Some time ago, I watched a documentary about cars. Some GM executives were having a business lunch to discuss an upcoming auto-show. They had hotel-style catered food featuring massive sandwiches and fancy beverages. Although the food looked delicious, the executives seemed to be struggling with eating and working at the same time. If you are going to bother to eat and work at the same time, shouldn’t you be able to do both without unnecessary fuss?
Business lunch has become a bit of a routine these days. My definition of a business lunch is that you must be working while you are having lunch, either with your client, your team, your boss, or a combination of those. In any event, you are trying to manage eating and working at the same time. Think about all the actions that need to occur in a typical business lunch. You have to eat, think, present, have a conversation (with food in your mouth!), and avoid making any mess in front of clients or colleagues. And you don’t want to even think about making a mess in front of your boss.
As much as we wish to be alone while we are having lunch, we often have to eat with professional company. What is the challenge here? Essentially, you are trying to perform an animalistic survival act – eating, with as much sophistication and confidence as humanly possible, while delivering work. What a task! Over the years, I have developed a few tricks to make the situation tolerable. Let me share them with you to make lunch workable.
Eat before you attend your business lunch
Believe it or not, although it is called lunch, in order to behave as sophisticated as possible and maintain productivity, you should only be snacking and hydrating yourself during a business lunch. Therefore, if possible, you should be settling your real hunger somewhere else before attending the lunch. Don’t bolt down something unhealthy, but consider fast, filling foods you can have at your desk.
If you want to impress and you intend to bring your own food, invest in an elegant lunch container
Sometimes you go through lunch discussing projects with your team, and the typical foods ordered into an office are pizza or Chinese take-out. Think about all the fats in these foods that end up weighing you down. Do you want to sleep through your afternoon meeting? NO, you need productivity, not fats. Thus, consider bringing your own food. Purchase a multi-sectioned lunch container, preferably a kind that is not see-through. This type of lunch container will keep your food organized and hide any leftovers after you finish. I routinely check to see what’s new in the lunch-box section at Amazon. Traditional Japanese bento boxes (what is it?) and Zojirushi Mr Bento lunch systems (what is it?) still top my list as the most elegant and functional containers I have found.
It is best to drink just water or sparkling water while you eat
There are three reasons for this. I know it seems crazy, but water helps you project a neutral persona. It’s clean and clear, like you want to be. That image is quite useful in a business situation. Also – even if spilled, there’s no worry of having to clean up stains. To add a bit of class, choose sparkling mineral waters instead. Ultimately, water is guaranteed to contain no sugar. No sugar rush, no sugar crash.
Choose only bite-sized foods
Remember – we are snacking only. No one really want to be holding any food or end up touching anything, or anyone, with greasy fingers. Also, no one needs to be digging any bones or pits from the mouth in front of clients or colleagues. No one needs to show bite-marks on hunks of meat or pie in front of clients. Finally, although there are knives on the table, cutting your food during a business lunch wastes too much time. I have a few recipes that are perfectly designed for a bite-sized meal.
- Super Fast Spinach Pine Nut Fusilli
- Tantalizing Japanese Curry with Winter Vegetables
- Bold and Flavorful Kimchi Fried Rice
- Pepper, Sausage and Rice
- Asian Asparagus Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes
If you are eating out, try ordering something similar.
If you need a side, choose pitted olives or bite-sized pickles
We habitually combine lunch with sides to spice up our food. Pitted olives or pickles offer a bit of a variety that keep the energy going. Examples are Kalamon olives, savory olives, or marinated mushrooms. They are usually found at an olive bar. Other types of pickles are Japanese fukujinzuke (what is it?) and the wide varieties of Korean banchan.
For more on eating with fukujinzuke, go to Tantalizing Japanese Curry with Winter Vegetables
For dessert, choose bite-sized fruits such as seedless grapes or berries
The natural amount of juice and sugar in the fruits will keep you refreshed so that you can hold a conversation with clients or colleagues longer. On the other hand, excessive sugars in cakes and sweets will give you a sugar crash and quickly lower your productivity. When choosing fruits for dessert, for obvious reasons – you can eat seedless grapes and berries more gracefully with a dessert fork as opposed to the crunch and drip of apples or oranges.
End your lunch with some coffee or tea
A little bit of caffeine will help in this situation. The last thing you want is to lose is your focus in a business lunch. The final coffee or tea time offers you a chance to ask for feedback, or final questions. If your business is concluded, you may want to use this time to chat about to something different, like an upcoming vacation.
I prefer tea at a business situation because it can be consumed without stirring in any sugar or cream. It cuts down the risk of spillage and, again, sugar crash.
Finally, offer some sugarless gum or mints to your dining companions
Don’t forget to bring a stick of gum to share. Whatever you eat, you don’t need to remind anyone about it afterwards. Especially in a client situation, this is the time to give out your business card such that he or she will have something to remember you by. If you have the budget, order special packaging that has your company’s logo on it.
The business world is competitive and you need to remain sharp and clear at any business lunch. Although it is tricky, managing it gracefully and getting work done is still possible.
I know this is quite a bit of information. Bookmark this article on your phone so you can read it again as you prepare for your next business lunch.
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