How to Plan a Business Dinner With a Client

Every January, thousands of professionals and entrepreneurs gather in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)—one of the biggest trade expos in the technology calendar. During the daytime, some of the biggest companies and most exciting startups in the world put their new products on display. But according to one insider, “the real show begins about four hours later,” at dinner.

Business dinner

When the trade show’s doors close for the evening, entrepreneurs flood local restaurants, wining and dining potential clients with whom they want to work in the next year. With a little luck, these meals will lead to deals.

Business dinners can be hugely effective in building client relationships and securing new work. But getting them right isn’t always easy. A lot goes into planning a business dinner, and a bad one is an expensive mistake. To avoid the common pitfalls, here is our guide to planning an effective business dinner.

Know your goals

It’s hard to hold a successful business dinner if you don’t know what success means to you. The first thing you should do when you decide to plan a business dinner is decide what you want to achieve with it.

Common business dinner targets include the following:

  • Initiating a working relationship: If this is your dinner’s purpose, the most important thing you need to do is introduce yourself, your company and your work, and get to know you client a little better. You can discuss working on specific projects afterwards.
  • Making a business deal: The true definition of doing business over dinner, these business dinners are negotiations with added condiments. According to a Harvard Business Review study by Lakshmi Balachandra, food genuinely increases the productivity of business meetings, so you’ve made a good decision. If you have specific figures or conditions you’d like for this deal, keep them in mind throughout.
  • Celebrating successful business: If this is the case, there’s no need to think too heavily about what you are aiming for. Just don’t embarrass yourself.

Pick the right restaurant

Much of the success of a business dinner comes down to the venue. If you want your event to be informal, sometimes your own home can be fine. Behavioural scientist Jon Levy’s highly successful ‘Influencers Dinner’ is held in his Manhattan apartment once or twice a month. It brings together a long list of luminaries from all kinds of sectors and helps them collaborate on projects and have a good time.

Wine glass at a restaurant

As a small business owner (but perhaps a future influencer), it’s more likely that your business dinner will be a more formal affair at this stage. In which case, a restaurant is a much safer bet.

Every city has its own ideal business meeting venues. You have countless options when choosing a business dinner restaurant in Chicago, for example, including such eateries as Michelin star-holders Nana and Everest. London, too, has a wide range of choice when it comes to finding a business dinner venue, including Scott’s by the American Embassy, and The Don in the heart of the financial district.

The key factor to consider is not whether your chosen restaurant has a good menu (though this is important). Rather, you have to ensure your venue is appropriate for the type of meeting you are holding. An informal post-project celebration will require a drinks-focused restaurant or bar, whereas a more sober affair—such as the discussion of a sensitive project—will be much more at home in a formal environment.

If you’re struggling to choose a restaurant from your local options, try visiting or calling them with questions in advance to get an idea of what they will be like, and how suitable they will be for your meeting.

Also, a small tip but an important one. Your business dinner could be all for nothing if you don’t manage to speak to the right people. Carefully plan where you, your colleagues and your clients will be sitting for maximum impact.

Think about the date & time

It’s not just where your business dinner that makes all the difference, but when as well. You need to ensure that the times you’ve proposed aren’t inconvenient for your client in any way, or the dinner will likely catch them in a bad mood.

Worse, they could cancel or rearrange, during which time they could have made alternate arrangements with a competitor. Similarly, if the timing cuts it close for you and you may have to cancel yourself, you could harm relations with your client beyond repair.

Booking your business dinner far in advance could help with this, as it will be easier for both you and your client to keep the date clear if you know it’s coming up. It’s also important to remember that you should arrive early—up to an hour earlier than your client—in order to make sure everything is set up correctly.

If you keep all of these things in mind when planning your client business dinner there’s no doubt that it will be a great success.

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