Business Lunches: Etiquette Question

It's a lovely place indeed.
Taking our clients -- and potential clients -- to lunch is one of our favorite business activities. Who doesn't like a nice meal with lovely people? It's also a good way to get to know your clients, and clients don't have to invest too much of their time: just an hour or two. We've previously written about the art of the business lunch, and now it turns out that we have an etiquette question that we have yet to resolve. 

Ready to eat!
We just returned from a fantastic business trip to London, and we took one of our favorite clients to lunch at the venerable The Wolseley on Picadilly. It's a fancy and distinguished place, and as usual, we were a  bit early. Our client had been kind enough to make the reservation in her name. The restaurant was happy to seat us, because it was clear that we knew about the specific reservation and had the client's last name, but the question is: Should one get the table before the other person arrives? Or wait at the bar? Or wait in the waiting area? As the restaurant and bar area were quite crowded, we decided to go ahead and get the table. Also, we had not yet met our client in person, and we figured if we sat at the table it would be easy for our client to find us and recognize us (there weren't many identical twins there, but still -- it's a big place). On the other hand, the potential downside to waiting at the table is that it might make the client feel like she's late, even when she's not, and sometimes it's hard to stand up and say hello properly , especially if seated in a booth (makes for an awkward handshake/hug).

We are still not quite sure how to really solve this, and much depends on the situation, available space at the restaurant and a few other factors, but think we came up with a good option last week. As with so many things in business, the answer probably is: it depends. However, if there's some straightforward etiquette rule on this that we are unaware of, we'd love to hear it. That's why are posting this here. What do you think, dear colleagues? How would you handle this situation? Does it depend on whether you've met the client previously?




9 comments:

Arline Lyons on October 3, 2013 at 3:56 AM said...

Sitting down at the table sounds like the right choice - and if your client looks awkward, you can always use your reasons for doing so as a conversation starter. Pointing out how crowded and popular the restaurant is is a compliment for them too!

Glad you enjoyed your trip to London and it was great to meet you both. ^_^

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on October 3, 2013 at 11:05 AM said...

@Arline: Thanks for reading and for commenting -- so lovely to meet you as well! We think we solved the "problem" well, but perhaps we'd wait at the bar/waiting area if the place is less crowded and we already know the person so we can spot him/her coming through the door!

Jeff Alfonso on October 4, 2013 at 8:15 AM said...

Sitting down would be fine with me. However, I typically prefer to wait somewhere in front. It usually isn't too hard to identify the guy in the hat. But just as you concluded, it all depends on the circumstances. :)

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on October 7, 2013 at 1:26 AM said...

@Jeff: Thanks for reading and commenting. Excellent point about your hat -- it is hard to miss you indeed. Just another advantage of having a distinctive feature to your dress. See you in San Antonio. You will be easy to spot as always.

Zareen Karani on October 7, 2013 at 11:42 PM said...

Arrive early. Take something to read to pass the time. It's better to arrive first than to run late and rush in at the last minute.Prepare a genial greeting. Concentrate on making a favorable impression, and make your lunch companions feel comfortable by engaging in small talk.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on October 8, 2013 at 1:31 AM said...

@Zareen: Excellent advice! We always have a book in our bags, and if the purse is too small, there's always the smartphone that we can use to catch up on news and e-mail. We completely agree with you that it's essential to make the lunch partner feel comfortable by preparing some topics one could chat about. And arriving early is always the way to go.

Martine Yeo on October 9, 2013 at 4:49 AM said...


I think I would have sat at the table to wait. It's a good idea to arrive early. It would give such a bad impression to the client if we were late...

Like Zareen, I would prepare a warm greeting so that the client doesn't feel awkward whether she or he is late or not.

Martine Yeo on October 9, 2013 at 4:56 AM said...

I think I would have sat at the table to wait. I don't think that it would be considered rude to do so in London. I guess it depends on the country's customs.

Like Zareen, I would prepare a warm greeting so that the client doesn't feel awkward whether he or she is late or not.

Judy Jenner and Dagmar Jenner on October 10, 2013 at 11:36 AM said...

@Martine: Thanks for your comment. Sounds like we are in agreement on this one for sure! :)

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