

Alan Raisman

If you schedule a lunch meeting five days or more in advance, make sure to send an email or a phone call to the individual to confirm the time and location.

Dick Davies

Your point 4 about the point of the meeting not coming up – I find that is usually on purpose and pressing doesn’t help. It may be too big to know at that first meeting, and is generally the elephant in the room. I have two solutions, first anyone who has ever sat with me came away with a handout, and second, my idea of a “Thank You” is to provide something with value based on the conversation. It may take a day or two to run cross it, but staying on message moves the conversation forward.

David B. Grinberg

So where and when are we meeting for a late lunch or coffee, Steve? Please email me the logistics. Looking forward to it.


Katie Bromley

Great reminders, whether you’ve been ‘doing lunch’ for a year or decades. I’ll never forget the time time I regretfully ordered soup. And yes, I’ve had conversations over lunch where I’ve felt that the reason the person asked for lunch, was never addressed, for one reason or another.

Martha Austin

I love these tips. So much of what we do is about connecting. Inside the walls of our respective organizations it can be really easy to get on the bureaucratic treadmill and lose our connection…to ourselves, our partners in service, and sometimes even our mission (the difference we came here to make.) There is SO MUCH more to lunch than grabbing a sandwich. Thanks for the reminder and the tips on how to make that lunch really work.



Jon Lee

Great tips! To piggyback off 3) Ordering – I wouldn’t order anything that requires too much chewing, because you typically don’t want long awkward silences and swallowing too quickly can lead to heartburn or stomach cramps. I usually order appetizers or salad/soup to simplify the ingestion process.

4) Discussion – Manage how much time each person talks. Don’t dominate the conversation so the other person finishes eating while you’ve only taken 2 bites, and vice versa. If you feel like you’re talking too much, stop and ask that person a question (make sure he/she didn’t just take a bite). If that other person is talking too much, jump in with a comment and give him/her a chance to eat.

Erika Miller

Kind of hard to take this advice seriously when you say copy what the other person orders and ALWAYS get an Arnold Palmer. Really?!? OR you can not be a sheep and be your own person and get what you want.

Jon Mathis

Two other thoughts:

1. Don’t order salad. Salad at a business lunch can be treacherous.

2. Another little-used option in government is to have a conversation while going for a walk. Sometimes getting out of the office makes for much more relaxed and effective communication

Shannon Donelson

I recently attended a business lunch at a BBQ place (Not my choice). Lunch was fantastic, but from the appetizers to the food, it was one big mess between myself and the others. It amazed me how much the messiness of the food interfered with the quality of the conversation!

Treat a work lunch like a first date. Always choose something simple and always be on your best behavior while enjoying your food.