I’m too young to remember the three-martini lunch. My dad tells me it was popular when the economy was chugging along and expense accounts were not audited. My how things have changed. Nowadays companies scrutinize every request for meal reimbursement-and that’s if you can get away long enough to have lunch! As the rules that govern a business meal have increased, so has the importance of sharing food and precious face time with colleagues and clients.
Having embarrassed myself at more than one business meal early in my career-including taking an important client to lunch without bringing my wallet-I want to share the lessons I’ve learned the hard way (such as putting my foot in my mouth instead of my food).
Jason’s Eight Steps to Dine for Dollars:
1) Make a reservation at a restaurant that fits the tone of your meeting. If you’re going to review paperwork, pick a place with larger tables that is well lit and not too noisy. If possible, request a table that is in a quieter area of the restaurant. Be considerate of your guests by choosing a restaurant that has plenty of parking or easy access to public transportation.
2) Create and e-mail a simple meeting agenda to each attendee three business days before the lunch. The agenda should include discussion topics, information or resources attendees should bring, and ideas you’d like them to consider ahead of time. Include an end time so attendees can plan accordingly.
3) Send a reminder and reconfirm the time and address the day before your meeting. Also re-confirm your reservation with the restaurant. Whenever possible, send a link to the restaurant’s website along with contact information including a map, menu and recommended attire. Your forethought allows everyone to arrive prepared.
4) Arrive at the restaurant at least ten minutes early. When estimating how long it will take for you to get to the restaurant, give yourself extra time in case there is construction, traffic, or you are about to set the record on Golden Tee. If you arrive late to a lunch that you’re hosting, you’ll be more than embarrassed. You’ll be on the hook to pay, which means everyone will order filet mignon and desert.
5) Once seated, take the lead by making sure that everyone has been introduced to each other. To get the meeting off to a good start, ask guests for their appetizer preferences. If you can’t reach an agreement quickly, order more than one appetizer and move on with the meeting.
6) After everyone has placed their meal order, review the agenda and determine how much time you will need to cover everything. Since you’re running the meeting, you need to know when to stop talking about The Dark Night and start talking shop. Once you start the meeting, take notes or ask for a volunteer to take notes. Good food and bubbly adult beverages can obscure even the best of memories. E-mail the notes to all participants after the meeting.
7) Pay the entire bill yourself or suggest how to split the bill. If you’re going to split the bill, let your server know as soon as you are seated. When the bill comes, check to see if the tip is included. If not, decide on an appropriate tip percentage for the entire table. If dividing the bill becomes too stressful, be a professional and pay the difference. Colleagues and clients are much more inclined to have another meal with a person who throws in a few extra bucks rather than the one who asks the table to come up with the missing 74 cents. Personally, I believe you should always pay for a business meal when you are meeting with clients. While splitting the bill with colleagues is acceptable, when you pay the bill, you set yourself up for them to offer to pay for the next one-which makes it more likely there will be a next one.
8) Review any follow-up items and thank everyone who came. By opening and closing the lunch conversation, you are establishing and reinforcing your role. You also get the last word which is the one most people remember. If the meal is with people you’ve just met, exchange business cards along with handshakes.
When you become known for hosting fun and productive business meals, you will find colleagues and clients eager to give you extra time and attention. You’ll also learn that there may not be a truly free meal, but a successful business meal will pay for itself over and over. Bon appetit!