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When business talk is on the menu: Ingredients of a successful business lunch

When Angela Sell, president of Silverdale Chamber of Commerce and a financial adviser with Edward Jones, tries to show off her town to visitors, she knows right where to take them for lunch: Silver City Restaurant and Brewery or Hale’s Ale.

“The food is outstanding and the atmosphere is great so Silver City is my favorite to show off Silverdale,” she said. But, she adds, it can get noisy — so if it’s a business lunch with local associates, she favors places such as Roundtable Pizza, Famous Dave’s and Joseph’s (at Silverdale Hotel).

“They’re all very quaint, you can get a seat fast and conduct business, and they’re affordable with a variety of food on the menu,” she said. “…If I’m just going to a two-person lunch, I’m looking for quiet places so you can sit across one another, get lunch and have time to talk.”

A quiet place to talk is often the main requirement for a business lunch, and while many restaurants do not accept lunch reservations, frequently they are able to offer the right seating upon request. One rule of thumb to remember is that those establishments are a business, so common courtesy dictates that meeting during the peak lunch hour for just a cup of coffee may not be the best idea.

“We’re accommodating so if business people need a table with privacy or space, we will do that for them,” said Mona Sarrensen, hotel operations manager at The Inn at Gig Harbor, which includes The Heritage restaurant on site. “…We do ask our guests that if they enjoy the facilities, they also enjoy food or beverages while here.”

To avoid the rush, Linda Lincoln, assistant vice president and manager of the Poulsbo branch of Timberland Bank, said she likes to invite people to lunch either early, before noon, or at 1 or shortly after 1 p.m.

“That way, the service goes faster and you avoid the noon hour bulk,” she said.

While restaurants don’t mind patrons lingering after a meal, time is still a factor during business lunch. Lincoln said if it’s lunch with peers, she leaves extra time for talking but if she’s out with a client, she’ll clarify the timeframe upfront. And if the time is limited, she’ll ask the waitstaff what items on the menu are best for an expedited lunch.

“I don’t want to be taking more of their time than they have planned,” said Lincoln, whose favorite Poulsbo business lunch venues are Sogno di Vino and JJ’s Fish House for a nicer ambiance, and The Loft at Latitude Forty Seven for a more casual outing with peers.

If she’s trying to make an impression with clients, Lincoln also likes to call the restaurant ahead of time. For example, she likes to be seated at the patio at Sogno di Vino but if she calls 15 minutes before the meeting time and the patio is busy, she can give the client the heads up.

In his City, Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola favors Amy’s on the Bay and the Lighthouse for lunches with other political types, as well as prospective new business owners considering locating in his City. In fact, owner Amy Igloi has designated a specific booth as the “Mayor’s Table” with a brass plaque.

Coppola also donates “Lunch with the Mayor” to a number of charity auctions as well as treating the City’s Employee of the Quarter to lunch, and those are usually at Amy’s as well. He says the staff is always considerate of his and his guest’s time, which is often critical, but the booth also provides privacy for business conversations when it’s needed.

Coppola also says he’s fond of both Cosmo’s and Mary Mac’s at McCormick Woods, depending on his lunch companion.

In most cases, there should be no question about who’s paying: The person making the invite picks up the tab. For a meeting with colleagues or a standing peer lunch, however, it could be a split tab or a reciprocating pay, but there’s one rule of thumb: Know the arrangement ahead of time.

“Even in the informal, ‘let’s to go lunch’ setting, you should address ahead of time if there’s a separate tab,” said Stephanie Horton, owner of Top Dog Etiquette in North Mason. She said there’s nothing worse than trying to calculate who owes what at the end of a meal.

For Horton, one important consideration, if she’s choosing the place, is to be familiar with the establishment — and if you’re a frequent, well-known patron, to also give the server the heads up that you’re there on business.

“Use a restaurant you have confidence in; it needs to be a nice enough place where you’re served by a waiter and has comfortable seating,” said Horton, whose preferred business lunch restaurants in Belfair are Pat’s Red Barn and JR’s Hideaway.

Etiquette dictates that the guest, or invitee, follows the lead of the host, and that applies to ordering as well. “Follow the lead as far as the courses go and order the same — you don’t want to be left behind, eating,” Horton said.

Some hosts like to ask their guests to order first, and they order the same type of food. Whatever you order, it’s probably a good idea to stay away from something too messy or too complicated to eat.

The conversation, of course, is the reason you’re there and some small talk is expected before getting down to business. Horton suggests staying away from things that are too personal or anything negative.

And whether it’s a business lunch or a peer lunch, there’s one must: Make the topic known ahead of time.

“Even though you’re going to lunch, you should always have an agenda. It doesn’t have to be a printed one but make sure everyone knows what you’re going to talk about,” Sell said. “Although you’re eating lunch, you’re still there to conduct business, and everybody’s limited on time.”

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