For years, I was an editor at top magazines, which is great training ground for the obvious skills of writing and editing. But over the course of my career, I was also “trained” in the not-so-obvious art of the perfect lunch date. Done well, a lunch date is a golden opportunity to connect and create, especially in a world where lunch usually consists of wolfing down a sandwich while staring at a screen. As publicists, entrepreneurs, writers and more sought to build relationships, I experienced the best and worst of lunch date strategies.
Creating a killer lunch date takes skill, from how you ask and where to go to how to make the date both friendly and impactful. I honed my own system based on the greatest lunch-date artists in my industry, many of whom became lasting friends I’ve worked with over and over again.
Here’s your three-step guide — before, during and after — to the perfect business lunch date. This system makes it easy for your guest to say yes, get to know you and be receptive to an ongoing business relationship.
1. Choose the right person. First, who should you ask to lunch? Think peer level. It’s fine to pick the top person at an organization, but you should have an equally impressive history, even if it’s in an entirely different area. Don’t dismiss more junior level employees; they will often happily help you navigate their company or industry. Ideally you’re looking for the right person who can help you with your specific goals: the editor who covers the area you’re interested in, the business development manager who handles your vertical or the possible mentor who knows your business model.
And be sure to choose a lunch instead of coffee, an in-office meeting or a phone call when building an ongoing relationship that exceeds the one-dimensional business chit-chat. You’re here to become friendly so that you can decide if you want to work together.
Bonus points: Do a LinkedIn search and see if you have a mutual connection, especially someone you are close to. Ask your friend if you can mention his or her name, and you’re now dealing with a warm referral.
2. Pick two location options. Rule no. 1: pick something near their office. Proximity always wins. Rule no. 2: pick a place that’s nice but not too nice — this isn’t three-course tasting menu time (unless you’re a wine or food producer and this is a chance to share your products…then by all means!).
3. Ask away. Here’s what you should include in a short email: who you are, why you specifically want to invite this person to lunch, your two place suggestions (with links), a few date suggestions (at least two weeks out) and, most importantly, a promise to have them in and out in less than an hour. If you have a mutual friend, definitely mention that.
4. Ask again with a twist. If your lunch request is batted away, downgrade your request: would they have 20 minutes to meet in their office, and you’ll bring the coffees?
5. Do your prep work. Study the menu online and pick what you’re ordering. Prepare a list of questions to ask your lunch date if the conversation stalls, and note anything you must talk about. Make sure to spend 10 minutes reading the news so that you’re also up to date on current events.