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Lunch from hell

We’ve been to some real doozies of business lunch meetings…including some awkward situations where we had to make on-the-spot judgement calls on what was appropriate to do.

Just to make sure we’re acting appropriately, we thought we’d tap your thoughts about proper etiquette during a business lunch.

Here’s a typical scenario:

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Harry calls you at your office. You’ve never met him before. He says Marla, your good friend, referred him to you. He wants to meet for lunch to pitch you a couple of interesting ideas that might make sense for your business.

Etiquette Q #1:
Are you obligated to take the lunch meeting?

…You say yes.

A couple days later, you meet Harry at a fancy local restaurant… his choice. You shake hands, get seated, and start in on small talk.

Then some more small talk…

Then some more… (enough kibbutzing already!).

Etiquette Q #2:
When do you cut the niceties and get down to business?

…You interrupt and ask about the ideas Harry wanted to pitch you.

A minute later, just as Harry is building to a crescendo in his pitch, your phone rings. You recognize the caller’s number–it’s an important call.

Etiquette Q #3:
Do you take the call?

…You let it ring…painfully…

Meanwhile, Harry takes this as a sign of interest and starts diving deeper into detail. (It’s not your cup of tea. Bummer. You’re stuck.)

Etiquette Q #4:
Even so, do you nod your head as if you’re "getting it" and "liking it" just to be kind?

Etiquette Q #5:
Do you start working on an escape plan?

…You smile kindly, masking the fact that you feel like your leg is stuck in a bear trap (trap = Harry spewing off his ideas). You can hear every tick of the second hand on the clock on the far wall.

You’re thinking, I don’t have time for this! I just missed an important call. This guy is rambling on about something I don’t give $.02 about, my fish is raw, my water glass has been empty for 20 minutes, this place is a scene, and WHAT WAS MARLA THINKING?!

Larry (or was it "Harry"?) is still talking about the raw potential of his ideas, but the waiter eventually finds a way to wedge in and interrupt. He asks if coffee is desired.

You promptly say, "No," just as Harry says, "Yes."

Etiquette Q #6:
Do you come out and say, "Sorry, Harry. I’ve gotta run!" …or do you slump a little, accepting your fate, and say, "Oh, then I’ll have some, too" just to be considerate?

…from somewhere deep in your entrepreneurial core, you hear yourself say with gusto, "Sorry, Harry, I’ve gotta run! I’ve got to get back to work."

Harry is crestfallen. You instantly feel bad for him. He looks at you with a forced smile and asks if he should call you to arrange a follow up meeting at your office.

Etiquette Q #7:
Do you say, "Sure, give me a ring." Or do you tell it like it is: "No, Harry, I’m not that interested. But say ‘Hi’ to Marla for me."

And for those of you prone to guilt, the natural last question is,

Etiquette Q #8:
Who pays?

About the Author: Rich Sloan

Rich Sloan is chief startupologist and co-founder of StartupNation and host of StartupNation podcasts. He is also co-author of the acclaimed how-to book, StartupNation: America's Leading Entrepreneurial Experts Reveal the Secrets to Building a Blockbuster Business. Rich encourages you to [...]

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