Lunch Etiquette

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Lunch Etiquette

Food is good!


Lunchtime Conversational Tips – ME416 Dr. Chuck Pezeshki

1. Starting lunch

Make sure to shake your project sponsor’s hand, and look them straight in the eye. Thank them for meeting with you (if you haven’t done so already) and tell them that you’re really looking forward to working with them.

ALWAYS start a conversation with someone you know “somewhat” informally—make a comment about the weather, what a great day you’re having, and inquire about their day. Listen to whatever they have to say—and realize that what you’re trying to do is build a professional partnership with this person. If they’re having a very bad day, they may make some comment to that effect. Act sympathetic, but don’t pry. You’re an engineer, not a psychoanalyst.

Give everyone a chance to sit down together. Don’t obsess on this (sometimes, someone has to slide into the booth first) but do the best you can.

Other suitable small talk items:

1. Your hotel room (make sure it’s complimentary if they recommended it).

2. The meal you had last night.

3. Your travel – commiseration is OK.

4. Whatever entertainment you had the previous night (as long as it doesn’t involve strip clubs.)

After about 1-2 minutes of small talk, unless it’s going somewhere, feel free to segue into technical talk.

2. Ordering.

Follow the waiter’s/waitress’ cue on this. Obviously, women get to order first. No matter how bad you want those baby-back ribs, avoid eating food that makes you look like a pig. Regarding alcohol, don’t order drinks/beer at lunch. We just don’t do that in this society, though an alcoholic beverage or two with dinner is perfectly acceptable.

For what it’s worth, I often get ravenously hungry before lunch. In order to avoid looking like a starvation victim, I’ll eat a quick Powerbar around 10:30 so that I don’t start drooling when they bring out the lunch chips.

3. Talking during lunch.

Do. Expect the conversation to swing back and forth between the personal and professional. You may be out with someone who doesn’t do a great job conversationally themselves. In that case, it may be up to you to keep conversation going.

Topics that are OK.

1. Your classes, and what you’re interested in professionally.

2. Club activities.

3. If they’re WSU alumni, or have a strong attachment to WSU, then talking about Cougar sports is great. If they are Huskies, make a brief, light-hearted comment about the rivalry, and change the subject. Don’t dwell on how awful the Huskies are going to be this year. There are a lot of people in this state that are obsessed with WSU’s and UW’s rivalry, and take it far too seriously. I’ve found it is always best to stay away from this.

4. Where they graduated from, and whether they had a good time in college/learned a lot/ etc.

5. Ask about the personal research they have done, past degrees/academic experiences, job experiences and current projects.

Topics that are not OK.

1. Religion.

2. Politics.

3. How you feel (pro/con) about Obama-care.

4. Problems that you are having in school/ with your girlfriend/boyfriend/etc.

5. How great WSU/Design Clinic/etc. is relative to the school where that person may have graduated.

6. Anything negative about your experience with the city that the company is located in, or things you’ve heard about the company.

7. Anything negative about that person’s alma mater.

Sometimes, it can be useful/interesting to ask about your sponsor’s career path. Anything professional like this that can be taken as them mentoring you is fine, and often extremely positive. You want this person to be a mentor. It’s usually fine to ask someone about their kids, but if they’re not forthcoming about this, then change the subject. Most people’s kids are fine—but some are locked up in Walla Walla. At the first hint of anything like this, gently ease out of this and back to technical issues.

Your sponsor will give you cues on how far you can go with discussing your informal, personal life on campus. If they ask you about crazy parties, then discuss them, but do so with discretion. Your sponsor may want to do a little re-living of their glory days, but they probably don’t need to know that you were up on the roof of CCN North with a spud gun until the police came and arrested you for public drunkenness. DON’T get into a one-upmanship contest with your other group members! DON’T talk about how you spent half your financial aid check on Schmitt Animal Beer down at the beer sale at Dissmore’s.

4. Picking up the check.

When the waiter/waitress brings out the check, let it sit there for a minute. Odds are, your project sponsor will pick up the check. When you work for a real company, the person at the benefit end of the work transaction/ person getting paid picks up the check. If your sponsor gets the check, don’t offer to leave the tip. Don’t pull $5 out of your wallet and offer it to them. Say “thank you.”

If after a suitable time (when everyone’s finished, etc.) you see no movement toward them picking up the check, the closest student to the check picks it up. DON’T do some complicated “bistro-mathics” with it—arguing with your buddies over who got the chicken sandwich. Someone with a credit card should pay, and then the other group members can reimburse them later. I will make sure you get paid for the sponsor’s dinner—just bring the receipt back with you. Tip 15% if the service was decent!

To those not picking up the check—don’t screw your buddy over a buck. I typically, when out with friends, divide the check equally unless there is a real difference. It all comes around, and you don’t want to be known as the skin-flint who no one wants to go to lunch with. It’s not some game with a “winner” or “loser”.

5. Exiting the restaurant.

File out sociably, hopefully talking about how you enjoyed the meal, and whatever business needs to be wrapped up. If this is the last time they’ll see you, make sure they understand the particulars of your next interaction, so they’ll know what to expect.

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