The Dos and Donts of Entertaining Clients over Meals

    October 4, 2002

Business meals, whether breakfast, lunch or dinner, are essentially business meetings. The added element of entertaining your client over food means that you not only have to be knowledgeable about your products and services, but you also need to exhibit good conversational skills, show confidence in a social setting and demonstrate that you can eat with civility.

If you aren’t sure how to handle yourself in these situations, you can create an unfavorable impression that could cost your client relationship. Here are a few tips to put both you and your guest at ease and allow you to have an enjoyable time while accomplishing your professional goals.

Choose the restaurant thoughtfully. Entertain your clients at familiar places. Don’t take chances with the quality of the food or the service.

Go where you know that the atmosphere is conducive to conducting business. The hottest new restaurant in town may have slow service or be too noisy to hear yourself think, let alone carry on a conversation. When location is an issue, choose a spot that is convenient for your guest.

Invite your client well in advance. Confirm the time and place on the day of the event. If the invitation is for breakfast, call the afternoon before. There are few things more embarrassing than showing up on the wrong day or at the wrong place.

Be clear that you are the host and will be paying for the meal. All you need to say is, “I’d like for you to be my guest at lunch next week.”

Arrange ahead of time to have the server bring you the bill. If you are unable to signal the waiter to hand the bill directly to you, pick it up as soon as he puts it down. Leaving it on the table for more than a few seconds makes everyone feel uncomfortable.

Arrive early. If you find yourself running late, call the restaurant and ask that your client be seated at your table and offered something to drink.

Give your guest the prime seat—the one with the view. That would be the one looking out of the restaurant at the mountains, the water or the skyline. If the outside view is nothing to rave about, seat your guest looking into the restaurant. The person who faces the wall or the kitchen door should be you.

The thoughtful host makes suggestions when it comes time to order. By naming some of your favorite dishes or specialties of the restaurant, you are suggesting an acceptable price range. If you mention appetizers or desserts that you like, you are suggesting the range of courses.

The business discussion does not usually begin until everyone has ordered. In today’s harried world, if you wait any longer, people start to get antsy. As the host, you are the one who decides when the time is right.

If you combine savvy social skills with your business expertise, you will definitely impress your clients and outclass your competition.

Lydia Ramsey, author of MANNERS THAT SELL, keynote speaker and seminar leader, is a leading authority on business etiquette and protocol. To sign up for more FREE business etiquette tips, click here.