If the purpose of your meeting is business, it is not appropriate to leap into the topic as soon as you are seated. Take your time and allow your guest to relax. Begin with small talk. It is important to establish or to reinforce rapport with your guest.
Do not bring up business before the entree is consumed. Be sensitive to when your guest is ready to talk business. Most people prefer to wait and talk business only over dessert and coffee. Others may want to plunge right in; therefore, begin discussing business when the client appears ready. A pleasant conversation and meal will often do more for your business relations than a nuts-and-bolts discussion. Be especially sensitive when entertaining clients from other cultures. Americans in general tend to rush over meals. For most cultures, dining is a ritual that flows slowly and pleasantly. Do not be surprised if your client does not even discuss any business over a meal. Your guest will give you signals, so be alert.
Do not monopolize the conversation. Show a genuine interest in getting to know your client and/or your guests better by asking thoughtful questions about safe topics such as sports teams, hobbies, movies and other general interests. Avoid personal questions that may make your client feel uncomfortable.
Remember that closing a deal is not your primary focus. Use this time to promote good will rather than attempting to make a sale. Remember, your focus is on building the relationship – and that’s why you should also follow up in writing with a quick thank you note that thanks your prospect or client for his or her time.
At a cocktail party or trade show function, circulating among as many people as possible can be a business builder. Do not treat this function as a mini-dinner; use this opportunity to meet and network with new people or to strengthen relationships with your existing clients. At a cocktail event, hold your drink in your left hand so you free your right for shaking hands. When joining a group, get into the conversation by asking questions. Try to make the other person talk more than you do; questioning is a good way to do this.
Purse – Papers – Briefcase
It is inappropriate to put a purse – no matter how small – on the dinner table. The proper place for the bag is either under the chair or wedged between your back and the back of the chair. Do not hang your purse on the back of the chair, it may interrupt traffic, or it could be stolen.
Do not put a stack of files on the table either. Put them on the floor out of the way of your server and other traffic. When it is time to discuss business, wait until the table has been cleared of only coffee and tea, and then put a few papers at a time on the table. Leave the briefcase under your chair.
The most appropriate way to take notes during a business meal is to use a letter-sized note pad in a professional portfolio that you place on the table after the meal is finished.
You can also use a small notepad (no larger than 5″ X 8″) at your place on the edge of the table to capture notes during the meal. This is especially useful if your guest chooses to discuss business during the meal. Avoid using a loose pad that shows the leftover edges of pages ripped out. This is unprofessional and disrespectful to your client and to your company.
If you organized the meal on behalf of your boss, if he/she does not reach for the bill, you should pay it without any fuzz, and if appropriate, claim it later on expenses.
If when the bill arrives, you find that there is a mistake on the charges, do not take out a calculator, or try to argue about the bill with the server. Go to the head server’s station and resolve the problem with the bill.
Ending the Meal
The business meal is not over until you are out of the restaurant. Before leaving the restaurant, a side trip to the restroom is appropriate. If this is necessary, the parties meet again and leave the building together.
It is not appropriate for either the host or the guest to leave first. The parties would shake hands, and may discuss the next meeting before leaving the building.
After a business luncheon or any other type of meeting where you were the guest, it is proper etiquette to send a “thank you” note via e-mail within 24 hours after the event. If you don’t have access to e-mail, a phone call would be equally appropriate. If a written thank you note can get to your host/hostess no later than two days after the event, this would be preferable.
Since most communications in business today are conducted via e-mail, written thank-you notes are the most memorable. In an era of “high tech and low touch,” a written card would have the most impact in conveying your message.