“It’s nothing personal; it’s just business.”

For a phrase that gets thrown around quite often, this adage belies an important truth about the corporate world: business is personal. Getting to know your business partner on a personal level isn’t just recommended — it’s essential to a good working relationship. And what better way to get to know someone than by sharing a meal?

Humans have been breaking bread together almost since the beginning of time. It’s a way to share an intrinsically human experience and get to know one another on a level playing field, away from day-to-day distractions. Here’s why it’s so important to make dinner with your business partners a regular occurrence — and how to capitalize on this valuable time.

Waiting on the Waiter

After you’ve both placed your orders, the time spent waiting for your meal almost forces you and your business partner to connect. Take time to relax, talk about something personal, and save the business talk for the entrée. That way, by the time you get the check (or dessert!), you can end the evening on a relaxed note.

You Have to Chew, Right?

Dinner is inherently a great way to make sure both parties are talking and listening. When we eat, there are naturally moments when one person talks while the other chews, and vice versa. This allows the person talking to feel heard and forces the listener to truly concentrate. Because the focus should be on your time together — not the food — order something easy to eat (avoid the lobster, spaghetti, or extensive special orders), and actively engage in what your partner is saying.

Booths Are Comfier than Office Chairs

When you and your business partner are out of a formal office environment, you’ll automatically feel yourself start to relax. This sets the stage for getting to know each other and learning what your partner is like outside of work. What makes your business partner tick? What is he or she passionate about?

Chatter like this not only fosters feelings of camaraderie, but it can also provide valuable insights about the way your partner relates to people and how he or she prefers to work. Listen carefully, and file away details to bring up in future meetings (“How is your daughter’s dance class going? I know she’d just started when we last spoke.”).

Dining Discernment

While dining out gives you a chance to connect on a personal level, it also gives you a chance to see your business partner interacting with strangers outside of the business world, which can be remarkably telling. How does he or she treat the restaurant staff? Waiters? Bussers?

If something goes wrong with the meal, does he or she take it in stride? You can learn a lot about the person’s control level. Often these traits translate into the way your partner does business, which can help you prepare appropriately as new situations arise. For instance, if you realize your partner has an extreme need to be in control, you can ensure that when an unforeseen business hiccup occurs, you develop a specific action plan to address the issue and reinforce that the situation is under control.

Check, Please

A dinner outing gives you — or your dining partner — the opportunity to show appreciation by picking up the check. People have an intrinsic desire to be both needed and appreciated, so either way, you’re likely to form a closer bond with your partner that runs much deeper than a conference call or email ever could.

For thousands of years, humans have shared meals to bond, shake off the stress of the day, and connect on a personal level. Because technology has made the business world more remote and impersonal, face-to-face connections like these are even more valuable. Spend the time to get to know your business partner, and your professional connection will be stronger than ever.