Entertaining potential clients or business partners at a restaurant can be an excellent way to build rapport, says Linda Allan, a Toronto-based certified management consultant who specializes in behaviours in business. People are generally receptive to good food and wine, she says.
Meeting outside of the office is simply business savvy, Allan adds. Your guests will appreciate the extra effort you are putting into hosting the meeting.
But, because you’re taking the meeting outside your sphere of control, some details can work against you. To ensure that your lunch goes as smoothly as possible, planning ahead is key.
Here are four tips for holding a successful business lunch:
1. Arrive early
Everyone is busy these days, and most of us can spare only an hour for lunch, Allan says. And, given that hour, you have to be able to provide value for your guest’s time, including the ability have a frank conversation.
You don’t want to find yourself at table where you’re constantly interrupted by chatting wait staff, crashing cutlery or kitchen-door traffic.
Making reservations well in advance can help ensure you reserve a desirable table. Also, arrive early enough so you can choose a quiet, relatively private spot. Ideally, Allan says, you should try to get a corner table.
2. Strike a balance
During a business lunch, you walk a fine line between enjoying your meal and following your professional agenda. The entire interplay between eating and business-related conversation can be a challenge. Neither of you will want to be caught having to talk with your mouth full.
“Sometimes people are just so focused on their plate that they don’t realize they’re talking with food in their mouth,” Allan says. The best way around this challenge is to strategically plan to broach certain topics before the food arrives or after you have finished eating.
If you need to take notes or share written materials with your guest, avoid doing so while either of you is still eating, Allan says. And keep cellphones and other mobile devices switched off and out of sight.
3. Limit your alcohol
If you’re hosting a one-hour lunch, Allan recommends offering your guest a glass of wine. Any more than one glass might derail the conversation. You don’t want your guest to be more interested in the food and drink than your discussion, Allan says.
Alcohol consumption is always limited at lunch, Allan adds, because you’re there to capture your guest’s attention and provide information.
4. Handle the bill in advance
You might prefer not to be interrupted by a waiter bringing the bill. Or, worse, a polite argument over who is going to pay.
In some restaurants, you can tell the waiter or the restaurant host in advance that you don’t want the bill brought to the table, Allan says. If that’s not possible, you might choose to excuse yourself from the table at some point to settle the bill. That way, you can tell your guest that it’s all been taken care of when it’s time to leave.