Getting together for lunch can be a key part of networking. If you’re an instinctive networker, the protocol for doing so may feel natural. However, if you’re not, it’s worth taking a little time to understand what your contact will expect, as well as what you should be looking to do, long before you reach the restaurant.
If you’re the one who is suggesting lunch, it’s your responsibility to make it as easy as possible for the other party. Be polite and recognize that you’re interrupting someone else’s day to ask them for help. Suggest a place to meet that will be quick for them to get to, and work around their schedule.
Once you arrive at the lunch, keep things neutral, low-pressure, and fun. A lunch meeting isn’t about getting a job offer. Instead, focus on learning about the person you’re meeting and creating a lasting connection. To that end, don’t spend the whole lunch talking about yourself. Instead, get to know the other person. Let them steer the conversation. Do your best to build a rapport that will lead to further contact.
When it comes to eating and drinking, keep in mind that the goal of the lunch is to talk. Discussing the food can be a great way to rejuvenate conversation if it dries up. However, in general you should opt for easy-to-eat, low-fuss food and go easy on the drinks, even non-alcoholic ones. Keep an eye on the pace at which your contact is eating and try to match it so that you finish at the same time.
As lunch wraps up, keep a few things in mind. First, the meal should be your treat unless your contact insists otherwise. Second, don’t push too hard by asking for help. If your contact offers to look at your resume or to put you in touch with someone, that’s great. If they don’t, it’s not appropriate to ask them directly. Finally, set the stage for a follow-up. Exchange business cards, thank them for their time, and tell them how much you enjoyed talking with them. When you get home, send them an e-mail reiterating those things and following up on anything else.