Working the Workers

Catering to business diners pays off in a big way. Get tips to work the working crowd.

 In the fevered sprint to unlock the latest and greatest mobile-food model, it’s easy to forget that scores of diners – including the business crowd – don’t want to eat where they work.

Redefine SnackingHard-charging professionals – whether they’re seasoned baby boomers or ambitious millennials – are worth some extra love. Catering to their needs builds an important stable of regulars in ways that food delivery apps can’t, including the real whales: the let’s-make-a-deal expense-account holders.

A 2018 survey by the Global Business Travel Association found that 71% of business diners expense client meals, 56% expense group meals and 46% expense alcoholic beverages. With those kinds of numbers, it makes sense to know what’s important to them. Here’s insight to keep the suits swiping away.

Redefine Snacking

Remember that the oldest members of Generation Z – the twenty-somethings stepping into their first professional jobs – were practically raised on shared plates.

“They’re much more about shareable lunch food and building meals out of appetizers or snack foods,” says Danny Py, vice president of food and beverage for First Hospitality Group, which includes Brim House and The Heights in Toledo, Ohio. At Brim House, that means chicken lollipops with cherry agrodolce, or roasted beet tart with burrata and wild onion jam.

Py says shared plates pay off in the long run, as these types of diners tend to deliver higher check averages per person than those ordering sandwiches or burgers.

Flag Out-of-Towners

Indulgent appetizers allow expense account holders to woo clients or celebrate in high style. At Lark in Seattle, owner-general manager Kelly Ronan has found that shellfish platters and raw oysters are especially popular with financial analysts, techies and lawyers. “They’re all here in town,” she says, “and (often) they have people coming to visit that they want to take out for a nice dinner.”

Ronan says landlocked out-of-towners typically opt for the day’s market fish, so she always stocks plenty of local varieties.

Go with Surf and Turf

Redefine SnackingCe Bian – executive chef for Roka Akor, a Japanese sushi/steak concept with locations across the U.S. – sees less divergence in meal choices across generations than one might expect. “Ten years ago, I would tell you that it’s the 40 to 65 (age group) ordering steak,” he says. “Now it’s become common to see young professionals actually eating steaks.” Ditto for sushi, which is beloved by middle-aged professionals and young customers alike.

Nab the Grab and Go

Acknowledge Different Service PreferencesTo-go areas attached to a sit-down restaurant concept, such as 8UP Elevated Drinkery and Kitchen in Louisville, Kentucky, prioritize options and solitude. “Millennials tend to nestle up with their phones and catch up on personal business while briefly getting out for lunch,” Py says. This is especially true for older millennials, many of whom are new parents looking for quiet time. So make sure to offer quick pick-ups, such as freshly pressed juices, soups and wraps served in eco-friendly packaging.

Acknowledge Different Service Preferences

Watch the ClockYounger millennial and Gen Z guests appreciate more interaction with servers than baby boomers, who often gravitate toward more traditional business meals with fewer interruptions, says Scott Smith, president of Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse. Staff is trained to read the table and adjust accordingly. Ensuring sommeliers are available at lunch has boosted wine sales, while adding more salads and lighter fare to its steak and seafood menu has proven beneficial in catering to its rising numbers of young professionals and female business diners.

Watch the Clock

Offer PrivacyTime is precious for everyone during lunch, says Paul McLaughlin, managing partner at Oceana in New York City for 27 years. Most of Oceana’s business lunchers want to be out in 40 minutes. That’s why the afternoon menu is packed with chilled seafood salads (tuna niçoise and lobster Cobb salad) and quick-cooking entrées (grilled mahi-mahi or seared scallops). “Lunch for me is not so much about building check averages ... it’s more about making friends, so that you’re thought of at the dinner hour,” McLaughlin says. “(The diner wants) to know that, hey, these guys got me out in 40 minutes, and I’m really appreciative of that.”

Offer Privacy

The best table isn’t always the most visible one. Semi-private spaces or secluded corners that can accommodate larger tables are ideal. “We find that our space has lots of little nooks where you can get a large party in and they can still (hear well enough to) talk,” Ronan says.

Give them an Outlet

Electrical outlets and speedy Wi-Fi are a must. “Recently we have noticed more businesspeople working on their laptops and devices at the bar during lunch hours, and in the time between lunch and dinner service, which we take into consideration when designing new restaurants,” says Smith of Del Frisco’s. The chain also offers private dining rooms equipped with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connections to flat-screen TVs for meetings and presentations.

Think Beyond the Booze

Roka Akor is ringing up success with increasingly popular non-alcoholic cocktails, such as yuzu lemonade and chai cola. They complement the meal and are sold at a lower price point than cocktails, but higher than soda or tea. At dinner, however, drinks tend to be celebration-worthy, including highballs of Japanese whisky served with ice spears and bottles of sparkling shochu. In the end, this wide array of choices allows business diners to work – and entertain clients – in whatever style they desire.

The Big Three

Certain dishes never go out of style for business diners.


Operators say the burger is a standard no matter the generation. Make it your own with boutique cheeses and artisan breads.

Entrée salads

Proteins, such as lobster, steak or salmon, appeal to health-conscious diners across all age groups.


Specifically, Neapolitan-style pizza or other specialty pies with unique flavors are a top pick for Gen Z, and a can’t-lose option for most ages.