I was recently coaching a department head in the automotive industry here in Germany. Before long, the topic of business lunches and dinners came up. We spent some time going through the following topics and quick tips.
Before the meal
When you are hosting a business lunch/dinner, it is your responsibility to invite the person and check their preferences. Some people may have food allergies or religious beliefs that limit what they can eat, where they can eat, etc. When setting up your lunch or dinner, try some of these phrases in your emails, phone calls, or when speaking face to face:
- Since you will be in town Tuesday night, I was hoping you would join me for dinner.
- I would be delighted if you joined me for lunch on Wednesday.
- Would you like to have lunch on Friday?
- What are your plans Tuesday evening? How about dinner?
- What do you say to grabbing dinner on Monday? My treat. (by using ‘my treat’ it means that you are telling your colleague that you will pay for their meal. An alternative is “it’s on me”)
- How about we get some dinner after our meeting on Thursday?
- I know a great sushi place in the center. Do you want to join me for lunch tomorrow?
Checking your colleague’s preferences
- Which do you prefer: local German food, Indian, or pub food?
- Do you have any preference on the type of restaurant? There’s a good German restaurant close. A Lebanese one. An American diner. What do you think?
- Anything specific you would to like try while you are here?
- I know a great little Italian restaurant close to the office. How does that sound?
- I’d be happy to pick a place for us to eat. I know that sometimes we have certain types of food we prefer/or have to avoid. Is there anything specific you would like me to take into consideration when choosing a restaurant?
- Just so I pick a place we both can enjoy, are there any types of food that you don’t eat?
- What are you in the mood for? Korean? Steaks? Pasta?
During the meal
One of the keys of being a good host during a meal is making sure the conversation flows. It is a good idea to get the other person talking as this takes the pressure off you and people love talking about themselves. A great way to get people talking is to ask open questions, or a series of open and closed questions that build on each other. If you are asking a series of questions, the follow up questions shouldn’t sound forced and unnatural, and should build on the previous answer. You can then show that you are paying attention to what your colleague is saying by using confirmation statements and questions. Here are some suggestions that may help:
- So, what do you think about Germany so far?
- Looking forward to the weekend? What do you have planned?
- What are your holiday plans for this year?
- I’ve never been to Boston. What would you suggest I do if I visit?
- I have always been fascinated with Indian culture. What would you say the biggest challenge is for visitors to India?
- I know you have only been in Germany for a week, but how does it compare with Brazil?
- Do you follow football? What sports or hobbies interest you?
- I’m sorry the weather has been so bad here in Germany. How is the climate in Shanghai?
Follow up statements/questions
- What exactly do you mean by different customs?
- And where else have you visited in Europe? Nice. What did you think about Madrid?
- Tell me more about your school system in Sweden. That sounds really interesting.
- That’s cool. How did you become interested in playing the guitar?
- Really? Why is American football so popular?
Active listening/confirmation statements
- I had no idea that skydiving was so common there. That is really fascinating.
- So, you are saying that teenagers can drive a car when they are 15 years old? Wow!
- Really? I didn’t know Americans don’t need a visa when they visit Europe.
- Ok, I understand why you might think that is difficult.
- How did you feel when that happened?
- What did you say to him after that?
A lot of keeping good meal conversation going is focused on small talk. For more information on small talk with native English speakers, check out our socializing with Americans eBook.
After the meal
Quite often, good ideas come up when you are discussing business out of the office. Also, promises are made to send someone something, contact someone, etc. It is usually a good idea to send a follow up email after your business lunch or dinner. This can be done the next day, or a few days after depending on what was discussed. It’s also polite, can help build rapport, and is a good way to remind both parties on what next steps need to be taken. Want some help with structuring and what to say in your follow up email? Download our one pager on business lunch and dinner follow up emails.
So, the next time you have to host a colleague or client for dinner, don’t worry. It helps to do a little preparation by thinking about what you can do before, during, and after the meal to make sure you get the most out of your business meal. Guten Appetit!