Casual Friday: Client event etiquette

Ancient Romans seated guests relative to their social status. Ancient Egyptians found it impolite to stare, especially at the other person’s plate. Ancient Greeks reserved a piece of bread to clean the fingers, before napkins were invented.

While the rules of etiquette have evolved over the millennia, some have endured into the modern age and are universally observed.

Today, hosting a social event involving clients and prospects can require that you not only have a grasp of accepted rules of etiquette, but also know how to interact politely with people of various ethnic backgrounds. And with resources such as Siri and Google close at hand, says Leanne Pepper, general manager of the Faculty Club at the University of Toronto, there’s no excuse for neglecting to learn about other cultural customs.

With that in mind, below are some points to consider when hosting clients of diverse backgrounds:

> Perfect the meet-and-greet
Do you kiss, bow or shake hands when you meet? That’s the question posed by the etiquette book appropriately titled Kiss, Bow or Shake Hands, by Terri Morrison, which Pepper recommends to help you understand the social customs observed by various cultures.

The introductory portion of your event is crucial in making your guests feel welcome. You can’t afford to underestimate the importance of a good first impression, says Nancy Kosik, founder of NK Consultants.

Doing a little background reading can be helpful. But when in doubt, follow your instincts and your guests’ cues rather than making broad assumptions.

> Give your guests your full attention
As host, your attention will be split between chatting with guests and making sure all aspects of the event go smoothly. So, if possible, Kosik says, delegate some responsibilities to your staff. That way, clients feel attended to and you won’t find yourself setting up chairs when you should be chatting with your guests.

Take care of as many details beforehand as possible, say Kosik and Pepper. That includes seating arrangements and accommodating all menu requests. You do not want to appear disorganized, nor do you want to put your guests in the uncomfortable position of having to ask for a dietary alternative.

Because you are the host, Pepper says, “people will be looking at you for clues,” so you must be visible and approachable at all times.

> Adjust to your clients’ preferences
Without falling prey to stereotyping, it’s possible to express, in subtle ways, that you’re somewhat aware of a client’s culture.

“[That awareness] comes through the way you dress, your body language, how we present ourselves,” says Pepper.

For example, you might make a conscious effort to dress more conservatively when entertaining clients from more socially conservative cultures. Such gestures can go a long way toward helping you earn the respect of your clients.

> Be patient
As a general rule, allow plenty of time for prospects and clients to respond to any business proposals you have made. “The process of making decisions could take longer [than you expect],” Kosik says.

For example, she adds, a prospect might appear agreeable and on board with signing on as your client. But later, seem more cool to the idea.

“In North America, we have the tendency to make decisions right away,” Kosik says. But some clients require “a lot of mingling, getting to know you on a personal level beforehand.”

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