The term ‘business lunch’ conjures images of long, boozy meetings. Deals are done, backs are slapped and the afternoon is for napping under the desk.
The reality is very different. Or at least should be, according to Matt Vines, Director of Strategy at Sydney PR Company EVH. He says a well-curated lunch can be a highly effective way to do business. “Certain kinds of business meetings are much more productive over lunch than via phone or email,” says Vines. “Lunch is a pleasant, relaxed and engaging experience, but also because the context and atmosphere is less formal and corporate.”
We asked Vines to take us through his tips for a successful business lunch.
The venue and where you sit
The potential success of a business lunch begins with an appropriate location. Don’t choose a venue difficult for your guest to access, or one you’ve never eaten at before. “It also never hurts to check if your lunch partner has a preference,” says Vines, “[whether] venue, dietary requirements, or a certain kind of cuisine.”
Do choose somewhere that takes reservations and is known for quality service. “It doesn’t have to be a white-tablecloth situation,” says Vines. “You can have an equally productive lunch with someone in their staff canteen or at a local cafe. But you don’t want to be waiting around for a table or for your food.”
The kind of table you get matters. A communal table diminishes the chance of making a personal connection, as does a noisy venue. You should also leave your laptop in your bag.
Get to the point
Be mindful that a business lunch means interrupting the work day. “It’s a big ask for most people,” says Vines. Do your best not to cancel, don’t wait until the end of lunch to broach the reason for the meeting, and don’t use lunches to deliver bad news. “You don’t want to have to endure an awkward hour across the table from someone whose day you have just ruined,” he says.
To drink or not to drink
The decision to drink alcohol or not depends on the time, date and occasion, says Vines. “If you are taking a professional contact out for a thank you lunch, then of course,” he says. “Same goes for Christmas. But if it’s just any given weekday and you’re having lunch to pitch someone an idea or share an opportunity, then midday drinking is a bit ‘90s power lunch. You probably won’t be at your most productive afterwards. But if the reason for the lunch is to get to know someone better, and you feel a glass of wine may assist with that, a dinner invitation could be a better choice.”
When the bill finally slides across the table, who should pick it up? “As a general rule the party who extended the invite pays for lunch,” says Vines. “In some industries there are cultural norms, such as a PR person picking up the bill for lunch with a journalist, or a sales rep for a potential client. I have work contacts who I catch up with for lunch every couple of months, and we just take it in turns to pay.”
Vines’ favourite business lunch venues in his hometown of Sydney include Paramount Coffee Project, Fratelli Paradiso and Rockpool Bar and Grill. When in Melbourne, he’s a fan of Cumulus, Marion and Supernormal.
Here are five other great spots around Australia for combining business and pleasure:
ARIA Brisbane offers excellent service, water views, and great food from the kitchen of Matt Moran. The high-profile chef’s expert hand is evident in the produce-driven menu, which is complemented by an award-winning wine list.
Talking point? A complimentary Champagne cocktail on arrival for the early dinner sitting, and a take-home box of macarons.
Trunk Bar and Restaurant, Melbourne
Melbourne eatery Trunk serves popular Mediterranean fare such as wood-fired pizza, pasta and hearty lunch plates, in a stylish, relaxed atmosphere. In warm weather guests sit in the beer garden – Melbourne CBD’s biggest – and order off the all-day Trunk Diner menu, or book a table in the restaurant.
Talking point? The building was a 19th Century synagogue.
Press Food and Wine, Adelaide
The Press Food and Wine menu, devised by executive chef Andrew Davies and head chef Will Doak, pays homage to the best produce in South Australia. Much of it arrives at the table via the chargrill. Downstairs is walk-in only but tables on the first floor can be reserved.
Talking point? The curiously vague menu headings of “raw”, “bigger”, and “offal” (pan-fried lambs brains, anyone?)
Balthazar, a Perth institution operating since the 1990s, underwent a revamp in 2016. The new management team replaced share plates with a menu structured around three courses, and dialled down the atmosphere to a more relaxed and casual vibe. The food is matched by an excellent wine list with many organic options.
Talking point? The 100+ wine list, with a focus on quality unknowns and small producers.
Balcon by Tapavino, Sydney
If it’s a long lunch you’re after, Balcon by Tapavino should be your destination. The Bligh Street restaurant serves up uncomplicated dishes from northern Spain to accompany one of the city’s most impressive wine collections. Five thousand bottles of wine line the restaurant’s walls, inviting you to stay just a little longer.
Talking point? Authentic Spanish food as they do it in Spain, including Galician-style crispy pig’s head.
This article is presented in partnership with Quest Apartment Hotels.