Whether it is for getting to know a new client or to maintain a relationship with an existing colleague you have not contacted in some time, a business lunch is the ideal bridge where professionalism and play can meet harmoniously over a perennial unifier: food. You have got the prospective lunch partner in mind. Now, it is time to make this professional date happen.

1. Set an Agenda

It is not as formal as a conference room, but the restaurant is a meeting venue nonetheless. Before sending the email or picking up the phone, have a defined purpose for this lunch. If this is your first meeting with a potential client or a colleague you exchanged business cards with at a mixer last week, simply establishing rapport may be the goal. If so, feel free to leave business out of it until your lunch partner brings it up. Just keep in mind what you want to accomplish between bites.

2. Respect the Person's Time

Whatever your professional goal, know that not everyone has 60 minutes or more to spare. Be respectful of the person's time and take that into account when determining whether a 90-minute lunch at a full-service restaurant across town would be a better fit than an upscale fast-casual locale close to his office. Weigh in how businesslike you hope this lunch to be. If you are looking to lay the groundwork for a serious deal, you may choose a different restaurant category than if your objective is to create a bond or determine chemistry.

3. Select the Venue

Regardless of who is picking up the tab, choose a restaurant in a price range that you can both afford. Have a few suggestions in mind, and let her pick. If she does not have a preference, it will be your call. Be mindful of any possible dietary preferences and prepare accordingly. A vegetarian obviously would not be comfortable at a steak or rib joint. Do some menu-scouting in advance to make sure your choices offer options for someone who is avoiding meat, gluten or any other ingredients that would make your lunch a memorable yet negative experience.

4. Extend the Invitation

In an email or over the phone, an easy "Let's have lunch" in any context gets the job done while being professional and personable. Email is typically the preferred method of communication in the business world. It also gives your invitee time to mull over your restaurant recommendations and suggested dates.

5. Do Some Reconnaissance

If the selection is a full-service sit-down restaurant that you are not familiar with or have not been to in years, head there a day or two in advance to check the noise level and evaluate tables that may best suit your purpose. If you envision a serious lunch where major moves are made that require confidential conversation, request a quiet table in the corner rather than one next to the busy bar area or in the center of the restaurant.

6. Confirm the Details

A day or two before, send a quick email confirming the lunch details. If you are comfortable with riding to and from the restaurant together, offer to pick him up.

7. Know the Rules

There are a few rules of behavior which you should follow to make your business lunch run smoothly:

  • Turn off your phone.  Shutting off sounds and vibrations will remove the temptation to get distracted by notifications. 
  • When you order a drink, anything stronger than tea or coffee is off-limits. If your guest wants to do some daytime imbibing, that is fine. Allow him to order first so he is not inhibited by your restraint.
  • Choose a dish in the mid-price range and one that you can eat without too much fuss or mess, like grilled chicken breast or a quinoa bowl. Skip the crab legs and triple-decker burger. 
  • If conversation seems to be lagging or she keeps bringing up all the work that needs to get done back at the office, it is your cue to wrap up. 
  • When the bill arrives, reach for it swiftly yet discreetly. Keep the conversation going while making eye contact with your server to let him know to pick up your card quickly. 
  • Enjoy yourself. Business lunches continue to be a key networking tool because they allow everyone to relax and open up a bit, which can help strengthen any working relationship.