At business meal make sure you stick to business


September 04, 1994|By Niki Scott | Niki Scott,Universal Press Syndicate

Walk into a restaurant serving a business clientele today and you're likely to see a businesswoman courting a client over the chicken cordon bleu, or making a sales pitch over the house salad.

As is true in so many areas, our past training helps rather than hinders us when it comes to entertaining for business purposes. We were carefully taught to be good listeners and to be aware of other people's needs and feelings, after all.

Here are a dozen additional hints to help ensure that your business entertaining is always productive:

* Remember that this meal is primarily a business meeting, not a social occasion. Be clear about the motives of your company, and your own as well, for meeting with this person.

It may sound manipulative to think in terms of what's in this for you, but the expression, "There's no such thing as a free lunch," was coined by businessmen and means exactly that: When business people invite other business people out for a meal, it's always for a reason.

* Leave your personal agenda at home. While your goals and your company's don't have to be identical, don't go into this meeting at your company's expense if your hidden agenda is to ask this person for a job, or to pitch the novel you've just written, or to find a position for your no-good sister-in-law.

If you want to be viewed as straightforward and ethical, save personal business for a meeting that's "on you" and not on your company's time.

* Inform yourself ahead of time about your guest's position in her company and how much power she actually wields. If you ask someone to make a decision that's not hers to make, you only embarrass and alienate her.

* Research your guest's professional and personal background. Is he married? Does she have children? How long has he worked for his present company? What's her particular area of expertise? Does he travel extensively? Has she won an award?

* Ask about his or her food tastes ahead of time. If he's a vegetarian, you won't want to take him to a steak house. If she's wild about Japanese food, you'll know just where to make your reservation.

* Take your own tastes into account. Don't arrange a power breakfast if you're a dud in the morning. Don't suggest a chic little sushi bar if the smell of raw fish makes you gag.

* Drink no more than one glass of wine with your meal, or nothing at all. Not drinking at all is not only an acceptable choice nowadays, but a smart one during any business/social occasion.

* Don't explore or experiment. Choose a restaurant only if you know it from personal experience, or it has an impeccable reputation.

* Keep the meeting businesslike. It's fine to ask your guest how his wife and kids are, but don't listen for more than 13 seconds to a diatribe about his marital troubles without changing the subject.

* Finally, keep two expressions in mind as you end this meeting-with-a-meal: "Timing is everything," and "Leave 'em laughing." Save straight business talk until after the coffee is served, but ask for the check before the conversation lags or drifts into irrelevant or dangerous areas.

As a famous hostess once put it, "The time to end any occasion is when your guests are having such a good time they can't wait for the next one."

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