People have often accused me of being a vampire.
So maybe I don’t like the lights on in my office…it’s better for your eyes. And maybe I don’t sleep much…when else do you expect me to get caught up on General Hospital? And…maybe I don’t eat.
Ok, so I do eat. But it’s quick and at odd times so while people are getting lunches ready here in the office, I’m grabbing my ninth cup of coffee. But yes, I do eat. I’m just a little picky about what I eat, on the run and in front of people, especially when you consider the number of business meals I attend.
In fact, I’ve been to so many business lunches and dinners that I thought it might be helpful to share some “eat this, not that” tips.
It’s worth noting, before I go any further, that you will not find any nutritional/wellness meaning. Nope, this is solely about how not to embarrass yourself at a client meal.
Here are some general rules I like to follow, regardless of the meal, to help dictate what I order:
- Avoid anything you need to eat with your hands.
- If it’s hard to get on a fork, skip it. (This immediately rules out spaghetti…I didn’t really need to tell you to avoid spaghetti, did I?)
- The higher the stain potential, the more you want to avoid it.
- Do other people really want to watch me eat this? If you have to think about the answer, the answer is no…as in no, I’m not ordering this. (Seafood dominates this rule – peeling lobster or shucking oysters…if you don’t have a comfort level with the people you’re dining with, this isn’t going to go well.)
- Does what I’m about to order make a lot of noise? Yeah, this means soup (slurping) and anything crunchy is out.
- When it comes to breakfast, you’re generally pretty safe. I would just recommend you avoid anything that requires syrup or that you eat with your hands, mainly bacon (sorry). Hey, you’ll thank me when you don’t have greasy fingerprints on your pants, pen, notepad, phone or worse yet, on your coffee cup. Which could lead to a poor grip on said cup…which could lead to a bad spill.
- Oh, and stay away from the grapefruit. We’ve all seen the Seinfeld episode where juice shoots into George’s eye. That does happen, people.
- You know what? I’m just going to nip this now for all meals – stay away from the fruit in general. Oranges, grapefruit? They can squirt you. Grapes, blueberries? No one is getting them on a fork and again, you’re in a bad spot where you have to eat with your hands (see rules one and two, above). Bananas? What are you going to do with that peel? Orange and green melon stuff? Nobody likes those. They’re garnish. Mangos, guava or any exotic fruits? Now you’re just trying to make us look bad.
Best bet: Oatmeal.
Lunch is the trickiest of them all. I find that I’m really hungry at lunch – but you’re expected to have ‘lighter’ fare or portions. And we all know what that means: salads.
People think salads are a safe lunch bet. They’re not. In fact, I avoid them at all costs. Here’s why:
- Dressings. No matter what, you’re not going to distribute that dressing evenly. And you don’t want to look awkward sitting there trying to spread the dressing out. Especially if you’re at a luncheon where the person next to you is waiting for that fancy silver dressing boat. Then you feel pressured and you either dump way too much dressing on…or not nearly enough. And can we talk about the silver dressing boat for a minute? It’s usually so small, with a tiny handle (hard to grip – avoid) or tiny spoon.
- Big pieces of lettuce. You need to cut your salad, period. There’s no avoiding it. Big pieces of lettuce are just one reason. And when you cut them you’re ultimately splashing something on somebody. Dressing on yourself is usually the most likely target.
- Rogue salad toppings. Did you see my rule about getting things on a fork? Your salad is full of these things. Olives, cucumbers, tomatoes…Stay away.
- Salad toppings you hate. Inevitably there will be something on that salad you don’t like. Onions. Mushrooms. Beets. And now you have to take it off and find room for it on your bread plate or on your napkin.
- Premium toppings. I’m not even going to get into these – steak, chicken, salmon, shrimp – given how hard it is to eat the salad already.
Wow, I spent a lot of time on salads. Well, let’s run quickly through the other items then:
Sandwiches, tacos and wraps violate rules two and four so I’d avoid them if at all possible. If you decide to go this route, watch out for a few things:
- What you put on your sandwich. Tomatoes and onions, especially. Onions for obvious reasons, but when you bite into said sandwich or wrap sometimes it’s hard to bite through everything and you could end up dragging out more than you were thinking. And the next thing you know it’s in your lap.
- Dressing. Again, our old friend dressing – sandwiches and wraps drip, people. Avoid.
- Disproportionate bun. I hate when the sandwich overlaps the bun, which makes the sandwich that much messier to eat.
- Size, period. Some places pride themselves on the height of a sandwich (which puts a ‘club’ of any variety on my avoid list) – and that means you have your hands – and mouth – full. Literally. A clear and blatant violation of rule number four.
Your best bets:
- Any sandwich you can get without the bun is golden.
- Also, and you may be surprised by this – flat bread pizzas. Why? Knife and fork=small bites.
- Fries (Yes…eat them with your fork).
We have hit the point where all the above applies. Dinner is where your options have expanded – and become a little messier. There are appetizers involved. Multiple beverages. Multiple plates. More silverware. More breads with dipping oils (avoid, avoid).
Dinner comes with its own very important rule: stick with what you know. Seriously, this isn’t the time to get cute. If you normally get a caprese salad, don’t switch it up and get a wedge. You’re used to cutting tomatoes and soft cheeses – don’t take on the stress of trying to cut half a head of lettuce with a ton of dressing. No, I don’t care if there is bacon on it! Focus!
When it comes to safe dinners I would recommend anything you can easily cut. Think filet, salmon, halibut. Why? Because if you have to work at cutting what’s on your plate you’re immediately in danger of two things:
- Shaking the whole table while you saw at what’s on your plate
- Cutting through too fast, resulting in the bite of what you were cutting landing in your lap
As for your sides, try to avoid family style. You have to pass something that has a serving spoon in it. And I don’t know about you, but I see that and I immediately assume the serving spoon is going in my lap.
Unlike fruits, vegetables are easier to manage as a side. Broccoli, a medley, beans, asparagus, spinach. All are easy to contain.
Your starch should be relatively easy as well as long as you avoid pasta. Rice comes close to violating rule number four but it can be done. Potatoes are your best bet with mashed being easiest. If you do baked do I really need to tell you to go easy on the toppings?
All in all, when it comes to dinner it isn’t the meal that’s the problem as much as it is the logistics of it all. Keep it simple. Stick to what you know and you’ll be fine.
Best bet: Salmon
Congratulations, you made it to dessert. There are a lot of intangibles that come with this portion of the meal, including:
- Are you sharing with people (bring one of everything and a lot of spoons!)
- Are you eating a dessert with a fruit in it?
- How ‘heavy’ is the dessert? Meaning, if you take a bite will the frosting be on your face and in your teeth long after?
When in doubt, drink your dessert.
Best bet: Espresso
Well, there you have it. Everything you need to know to survive any business meal. Follow my rules and remember the lessons I’ve taught you (most through personal experiences) and you’ll make it through.
(I should mention…this of course is all in jest. The most important thing to keep in mind at any business dinner? Be yourself. This is coming from a guy who has passed things the wrong way, dropped many things in my lap, knocked over drinks, and dumped coffee on people. At the very least people will remember you!)
Ben Brugler is President at AKHIA. Find him on Twitter @BenBrugler.