Networking over meals is always a great way to make a connection. The expert on this topic is my friend Robin Jay, the author of The Art of the Business Lunch. I have always found it easy to make conversation and get to know someone over coffee, breakfast or lunch. Lunch is one of the best times to meet with someone since it breaks up the day and is usually a confined time period. There is enough time to make small talk and get down to business.
If you have not taken advantage of going out to lunch with someone that you have recently met and want to get to know better or someone you have known but never spent time with and want to learn more about, then you may be missing out on an important way to network with a business lunch. In Robin's book, she shares the many tips which I believe can be a huge asset when growing your circle of contacts in networking. Here are a few of my favorites from Robin:
- 1. Always make a reservation
- If you are pressed for time, don't skip lunch, make your appointment for breakfast.
- Prepare for casual conversation and avoid awkward silence by knowing a little about a lot.
- Don't talk about business until everyone has eaten since people tend to be more receptive to new ideas on a full stomach.
A business lunch can be a great environment to get to know someone and the outcome will depend on how well it is planned. Your table manners speak volumes about you so be sure that you do mind your manners. Talk about things that are of common interest and encourage your lunch guest to talk about themselves and find areas of common interest. I don't remember who said the following but I do know that it still rings true: "bores talk about themselves, gossips talk about others, perfect conversationalists talk about you". Keep the conversation upbeat, ask open-ended questions and most importantly, if you have extended the invitation for lunch, be sure to pick up the tab as this could cause confusion and be uncomfortable.
Here a few final thoughts as you prepare to set your business lunch dates:
- A business lunch is not the time to order something messy like spaghetti. Keep it neat and you will leave a much better first impression.
- Remember the focus of the business lunch is not the food. Know why you are meeting with your lunch partner and be prepared to keep the conversation flowing.
- Act as the host or hostess and if possible, eat something light before your lunch so you are not starved and can focus on what you want to accomplish.
- It goes without saying but it must be said, turn off your cell phone and give your full attention to your guest.
- Be early
- Always ask your guest if they have a time frame so you can plan your lunch accordingly.
- Be polite to your waiter or waitress. How you treat others will be observed so be respectful at all times.
- Choose a restaurant with a limited menu to simplify things.
- Ask questions about vacations and hobbies which are very neutral.
- Make your conversation transition to business easier with a simple statement such as tell me about your business.
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