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The Business meal: tips and advice


By Aleigh Acerni, Editorial Assistant

Charlestonians love to conduct business over a meal. We take clients to breakfast, lunch, cocktails and dinner to give business an atmosphere of camaraderie, even evaluating prospective employees over fresh seafood and a glass of iced tea.

“There’s a lot of business done outside the office for one reason—to build a relationship with that person and foster trust and loyalty,” says Cindy Grosso of The Charleston School of Protocol and Etiquette.

The “power” meal is an important way to discuss business and strengthen relationships at the same time—provided that it is done well. There are several components to a professional meal. Here are some tips to get started:

According to Jill Bremer of Bremer Communications, atmosphere is essential. A restaurant that is perfect for dinner with friends may be too smoky, loud or distracting when intimacy is required for deal making. Check out several restaurants. Visit them at the time you would be bringing guests and ask where you would be seated, how busy a typical day is, etc. One of Bremer’s suggestions is to develop relationships with the manager, maitre’d and servers—“You’ll receive great service and have special requests honored,” she says.

When choosing a restaurant, keep in mind the most common food allergies are nuts, fish, shellfish and eggs—make sure the venue you choose has options for vegetarians as well. Reservations are a must, and if you have the time, Bremer recommends a morning-of confirmation phone call.

Traditionally, “the business lunch is more productive business-wise,” says Grosso, “but business dinners are better for building relationships. Lunch is still the favored business tool.” According to Grosso, lunches are usually less expensive and less time-consuming, which saves money, whereas business dinners are usually larger and more extravagant.

Prepare to arrive 10 minutes ahead of your reservation and ask to have your table and server pointed out to you. To make a strong impression and save time, give your credit card information to your server before your guest arrives. The server will then know to bring the check to you and all you have to do is sign.

Make sure your pager or cell phone has its ringer turned to “off” or “vibrate” to avoid the potential embarrassment of your six-year-old calling when your client is signing a contract.

Bremer also suggests being somewhat familiar with the restaurant’s menu so that you’ll be able to make recommendations to your guest. Alcohol is not acceptable at breakfast, rarely acceptable at lunch and only acceptable at dinner if your guest orders an alcoholic drink first. Limit drinks to one or two light ones. If your client doesn’t drink, neither should you.

Smoking is another point where you should follow your guest’s lead. According to Bremer, if he or she smokes and you don’t, sit in the smoking section if you can tolerate the smoke. If you smoke and your client doesn’t, sit in the non-smoking section. Smokers should wait for all food to be cleared from the table and always ask permission from others at the table.

Business should not be discussed until the end of the meal and briefcases, without exception, should remain under the table.

In Grosso’s opinion, it’s important to foster relationship-building experiences outside of the office, and a business meal is the perfect way to accomplish this. “Your customers want to see how you behave out of the office environment,” she says, “It’s important to build rapport and trust away from phones and interruptions.”




Source: Article published in the Charleston Regional Business Journal

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