When establishing a relationship with a new or prospective client, or sorting through a big and important project, stepping away from electronic forms of communication and choosing to arrange an old-school face-to-face meeting is the most practical route. Communication improves vastly when all parties are in the room together.
Inviting a client to leave the office for an hour or so, to get away from various distractions, is a smart move that will pay many dividends. Lunch with a current or prospective client, or with a colleague you’d like to know better, is invariably more productive and pleasurable than an office meeting.
I use here the example of lunch, but your client’s schedule may indicate that a breakfast meeting or afternoon coffee will be preferable. If getting the client out of the office proves impossible, offer to bring breakfast or lunch to the office. It ‘s not ideal, but I’ve found that a little food makes for a more relaxed meeting that sets the stage for candid conversations and relationship building.
Power lunch etiquette begins before the two of you sit down to eat. It starts with the invitation. When it is extended, suggest two or three restaurants with good reputations and that are convenient to the client’s office. Welcome suggestions from your guest. You’ll select the client’s choice of restaurant, of course, and remember to compliment his/her choice. Visit the website, peruse the menu and make a reservation if required.
Be sensitive to your client’s dietary requirements and preferences. Whether or not there is a medical reason, many people (especially in the Northeast and the West Coast) follow vegetarian, gluten-free, vegan, raw, or other specialty diets. “As the host, it is your responsibility to ensure that your client’s experience is pleasurable”, says etiquette expert Tina Hayes. “Pay attention to details”.
Confirm the meeting time and place with your client/guest and the reservation with the restaurant the day before. Exchange cell phone numbers in case one of you is delayed. You will arrive at the restaurant 10-15 minutes early and give your credit card info to the host and request a quiet table that is suitable for talking business. Then wait in the reception area. When your guest arrives, turn off your phone so that you won’t be interrupted.
As a general rule, it is inadvisable to immediately plunge into a business discussion as soon as your guest arrives. Be prepared to make small-talk and have a couple of non-business topics ready, to allow both of you to relax and get to know each other in a different context (avoid politics or any other potentially controversial topics). Let your guest know that it’s OK to order a drink if s/he likes and if you’re meeting on a Friday, that just may happen. If your guest orders a drink, you may also order one. If your guest abstains, you do the same.
Wait until the meal has been ordered and beverages have been served before easing into the business talk. Focus the conversation around your guest and give him/her a chance to open up. Do that by asking about business, projects that are in progress, or what’s on the drawing board for the future. Then inquire as to how you can help and what needs must be urgently met.
Be mindful that you must pace the discussion and be respectful of your guest’s time. Plan on 75-90 minutes for the average business lunch and 45-60 minutes for breakfast or coffee meetings. When finished, express your appreciation for the client’s time. Send a written thank you note (not an email).
Thanks for reading,
Kim L. Clark is a strategy and marketing consultant who works with for-profit and not-for-profit organization leaders who must achieve business goals. Kim is the founder and principal of the consulting firm Polished Professionals Boston and she teaches business plan writing to aspiring entrepreneurs. Learn how Kim’s expertise can benefit your organization when you visit polishedprofessionalsboston.com.