Business Meeting Etiquette- Six Rules of Thumb for NPs

My first nurse practitioner job offer was made over lunch at a local restaurant. Since then, I've met colleagues for coffee and had business meetings related to my work both inside and outside the clinical setting. As a nurse practitioner, I often find these interactions uncomfortable. After all, as a healthcare provider most of my job involves seeing patients, not discussing healthcare reform, financial planning or other business endeavors. This professional discomfort is particularly apparent when it comes time to pay - am I supposed to hand over my credit card?

Attending a business meeting over lunch or dinner is not a very common practice amongst nurse practitioners; especially by comparison to other professions outside of healthcare. Eating is already somewhat of a vulnerable act so when you’re not accustomed to attending business lunches and dinners outside of your practice setting, displaying the proper etiquette can be an even more nerve-wracking experience than casual dining with friends or family. Perhaps the most unsettling part for NPs who aren’t familiar with the social norms of dining with colleagues is fretting over who should foot the bill when the inevitable time comes.

While it is customary that whoever extended the invitation or is hosting the meeting should pay for the check, this rule of thumb comes with several exceptions and can cause the debate over the check to get a little dicey. While it is great rule to fall back on, don’t rely solely on it; determining who should pay the tab depends on several other considerations that should be made before you head to the restaurant. Here are six rules of thumb nurse practitioners should abide by when breaking bread at a business meeting.

1. Whoever’s getting a favor should pay

Essentially, you should always pay the tab if the person dining with you is there to provide you with any kind of help like reviewing your resume, providing you with a networking opportunity or helping answer questions you have about your practice, etc. This same rule of thumb applies even if the person mentoring you asked you to lunch so they could give you guidance in person. If the person is superior to you at your usual place of business, you should pay. Consider it a common courtesy in exchange for their help.

2. The superior should always pay

If you’re at business related lunch or dinner with a superior, such as your collaborating physician or an executive at the hospital you work in (and there’s not a favor being given), it is customary for whomever is at the most senior level to pay for the meal. The same holds true for you if you’re holding a meeting with the nurses or medical assistants in your practice. As their superior, you should pay for their meal.

3. Let the potential employer pay

There are many reasons why a potential employer may invite you to lunch or dinner; perhaps they don’t want other staff in the practice to know they’re in the market to hire another provider or maybe they’ve invited you because you’re the leading candidate and they want to impress you. Whatever the reason may be and regardless of whether it’s over coffee, lunch or dinner, the potential employer should be the one to pick up the check since they are hosting you. Don’t pay the bill in an attempt to impress the employer as this comes off as fake. And remember, don’t order the most expensive meal on the menu.

4. When to split the check

Certain instances warrant splitting the check like when you’re dining with other nurse practitioners that are your colleagues, either past or present. While it’s common for clients to be treated by vendors in other professions outside of healthcare, this could create a sticky situation for nurse practitioners who, in example, may be meeting over lunch with a pharmaceutical rep. In a case such as this, the best practice is for NPs and drug reps to split the check.

Anytime you decide to split the check during a business meeting, it’s best avoid making a big fuss by trying to determine who had what and asking the waiter to bring separate checks after the fact. Instead split the bill straight down the middle.

5. Graciously accept when someone offers to pay

If someone offers to pay the bill but the proper etiquette is that you should be paying the tab, it’s okay to counter or offer to at least pay your half but only do this once. If the associate declines your offer, leave it at that. Simply offer a gracious thank you to the person paying and make a note to pay next time. Remember to send them a thank you letter (or email) when you get back to your office.

6. Bottom line, don’t allow the check to linger

Don’t expect everyone you dine with to be up to speed with proper dining etiquette. Regardless of who’s technically responsible for the tab, never allow the check to linger on the table for longer than it should or try to bring etiquette into the conversation to get the responsibility party to pay the check. The longer the bill sits on the table, the more awkward it becomes. Either bite the bullet and hand over your credit card or suggest splitting the bill.

If you know going into the meeting that the check should be your responsibility, you can avoid getting into a tussle over the bill altogether by telling the hostess or your waiter when you arrive to bring the bill directly to you once the meal is over. Likewise, you can also arrange payment in advance by providing your credit card number when you make the reservation. This way no check is brought to the table and the question of who should pay is completely avoided.

Have you ever found yourself in an awkward spot as a nurse practitioner in a professional interaction?