The Business Lunch and Cultural Differences 

Business lunches are very common in many countries and cultures. Food itself is one of the most visible manifestations of a culture and is something people are proud of and like to share with guests to their country. However, just as the food changes from culture to culture so does the intention and etiquette surrounding the lunch. In some cultures the business lunch is a time for chit-chat and building relationships, in others simply a fuel stop at which people continue to talk about business, known as the “working lunch”.
For the international globe-trotter it is always beneficial to have an appreciation and understanding of a local culture and any etiquette or protocol. Traditionally this has concentrated on areas summed up in the title of a book named “Kiss, Bow or Shake hands.” One area many people do not consider is the role of the business lunch and how different cultures approach them.
In order to introduce the idea of ‘doing lunch’ across the globe we have picked out a few examples from some countries to highlight cultural differences in the approach and etiquette surrounding the business lunch.
The UK :
Lunch is not a big affair in the UK and many an office worker will happily eat a sandwich at their desk. Business lunches however will take place at a restaurant or pub. The British like to keep personal life and business separate unless a good relationship has formed so discussions may very well be centred on business. As and when conversation strays to other topics it is usually about sports, politics and of course the weather!
Table manners demand a certain demeanour; one should always use a knife and fork, napkins if provided should be placed on the lap, ask to be passed dishes or condiments rather than lean over people and avoid speaking loudly.
Japan :
Lunch is the main meal of the day in Japan so when doing business in the country bear in mind this is when people like to eat. Lunch in Japan can therefore consist of several courses.
While the majority of restaurants in Japan are equipped exclusively with Western style tables and chairs, restaurants with low traditional tables and the customers sitting on cushions on the floor are also common. Chopsticks have their own etiquette rules associated with them including: When you are not using your chopsticks and when you are finished eating, lay them down in front of you with the tip to left, do not stick chopsticks into your food and do not pass food with your chopsticks directly to somebody else’s chopsticks. When drinking alcohol it is the correct etiquette to serve each other, rather than pouring the beverage into one’s own glass.
Generally speaking conversation is quote subdued at Japanese lunches so do not feel as though it is incumbent on you to liven up the proceedings. Savour the food and follow the lead of your hosts.
The Middle East :
Lunch is the time to enjoy good food and engage in some good conversation. Business should not generally be discussed as this is the time of day when people wind down due to the heat. The business lunch should be used as the time to forge good relationships so engage in plenty of chit-chat about current affairs, sports or ask questions about your host’s country. Be sure not to ask political or religiously sensitive questions. Similarly asking in-depth questions about one’s family is not done.
Traditionally meals are eaten on the floor. If this is the situation you find yourself in then try and sit with your legs crossed or leaning on one. Never sit with your feet stretched out. To eat the food simply scoop it into your right hand and pop it into the mouth. Never use your left hand for anything, whether eating or passing things to people.

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