Dining To Do the Deal


When you conduct business with a client over a meal, you want to create an atmosphere that puts you and your company in a very favorable light. The goal of the meal is to create an environment that helps make that client predisposed to buying your products, services or ideas. Unfortunately, an experience that should make that client amenable to your point of view, often times just does the opposite when they become so annoyed or appalled at nonexistent, or even rude manners. Ellen Kaye of Perfect Presentations, a Phoenix based organization that specializes in teaching business protocol and etiquette to many top executives of the leading corporations as well as coaching in the areas of communication, presentation and image, shared some sad-to-say typical horror stories.

  • A vice president of a major corporation was entertaining a client at lunch. This famished executive quickly downed his meal then noticed that his client seemed to be finished as well and had left a sizable portion of her cordon bleu. He looked over and asked, "you gonna eat that?" She shook her head no and looked on slightly stunned as he reached across with his fork and snatched the remains.

  • A regional sales rep was entertaining an important client at a very nice Italian restaurant. The rep ordered his favorite, angel hair pasta with meat sauce. When the meal arrived, he took his napkin and stuck it under his chin like a bib. Perhaps not the most impressive display.

  • An executive was at an awards event where a buffet was being served. Every time he went back to the buffet he placed his napkin on the table instead on in his chair. Each time he would return his place was cleared. After the third clearing he voiced his frustration to those at his table thus making his boss and colleagues aware that he didn't know that you only place the napkin on the table when you're finished, which is the server's indication that you are done.

When you handle business over a meal your clients form opinions of you, both conscious and subconscious, by your behavior at those meals. A basic understanding of some business lunch do's and don'ts can go a long way to helping you create a more favorable environment for representing yourself, your company and your products. Here are some of Ellen's suggestions.

Select A Restaurant Appropriate To Conducting Business. When discussing business, you do not want to compete with noise and distracting activities in the restaurant. To be on the safe side, select restaurants where you have been before so you know what to expect. Nothing can kill a deal faster than the wrong atmosphere, loud music, a fashion show or a belly dancer.

Reservations And Reserved Tables. If possible, select a restaurant that takes reservations so you do not have to wait. Also try to reserve a table that has some privacy so your client can talk freely without the fear of being over heard. If papers need to be spread out, a standard table for two may be too small.

Seat Selection. You want to control the seating at your table. Place your guest with his or her back to the crowd so there are fewer distractions. This is just the opposite of how you would seat a guest in a social setting.

Confer With The Server. It would be advantageous to let your server know, prior to your guest arriving, that you are having an important business luncheon. You want the server to be attentive but not intrusive. Ask him or her to check regularly without disturbing the conversation. Tip your server in advance for the extra attention.

Food Selection. Of course let your guest order first. If your guest does not order alcohol you should refrain as well. Order a meal you can eat with minimal mess. This is not the best time for cracked crab, BBQ ribs or even artichokes. Avoid food items that may cause gas or a bloated feeling.

Watch Your Manners. Your napkin should be placed on your lap when you first sit down. When the food arrives, invite your guest to start by saying "bon appetite." Wait until your guest begins to eat before you do. Remember that once you use a utensil, make sure that it doesn't touch the table. If you need to leave the table your napkin goes neatly on your chair until you return. When you are finished, your knife and fork are either crossed on your plate or placed side by side at an angle, tines up. This is your servers indication that you are finished with your plate.

Check Please. Motion to your sever for the check before you plan to leave so you don't have to wait. As soon as it comes, make sure you place it beside you to avoid any awkwardness from your guest. You might want to prearrange for the check to paid before the meal. When you leave your napkin is placed neatly on the table.

Do manners matter? Certainly they do. That is why social events are still held and meeting face-to-face is often critical to cementing the deal. Polish your manners. It really makes a difference.

Odette Pollar is a nationally known speaker, author, and consultant. President of the management consulting firm, Smart Ways to Work based in Oakland, CA, her most recent book is Surviving Information Overload. Email to share your comments, questions and suggestions: odette@SmartWaysToWork.com. Visit us at: www.smartwaystowork.com call: 1-800-599-8463.

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