Dining, Entertaining & Celebrations

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How to impress when hosting a business dinner

Hosting a business dinner is both an honor and a responsibility. Employers typically entrust only their most valued employees with the responsibility of hosting a business dinner, and such opportunities are not to be taken lightly.

The desire to impress is there whether you're hosting your first or fiftieth business dinner, but those with experience hosting existing or potential clients know that no two business dinners are ever the same. What works for one client won't necessarily impress another, and the responsibility of impressing the clients falls on the host, which adds to both the excitement and the anxiety of hosting a business dinner. But even though hosting a business dinner may inspire a few butterflies to dance in your stomach, the following tips can ensure the night goes as smoothly as possible.

* Know your client. Clients tend to have vastly different needs and personalities, so while the ambiance of one restaurant might appeal to some clients, that same atmosphere might not be so impressive to others. When choosing a restaurant, consider its ambiance and how well that matches up with the client you will be taking out to dinner. Some clients may prefer to make deals in more laid back locales, while others may prefer the five-star treatment. Taking the latter to an all-you-can-eat buffet will hurt your chances of making a deal, while the former may take your willingness to spend lavishly on a meal at a five-star restaurant as an indicator that your company spends lavishly and ultimately passes such spending off on its clients. Understanding your client's personality should help you choose a restaurant that's likely to impress.

* Don't go in blind. Unless a client requests a specific restaurant, try to choose a restaurant you have visited in the past. This is beneficial in a variety of ways. When visiting a restaurant you frequent, you're in position to make recommendations with regard to the menu, and that insight can increase the chances that your client will enjoy his or her meal.

When choosing a restaurant you're familiar with, you're also choosing one where you know the service is exceptional. If it wasn't, you would not keep going back. No one wants a business dinner to be overtaken by poor service, which, fairly or unfairly, will reflect negatively on you.

* Avoid restaurants with gimmicks. Restaurants with gimmicks, such as those where the staff sings to customers celebrating a birthday, might be fun to visit with friends or family members, but such establishments are best avoided when hosting business dinners. Gimmicks can interrupt a meal and make it difficult to make any headway on a business deal, so stick to restaurants where you won't be interrupted by celebratory staff members or drowned out by live music.

* Don't just show up. Nothing is more awkward or unprofessional than taking a client to dinner and being forced to wait for a table. If you can't get a reservation at your preferred restaurant, then choose another establishment. Do not wing it and decide to wait for a table near the hostess or at the bar.

* Avoid exotic restaurants. Unless your client requests a particular type of cuisine, avoid exotic restaurants with relatively limited menus. Clients may have certain food allergies or aversions to particular types of food, so opt for a neutral restaurant with a menu that appeals to diners of various palates. If taking a client out for the second time and you remember the client mentioning a love of a particular cuisine, then the second dinner is a great time to indulge the client's love of that unique or exotic cuisine, especially if it's just the two of you.

* Don't overindulge. Overindulging, whether it's eating too much or enjoying one too many glasses of wine, won't impress the client. Resist the temptation to order the biggest steak on the menu and, if you choose to enjoy a cocktail, drink it slowly. A full stomach may make you drowsy and less attentive to your client, while a client will understandably question your judgement if you appear to be overindulging in alcohol.

Hosting a business dinner is a significant responsibility not to be taken lightly. But hosts can employ a few simple strategies to calm their nerves and make sure the night goes smoothly.