The answer, as they say, depends on the circumstances. Let's examine some of them:
Supplier takes client to lunch
This is simple. The supplier is expected to handle the check unless there is an overriding reason (anniversary, birthday, etc.) to do otherwise, or unless the client states that his company's code of ethics does not allow it.
Senior executive takes juniors out to lunch
As the title implies, it's the senior's show, unless prior agreement states otherwise. The juniors expect to be treated. "After all," they think, "the senior exec is making a bundle and can probably expense it anyway." If you don't want it that way, you have to discuss it first. Otherwise it's automatic.
Business acquaintances have lunch
A simple predialogue takes care of this. Agreement should be reached on the restaurant (pricey or not), on who else will be there, and on who pays. Asking the restaurant to split the bill between two credit cards is now a widely accepted practice. If it's a male and female, it's essential that the issue of who pays is agreed on beforehand.
Forget the old thought that the man automatically pays. Chivalry doesn't apply when the woman and the man are equals. Work it out first, and then enjoy the meal and the company.
If the situation is a sticky one and you want the treat to be on you, consider borrowing a process from many private clubs. They don't deliver a bill to the table. That way the whole process is invisible. The member pays.
You can make a similar agreement with "your" restaurant. If this is helpful (and many women in business have told me it is), all you have to do is make arrangements with Armando to charge the meal to your credit card, which you gave him when you entered. He'll return the card to you as you go out the door. All will be handled professionally and gracefully.
Your guest may still put up a mock fight and feign displeasure, but this will vanish as soon as you go out the restaurant door and the fresh air hits the both of you.
If the boss takes you out to lunch and he or she asks what would you like to drink, the answer is, "iced tea."
There is an exception. If you are being celebrated and the boss has a glass of wine or beer, you can do the same. Drink it slowly and refuse seconds, even if the boss has another - or a few more.
That may seem overly stringent but consider this: The lunch is an opportunity to score points. There is nothing wrong with a glass of wine, but why press it? In Europe it would be different. But in this country stay with the iced tea at lunch. Do your heavy drinking later.
Breakfast tends to be shorter, with fewer interruptions for various courses and such. There is less on the table, so you can more easily carve a workspace. The duration is shorter, so you will both feel you are using your time wisely. And no major crises have yet arisen to cloud your focus and ruin the day. No wonder they're called power breakfasts.
We always wonder what the "icebreaker" conversation should be about when we are out with a client or with senior people in our own company.
The New York Times, with the help of BBDO advertising agency, had a great advertising campaign years ago that encouraged folks to read the New York Times to aid them in their business discussions. The headline was: "Did you pay your share during lunch yesterday?"
The campaign was a play on words. The point was that a good lunch partner (or breakfast partner) contributes to the content of the discussions. So make sure you "pay your share" and are well-read on the day's events, especially in the areas of interest to your lunch guest.
Tom Hall, a director at a communications company, says, "A well-read individual will add value to any encounter, if you have the ability to express yourself clearly and persuasively. You will always be sought after as a breakfast, lunch, or dinner companion."
You will be considered interesting. People will seek you out. Now, isn't that a nice way to stand apart from the crowd?