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‘Let’s do lunch!’ works well for that perfect meeting

“Let’s do lunch!” It’s a phrase that’s been heard in business circles for years, but does the lunch meeting still work in today’s hectic business climate?

“Absolutely. The business lunch is alive and well,” says Robin Jay, author of “The Art of the Business Lunch: Building Relationships Between 12 and 2” (Career Press). Known as the “Queen of Business Lunch,” Jay says that the business lunch is an essential part of business in today’s world. “In order to do business with someone, you need to build a relationship. Not everyone plays golf, but eating is universal. It’s a common ground on which to build a relationship.”

Relationship-building is important, says Jay, because “people prefer to do business with people they like. It’s a great way to build rapport. A relationship is built sequentially, just as a meal is served. First, there’s the small talk, or the appetizer. Then there’s the meat-and-bones, or coming attractions as in a movie, then there’s the final pleasantries, or dessert and coffee.”

Maggie Clark, owner of Maggie Clark Media, agrees that business lunches are as important as they’ve ever been. “But now, more than ever, it’s important that the lunch isn’t a waste of either party’s time. E-mail has replaced a lot of personal visits with business parties, but it hasn’t replaced the relationship-building aspect that a lunch can provide. Lunches aren’t always pure business. It’s a time to get to know each other better and to tune in to the needs of your client.”

Clark warns that a business lunch isn’t the place to handle negative situations. “That makes it difficult to digest your food. Save the negative issues for a coffee meeting.”

Jay’s book outlines the proper protocol for a business lunch. There are many do’s and don’ts in the book. For example, know good table manners.

“It’s surprising to me that people in the upper management positions of a company still prop their elbows on the table or speak with their mouths full.” Jay says the power lunch of the 1980s with its three martinis is over. “The rule of thumb is to take your lead from the client. If the client wants a drink, you don’t let him drink alone. But if you prefer not to drink, conspire with the waiter ahead of time. You can then order a vodka tonic, and the waiter can just bring you a club soda with a lime. No one will know but you and the waiter.”

Impressing a client with a nice lunch at a locally-owned restaurant can give the client an idea of the local flavor of a city. People have been taking clients and associates to Nick’s for years. Impressive, without being intimidating, the restaurant is an ideal spot for a successful business lunch.

“People come here for special occasions as well,” says owner Nick Apostle. “But business lunches are certainly something we cater to, and we’d be lost without them. We focus on serving good food in a timely manner. Our staff is courteous and efficient, and people appreciate that. We treat people nicely, which makes everyone feel good.”

There are different kinds business lunches for different occasions. Recently, director/producer Jeff Judin of 4 Tell films took legendary blues singer Bobby Rush to lunch at the Cherokee Inn to discuss a documentary concert film shot on location in China. “After traveling around China and trying to figure out the cuisine, it was nice to eat in a down-home place where we could relax and decide what we were going to do with the 20 hours of footage we had,” Judin says. “It was the perfect place to unwind and recap after 10 days overseas.”

Sometimes, a business lunch can be limiting time-wise. That’s when a business dinner might be more effective. Sherrill Widdig, manager of Tico’s, has seen many business deals made over a nice cut of beef. “Tico’s has become the place to see and be seen,” says Widdig. “Part of that is because our owner, Tico Hoffman, is great about making everyone feel welcomed and important. We provide great food in a nice atmosphere, served by an attentive wait staff. It has all the ingredients for a great business dinner.”

Other pointers in Jay’s book include being kind to the wait staff. “That will always put everyone else at the table at ease.”

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