Formal and Informal Business Lunch Etiquette

Published on October 23rd, 2012 by | Category: Management

Entertaining clients, customers and business associates is an accepted practice in business life. By far the most common form of business entertainment is the business lunch, where men and women meet to discuss business problems over a meal.

Informal Luncheons Etiquette

The host usually has his secretary telephone his favorite restaurant or club to reserve a table for himself and his guest or guests. This can be done a day in advance or, if necessary, the same day.

Many executives prefer to entertain informally in their own small dining rooms, in which case their secretaries telephone the orders to a caterer and brew coffee in a kitchenette.

Inviting the Guests

Invitations for an informal luncheon are usually extended by telephone, either by the host or his secretary. On occasion, a written invitation to an informal lunch may be sent out, as, for example, the following one to an out-of-town business acquaintance:

Dear Hal:

We look forward with real pleasure to your visit here on April 7. If your plans permit, I would like you to have lunch with Cal Hodges, our new advertising manager, and myself that day.

I going to enjoy showing you through our new plant, and am anxious to tell you of some exciting plans for the future.


An invitation of this kind could be answered as follows:

  • Acceptance:

Dear Jim:

There is nothing I’d enjoy more than having lunch with you and Cal Hodges on April 7. Make whatever arrangements as to time and place that suit you best. I have heard a great deal of flattering comment on your new advertising manager, and look forward to meeting him.

J should arrive at your office about9:30 a.m. and after touring the plant would like to work out the details of our new contract. By the way, will you try to have the figures we discussed ready for me on the seventh?


  • Regrets:

Dear Jim:

Having lunch with you and your new advertising manager on April 7 is something I very much enjoy, as I’ve heard some fine reports on Cal Hodges. But I’m already committed to a luncheon meeting with the board of directors of Halsted, Inc. I plan to be at your office about 9:30 a.m. but will have to leave at 11:45.

However, if agreeable to you, I can stay over for another day. I am anxious to hear of your plans for the future, and feel that a talk with Hodges at this time would be to our mutual advantage. Would lunch on the eighth suit you?


Lunching in the Company Cafeteria

When time is limited, or the host’s office is in an isolated surburban area, guests may be entertained at lunch in the company cafeteria. The host should be certain that if there are procedures to be followed, such as obtaining guest tickets, he has it all taken care of beforehand. If the cafeteria affords a separate room, this would be the best place to meet, in which case the host should make a reservation if it’s required.

Introducing the Business Topic

When the guest at lunch is either a client or a customer, the host allows him to introduce the subject of business into the conversation. No matter how anxious the host is to talk about the signing of a contract, or prices, or deliveries, or any other matter, he should wait for his guest to bring it up. When the guest is neither a customer nor a client, the host may bring up at any time the topic of business he wishes to discuss. It is courteous, however, to wait until the main course has been eaten and dessert ordered.

How Long Should Lunch Last?

It is polite to allow the client or customer to decide how long the lunch is to last. Whether the guest is in a hurry or is willing to stretch the lunch hour to two or three, the host must accommodate himself with good grace.

A Formal Luncheon In a Private Room

The purpose of calling together a group of men for a luncheon of this kind is not only to entertain them elegantly but to provide a relaxed, secluded atmosphere in which to discuss matters of business. A private company dining room, a private room at a club, hotel, or restaurant makes a suitable setting for an occasion of this kind. ‘While the luncheon will not take all afternoon, it will be unhurried and free of interruptions, except for the serving of food and drink.

While there is a social element to this type of gathering, that is not the main purpose of the luncheon. Usually cocktails will be served, with tomato juice or soft drinks available for those who don’t drink alcoholic beverages. Very often the host will explain during cocktails why the luncheon meeting is being held and what he hopes to accomplish. He may sketch in the background of events leading up to this meeting and describe existing differences of opinion, or courses of action that have been considered.

Should Business Be Discussed During the Meal?

Conversation during the first part of the meal should be confined to small talk of one kind or another—vacations, trips, news of people and happenings, the theatre, art, whatever you think would interest the people you are lunching with. The host will usually introduce the subject of the meeting after the main course plates are removed and dessert is served.

When You Are the Host

While a luncheon meeting of this kind is a leisurely affair, bear in mind that your guests have other work to do. Don’t permit the cocktail hour to run on. Give everyone the opportunity to get a second drink, and then have the meal served.

Formal Luncheon Etiquette

Arranging a formal business luncheon is a task that usually fails to the lot of the host’s secretary. The following list of things to do in planning the event will prevent overlooking any of the important details.

1. Reserve a dining room. Your employer will probably tell you whether he prefers the company private dining room or a room in a hotel, restaurant, or club. Be sure the room is the right size for the number of people who will be present.

2. Plan the menu. If your employer has not expressed a preference for a certain dish, discuss with the company cook or chef, or the caterer, banquet manager, or maitre d’hotel the number of courses, whether the main course is to be meat or fish, what kind of salad dressing, and so on. Then submit the menu you decide on to your executive for his approval. As soon as you get it, call whoever has helped you plan the meal and either give him the changes that have been made in the menu or tell him it’s all right as it stands.

3. Send out the invitations. Invite the guests at least two weeks in advance of the luncheon date. Keep a list of those invited and check off the acceptances and regrets as they come in. (Type a list of the names and rule off “accepts” and “regrets” columns next to them.) When all the replies are in, let the cook or caterer or whoever will handle it know exactly how many will attend the luncheon. He may give you a deadline for this.

4. Order flowers. If the luncheon is to be a small one, order a center piece for the table. If there is to be more than one table, order as many arrangements as are necessary.

5. Plan the seating. Draw the tables as they will be set up for the luncheon. You will probably have to confer with your employer as to where to seat his guests. Buy place cards (of heavy stock in white or cream). Write, in ink, each guest’s last name and title, such as Dr. Johnson, Senator Grant, Mr. McElory. Either have the caterer’s or manager’s staff put the cards on the table (you’ll have to send the seating plan and cards) or go there yourself before the luncheon and place them.

A Last Minute Check

Someone—the host’s secretary, if she has arranged the luncheon—should check the room before the guests arrive, to be sure that everything is as it should be.

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