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Top 5 Ways to Survive the Business Lunch

By Gabriella Khorasanee, JD | Last updated on

Ah, the business lunch. Whether you are interviewing, a new or summer associate, or a mentor to a summer associate, the business lunch is inevitable. And, while the thought of eating at some of the best restaurants in town is appealing, the idea of the business lunch may strike fear in the hearts of many young attorneys.

Don't worry, the business lunch doesn't need to be scary. It can be quite fun (and tasty); it's a great way to learn more about the people you work with, and an opportunity for your amazing personality to shine through. Keep the following five tips for surviving a business lunch in mind so you can concentrate on making a good impression, and not on which fork to use.

Dining Etiquette

Ok, this will help you generally in life, but especially at a work lunch. Here are the basics on the place setting: your forks and bread plate are on the left, your spoon(s), knife and, glasses on the right. For utensils, you work your way from the outside in toward your plate. That's all you need to remember -- easy, right?

Dress Requirements

Some of the restaurants that you will go to for business lunches will have some sort of dress code (not in Silicon Valley). For guys, if you are dressed casually that day, you may want to double check to see if the restaurant requires a jacket. And, we'll assume that you are wearing a shirt and shoes (um, again, not in the Valley).

Know What to Order

This is probably the trickiest part of the lunch -- knowing what to order. Since we can't know what's on the menu, we can give you a list of things not to order; items that are too heavy, messy, and very likely to get stuck in your teeth top the list. If no one else is ordering an appetizer don't be the person at the table ordering three courses. Try to follow the lead of the senior person at the table. (Sidebar: Lots of women like to order salads for lunch. They are healthy. They are also hard to eat with ease. Consider fish as an alternative.)

No Liquid Lunch

Remember what we just said about following the lead of the senior person at the table? There's one exception -- if they are drinking alcohol. Just skip the booze, and stay clear headed. Remember, it's an interview, or you need to get back to work.

Foot the Bill -- Maybe

If you are on an interview or a summer associate, this does not apply to you. If you are a full-time associate with a law firm credit card you may be expected to foot the bill. It may depend on law firm culture so you should double check with other associates at your firm, but back in the day at the big NY firm I worked at, the most junior associate took care of the check.

At the end of the day the business lunch is just a meal, and is a wonderful opportunity to build relationships with co-workers as the conversation will most likely be more relaxed and wide-ranging than the usual office chatter. The main thing you need to remember is that you are still "working."

Keep that in mind and you'll have a lovely lunch.

Editor's Note, February 7, 2017: This article was first published in January, 2014. It has since been updated.

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