Being able to host a business lunch or dinner in a smooth and professional way can be crucial to your success and the success of your company. A lot of what you’ll need to do is a matter of proper preparation. If you set the meal up meticulously, and take care of all the little things, you will head off most potential problems.
Let’s look step by step at how to approach hosting a business lunch or dinner:
1. Familiarize yourself with multiple appropriate local restaurants, with different menus, different price ranges, etc. so you’ll have some flexibility in choosing the one that best fits the particular occasion and attendees of this meeting. Establish good relations with the management, staff, host, servers, etc. Make sure they know you and know how important it is when you come to their restaurant with business contacts. Familiarize yourself with the menu and make sure you can make multiple recommendations from it. Find out in advance if possible if any of your guests are vegetarians or have special dietary needs, as this may be a factor in choosing a restaurant.
2. When you issue invitations, make it clear what the purpose of the meeting is, so people know what to expect. Word the invitations unambiguously that you will be the host and they will be the guests, so it is clear you will be paying. Make sure you choose a restaurant where your budget will allow your guests to order as they please; you certainly don’t want to be in a position of limiting their choices.
3. Arrange with the restaurant to get a quiet table where it will be possible to converse comfortably. Establish with them in advance that you will be paying. Provide them a credit card when you arrive. Ask them to add a 20% gratuity and allow you to sign the statement when you leave, rather than bringing a bill to the table.
4. Dress professionally. Unless there is something unconventional about your business or about the occasion, err on the side of dressing conservatively. Be properly groomed; make sure nothing about your appearance would raise eyebrows or make a bad impression.
5. Arrive at the restaurant first. Whatever last minute arrangements you need to make in person about the table, the payment, etc., do it ahead of time rather than in the presence of one or more of your guests.
6. Don’t wait at the table alone. Wait in the bar or reception area where you can see the door, and greet your guests as they arrive. Introduce each arriving guest to the other guests. Allow the host to seat your party when you have all arrived. If almost all have arrived, and people seem to be getting impatient, allow the host to seat your party, with instructions to bring the straggler(s) as soon as they arrive.
7. Exercise proper table manners. It is better to err on the side of being too formal rather than too casual. If you are not confident you know all the proper dining etiquette, don’t be embarrassed about seeking some kind of training or class, or assistance from people more knowledgeable in this area.
8. Bear in mind that most guests will be looking to you to take the lead. They will expect you to call the meeting to order. Most will only order a drink (appetizer, dessert, etc.) if you do. You need to conduct yourself with confidence as the master of ceremonies, not just an equal participant.
9. At the close of the meal, speak with each guest individually and thank them for attending.
10. Be the last person to leave. When you are the only one left, thank the wait staff that assisted you. Make them feel appreciated so they will continue to treat you and your guests special in the future. Or if there was any kind of problem, address it courteously with them now, and explain how things will need to be different in the future if you are to continue using their venue for important business meetings.
Follow these tips, and you should have no problem hosting a successful business lunch or dinner.
Neen James, “How to Host a Productive Business Lunch: Things to Do Before Meeting Your Client.” The Legal Intelligencer Blog.
Michael McCann, “Dining Etiquette in Business.” Chiff.