Anyone can pick up a check–and if you spend much time with clients, you probably have. Breaking bread with clients is an important part of the relationship building process.
The challenge is making those interactions more than just a fancy meal. As a small business owner looking to get the leg up on your competition, you have to make every encounter with your client a memorable experience.
Want to to take your dinner up a notch? Remember, this is work. You are creating a memorable evening, so do plan and execute it just like you would a presentation. Choose your venue carefully: Great food makes a great meal; great service makes the memory.
Here are my favorite tricks for client meals.
1. Frequent the same place. If you entertain regularly in your city, pick a great restaurant and use that restaurant for all client entertaining. You will develop good relationships with the staff. You may not get as much variety as you like–if you entertain often, you may wind up eating at the same place two or three times a week–but this is not really about you.
2. Work with the manager. I do not make reservations, discuss table selection or make event arrangements of any size with the receptionist. I call the manager directly and work out my details with him or her.
3. Know and request your server. Once you have eaten at a restaurant several times you will get a feeling for which server you prefer. Make certain to ask for that server. It’s all a part of the preparation to make certain your evening is perfect.
4. Call in advance. I usually call three days in advance to set the appointment, table and server choice. Call a day in advance to confirm the arrangements, and if needed, to order any specialty items. Which brings me to …
5. Pre-order special items. Your guests will know that they have been cared for and the evening is special because of little details. One of those is pre-ordering appetizers to be ready at the table as you sit. One of my favorites is lobster, cubed and served with drawn butter as an appetizer. It is unique and impressive. If your guest is allergic to shellfish or doesn’t like fish, make a second selection. The point is to have it ready.
6. Arrange for attention. The sommelier, manager and chef can and should drop by the table at least once to check on you during the meal. This is an easy request that they are happy to accommodate. As you become familiar to the staff, this will become a part of the evening’s ambience.
7. Privacy or preferred seating. Learn which table you prefer–and be sure to name it when you make your reservation.
8. Go off the menu. The restaurant I work with can order just about anything from anywhere if I give them a few days’ notice. So when I call, I ask for recommendations of a dish that the chef might prepare for us when we are there, and then let the chef create it. They like to do it and it makes a great impression.
9. Pre-handle the bill. I like for the bill to be taken care of in advance, so that only a receipt is handled and we are free to exit at our leisure.
10. Tip generously. You’re asking the staff for extra special treatment. Be sure you reward them for it.
It takes more planning to create a memory. However, if you don’t take the extra time, then you are just another vendor with a credit card buying a meal. Instead, create an experience for your clients. They’ll thank you for it.