One of the most famous paintings in history, DaVinci’s Last Supper, is about 13 well-known people sitting around a table sharing bread and wine. From the beginning of mankind people have used food as a way of bonding. The tradition of “breaking bread” goes back to before knives were present at the table. Bread was considered essential to life and it was the ultimate act of sociality to break or share bread with another party – friend, stranger or foe.
Certified Legal Nurse Consultants understand that the act of dining with attorney-clients and attorney-prospects is a way to create and strengthen professional relationships. I’ve had some great times with business associates and while there’s no better way to “let down our hair” and informally talk the business of business than dining with an important client (especially with a good bottle of red wine in the mix), it’s important to remember that there are rules of business etiquette that you will want to follow to make a business meal an attorney relationship builder.
- Choose a Restaurant Where You Can Hear Each Other
Restaurants today are entertainment destinations, which often translates to loud. The whole point of the meal is to build the professional relationship. Doing so starts with real conversation, so choose a restaurant where you can hear and be heard.
- Dress the Part
Always dress appropriately for the occasion – business attire for a business lunch, casual attire for a casual lunch such as an outdoor picnic you’re invited to. For an event calling for cocktail dress, keep it professional. If an attorney remembers what you wore to a party or a meeting, you probably wore the wrong thing.
- Arrive Early
Timing is everything – show up 5-10 minutes early. Speak with the maitre’d or server and explain that it’s a business meal and the bill should be presented to you. If the server asks for your order first, you can respond by saying, “Please take my guest’s order first.” This confirms with your guest that you are responsible for the tab and reminds the server that you should receive the bill. Do not take a seat at the table until the attorney has arrived.
- Don’t Be High Maintenance
The meal is all about the attorney, not the menu. Decide on your meal choice quickly or even in advance of arriving to the restaurant. Don’t be high maintenance. Don’t annoy the attorney with endless food preferences, changes to the dish you order and unreasonable special requests. Attorneys are people, and people are attracted to individuals who are happy and positive not high maintenance. They love doing business with Certified Legal Nurse Consultants who bring these natural traits to the table. Smile and look happy even when you’re not in love with your menu choices.
- Go Along to Get Along
If the attorney is buying, never order the most expensive meal on the menu, but at the same time, don’t order the least expensive either. Match the attorney. If the attorney chooses an appetizer, go ahead and choose one too. If the attorney doesn’t you shouldn’t either. Meals are a bonding experience. If you choose a light salad with no dressing while the attorney is chowing down on a huge bone-in rib eye steak or a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, you’ve lost the opportunity to bond over the experience.
I was eating spaghetti and meatballs with two favorite attorney-clients of mine. They had sauce on their ties and I had sauce on my sleeves. We looked like we’d been eating spaghetti without utensils and this experience together became not only a source of laughter, but also a moment of unity – we were the same after all. When we get together, it still comes up and we all have a good laugh, even after all these years. Don’t be afraid to get down and dirty.
As to the meal itself, find out whether lunch or dinner is more convenient. I much prefer someone to take me to dinner where the crunch of the day is not weighing on me. At dinner I can truly relax and focus on my dining partner. Another person might prefer lunch so they can get home and tuck the kids into bed. All attorneys eat, but not all appreciate a long business lunch with a vendor. Be respectful of their time. Sometimes something as simple as dropping by the law firm (call or email in advance) with their favorite deli sandwich and a bag of chips can be a great way to experience a no-pressure lunch and retie the connection.
- Engage the Attorney
Focus on what counts. It’s your job to engage the attorney. Attorneys love to talk. Allow the conversation to flow from polite introductions to social conversation before addressing business. When it’s time to turn to business ask about the status of cases you’re consulting on and inquire about new challenging cases that have just come into the attorney’s office. Offer opinions about how you can help. Once business is concluded, return to a light social tone. Avoid the subjects of politics, religion and anything too personal.
- Be Gracious
In the beginning and again at the end of the meal, always personally thank the attorney for meeting and for the opportunity to share your CLNC® services or to discuss a new legal nurse consultant job. You may be paying the bill, but it’s his billable hour the attorney gave up to meet with you. An attorney’s time is his most precious asset. Be sure to always acknowledge that fact by expressing gratitude.
- Know the Proper Use of Utensils and Plates
The bread plate is on the left and beverages are on the right. An easy way to remember it is “Left is lumpy, right is runny.” Utensils are used from the outside of the plate in on either side. For example, the salad fork is outside the entree fork. Rest your knife and fork on the plate between bites. You’ll eat more slowly and enjoy the meal more. This is not a nursing lunch – it’s a chance to connect. You can’t do that while speed-stuffing a burrito into your digestive system.
- Stay Sober
It’s perfectly okay to have a drink if the attorney does, but never try to keep up. Many of the attorneys I’ve shared a meal with are twice my size and have a much higher tolerance than I’ll ever aspire to. I don’t order a cocktail before dinner if I know there will be wine later. There’s nothing wrong starting with a mineral water and lime while the attorney has a martini. I’ve also learned the art of fitting in by sipping slowly. Eat some bread with olive oil to slow the absorption of the alcohol and whatever you do don’t try and keep up.
- Let Humor Ease the Tension
If there’s an awkward moment, e.g., you forgot which fork to use, add humor to the situation to ease the tension. Everyone will laugh and feel more comfortable. Likewise, if the attorney spills something on his tie, try not to laugh. If you spill something on yourself you’re fair game – to you. If you swallow the wrong way you can always say something like “I’d forgotten how dangerous sea urchin is without wasabi.”
- Don’t Make the Business Meal an Instagram Moment
Don’t let the attorney catch you photographing a selfie upon his return from the restroom or have to indulge you compulsively photographing each course. And never ask the attorney for a joint selfie on the way out. Of course if the attorney requests a selfie, go ahead and oblige her.
- Accept Social Courtesies
Be aware of gender differences when it comes to common social courtesies. Allow a male attorney to be a gentleman even if you’re independent. This goes a long way to fostering professional relationships. I’m independent and my husband Tom comes from the East coast, so if he forgets to open the door for me, I may get it for him (then shut it before he slips through). In Texas, many male attorneys still believe it’s proper to open the door for a woman so I let them. Woman-to-woman or man-to-man, it’s whoever gets there first.
- Don’t Wear Out Your Welcome
You’ll want to be respectful of the attorney’s time. Don’t drag out the meal. Don’t be the only one to order an appetizer or the only one to order dessert or coffee. The attorney may need to get back to work and is too polite to say so. Giving the appearance that you too need to get back to work maintains the image that you’re in demand as a Certified Legal Nurse Consultant.
- Say Thank You
Send a handwritten thank-you note within 24 hours. Few people take the time to do this today, so you’re setting yourself apart and further cementing the professional relationship. If you bought, thank the attorney for the time. If the attorney picked up the check, thank her not only for the meal, but also for introducing you to a great new restaurant and tell her that the next time will be your treat.
Once you master these 14 strategies, business meal etiquette will be as natural to you as resuscitating a patient and a lot more tasty. Relax and enjoy.
Success Is Yours,
P.S. Comment and share your most memorable meals with your attorney-clients and your favorite strategies for making a business meal an attorney relationship builder.