Tips for dining with clients
At some point early on in your career, you will have an opportunity to dine with a client. Before diving in, know that there are probably as many “do’s” as there are “don’ts.” By following a few simple guidelines, you’ll be on your way to a successful dining experience for both you and your client.
Have an objective.
It’s important to define the purpose of the invitation and what the point of the discussion will be. You and your team will generally meet with a client to discuss work-in-progress, to propose something new, to catch up or all of the above. Knowing what the intentions are during the meal will create conversations and encourage an outcome.
Before the meal.
If your client hasn’t already selected a location, provide a few options. Study the menu and be sure to offer suggestions in case he or she has any questions. You should also take initiative in making the reservation, giving information on parking, dress code, etc. If you’re not sure about any of these details, call the restaurant and speak to a manager. Lastly, confirm the reservation time, and send your client a calendar appointment to confirm that the agreed upon time works. Don’t forget to send an email confirmation 24 hours prior to dinner to ensure that everything is good to go.
During the meal.
To be on the safe side, rehearse your table manners ahead of time. Bread goes to the left, drink goes on the right, a napkin goes in your lap, etc. Even if the restaurant of choice is casual, proper meal etiquette always makes a good impression.
When selecting your meal, pick an item that will safely make its way off of your plate but not onto your lap. For example, an entree swimming in marinara or a smelly fish might be ones to avoid. As a safeguard, always order food you can eat with a fork and knife, such as chicken and mashed potatoes.
Most importantly, be sure to listen intently to your client during the meal. This is a good time to get to know him or her outside of business hours. While it’s important to remain professional, it’s critical to understand your client on a personal level as well.
To drink, or not to drink?
This is a tricky area for some, but once your figure it out then go with what works for you and the client. If you’re comfortable enough with your team, have a conversation beforehand to determine whether or not you will be drinking alcohol at this meal. If you decide “yes,” then take your client’s lead and order after him or her. Do NOT order an alcoholic beverage if no one at your table does. This goes without saying, but you don’t want to make a belligerent fool of yourself. Feel free to partake in holiday or celebratory circumstances, especially if it’s a cultural gesture for your client.
After the meal.
In general, the person who sends the dinner invitation is the one to foot the bill. If it’s a large party, check if your company is covering the expense.
Before you part ways, be sure to thank your client for dining with you and offering their time. If you introduced them to a colleague or business contact, be sure to follow up to exchange each of their contact information.
Don’t forget to send a follow-up email or hand-written note to your client thanking them for dining with you – small gestures like this go a long way.
What are some of your tips for dining with clients?