The business lunch may be a time to eat, but it’s also the time to make the right impression, to close a deal, and to build relationships with customers.
The business lunch is one of the most frequently used forms of business entertaining. It is the perfect medium to develop rapport and understanding with clients and customers.
Knowing how to play host and also be a proper guest is very important as this reflects on yourself and your company.
It is a general rule of thumb to issue invitations for lunch about a week before the event. However, when you invite someone with a busy schedule, consider making the invitation earlier (up to 3 weeks in some cases) and have two or three alternative times available on your schedule. Another hint here is to check if your guest needs to leave by a certain time for another appointment. Gathering this extra information will only make it easier on you and will give you a very clear timeframe in which you must accomplish your necessary business. While making the invitation also ask your guest if they have any special dietary restrictions or preferences so that you can guarantee they will have several menu choices to fit their needs.
Now here’s a tip that I hope you’ll all heed and probably one of the most important steps in hosting the perfect business lunch: pick the best restaurant for the occasion. Your first lunch out with a new client isn’t the best time to visit that restaurant you’ve been dying to try but haven’t had the time to check out yet. It is also not the best time to drop in on that national chain establishment where all of the friendly wait staff show off their personalities with those tiny little buttons with such phrases as “Smile” or “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. You want your guest to feel like you’ve put at least some time into picking the location that you choose to do business. So go with what you know. Most of those fantastic restaurants you visit for dinner when you’re out with family or friends also serve wonderful lunch menus. If you need suggestions, get yourself a good restaurant review book, such as “The Gabby Gourmet”, which will give you the price range of the menu, the demeanor of the wait staff and the noise level of the dining room. And trust me, the noise level is something to pay close attention to. There’s nothing more irritating than trying to hear your client or boss describe their needs for a project or assignment and not being able to hear them over Celine Dion belting out “All By Myself” over the dining room’s stereo system. Instead, take the time to find a place that is quiet enough for a conversation (but not too quiet), employs a good wait staff and serves food that will fit your budget and tastes.
On the Day
One step that I feel is so important is confirming the appointment with your guest either via email, phone or through their assistant. I feel like this sentence could be included in the introductory paragraph, but I guess maybe your point is the confirmation should be done on the day of the meeting, in which case I guess it makes the most sense here.
Meet and Greet
A good host will arrive at least 10 minutes before the appointed time to check with the host or hostess about your reserved table and attend to any issues that need your attention. Most hosts wait at the reception area for the guests to arrive. But alternatively, you could allow yourself to be shown to the table and inform the waiter that you are expecting other guests. The host should rise to welcome the guests as they approach. This is also the time when business cards are exchanged. As for late arrivals, it is inconsiderate to keep others waiting – this applies to both host and guests. If you are running late always call your host and inform them of your delayed arrival.
Food and Drink
If you have dined at the restaurant before, you may want to recommend to your guests the specialties of that restaurant. Alternatively, if you are uncertain of what to order after studying the menu, it would be a good idea to ask the waiter for recommendations. If you are dining in a restaurant where the food is to be shared by all, be sure to ask your guests if they have a preference before assuming the responsibility of ordering for the table. Do not spend too much time over the menu and placing orders. If you choose not to drink alcohol, always decline politely and avoid any lengthy explanations.
The period before ordering the food should be reserved for establishing rapport. It is appropriate to begin talking business once the orders have been placed. If you begin before this, the hovering of waiters around the table could undermine your effectiveness. You would, I’m sure, have prepared yourself for the issues that you wish to raise. Be sure to summarize your understanding at the end of the discussion to ensure that there is a meeting of minds. Reiterate the actions that need to be taken to ensure that what you have said has been understood. Consequently, a memo or minutes of the lunch meeting should be prepared and sent to each guest for their information and follow-up. This will show your attentiveness and also professionalism in concluding the meeting.
Ask for the bill when everyone has finished the meal. When it arrives, check it discreetly to verify its accuracy. If there is a simple discrepancy, you may enquire politely. If you expect further difficulties, excuse yourself and settle at the cashier’s desk. It is an indication that the meal has ended when the host rises. The host should accompany the guests to the door, shake their hands and thank them for coming to the lunch. Where appropriate, accompany the guests to the elevator lobby and wait with them until the elevator arrives.
Scott Hargrove is a recent transplant to Denver from Seattle. Originally from Shreveport, Louisiana, Scott’s passion for gracious living and entertaining led him into event planning for non-profit organizations, corporations and individuals. Most recently Scott has assisted Project Angel Heart with several of their larger fundraising events. He is an event planner, caterer and consultant and can be reached through this publication or at email@example.com.
4 weeks ago