Fork that deal

A few wrong moves over an important business lunch could spell the difference between bagging a deal and going home empty-handed.
Jimmy Jacob        Print Edition: Aug 18, 2013

A lot can happen over lunch, including disaster. You have planned lunch with a prospective client to ink a lucrative deal on a Saturday afternoon, but forgotten to tell your secretary to make restaurant reservations. When the call finally gets made a few days prior to the meeting, you discover that all the tables at your favourite restaurant are booked. Weekend rush, says a hotel staffer.

A series of frantic calls follows, and by the time you zero in on a decent restaurant with a free table, the client has already formed an opinion about your firm. Of course, it doesn't help when you arrive for lunch half an hour late (your animated apologies are brushed aside with tightlipped smiles), but it's only when you get a little too tipsy and accidentally trip over the client's suitcase that the deal appears well and truly lost.

Even in this age of Skype calls and business networking, face-to-face meetings are essential as far as the corporate world is concerned - especially when the matter relates to something of real significance. Many, especially old schoolers, are of the opinion that there is sense in discussing business the traditional way - through pleasantries exchanged over forks and knives.

Here are a few pointers for organising a successful business lunch with clients. While some of them may seem too basic, others are aimed at making you look professional enough to handle the deal at hand.

Fork that deal
Ideally, one should arrive at the chosen restaurant 20 minutes in advance, and check if everything is in order.
PLAY IT SAFE
While lunch with a client or potential business partner can be more productive than an office meeting, such an arrangement could backfire badly or (at least) cause embarrassment to all the entities concerned unless it is carefully planned. For example, try to find out if the guest has a packed schedule that day. In such circumstances, choosing a place with extremely slow service may end up forcing him to cancel his other appointments - evoking his displeasure in the process.

If possible, conduct some non-intrusive probing into the client's gastronomical preferences. You do not want to invite a vegetarian to a steakhouse, and such an occurrence is a big possibility in India where over 30% of the population swears by edible green. If that is not possible, it would be advisable to offer some options to the client and ask him to pick.

That way, you absolve yourself of the responsibility of making a choice you could later come to regret, and also come out looking like you care about his or her preferences. And don't forget to compliment the guest on his choice, even if it's someplace you don't really like. Good manners go a long way.

TIME'S OF THE ESSENCE

Once the venue is chosen, you move on to a more important aspect of the event - preparing for it. Ideally, arrive at the establishment 30 minutes in advance and check if everything is in order. You do not want to end up looking incompetent because the restaurant staffers failed to get the numbers right. Even if your busy schedule does not allow that, do not - by any means - make the client wait for you. Remember, these are the people you plan to convince about your commitment levels -showing them that you can stick to deadlines. They would never believe you if you arrive late for a meet aimed at impressing them.

Okay, the impossible just happened, and you are 15 minutes late. Too bad, but all's not lost yet. Straighten your tie, apologise sincerely for being held up, and move on to other matters. Whatever you do, don't blame the traffic for your delay - your clients may not have arrived on a private jet either, and they wouldn't care much for clich├ęd excuses.

HOLD THE DRINK, AND POLL TALK

Lord Bacchus can be quite a tempter, but do not succumb to his charms when you are out trying to impress a client. Let the restaurant staffer fill your first glass, and nurse it while you advance into the conversation. Avoid getting drunk; it is likely to let both you and your firm down. There will be time enough to celebrate once the deal is done.

Let the client have his fill, though. The tipsier a client gets, the more attractive your terms and conditions will seem to him. Also, let your guest order first, so he doesn't feel inhibited by your choice.

Business discussions should ideally begin after the food and drinks have arrived. Till then, you may enquire about the client's well-being and the weather, and crack a few harmless jokes to lighten the mood. However, while doing that, it would be advisable to avoid touchy topics such as religion and politics. You don't want to annoy the client by disagreeing with his views on these matters - especially when it holds little relevance to the subject at hand.

THE RIGHT CALL
This is more of a general rule. People, especially clients, find it annoying when you spend half your time with them answering calls on your mobile phone - and it doesn't matter how important or busy it makes you look.

Don't end up getting drunk
While it's only proper to enjoy a glass of wine with the client, make sure that you don't end up getting drunk

While your clients may be capable of understanding that you handle many more affairs than just theirs, they would greatly appreciate it if they can get your undivided attention in your little time together. Even if you can't afford to turn off the phone (you are probably expecting an important call just about then), be considerate enough to put it on vibration mode.

THE BANE OF THE BILL

The luncheon's finally done and you have motioned to the waiter to bring the bill along. He arrives five minutes later with a number that's likely to haunt your nightmares for years to come, and your first instinct is to clutch your chest in horror and protest against the unfairness of it all. Well, don't. Chances are, even a shocked raising of the eyebrow can make the clients think that you are a cheapskate who wouldn't bother investing any additional
capital into their project. Instead, pay your bill with the straightest face you can manage and resume the conversation. If you think there is a horrible error in the calculations, politely excuse yourself from the table and take the head waiter to the side - where the matter can be discussed calmly, without causing undue discomfort to the client.

BUT, HEY! CHILL OUT

Now, you may be required to pussyfoot around a lot at business lunches, but don't let that distract you from having a good time. While getting overtly casual with the clients may not be advisable, you should be free to adapt yourself to the situation at hand. Build a good rapport with your guests, and if they seem interested in talking about broader topics, indulge them. If you have a good sense of humour, let out a crack or two to lighten the mood (leave your book of rugby jokes at home, though). Clients may feel more comfortable handing over the coveted contract if you come across as somebody genial and approachable.

...AND YOU'RE SET

Get a hang of these guidelines, and you are probably halfway down the road to bagging the contract already. Only halfway, though; you still need to have a business offer capable of impressing the client. Break a leg!
What the Fork!
You can't possibly make a good impression on your clients if you get your forks wrong. Here's how to fork it right.

Lobster fork
Lobster and crab forks have a very long handle, with two tines designed for pulling delicate crabmeat out of crab legs and shells. An oyster fork has a smaller handle, and has three tines instead of two.

Olive fork
This fork, on the other hand, has specially designed outward facing tines designed to grip olives without damaging them. While most olive forks have the three-pronged trident design, others only use two.

Fondue fork
These forks look like miniature versions of barbecue forks, with very long handles and delicate tines designed to grip the items as they are dipped into the fondue pot.

Fish fork
If you have decided to go big on sea food at any restaurant, look around for fish forks. These forks have three or four tines, all evenly spaced, besides a long handle to make it easier to work with fish.

Wooden chip fork
If fish and chips is on the menu, look for wooden chip forks. These forks generally have two tines and a rather short handle to make gripping the chips a whole lot easier.


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