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How to Business Lunch Like a Parisian

Filed in: Take a Break

The French are oft praised for their style, their roast chicken, their je ne sais quoi. But they don’t get enough credit for the art of the efficiently-indulgent business lunch. On a recent trip to Paris, I had a chance to observe this phenomenon up close. Contrary to popular American opinion, the French professional does not spend three hours over five courses on the average Tuesday. Rather, she approaches her lunch break strategically and with a sense of conviction: I’ll be back around two—hold my calls. She is not questioned, and she experiences zero guilt. Read on to learn how to channel the French when the clock strikes lunch. 

1. Actually go out (to a restaurant with real tables, chairs, forks, and knives.) 

Swear off sad desk lunches once and for all—you deserve better. In the U.S., we often default to thinking, “I’m on a deadline! I don’t have time for lunch! I couldn’t possibly!” Take a deep breath. Going out to lunch doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing experience—there’s a happy medium between speed-eating over your laptop and a mid-day tasting menu. Think of business lunches as the “brain break” that could lead to your next big idea.

2. Find a go-to spot.

When it comes to restaurants, the French are creatures of habit. They rarely stray from their quartiers—and why should they? When it works, it works. There’s no need to travel across town for lunch at the hottest new bistro, only to get stuck in traffic and then have to wait 30 minutes for a table. Eliminate unknown hazards by finding a local, reliable, not-too-trendy spot—and then become a regular.

3. Dine en plein air.

If weather permits, eat outside. A Parisian never turns down a table on a terrasse. And even when it gets chilly, they’re known to huddle under heat lamps while enjoying their steak tartare.

4. Don’t limit yourself to one course. 

Perhaps you don’t typically read the appetizer section of the menu (after all, it’s just lunch—and you have to be back in the office for that 1pm meeting). But consider following the French custom of ordering a starter in addition to a main. Many restaurants have a “prix fixe” option specifically designed for working lunches. Assuming the service is sufficiently brisk, you can be well fed and out the door in under an hour.

5. Go ahead—order wine.

Should you get bombed at lunch? No. Should you have a glass of wine? Sure, why not? It’s all about moderation. Just make sure you’re fully sober before you roll back into the office.

6. End the meal with a shot (of espresso).

The caffeine will help combat the need for a post-meal nap, and if you close your eyes while sipping from your demitasse, you might just think you’re in Paris for a second.

7. Dress the part.

Athleisure has no place at the French lunch table. Dress like the accomplished professional that you are—and like the sophisticated Parisienne that you were always meant to be.


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Alexandra Johnson is an editorial associate at MM.LaFleur, where she started out as a summer intern. Her happy place is the room housing Monet's Water Lilies at MoMA. Read more of Alexandra's posts.


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