Has the casual Bay Area vibe turned us into fashion ‘don’ts?’
By Angela Hill
Going out to lunch can actually make you money. “More business decisions occur over lunch and dinner than at any other time, yet no MBA courses are given on the subject,” management expert Peter Drucker says. As a women entrepreneur, you need to know the ins and outs of this most basic and profitable way to grow your business.
Breaking bread with your client is not about the food. A business lunch provides a relaxed atmosphere for getting to know your client, allowing you to find out what is important to him or her. In the words of super salesman Zig Ziglar, “You can get everything in life you want if you will just help enough other people get what they want.”
Treat the business lunch as you would a job interview, although without the pressure. You would never go to a job interview without researching the company first. Research your client’s business successes and failures.
Have a couple of no intrusive questions to ask your client to get conversation rolling. Arm yourself with engaging, neutral conversational topics that have nothing to do with your potential joint venture. The point is to get to know your client and build a relationship.
Take special care selecting the restaurant for your business lunch. It is vital that you know your client’s potential food preferences or restrictions. For example, your client may be a vegetarian or have food allergies. Seek recommendations on restaurants from several sources. Whenever possible, preview a new restaurant before bringing a client. If the restaurant is too noisy or even too quiet, it can make conversation difficult. When making reservations, ask which credit cards are accepted and request a private table with an experienced server.
Take time to review proper table manners. Yes, they matter. Gross violations of etiquette will lower your client’s opinion of you and quite possibly kill the deal. There is more to dining etiquette than keeping your elbows off the table and chewing with your mouth closed. For many of us, dining etiquette has become a lost art. Many have grown up eating in front of a TV set instead of at the dinner table. An etiquette consultant can refine your dining skills and make you more confident in any social situation.
A day or two before your lunch, call the restaurant to confirm your reservations, table and experienced server. Be sure to call your client to let him or her know you are looking forward to the event, confirming the time and place.
If you’re like me, you may want to stash an extra blouse at your office for the occasional drip and splat. Have a snack prepared in case you do more talking than eating: Remember, it’s not about the food.
It is always a good idea to have grooming essentials at the ready in a small bag. Include a hairbrush and hairspray, toothbrush, hand wipes and makeup. Important: Touchups should never be done in public view.
The day of the lunch, arrive early. Check the position of your table, decide where you and your client will be seated and speak to your server. Let the server know this is a business lunch and advise him or her not to approach if papers are on the table. Give the server your credit card before your client arrives and tell the server to include a 20 percent tip to ensure great service. When you see your client arrive, turn off your cell phone and complete the following checklist:
Important note: When dealing with clients of the opposite sex, make sure to keep your roles clearly defined. There should be no misunderstanding that the business lunch is a date. When the client is of the opposite sex and you want to prevent rumors, you may opt to bring an associate relevant to your business. Before bringing a spouse or significant other, consider carefully whether there is a legitimate business reason for that person to attend. Be sure to inform your client of any additional guests.
Finally, relax and enjoy the conversation and company. If something goes wrong, as it often does, handle it with grace and humor. Do not dwell on the incident. Even etiquette consultants commit an occasional faux pas. How you recover says more about you than the unfortunate incident. Be sure to reap the benefits of breaking bread with your client.
Holly K. Rauser, founder of Consider Etiquette, is a speaker and etiquette consultant who considers etiquette an essential part of life’s relationships.