Summer Associate Series: Business Lunch Etiquette

The Best Business Lunch Etiquette Tips for Interns | CorporetteThis week, in our Summer Associate Series*: what are some of the best business lunch etiquette tips that interns should know about — for business lunches, office cocktail parties, and more?  Readers already working: what are the biggest dining etiquette tips you wish interns and SAs knew? Which are the biggest blunders you see (from both the guys and the gals)? Summer associates and interns: what are your biggest areas of confusion?

(*Name aside, we hope this series will be helpful to ANY intern, whether you’re a law student or another woman interning in a conservative office for the summer.) Check out our previous post on general summer associate style, what to wear for the creative summer associate events, and general business etiquette tips.

Here are some of the best dining etiquette questions we’ve covered in the past — readers, what have we missed?

Finally, these aren’t etiquette rules per se, but our best advice for eating in a high stress job in general:

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Comments

  1. I have a student working for me this summer and at a group lunch last week, after everyone else around the table ordered waters and tea to drink, he ordered a beer. When I told him (later, quietly) that wasn’t very appropriate he was genuinely shocked.

    • AnonLawMom :

      One summer I had made lunch plans with a couple of summer associates. Then another summer associate invited herself to join, which was totally fine with me. But then she said she didn’t want to go to the restaurant we had already chosen and suggested a new one because she wanted to try something new. Not cool.

    • I was at a summer associates lunch once when a number of attorneys ordered Arnold Palmers (iced tea and lemonade), and one summer associate didn’t know what that was and assumed everyone was ordering cocktails, so he ordered a Jack & Coke. Poor guy was so embarrassed!

  2. Anonymous :

    Don’t order an appetizer for yourself and the most expensive thing on the menu, and then joke that “you might as well since it’s on the company’s dime”. And then don’t ask for it to be packed up, particularly if all you have left is fries.

  3. McGiggles :

    Don’t take leftovers from a restaraunt business lunch. Ever.

    • Anonymous :

      I’ll add a clarification/caveat to this because I know there’s a tendency of younger readers to get scared into overthinking (See “is a water bottle professional?”) when hard and fast rules are misinterpreted…I think the rule that McGiggles intends is that you should never request a box *yourself* (or in response to the server’s request).

      Back when I was a summer associate, we went out to lunch every day. On one of those days, we went to a pizza place where we ordered several pizzas for the table to share, and had almost an entire pizza left over. The server asked if we wanted a box. One of the more frugal partners said I (the only summer at the lunch) should take it home, as they knew I was living in an extended stay without much kitchenware. I politely declined, but he pushed and the others joined in and after 3 or 4 rounds of it, I finally said “ok I’ll take it.” I highly doubt they were testing me to see if I would hold firm and follow a “never ever take leftovers” rule, and it was at a point where it felt rude *not* to take it. So, summer associates/interns, if you find yourself in the situation where your bosses ask you somewhat aggressively 5 times if you want to take the leftovers, just take them. It’s not a test that you need to be overly anxious about. (To the extent you find it important to this story, yes, I got an offer)

      • Coach Laura :

        Kat, I do love this forum and this series (and the advice of anon, anonymous and AnonAttorney are the reason why). It’s logical not to ask for a “to-go” box or order the most expensive item on the menu but sometimes it’s ok. Good series of articles.

    • When I was a first year associate, I went to a celebratory client dinner in which the client, who was very knowledgeable about wine, picked out a nice bottle of wine at dinner that he especially thought I would enjoy. At the end of dinner he asked the waiter to package it for me to take home. After politely declining and suggesting he take it (which he adamantly refused), I shut up and took the bottle of wine. As uncomfortable as I was about the situation, there was no chance I was going to risk insulting the client.

    • Anonattorney :

      As is usually the case with black and white rules, this one is wrong. Generally don’t take leftovers, but if your superiors are doing it, you can too.

  4. AnonLawMom :

    Thought of a few more. Don’t be the only person to order a starter/salad/soup. It is really awkward when everyone else is just watching you eat and waiting for their meals.

    Also, be very aware of your restaurant manners. Many attorneys are former restaurant servers and we notice when you are rude to wait staff, even when it is subtle.

    • Yes, I agree. When I was a summer associate after college, I ordered LINGUINI as an appetizer, and everyone else did NOT so they all did NOTHING but look at me, and I wound up spilling some of the sauce on my skirt. The senior manager (a female) offered to help me dab it off, but it was to close to my boobie’s so I said NO THANK YOU. I did NOT get any kind of offer to come back when I was a real law student from that firm. FOOEY! No one told me!

  5. Always say thank you for lunch. You appreciate both the fact that you are working at a place that will treat you to lunch and the fact that busy lawyers took a chunk of time to talk to you.

  6. Don’t try to pay or even do the awkward wallet reach. Say thanks afterwards. Other than a main course, don’t order anything (drinks, appetizers, desserts) unless an attorney has ordered it or suggested you order it. Don’t order the most expensive thing on the menu, particularly if its way more expensive than the second most expensive thing. Don’t say anything bad about the restaurant chosen, even if you don’t especially like it. Don’t ask to take your leftovers home, food or otherwise (someone once asked to take home the rest of a mostly drunk bottle of wine). Be nice to the waiters.

  7. Remember that the entire summer is essentially a long interview and lunch is no exception. If particularly behavior would be inappropriate in the office, then it’s still inappropriate at a casual lunch.

    • This!

      This includes any event with co-workers, company sponsored or not, including drinks after work.

      True story, someone lost a job because of an offhand comment in the loo about being too tired to work, and that they were hiding out. It got back to management and they were gone by the end of the week.

  8. Huh. I had no idea it was Not Done to take home leftovers from a business lunch. I guess my entire department is wrong, then?

    Really though, I think it seems weird and wasteful to leave food behind.

    • anon-oh-no :

      i totally agree with you. if there is food left that is worth saving (i.e., steak vs fries or a salad), i actually look down on people who dont take it becuase it is so wasteful.

    • Then you need to order less.

      • I think there’s a distinction here. If you order an appetizer and an entree and end up bringing home a ton of food, then yes, you need to order less. If, however, you order an entree that turns out to be a ridiculously large portion, and you can only eat half of it as a result, then I’m not sure why throwing the other half away would be required. I wouldn’t bat an eye if a summer asked for a box for the 2nd half of a large sandwich or similar.

      • Portions are massive. I don’t ever order an app and a salad and a main course and a dessert etc. What am I supposed to do, ask them to give me a kid’s serving? That’s weirder than taking leftovers and I was not raised to waste food.

        I work in higher education, and I feel like we don’t bother with a lot of the weirder sh*t I read on this website. Seriously grateful for that.

        • I’m an attorney, practicing for 16 years, and don’t deal with a lot of the weirder sh*t I read on this website either.

        • I gave my last leftover to the homeless person outside the restaurant.

          In some groups this may be a good thing. In that group, I was reprimanded for being weak.

          • Sure. That happened. Was the person who reprimanded you for being weak also twisting an old-timey mustache?

    • Talbots review :

      This is different than a lunch among peers. This is on par with a client lunch (unless you are BFFs). Don’t order so much that you need a box if you are a summer or entertaining a client. Not good to be wasteful in ordering.

      • Anonymous :

        +1. The distinction is client/higher-up’s lunch versus lunch with peers. Of course, when you’re an intern, everyone but interns are higher-up’s.

      • Oh geez. Take leftovers home if you have ‘em! Or don’t. I wouldn’t think twice about it as a person taking someone out to lunch and I have taken home leftovers when I have dinner with clients. Geez. Weird rules.

        Do pay attention to what others order. Don’t order alcohol if no one else is. Don’t order an extra course (other than entree) unless others are. Or unless it’s dessert and someone is saying “please order some if you want it – I just am trying to watch what I’m eating, but I’ll have coffee” or some version of that. And don’t order ostentatiously – if everyone else is ordering sandwiches, don’t order the truffle covered lobster. But also don’t overthink it – if you go to restaurant and entrees are all basically $18-24 and everyone else orders something that is $18-20, go ahead and order the $24 thing if you really want it.

    • McGiggles :

      For my comment I was thinking of a formal business lunch out with superiors, clients, etc. Perhaps if it was a friendly lunch with my department I might think differently.

    • Depressed Partner :

      This is far less of a big deal than people here seem to think it is.

      You’re not likely to be no-offered because you offended a peevish midlevel associate by taking or not taking your leftovers that one time.

      • Anonymous :

        Anon @ 2:13 here, posted the pizza leftovers story above–so, while taking leftovers in response to repeated requests by the partners/associates to take them had no impact on my getting an offer, I’ve been on the other end where a partner brought me along to an initial lunch interview of a candidate and the candidate requested leftovers. The first thing the partner said when we walked out of earshot was “Huge strike. Never ask for leftovers from a business lunch.” I actually don’t think he cared personally, but he knows that it’s considered a huge faux pas by many, and being at a midsize firm that relies very heavily on business development even at the first year associate level, he doesn’t want to hire anyone who demonstrates poor social skills and will be a liability around clients/referral sources.

    • AnonInfinity :

      If you’re with folks from your company who regularly do this, that’s one thing. But I think the default when you’re in a business situation (ESPECIALLY when you’re essentially on a 6-week job interview) is to not take left overs. I’ve never been at a business lunch where people took leftovers home.

    • My comment was about an interview (which includes summers) or client lunch, not a lunch with colleagues. I personally wouldn’t care if someone took home leftovers for a single entree that turned out to be bigger than expected, but some people do and if it might annoy someone, its better to avoid it (although I agree that if an attorney suggests you take the leftovers home, you should do it – I’m talking about requesting the box yourself).

  9. Depressed Partner :

    What you do or don’t do during lunches is far less important than the work you do and your demeanor in the office while you do it.

    The only things you need to do at lunch can be summarized as follows: (1) follow everyone else’s lead and (2) have proper table manners. Put your napkin on your lap and don’t eat like a savage.

    • Is “savage” really the only way you could think to say that? A little cultural sensitivity, please.

      • I’m not sure why this is culturally insensitive? Presumably having proper table manners includes eating correctly for whatever cuisine you’re eating (so, with your hands for Indian food, with chopsticks for Japanese food, etc.). It’s possible that savage has some particular cultural connotation that I’m not aware of, but in this context I’d think of it as eating appropriately for the culture you’re in, regardless of what culture that is.

      • This person needs to come back and explain this. What culture is this supposed to be insensitive to?
        None of my training in cross-cultural communication or international business cited this phrase.

    • It is commonly known to be a derogatory term for First Peoples in western nations. Living in the southwest, it is not uncommon to hear this as a racial slur. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Native_American_name_controversy#.22Savage.22

  10. At my firm, there is a well-publicized budget for summer associate lunches. The summers know this, and the associates and partners know this, and it’s a fairly generous budget. So do NOT order something over budget! I’m the one who gets stuck with the check after (recruiting would have my head if I refused to pay for an over-budget meal), and that will not make me think highly of you.

    • On the flip side of this, its good to be aware of the budget (and certainly follow everyone’s lead in ordering) but you don’t need to nanny the attorney paying by constantly asking “are we within the budget?” or even grabbing the check when it comes to make sure you didn’t go over (yes, this happened). The attorney paying is a grown up and they can handle it – if they suggest you order dessert, you can trust them that you will be within the budget and/or that they are ok covering the difference. And it should go without saying – but apparently doesn’t – that you shouldn’t try and look at the check when someone is treating you, in any circumstance.

    • Agree completely. While I don’t think much of when with tax and tip the lunch goes over, nothing annoys me more than when you order entrees that start over the budget.

  11. AnonInfinity :

    A few years ago my firm had a summer who was invited by a managing partner and a couple of senior associates to lunch. She turned it down because she was on a “juice fast.” This is still a joke at our office. It’s fine (and encouraged!) if you want to order a salad or something healthy at lunch. But don’t turn down opportunities to get to know folks because you’re doing some sort of diet or whatever.

  12. Lady Tetra :

    Please mention your dietary restrictions before you go to lunch with the attorneys. They will feel awkward if, halfway through the meal, you casually mention that you’re vegetarian and they’ve brought you to a burger place or something like that. I know you may feel like not mentioning it so you “won’t cause trouble” but it would be a very simple thing to pick an appropriate restaurant if we know all the facts!

    • Anonymous :

      Also, if the people who took you out yesterday took you to the exact same place I’ve suggested, say so! We want to take you somewhere new or at least that you didn’t eat at this week. At my firm, there is shockingly little coordination to ensure that the summers are not going out with the exact same people every day or going to the same places, considering that (at least in our case) the point of the lunches are to (a) expose the summers to all of the attorneys and (b) expose them to the restaurants in the city, especially for summers who don’t attend one of the local schools.

      • While I agree with the spirit of your comment, I think interns need to tread very carefully here. At my firm, there are a handful of area restaurants that have decent food that tend to be favorites, particularly among senior associates and partners, because they have pretty quick service. As someone posted above, a business lunch really isn’t about the food, and telling someone you’ve already eaten at the restaurant they picked can make you seem entitled. If an intern is at a firm like yours, I suggest they say something like “Oh, good. I enjoyed my meal when I ate there earlier this week.” That gives the host the opportunity to suggest an alternative restaurant if they’re trying to make sure the intern tries a variety of places.

    • Within reason and certainly if its something standard like vegetarianism or being kosher/halal. But if you’re a gluten-free, lactose-free, carb-free vegetarian (as one of my friends is), don’t put that burden on others to accommodate. Look at the menu ahead of time and figure out what you can order. And if its not for medical reasons, consider dropping those crazy restrictions temporarily.

      • Blonde Lawyer :

        OMG. I am gluten free and dairy free for medical reasons. I have no idea how I could ever be a vegetarian let alone a carb-free vegetarian. Your friend is amazing for being able to pull that off.

      • Lorelai Gilmore :

        I really want to know what a gluten-free, lactose-free, carb-free vegetarian can actually eat, other than vegetables!

      • She hasn’t been doing it for that long. And she’s a fish-eating vegetarian, so I think she eats a lot of fish…and vegetables, I guess. It’s still crazy to me!

        • Maybe I’m just clueless because I eat All The Foods (except raw green peppers – why so bitter??), but if she eats fish then she isn’t a vegetarian, right?

          • yeah, I guess not. She describes herself as a vegetarian (which she has been for a really long time, although the no gluten/carb/dairy is new) but she’s always eaten fish. I guess the technical term for that is pescatarian.

          • She eats carbs – vegetables and fruit are mostly carbs. I’m guessing she’s just hopped on the no grains bandwagon.

          • Lorelai Gilmore :

            I didn’t mean to police her food habits – fish and nuts sounds good to me. I was just curious about how that worked!

      • I’m completely vegan. It’s not for medical reasons, but it is for health and ethical reasons, and I would never “dropping” that for a business lunch. I’ve definitely been at business lunches where I literally couldn’t eat anything, and ordered side salads with oil and vinegar and a had a roll. I never make an issue of it, and when people ask and I explain, they are usually interested in hearing more about it. I’m very non-preachy about it so it’s never a big deal.

        (And then I have proceeded to get back to the office and scarf down 2 larabars. Not ideal but stuff happens.)

      • I just had to laugh at the “burdening” of others with your eating restrictions because I have an eating disorder. Not that I give out tips and such because it’s not a good thing and I really wish I could eat normally… but I would never tell anyone I work with about my illness, and I certainly never mention it at a restaurant. So though it seems off, this is one area where ED-folks have got it covered:
        a. Never talk about your eating habits. No one really cares, and it’s not pleasant conversation
        b. Never talk about your eating restrictions UNLESS you need to discreetly tell the server about a life-threatening allergy.
        c. Just because it’s on your plate, doesn’t mean you have to eat it. Be discreet. Don’t be one of those people who has to modify everything (anyone remember the scene in L.A. Story?). Go with something you think you’ll like, and eat what you can/want to.

        Please don’t slam me because of my ED – my point is to (generally) keep quiet about your eating habits, issues, restrictions, allergies, etc. unless it’s a life & death issue. Vegan? Fab. My former colleague was a raw food vegan, and though we worked together for years, I didn’t know until she quit to open a vegan restaurant. Food habits don’t need to be discussed among colleagues and definitely not with partners or clients.

        • In my experience, it is better if food choices aren’t mentioned at all. Once people know there is something different about you, they tend to harp on and on, or continually forget and grill you about it.

          (I have medical restrictions. So, yes, the near constant put downs, snide comments and disgusting jokes at my expense are illegal, but who is going to enforce that? Not my employer.)

          • Completely agree! It’s annoying to have to make excuses or offer explanations, and no one really cares anyway. Honestly, I’d rather talk politics than food.

    • Yeah, we had an interviewee once who failed to tell us that she was vegetarian. We had chosen one of the few restaurants in town that had no vegetarian entree option. They were able to make something for her, but it was awkward nonetheless and we felt like bad hosts. Of course, we knew she wasn’t getting the job by that time (before the interview had even really begun) because of a remark she made during the tour.

      • What did she say?

      • Mischief Managed :

        Sorry, I just hit report instead of reply. And I know we are not supposed to thread jackk, but I am dying to know what the fatal remark was!

      • I’ve been a vegetarian my entire adult life (in my mid-40s now) and have, of course, had many many times when I am at a business meal and explain to the waiter that I would like the kitchen to make a dish for me without meat. I don’t find this awkward at all; it’s just my life and it happens frequently. I’d rather not announce my diet to the whole world before going to a restaurant; it’s personal usually not something I wish to discuss, especially in a business context. I travel a lot for work, and once my colleagues find out, it seems like something they want to bring up all the time, which I find tedious.

        • Lady Tetra :

          I just meant, don’t make it more awkward than it could be. For example, we one year had a summer who doesn’t eat fish, but didn’t say anything when a partner suggested a sushi restaurant. Yes, there were things she could get that weren’t fish, but the partner felt bad when he found out later because he could have taken her to a place with more options she would have enjoyed, had he only known. In any event, it’s not a big deal and it won’t have a bearing on whether you get an offer or not.

        • Couldn’t agree more, ORD :-)

      • Flying Squirrel :

        Okay, but isn’t vegetarianism common enough that if it’s even a medium-sized group (and especially for an interviewee) it would just be better to avoid a restaurant that can’t accommodate it? For religious/cultural reasons, I’m a strict vegetarian one day a week (not even eggs)…and it would just be easier to go to a place that can at least provide a salad. Maybe it’s regional, but I just find it odd to take a group of people, especially one you don’t know well, to a restaurant that can’t accommodate a fairly common dietary restriction. Honestly, on an interview I would never think to mention this since it’s so rare to find a restaurant that doesn’t have a single vegetarian thing…and in the meantime I wouldn’t want to be seen as difficult.

  13. Anne Shirley :

    Please just pick something and order it with minimal substitutions. I have no interest in waiting for you to make up your mind for 10 minutes and then giving the waiter a convoluted order. Dressing on the side, no cheese , or actual allergies, fine. But get in practice with just picking something and eating it. Business lunches shouldn’t be about the food.

    • ManagementConsultant :

      I was told by a former boss that you get one modification per order; more than that seems difficult or excessive. Just find something to order that you can live with only one mod.

  14. Where does the summer-intern lunch fit in on the spectrum of client lunch/interview lunch at one end, and casual lunch with coworkers on the other end?

    Because I would never, ever bring home a box from the 1st, but I’d have no problem doing it from the 2nd if I received an absurdly large portion.

    • Anne Shirley :

      Depends. First time out with a partner? Absolutely not. Out with 2 associates you work with all the time? Probably not a big deal.

      • Curly Sue :

        Seconded. When I take summers who are on my case teams out, I want them to feel comfortable and I want to get to know them. It never occurs to me that this is some piece of a giant interview that they need to navigate properly.

    • A biglaw summer associate lunch is slightly more casual than an interview lunch, but a lot more like a client/interview lunch than lunch with co-workers. I think one of the reasons this is a danger zone is that law students may forget to mind their Ps and Qs as the lunch may be with people just a few years senior to them who seem like their buddies.

    • Maddie Ross :

      I think the issue with a summer associate lunch or lunch with clients is that someone else is paying. Ordering too much and taking food home looks like you’re being a hog or trying to get dinner on the firm’s dime. Lunch with colleagues, particularly where you are paying for yourself, it’s totally fair game to bring home half the entree, etc.

  15. I’ve always heard and repeated the saying that when you are someone’s guest “order from the middle of the menu.” No need to get the cheapest thing, but make sure it moderate.

  16. ManagementConsultant :

    Testing – please ignore.

  17. Lorelai Gilmore :

    I am always impressed when summer associates (I’m in BigLaw on the West Coast) ask me to lunch, and (better yet) have an idea of an appropriate restaurant to go to! If you are a summer associate, I probably really want to take you to lunch at some point, but I’m busy and get distracted and the summer flies by. Summer associates, take the initiative!

  18. Lorelai Gilmore :

    One more strategy: It can be awkward when you go to lunch as the junior person and they ask you to order first. If that happens, don’t duck the order – just order a main course. If the other attendees all end up ordering an appetizer, a good server will circle back to you to see if you’d like one as well; you can also add one on at the end of the ordering period.

    • In my city, servers always ask the females first, so at a firm with very few female attorneys, I as the summer was asked to order first nearly 100% of the time. I’d often ask the others what they’d tried and liked there to get an idea of what they were ordering, and if I still had no idea if they were going to get the steak they’d discussed or just a sandwich, I’d use a “I just need one more second, please come back to me at the end” pass (which would be annoying if done every time you went out with those same people, but used sparingly can be fine).

      • AnonInfinity :

        I use that trick a lot–”I can’t decide; come back to me please!” Or sometimes I’ll just straight up ask a couple of people around me what they’re getting. Everyone understands what you’re doing, and it’s a good way to make conversation.

  19. AnonLawMom :

    This depends on your office (and whether you are working on a particularly sensitive project), but be mindful of checking your phone/email at lunch. If the attorneys keep phones on the table and check constantly then it might be okay, otherwise it is not. If you have to check a lot because of a particular project, let the attorneys know before you sit down and apologize in advance for the distraction.

    • +100. I would even go further. No matter if the attorneys check their phones, don’t check yours. At least my firm and most in my city don’t give summers access to their email on their phones. Although I may need to check if I’m out for an 1 and a half during the day, if your looking at your phone I know its not because of work. At least pretend you enjoying spending time with the people at the firm.

    • AnonInfinity :

      Maybe it’s different in other places, but there is no reason for a summer to check his or her phone (barring a family emergency) during lunch. I know we don’t give summers projects that are so time sensitive that an hour or two would make a difference.

      • I disagree, at least for NY. The firms where I have worked do give summers access to emails in their blackberries. And there are matters that may actually require a summer to check emails during lunch. I have seen partners get very annoyed because a call/issue came up last minute and the summer was no where to be found for a couple of hours. And I have seen those partners say they don’t want to work with the summer again.
        Follow the other associates – if they are checking, check too. If you know you have a fast-moving matter or a call that may be scheduled during lunch, tell them that you will need to keep an eye out fr emails. But be polite. Don’t take the phone, hold it in front of your face to check when someone is telling you a story. Wait for a break in the conversation and check discretely on or under the table. A few minutes will not make the partner angry. If you need to respond, say something like “I am sorry but partner X is looking for me. I need to respond to one question.” That way the associates know to continue the covnersation without you for a minute and that youa re not ignoring them without a good reason (e.g., to rsvp to the associate social).

  20. Anonymous :

    I think finding something to talk about can be the hardest thing. A lot depends on who you’re going to lunch with. Younger associates? They likely just want to know whether they would enjoy having you around the office, so it’s probably OK to have a lighter conversation about their interests. Senior partners? I think the best thing to do is ask intelligent questions about their work area or recent cases. Let them be the ones to steer the conversation to something more lighthearted.

    Please don’t lecture the attorney taking you to lunch on their practice area based on what you learned in a law school course. (A conversation about an area of law is great–but if you’re the only one talking, that’s not really a conversation.) Don’t spout off every detail from the attorney’s web profile that you can remember all at once. Don’t ask what she and her husband argue about when house-hunting. Don’t lean so far over in your chair that I think you’re going to fall over. (I recently went to lunch with a summer associate who did all of the above. Awkward city.)

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