So you’ve got a business lunch coming up.
It might be with some of your coworkers who you’re already familiar with, or it might be with a client from out of town, who you’ll be expected to entertain before bringing back to the office.
Or if you’re really lucky, then you’re set to have lunch with a C-suite executive who has the potential to move you up the corporate ladder.
If this will be your very first time having a professional lunch, then it may seem intimidating, especially when it comes to conversation topics.
Well don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. We’ve put together a list of business lunch conversation topics that will make for a fun discussion while avoiding sensitive subjects at the same time.
As you’ll find, most of these guidelines follow the basics of workplace etiquette.
Take a look.
First up, let’s take a look at some of the topics that tend to be fair game when it comes to having lunch with a business associate.
They can make for a lively conversation while never delving into anything too personal.
Hobbies are generally fairly easy to talk about, especially with strangers or distant acquaintances.
Chances are you’ve already used this same tactic at any number of family parties.
When the initial small talk has died down and you notice a natural lull in the conversation, that’s when you can make a smooth transition to discussing some of your personal hobbies.
Don’t start out by asking the other person about what they like to do in their free time. For one thing, it may seem artificial or forced. It could also seem like you’re prying.
Try to mention one of your more recent hobbies. If it’s a broad and popular hobby like playing an instrument or watching movies, then you’re more likely to spark their interest.
Hopefully, they’ll also start to talk about what they like to do, and you can latch onto a specific topic from there.
Show genuine interest in their hobbies and listen intently. If you’re going to see this person again, you can always return to this subject. And they will probably appreciate that you remembered.
Talking about your own career histories is work talk while also not feeling like work talk much at all.
Feel free to explain your own career path, and the different jobs you’ve had before working with your current company.
As with hobbies, we can hope that the other person will open up about their own career path, telling stories about how they wound up here.
Maybe one or both of you started in a very different sector than you’re in now. Or maybe you even have mutual friends who have worked for some of the same companies.
In any case, you won’t find out until you ask.
Asking about someone else’s family isn’t just acceptable during a business lunch, it’s often considered polite and even commonplace.
You don’t need to go any further than discussing your immediate family and what they’ve all been up to lately.
Keep it simple and keep it basic. If you feel like you’ve touched a nerve by mentioning family, then you should just drop the subject for now.
After all, if you’re meeting this person for the first or second time, you won’t know their situation. Maybe a family member is ill, or maybe they’re in the process of finalizing a divorce.
In a similar fashion, try not to share too many intimate details about your own family life.
Talk about where you’re from. The world is a lot smaller than you think it is. Chances are you’re familiar with the other person’s hometown, or maybe you even share a hometown.
Maybe you lived there for a few years. If you do know their hometown fairly well, feel free to share what you know about it, and especially what you like about it.
This is another great piece of information to hold onto over the course of a long-term business relationship.
Topics to Avoid
As you might have already guessed, there are also several conversation topics that you should do your best to avoid during a business lunch.
We’ve listed just a few of them here.
Do not discuss politics during a business lunch meeting unless absolutely necessary. Even if the other person shares your personal beliefs, you don’t want those beliefs to become a major aspect of your work life.
Worst case scenario: you both have opposing views and as a result think very little of each other. This may make it more difficult to work with them in the future.
What we don’t want is to have issues with the people we work with. Thus, stray away from topics that might possibly damage the relationship you are trying to build.
Along a similar line, talking about personal religious beliefs, or lack thereof, is considered rude or even confrontational in a professional setting.
It’s best to avoid the subject completely, if at all possible.
And if it does come up, feel free to politely state that you would prefer not to discuss religion while you’re on the clock. This is a perfectly acceptable request.
Some people are not comfortable discussing matters of religion, especially if they don’t believe in it. Thus, keep a respectful distance on this topic, and find other ways to make the conversation light and fun.
While you should feel free to mention whether you currently have a long-term romantic partner, you shouldn’t divulge much more information than that.
Discussing romantic relationships in detail is not only unprofessional, it also makes for a very uncomfortable atmosphere during your meeting.
Even if the other person seems more than willing to share details about their love life with you, do your best to keep your comments to yourself and try to transition to a different subject.
Only talk about this topic when you know the person at a more personal level and not during business meetings and lunches. Remember that there is always an appropriate time for everything, and you can’t just ask about it out of the blue.
It’s also important to remember that a business lunch doesn’t have to be a stressful experience that requires you to memorize intelligent answers to common questions.
The most important thing you can do is relax and enjoy the meal and the conversation. This is an opportunity to get to know someone better, in a professional setting.
Treat it like a conversation with a new in-law. You both know that you’re going to be seeing a lot of each other in the coming years, and you both want to make the best of it.
The least you can do is to meet the other person halfway and learn what makes them tick.