The 5 rules to successful lunch meeting

Singapore SME owner Simon Kearney shares his philosophy of lunch. Why lunch meetings are an essential element of business leadership and simple rules such as why lunch should only ever be for two people.
For me the lunch meeting is an essential fixture of my day. If I don’t have lunch booked with a client I will take one of my staff out for lunch, or one of our freelance creators.
Without fail every lunch with a client elicits a great idea, some essential feedback, a new lead, and regularly more business. Lunch with a member of my staff leads to insights into how we’re doing and I’ve often rushed back from lunch excited about something new we can do.
The concept of never eating alone is not new. It’s been part of the success industry mantra for a while. There’s an app and a book by the same name. While lunch is certainly a good thing to do for business success, it’s also important to focus on the experience as an enjoyable pastime. You’ve got to get the mix right though.
Rule #1. Numbers
Lunch is for two people. This is the least known but most important rule. Two people having lunch form a bond, share secrets, confide in each other, learn about each other’s personalities, fears, aspirations, hopes and dreams. As best you can, stick to this rule.
Rule #2. Etiquette
Be the perfect host. If you’ve arranged the lunch offer to pick up the bill. Don’t make it awkward though. If they insist to share the bill – share it. Follow the lead of your companion, if they opt for the set menu, do the same. If they drink (and you partake) join them. If they don’t, you don’t. Try and go to a place you know so you can make suggestions about the menu. Always, as the meal is coming to a close, ask if they would like anything more, dessert, coffee, etc. Closer relationships are sealed at the end of a meal not the beginning.
Rule #3. Conversation
Mix it up between business and personal topics. How you apply this rule depends on how you communicate as a host. I tend to let the conversation ebb and flow between business and personal. I don’t see the business lunch as a hard sell. It is about building long-term understanding and relationships.
Rule #4. Location.
Your choice of venue says everything about the value you place on the relationship and that particular meeting. You know your clients, staff and partners. The rule is don’t make them uncomfortable but be conscious about what your choice of eating establishment says about them. (See below for a local’s tip on this.)
Rule #5. Invitations.
Don’t make a big deal of the invite. Asking someone to have lunch with you is a perfectly natural thing to do. The person being invited will most often be flattered that you thought of them. Try not to explain why. There doesn’t really need to be a reason to have lunch. If you put a lot of conditions on lunch the invite is more likely to be rejected.
Because my viewpoint comes largely from an Australian cultural standpoint I’ve also included some tips from my friend and foodie Crystal Chua, the owner and operator of Singapore’s My Private Chef.
She says:
  • No need to share food unless someone is serving the food individually – I wouldn’t want to be distracted from my business conversation
  • Places with set lunches are the best as it makes ordering easy and quick
  • Bite size food, I wouldn’t want my guests to be slurping food!
  • The location must be accessible for all parties
  • In Singapore don’t be seen to splurge on business lunches – wasting food or splurging is not classy
  • Find somewhere with quiet ambience for business conversations
  • Prompt service is critical as business lunches must be over in no more than one and a half hours
All good advice.
Before you book a lunch meeting, remember these four things:
  • Lunch is ideally for two people only.
  • Be a courteous host.
  • Follow your lunch companion’s lead.
  • Select the location and conversation topics carefully.