By Lynda Goldman
Businss dining etiquette is a vital part of conducting business today. The most common place to conduct business today may not be at the office, or even on your cell phone. About fifty percent of business is conducted over food. The business lunch or dinner is more than a meal – its an important way to build relationships with your clients.
Imagine the potential for making a good impression or a poor one, during a meal. We meet, order, eat and drink various kinds of foods and beverages, exchange business cards, and part company. Not the least of these details is conducting business while trying not to talk with your mouth full!
If you unconsciously grab the breadbasket without offering it to your client, or gobble down your food because youre famished, your client may conclude that you are insensitive or aggressive. A potential client may wonder how you will act if you do business together.
1.As with any other business meeting, plan ahead to ensure that your meal is a success. The person who issues the invitation is the host, and is expected to pay for the meal.
2. As the host, you are responsible for choosing the restaurant, and making sure the meals goes smoothly. Consider the time of the meal, and the location of the restaurant. You want a restaurant that is convenient for your client, where parking is available. You may want to schedule a meal earlier in the week, to avoid the Friday lunchtime crowd, where the restaurant can be so noisy that its impossible to conduct business.
3. Consider your guests food preferences. If youre not sure, ask what your guest prefers. Inviting a vegetarian client to a steak house will probably not get you a sale!
4. As the host, arrive at the restaurant ten minutes early, and wait for the guests at the entrance. The maitre d may lead you to the table with the guests preceding the host. The guest always gets the preferred seat, which may be the one facing towards the room, or the one facing a window with a scenic view. Enter your chair from the left, and exit from the right. If you are waiting for other guests to arrive you can order drinks, but dont touch anything else at the table. Keep the table pristine until everyone has arrived.
5. Coordinate your courses. Have you ever had a business meal where everyone is doing something different? Some people have soup or salad while others dont order anything. When this happens, some people are eating while others watch, and feel awkward. Everyone at the table should order as a group to be sure that everyone eats the same number of courses and finishes at the same time.
6. Offer suggestions. As the host, you can offer suggestions from the more expensive items on the menu so that the guests feel free to order anything they like. Then ask the guest to order first, and follow suite. If the guest orders a salad, order a salad as well, even if you just eat a few bites.
7. Order carefully. For the main course, be careful of foods that can sabotage you. You dont want to be wrestling with a lobster claw instead of talking with your client, and a grown person wearing a lobster bib doesnt look very impressive. Avoid anything that is difficult to eat with a knife and fork, or foods like spaghetti, where splattered sauce can end up on your tie or shirt.
8. Know your objectives. Your objective for the meal may be to discuss a specific issue with your client, or to introduce your services to a potential client, so the time you start talking business may vary. If you are meeting a client for lunch or even for breakfast, your time will be more limited, and you may start talking business after you order. At dinner, the pace will be more leisurely, and you may not talk business until after the main course is cleared away.
9. Build relationships. In some cases you may not talk business at all, but spend time getting to know the client, and having him or her get to know you. An important point is that if you are entertaining clients and their spouses, dont ignore the spouse. He or she may not buy your products or services, but this person will nevertheless have a big influence on your potential client. Treat the spouse as well as you treat your future client.
10. Keep it in perspective. To make sure your next business meal gives you positive results, remember that the purpose of a business meal is to build relationships with your client, not with the food!
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