This honest look at etiquette will have you cooking up business instead of winding up with nothing but sauce on your face.

The big moment! You finally landed a lunch meeting with the big prospective client. After evaluating the challenges he’s facing, you’re able to show specifically how you can help. Armed with your best suit, fresh haircut, a genuine smile—all set.

The lunch goes well, the food and service are great. And . . . you don’t get the business.

What went wrong?

Let’s first acknowledge the elephant in the room: Most people don’t appreciate the power and influence of etiquette, good or bad.

It’s cringe-worthy seeing otherwise professional people make etiquette blunders. We’re not talking about spinach in the teeth, but the failure to make sure the lunch is handled properly from start to finish.

Proper etiquette is not about behaving superior, it is about taking responsibility for proper conduct.

A lunch meeting is an opportunity to create a memorable experience and increase the likelihood that your prospect will become your client. Whether you are a rookie or veteran producer, you can follow these strategies and host a business lunch that will impress even your most sensitive prospects.

1) Start by choosing a restaurant you are familiar with, It doesn’t have to be the most expensive place in town, but it should represent your professionalism and sense of style. Knowing the staff helps. Your guest will be impressed when you are greeted by name and escorted to the best table in the house.

2) If you find yourself with a business lunch opportunity in an unfamiliar area it is helpful to find some ideas that you can suggest to a client (Use Yelp or City Search to suggest some choices). If the prospect suggests their favorite place you can certainly roll with it, but don’t underestimate the home field advantage.

3) Where to sit? Request a location away from restrooms, the kitchen or an entryway. Give your guest the best seat, one that has a view out a window for example. If no view exists, let your guest sit toward the best interior view. Even better is to study the restaurant in advance and request a specific table.

4) Who’s buying? You are! Keep that rule in mind. There is a lot of confusion as to who pays the bill. “The business environment is gender neutral. If you are a female professional who has invited a male prospect to lunch you always pay the bill.

5) The host should take care of every detail. This means the coat check and valet parking tips are your responsibility. Arrive early and take care of these pleasantries in advance. Introduce yourself to the maitre-d’ and provide your credit card prior to seating so that the handling of the bill will be smooth. It’s just another way to show the client that you’ve got it all together. And you do, right?

6) Ready to order, now what? Yum. That special of the day sure looks awesome! You’d love to try those lemon garlic oysters. But pass on that smelly dish, and that messy rack of barbecued ribs. It takes willpower, but remember you are not there to fill up. Save that for a Saturday night out with friends. Instead, opt for a more manageable dish that requires a fork and knife. It is difficult to focus if you are really hungry, so take the edge off by eating something before the lunch meeting. This will allow you to casually eat, and focus on the business at hand. You want to strive to be invisible when you eat.

7) When ordering, always let your guest order first. You can help guide them through the awkward stage of not knowing what to order by saying, ‘the salmon looks good.’ This will signal to your guest that you don’t mind a certain price range. Also, never let a client eat alone. If they order dessert, you should order something, at least a cup of fruit or a coffee.

8) Drinking alcohol. Let your guest know that it is OK for them to drink whatever they like by asking, “Would you like a beverage? juice, wine, water?” Don’t be hung up on the alcohol issue. You can still be yourself and have proper etiquette. It’s OK to have a drink even if your client abstains. But if that is the case, after your one glass switch to water and lemon.

9) What should we talk about? Avoid the common blunder of immediately getting down to business. The prospect knows why you are having lunch together. Focus on the relationship, ask questions that will let you learn about one another, exchange stories, and listen intently before moving to business.

10) How long is too long? You’ve paid for the meal and have been a great conversationalist, so there is nothing wrong with trying to take your relationship to the next level. Try utilizing what you’ve learned from listening to pave your path to setting up a follow-up meeting. Say something like, ‘I have some ideas on how I can help you with that concern you mentioned, Mr. Prospect, would you like to meet me at my office sometime next week?’ However, don’t feel you have to rush the lunch. Gauge how the conversation is going. If the discussion is going well, and your guest is showing no signs of wanting to leave, feel free to continue. Don’t worry about the venue, order another cup of coffee and keep on listening.

11) How to follow up? Always write a thank-you note. Even though you paid for the meal, send a handwritten note. Just a few lines telling the prospect you enjoyed talking with him/her and look forward to seeing them again. Then call and make it happen.

What you have read above will help you and those around you succeed, to find business success!

Larry LaRose is the President and Co-Founder of PNL Coaching, a firm dedicated to coaching and training individuals and professionals. We can be found online here:

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