Not so long ago, my job as National Sales Manager for a large media company included hosting clients at Michelin-starred restaurants. We’d greet each other with hugs or handshakes, and end the evening with ordering every dessert on the menu. We’d share freely, sampling a bit of everything, each using our own spoon. We laughed and spoke loudly to hear each other over the buzz of the crowded dining room. Dining safety was the furthest thing from our minds.
Like it or not, the art of the business meal has changed. Although comfort levels with in-person meetings vary widely, there’s more interest now than there has been in a year, and the back-to-normal allure of restaurants has undeniable appeal.
To create the type of in-person experiences we’re all craving, a little prep work can go a long way. Here’s a checklist of things to keep in mind while planning and attending business meetings with clients at restaurants.
No. 1: Ask, Don’t Assume
Before making any actual plans, here are some preliminary questions to consider asking clients.
- Are you ready for a break from the four walls of your (home) office? How would you feel about talking things through at a restaurant?
- Do you have any cuisine preferences?
- Would you prefer to sit outside or inside (weather permitting/if available)?
No. 2: Find the Right Restaurant
Make sure you have the details nailed down before mentioning any specific restaurants to your client.
- Start online: Look up restaurants near your client’s location offering the right cuisine type and seating options.
- Call the restaurant directly to make sure their posted hours/days of the week open are accurate.
- If possible, reserve the table type of your choice. You want a quiet spot away from distractions. If outdoors, ask for a table with shade, wind protection, and, depending on the weather, the option for heat lamps.
- Look up the county’s current CDC guidelines for restaurant guests related to face coverings and indoor dining.
No. 3: Remember, You're the Host
When it comes to the meal itself, let the restaurant handle their end of the experience; and don’t forget, even though you’re not in an office, it’s still a business meeting. Here are some things you can do to project a confident, polished image under the current COVID conditions.
- Arrive promptly, ideally before your client.
- Have your face covering on, worn above your nose, and wear it when not seated at your table.
- When your client arrives, follow their lead on whether to offer a traditional handshake or go with a hands-free elbow-bump. Either way, follow up by offering hand sanitizer or excusing yourself to the restroom to wash your hands.
- Offer your client the best seat at the table, facing out with the view.
- Important: When you remove your face covering to eat or drink, put it in your bag, your pocket or your lap, instead of on the table.
No. 4: Minimize Awkwardness
When it comes to printed sales materials and laptops, some things are better left off the table.
- For the same reasons restaurants are using disposable or electronic menus, it’s better to keep the printed materials to a minimum at the table.
- If you do have printed documents for the client, bring them in a folder that your client can take with them after the meeting. If you have a document that needs signing, either present it before you order, or after the plates have been cleared to avoid getting butter on the document.
- Let your client take the lead on viewing anything related to your business during the meal.
- If they ask to see something online, text a link that they can view on their own device instead of looking at the same device in close proximity.
- It’s best to leave phones off the table in silent mode to give your client your full attention.
- Laptops are awkward at dining tables. Internet connections are inconsistent, and there’s rarely room for computers amid the tableware. If you must demo something on your laptop, time permitting, consider moving to a high top in the bar after your meal.
- Follow up with a recap email, and/or schedule a follow up screen share presentation at a later date.
There are clients I meet with who don’t wear face coverings, don’t sit with any distance from others, and say dining safety isn’t a concern for them. Out of respect for the safety of restaurant staff and other guests, however, I plan on following these guidelines until the CDC says otherwise. Whatever you decide to do, know that your client will be watching to see how you handle the situation as their host.
The goal for sharing a meal together is to get to know each other, take a break from looking at screens, and share ideas in an open, inviting environment. Making your client’s health and safety a priority is a sign of respect and will go a long way toward building a healthy business relationship.
Ready to dine now? Visit Dinova’s online restaurant search tool or download the mobile app to search and filter restaurants by location, safety precautions, and amenities.