You might prefer to hold initial client meetings in your office, as opposed to going out for coffee or lunch. The office is, after all familiar territory — and there’s less chance of interruptions or distractions.
But taking a client out to a café or a restaurant has its advantages, says Joanne Ferguson, president of Advisor Pathways Inc. in Toronto. While finding the right venue can be a challenge, the client may perceive your effort as a way to make them feel important.
It’s crucial to scope out your choices before extending the invitation, says Linda Allan, a Toronto-based consultant who specializes in business behaviours.
Here are five factors to consider when taking a new client or prospect out for lunch or coffee:
Leave it up to the client to specify the best time to meet. If his or her preference is to meet in the morning or late afternoon, take that as a cue that “they don’t want the full attention of a meal,” says Allan.
In such cases, a coffee shop or a spot that accommodates people between meals is probably your best bet.
Alan cautions that you be mindful of the crowd a café may attract at different hours. You might get a rush of teenagers after school or moms and tots early in the day.
> Depth of conversation
Unless you are able to secure a private area, Ferguson says, there is little difference between a café and a restaurant. Either way, she says, inform your client of the major discussion points you plan to cover during the meeting to help gauge how comfortable they will be about meeting in a public space.
To minimize the risk of eavesdropping and to avoid divulging sensitive details, Allan suggests jotting key figures down on paper and passing it to the client during the meeting.
Avoid dining establishments at which carrying on a conversation will be difficult because of relentless chatter and noise, Ferguson says.
Find places where seating is fairly spread out, and where it’s possible to secure a secluded spot where you can discuss confidential information. The advantage of a café is that chairs can be shifted more easily to accommodate your desired arrangement, says Allan.
Offer your client two or three venue options that are both convenient for the client and familiar to you, says Allan. Pick places where you already have a rapport with the staff, who can reserve the ideal seating for you. Don’t leave the “burden of selection” to the client.
Take into account your client’s dietary preferences and offer up a variety of options. And stick to restaurants in the middle price range. A too-pricey place can send the unintended message that you are doing well, Allan says, but may be too busy to attend to the client’s portfolio.
You can work up to meeting at a high-end restaurant over time, says Allan: “You step up the level of the restaurant the more you know your client.”