Meetings with coworkers and clients are often necessary, but sometimes there's that one particular person inside or outside the company you just don't feel like lunching with. Declining an invitation for a business lunch can be messy since it can seem unprofessional to make no effort to forge friendships with others in the office or industry. However, with a little bit of tact and by accommodating the meeting needs of your colleagues in other ways, you can politely decline that lunch meeting you're dreading.
Be truthful--use any legitimate reason you have to decline the lunch meeting. Nothing is as easy as being truthful. If you can't afford the time, say so. If you already have plans, that's fine too. Don't feel obligated to accept a lunch invitation from a colleague or business associate just because you work together or do business together.
Decline by telling the person that while you appreciate the invitation, you cannot go to lunch. Explain that you have something packed for lunch or that you cannot afford the time. If a co-worker or business associate legitimately needs time to meet with you privately, arrange an alternate meeting time.
Thank your co-worker or business associate for the invitation each time it is extended, regardless of whether you are truly grateful. That said, it is still OK to decline each time you are invited so long as you are accommodating your co-worker or associate's meeting needs. Remember, it is OK to say that lunch won't work for you today, or simply that you aren't able to go.
If a co-worker doesn't take the hint, express your lack of interest for business lunches before he or she has the chance to ask again.
Always decline politely. While you may want to get out of a business lunch, it is considered very unprofessional to be rude or unkind at work.