Business Entertaining Etiquette Tips From a Pro

Conducting business over a meal is as much about relationship building as it is about closing deals. By building a rapport and gaining the trust and respect of clients you will increase your sales and revenues while attracting greater career advancement opportunities. However, just as there is a code of conduct for hosting formal meetings and composing e-mails, there are rules of etiquette for business entertaining. We asked Andrea R. Nierenberg, president of The Nierenberg Group and author of Million Dollar Networking and Savvy Networking, for tips on entertaining clients and associates.

Research your client in advance.

Look for your client’s profile on the company website or a social networking site. Take note of any organizations he or she may belong to. This will help you get the conversation flowing. Also research news on your client’s industry and other interests you may have gleaned from his or her affiliations. This information can help you carry on the conversation.

Set a time limit. When you invite a client out for a meal, provide a specific time frame. For example, if you are arranging a lunch, ask your client if he or she is available from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. Having a concrete time line will prevent a meal from dragging on and help you stick to your agenda.

Find a place conducive to conversation.

Avoid the temptation to impress your client or associate by bringing him or her to the hottest new restaurant in town if it is a noisy environment. Visit restaurants before making reservations to ensure they are comfortable and quiet. Consider memberships with organizations that can provide a professional atmosphere for entertaining (e.g., Lotus or Friars Club). Business entertaining at a private club removes some of the variables involved with entertaining in public spaces.

You are on all the time. Whether you are the entertainer or the “entertainee,” remember to maintain a professional attitude throughout the duration of the meal. For example, do not be too picky when you order because you may be perceived as “high maintenance,” and do not blow up at the bus boy for spilling your water because your client may think you are hotheaded.

Let your client eat and drink a little before talking business.

Make small talk while your client gets a little something in his or her stomach.

Be intuitive about when to pitch.

Do not present a detailed proposal or marketing collateral during lunch or dinner unless your client asks for it. When you feel the timing is right, tell the client, “I’ve got some information for you to take a look at but I can mail it to you” or “I’ve prepared a proposal and I’d like to know your thoughts about it.”