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Lunch Meetings: When They Are Appropriate and How To Run Them Effectively

Master the art of the lunch meeting: when you should step outside the office, why food can help build better relationships, and how to prevent any lunch meeting mishaps.

The Hugo Team
The Hugo Team
The team transforming meeting productivity
Lunch Meetings: When They Are Appropriate and How To Run Them Effectively

Business meetings can get tedious.

Whether it be with a prospective client or one-on-one with an employee, a work meeting can feel redundant and unexciting sometimes. For a change in scenery, a working lunch is a great way to conduct business in a refreshing and more informal setting.

Plus, by adding a tasty meal to your business lunch meeting, you can make a lasting impression on your guest. Food tends to evoke a sense of comfort, which can help you establish rapport, increase engagement, and boost company morale

Holding your meetings over lunch could be a possible fix to a mundane workday — as long as you can master how:

  1. The different kinds of lunch meetings
  2. Benefits of lunch meetings
  3. What kinds of meetings are ideal as lunch meetings
  4. What kinds of meetings shouldn’t be held over lunch
  5. How to conduct a successful business lunch

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What are the different kinds of lunch meetings? 

First, it’s important to establish where you want to host your business lunch meeting. Different situations call for different settings, so make sure to choose an option depending on your specific meeting outcome goals: 

  • Online: When your guest’s availability or location doesn’t allow for an in-person meeting, shoot an invite with a videoconferencing link like with GoogleMeet or Zoom. Having a lunch meeting online is ideal when your goal is solely to break the ice. 
  • In the office: Looking to connect with your employees on a more personal level? Invite your guest to a lunch meeting in the conference room or in the office. 
  • At a restaurant: Dining at a restaurant allows most of the details of the lunch to be handled for you. Depending on the meeting topic and profile of your attendee, make a reservation at a local restaurant. 

Not every lunch meeting will look the same, but it’s important to tailor each meeting location to align with different factors. 

Is the topic of discussion serious, or informal? Is the meeting with a high-profile client? Does the meeting’s content include sensitive information? 

Think about the atmosphere, the noise level, and the prevalence of alcohol. If your guests have dietary restrictions, make sure the lunch accommodates that.

Depending on these details, you may want to reconsider your meeting location. Not only does this show respect towards your attendee, but it is a simple step to prevent any potential mishaps.

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Benefits of lunch meetings

It’s neutral territory. The setting helps put everyone on equal footing, for example, balancing the manager/direct report dynamic. The lunch helps eliminate power positions and reduce any potential intimidation.

It boosts morale. By breaking the mold of having all meetings in conference rooms, and showing you’re willing to spend a little bit of extra money and time, you’re signaling the relationships between you and the other party is important.

It’s a way to say thank you. For the co-worker who has shown extra hustle, or the colleague who referred you a big customer, the act of taking someone to lunch is a great way to show gratitude and appreciation.

It leaves room for thinking. Most meetings feel awkward if there is a long period of silence. By occupying some time with the menu, food, drinks, even the bill, you’re enabling people to stop and digest not just the food, but the conversation too.

There’s more flexibility with time. Everybody has to eat. This gives you an opportunity to talk shop and get acquainted without the same time pressure of a 30-minute slot in your calendar.

It’s something different. If you want to approach your challenges with new ideas, sometimes you need to shake things up. Combining meetings with meals resets expectations about what might happen, providing a brain reset for all involved.

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What kinds of meetings are ideal as lunch meetings?

Closing deals over lunch sounds like an easy task, but remember — but don’t let the food distract you from the purpose of your meeting in the first place.

Here are a few types of meetings that are encouraged to be held over lunch:

  • Relationship building: Perfect for when you need to learn about a client or employee. When your main goal is to get to know your attendee, food can help facilitate conversation and interest. 
  • Sales meetings: These are designed to assist in developing your services, products, and relationships. Whether you’re discussing a product’s deficiencies or its benefits, having this type of conversation over lunch can benefit the team’s productivity as the setting creates a more comfortable environment. 
  • Brainstorming sessions: The sole purpose of a brainstorming meeting is to generate ideas. By pulling team members out of their usual setting and distracting them with food, new ideas are more likely to spring up organically.
  • As part of the interview process: To get a sense of whether someone is a good culture fit for your organization, an open-ended conversation over lunch often reveals more than a handful of questions delivered in a stuff conference room.

On the other hand, you don’t want to make a bad impression before the meeting even happens. While the idea seems appealing, some meetings just aren’t appropriate to be held over lunch.

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What kinds of meetings shouldn’t be held over lunch?

Refrain from holding a business lunch when your meeting requires the following:

  • Heavy documenting/note-taking
  • Undivided attention
  • Complex or critical problem solving
  • Participation of a group larger than 6

If a luncheon meeting becomes too active, or too large, it can turn to chaos. People may not be able to keep up or hear each other over the commotion.

A good rule of thumb to follow: If your stakes are low, try running a lunch meeting — you could be surprised with the benefits that come with it. If your stakes are high, be mindful of your attendee and whether or not lunch can actually take your meeting to the next level. If not, consider opting out. 

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How do you conduct a successful business lunch?

How you define a successful business lunch looks different depending on your meeting goals. You want to consider what topics need to be covered, and whether or not you need to set time aside during the discussion to fulfill any business-related work. 

When your aim is solely to connect and socialize with your guest, your business lunch can be kept open-ended. This allows everyone to let their guard down and have more genuine conversations outside of the office. 

However, if you have a few things on your to-do list, it’s important to remember to cross them off. Before arriving at your meeting, decide when you want to tackle these tasks. If you’d rather get them out of the way, start your meeting on a strong note, and use the rest of your time to socialize. Or, spend the first few minutes of the meeting to talk, and transition to speaking about business after your food arrives. 

Besides common courtesies and basic dining etiquette, there are several other factors that come into play when it comes to balancing lunch and business. 

Follow these tips, and you’ll be able to make your next lunch meeting one to remember:

Send out a meeting invitation in advance

An agenda informs everyone exactly why the meeting is happening, which allows them to prepare before they arrive. Having an agenda can help kickstart the meeting as it gives you a roadmap to follow throughout the discussion. 

However, lunch meetings only require a simple, one- to two-sentence rundown of the meeting’s purpose. While a detailed agenda is great, it’s perfectly normal to let natural conversation guide you when you get there.

Sending a meeting invitation before a lunch meeting, on the other hand, is crucial. Not only does it let your guest know when and where you'll be meeting, but it also helps to prevent any potential roadblocks. 

Provide these subtle details for your client or employee. By introducing these topics in advance, you can learn whether or not you will need to change locations before you get seated at a table. 

As your setting up the luncheon, this is an opportunity to confirm: 

  • Does your attendee have any dietary restrictions? 
  • Are the menu choices at your chosen restaurant suitable? 
  • What is parking or transportation like?
  • Do you need a reservation?
  • Is the restaurant vibe professional enough? Or is it a romantic spot? A bustling sports bar?

If you’re struggling to prepare topics and questions to ask about during your next lunch meeting, browse through Hugo’s personalized templates and make note of the ones that interest you. For example, take a look at these sample one-on-one agendas from Hugo.

Arrive early (Be the first one there)

Nothing is worse than having to wait on someone that invited you. 

Whether you are conducting a lunch meeting online or in-person, you want to make the best possible first impression on your guest. As the meeting facilitator, make sure to arrive early and use the bathroom beforehand. 

Dress appropriately 

Lunch meetings can feel informal and casual, but that doesn’t mean you should show up in torn jeans and a baggy t-shirt. Make sure to stick to the meeting’s suggested attire. Do a quick check on what you’re wearing and make sure it’s aligned with: 

  • The formality of the restaurant
  • Your relationship with the attendee 
  • The meeting topic 

Choose an easy-to-eat dish 

Table manners are a given during lunch meetings. While it may be easy to get carried away during conversation, try to focus on how you present yourself while dining. You may not realize it, but other seemingly insignificant mannerisms can heavily affect the outcome of your meeting.

The first choice to make is what you will be eating. Choose a dish that can be consumed with utensils — salad, bowls, and small appetizers are always great options. 

Watch out for foods that are hard to eat, stain easily, or get stuck between your teeth. Finger foods like burgers, for example, can be disastrous, unless eaten with a fork.

Also, avoid heavy foods that will sap away your energy. A healthier option can be a great way to stay energized during the conversation and afterward.

When facilitating your online lunch meeting, make sure to have your food ready ahead of time. You don’t want to interrupt your scheduled meeting to run downstairs for an UberEats delivery. Not only is this inconsiderate, but it also wastes the other person’s time. 

Whether you’re cooking up a meal in the office kitchen or choosing to order online, always be seated with your food. To ensure your food arrives on time, schedule your delivery or spend a couple of extra bucks to get priority delivery. 

Here are a few other must-follow tips to abide by when at a lunch meeting:

  • Offer your guest the better seat
  • Let your guest order first
  • Socialize until the food arrives
  • Be mindful and intentional about your body language
  • Eat mostly when your guest is speaking
  • Never take a phone call or text message at the table
  • Don’t overly indulge in alcoholic beverages 

If you are still concerned about using proper etiquette, take a look at this guide before arriving at your business lunch meeting. From asking questions to the waiter to shaking hands with people before you sit, these small details can seriously make or break your first impression.

Stick to the agenda and be organized

Remember, this is just lunch, it’s a business lunch meeting.

While conversations can get personal, remind yourself to stick to the meeting goals you have set. At the end of the day, a successful business lunch is run with outcome goals in mind. If necessary, ask questions to facilitate and pivot the conversation. 

Another way to be and show that you are organized is to be intentional about taking notes. If it is an online lunch meeting, you can definitely spend time typing short notes on your computer throughout the discussion. 

If you are meeting with someone in person, skip the computer and bring a small notepad and pen with you instead. Be discreet. Only jot down keywords, phrases, and metrics that you can read and recall specific details from. 

Send follow-ups and include meeting notes

After finishing up your lunch meeting, send your guest a quick email the same day to thank them for their time. Use your meeting notes to recall and restate any action items that were discussed. 

When a lunch meeting is successful, a great follow-up email can really be the cherry on top. It gives you one final opportunity to showcase your professionalism and gratitude. Be genuine and include anything that stood out to you to let your meeting attendee know that you were engaged and paying attention. 

Bring on your next business lunch meeting! 

Being outside of a typical office meeting setting is a great way to build relationships with clients and employees, and develop your professional skill sets. 

Whether you want to strengthen your knowledge of your department, or you need to close a deal with a client, following these tips can guide you to make a lasting impression on your meeting attendees. 

To streamline your meetings (over lunch and otherwise), sign up for Hugo to gain access to various meeting agendas, meeting note templates, and project management tools like Todoist, Trello, Jira, and Asana.

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