For every business meal that ends in a successful conversation about SEO and triangulating the shoelace market, there’s another that ends in a handshake that’s more awkward than the first 15 minutes of your eighth grade dinner dance. If you want to avoid that, start by picking the right restaurant. You need a place that’s not too stuffy but not too laid back, sophisticated but not so expensive that your operations manager takes away your company card when it’s done. We can’t guarantee you that one of these spots will help you close the deal, but they’ll get you going in the right direction.
If the people you’re meeting with are from out of town, there’s no mystery about what they want to eat. They want chowder, and they’re going to spend at least half the meal repeating “chowdah” over and over again in their best Mark Wahlberg voice. Take them to Atlantic Fish. It’s not the best seafood restaurant in the Back Bay, but unlike Saltie Girl, you’ll actually be able to get in, and unlike Select, it’s filled with all the big leather chairs and polished wood that a business traveler who just spent four hours loudly talking on his cell in the Acela quiet car could ever want.
If you don’t know the people you’re meeting with too well, it’s best to be a little conservative with your restaurant pick. Don’t risk blowing up your brand partnership with a startup that promises to be the “Uber of umbrellas” by picking a place with a fussy menu. Post 390 in the Back Bay serves the type of broad American food that keeps everybody happy, and does a good job with it (try their pizza, which is really more like flatbread with a nice crust from the brick oven). It also gets pretty loud for lunch, so you can make fun of the umbrella guy’s business plan under your breath without him hearing you.
A French restaurant that overlooks the Public Garden is about as classy as Boston gets. But Bistro Du Midi has two different dining rooms, each doing their own thing. So if you’re with someone who has a preferred pin stripe width, head upstairs to the dining room filled with candles and original artwork. If you want to keep things more casual, head to the bistro downstairs. Either way, you’ll get a very good French menu filled with seafood, terrines, and a good short rib burger.
There was a time when a business lunch meant drinking at least two martinis at a leisurely pace while discussing the price of manganese in Siam. For better or worse, that world is gone (for the worse because of the loss of socially acceptable day-drinking, for the better because we no longer call Southeast Asian countries by random names that white people made up). Nowadays, you’ll probably need to be in and out pretty quickly, so head to Shy Bird. This Kendall Square restaurant operates as a counter-service spot but feels like a full-service restaurant (the full bar helps). The rotisserie chicken is outstanding and comes out really quickly, so you’ll be able to get back to your actual work in no time.
Hopefully your business lunch will be overflowing with conversation about whatever it is people talk about at these things - mergers, stock options, and fantasy football teams, probably. But if you’re worried about awkward silences, Citrus & Salt in the Back Bay is a good choice. It’s one of the more visually interesting restaurants in Boston - a bright place filled with string lights and calavera murals. The menu of ceviche, tacos, and other Latin small plates goes great with the extensive margarita selection that you’ll be seriously tempted to dive into, so if your business is one where wearing the nice pair of jeans is considered dressing up, then come here and have a little fun.
Just about everyone loves Italian food (and if they don’t, they’re probably not someone you want to work with, anyway). Sportello is not only one of the better Italian places in Boston, but thanks to a bright space that feels like a C-Suite cafeteria and a location in the Seaport surrounded by law firms, tech companies, and startups, it’s a great spot to share a bolognese while discussing the future of viral marketing. If you’re with people who are off carbs, there’s a good selection of protein entrees too (get the branzino with pickled red onion).
The Marliave in Downtown Crossing is such a throwback that some of its entrees are served underneath those silver dome thingees that French waiters are always carrying around in cartoons. But despite the fact that it’s old enough to have stories about life in nineteen-dickety-two, it isn’t stuffy. It’s a comfortable spot that serves French-ish seafood in both the white tablecloth dining room upstairs and the more casual downstairs bar. It also has an espresso bar downstairs (European-style, with no seats) so if you need a little pick-me-up before the meeting, make this your spot.
Steak houses are pretty much the platonic ideal of a power lunch setting. Something about the leather booths, globe lighting, and giant hunks of red meat inspires people to act like the monopoly man. Boston Chops in Downtown Crossing nails the look and does it with a menu that goes beyond meat to include a lot of seafood and some pasta. When you’re trying to strike a deal with someone who looks like they’ve worn a cowboy hat at some point in their life, head here.
Bar Mercato is a pan-European place with big windows that look directly onto State Street, which might be the busiest pedestrian street in Downtown Boston. So if your meeting is with a prospective employer and you don’t want your current employer to know about it, this might not be the most discreet location. But otherwise, it’s a solid option owing to a diverse menu that has something for everybody, including people who really like breakfast, since it serves pancakes and shakshuka through the afternoon.
Zuma in the Back Bay is the type of high-end place where a lot of people are probably discussing frequent flyer programs. In other words, it’s a good place to go when you need to impress someone. It isn’t cheap, but if you’re charging the meal to the company, come here for good sushi and an even better selection of robata grill stuff, like the Chilean sea bass with green chili and ginger dressing.