Entertaining for business is a great way to build relationships with your clients. This is especially so in Asia, where guanxi (literally translated as relationships) and meeting face-to-face is still highly valued as ways to earn trust before talking business.
Entertaining is not just another meal. Knowledge of your product and service is vital, but so is your conduct and attention to detail. As a host, you are in control. With proper planning, care and hospitality, both you and your clients will leave with a memorable experience.
Here are some basic tips to follow for your next business meal:
Select the right venue. It is crucial to select an appropriate restaurant with an atmosphere suited for the occasion. Whether it’s a casual meal to get to know each other better, or an important VIP that you are hosting to seal that deal, match the restaurant’s setting with your agenda. Choose carefully and do your research. Book through trusted sources, read reviews, descriptions and view pictures in detail. The last thing you want is ending up in a noisy dining room filled with parties when you sought a quiet setting to talk business!
Pre-order a menu.Pre-ordering an experience helps to control a budget and avoids your clients wondering if it’s alright to order that $40 steak or the $25 chicken. Sets offer good value and a great experience. They also help set the pace of the meal as everyone eats at the same time. Choose a menu that has variety and offers an option for main. It gives your clients the illusion of choice within a set.
Wow your guests. Explore restaurant options that enhance your experience and impress your guests. Customised menus and place cards add a personal touch while a fresh arrangement of your client’s favourite flowers brightens the table and mood. Arranging transport for guests that are from out of town is a great way to make a positive first impression even before the start of the meal.
Invitations and RSVPs. Always plan and set a date well in advance. As a guideline, a minimum of two weeks’ notice for a dinner and one week for lunch gives your guests enough time to plan their schedule and RSVP accordingly. Send a formal invitation and always allow your guests to respond to the invitation, set a deadline and dress code. Asking for dietary preferences within an invite helps you plan the menu accordingly, making your life so much easier.
Know your guests. Take time to find out more about your guests, their preferences and where they like to dine without being intrusive. Ask around or seek out the trusty ‘Google’ search method. There are always ways to connect the dots and make them feel special. If you know that it happens to be their birthday in a week’s time, arrange for a birthday cake to be sent to the table. Thoughtful gestures show your client that you care.
Take charge of the seating. Don’t leave this to the last minute. While more casual meals may not require such formality, a proper business meal should. Typically, the host is seated at the centre of the table and as a general principle, guests radiate out from the centre of the table in order of precedence. The principal guest will be seated on the right of the host. Proper planning will ensure that good conversation and networking happens through the meal, while agendas get met.
Confirm the appointment with your clients. People have busy schedules and meetings may slip their mind. A day before the event, drop your guests a note to reconfirm your appointment and leave your number with them in case they need to contact you at the last minute.
Arrive early. Always arrive early to the restaurant and check that all details are in place. Introduce yourself to the manager and run through the sequence of the event and any special instructions in advance. The restaurant should know that you are the go-to person if there is any clarification needed.
When to talk business. Bringing up business during a meal is an art. Too early and it might seem pushy. Leaving it to the last minute and you may have already gotten past dessert with not enough time. Always be aware and judge the situation. At lunch, it is fine to leave small talk to a minimum and get straight to business as lunches are usually 1.5 hours. For a more leisurely dinner, take the time to get to know your clients. When you feel the moment is right, ease into your discussion.
Pace the event. Ending your event on time is an art, and it is important to work with the restaurant closely to achieve this. Avoid checking your watch frequently as you don’t want your guests to feel rushed. The restaurant staff should be able to pace the courses accordingly to ensure that your event ends on time. This careful time management will be greatly appreciated. Your clients have made the time and cleared their schedule to attend your event and you should respect this.
Paying the check. Settling the bill discreetly is encouraged so that you won’t face the awkward moment when the bill is presented. At the end of the meal, excuse yourself and settle the bill. With a bit of proper planning, make arrangements with the restaurant to open a tab so that the charges can be billed to your company, avoiding this exchange entirely.
Manage with grace. Even with all the proper planning, things can still go wrong. Bad service, food not quite up to standard or a noisy table next door could disrupt what could otherwise be a perfect experience. If there is a need, always excuse yourself from the table to have a conversation with the restaurant about this. Never do this in front of your clients or show your frustration. You are on show and this will not make a good impression on your prospective client. Approach the matter calmly and leave it to the end of the meal to seek a resolution.
Leave a lasting impression. Arrange for a small memento as a parting gift from the meal. Look beyond the generic corporate gifts and source for unique handcrafted products that add a personal touch. Clients will be pleasantly surprised and delighted, making for a great conversation opener the next time you follow-up with them.