There are many ways to conduct a lunch with a potential new client or someone you’re looking to impress. We get asked the question time and time again here at Late Night London. Safe to say that sitting in the corner of a restaurant wedged in-between the coat rack and the toilet door isn’t one of the routes to go down. As with anything, planning is essential.
Find out what your guest really enjoys eating and match the restaurant to that. Don’t go over the top and simply try and win their attention with extravagance. Anyone can book up a restaurant with two Michelin stars. So go one better. If they like wine, find out what their favourite bottle is and find a place that has it on their wine list. Call ahead to the restaurant to find out what their best table is or even visit it yourself if you’ve never been and see what would be most appropriate; then ask the front of house if you can reserve the spot.
Natural light is important for a meeting as it makes people more receptive and relaxed. Think about location as well. Dragging someone all the way over from the other side of the city is hardly conducive to winning them over. Meet halfway, or choose somewhere they can reach easily in a taxi or via public transport.
If the meeting goes well then it would be helpful to have somewhere to retire to for a post-lunch drink or coffee so think about booking somewhere with a separate bar/lounge to continue your chat. When it comes to sitting down at the table and starting conversation, think about a commonality between the two of you or something that has happened in the press that day. Conversation starters are key but remember, when trying to make an impression, the standard “How was your journey?” doesn’t quite cut the mustard.
Don’t order the cheapest thing on the menu or go for the house bottle of wine. Kick things off with an aperitif and, despite most people being happy with tap water these days, ask if they prefer still or sparkling and choose what they want. Now that doesn’t mean you have to plump for foie gras and lobster for a main course but resist going with homemade soup of the day and a bread roll. Once you have set the precedent, your guest will feel more comfortable ordering the fillet of steak with all the accompaniments along with the scallops with truffle shavings and lobster bisque as a starter.
Most of all, be relaxed. Take off your jacket and try to mirror the body language of your guest. Show that you’re good at listening and offer counter words to extend the conversation in to new areas. If it’s a meeting for new business, try to find out a little more about the individual on a personal level. As soon as something crops up that you feel comfortable talking about further, go with it. But remember, as soon as you feel yourself getting out of your depth, change the focus. However, make them feel intelligent by admitting that you’ve learnt something from them, even if you haven’t. A small ego boost goes a long way. As long as it’s not too obvious.
So engage openly with the person across the other side of the table, show the areas that you are a master of in business. Secure their interest by developing areas of thought in their mind that they may have thought about before but never really followed up on. Make sure you’ve researched everything about them and their business so you can congratulate them on the pockets of success they already have but also how you can develop those further through the introduction of new strategies.
As long as you’re comfortable and relaxed, there shouldn’t be the need for awkwardness. If that’s the case from the start, they’re probably not the type of person you want to be conducting business with as they don’t fit in with your company’s tone of voice or plans for expansion. As the lunch draws to an end, ask if they would like to retire for a coffee or a drink and round off the meeting with some light hearted conversation about what you both do outside of work, music, sport, film, history. Whatever it takes to make them sign on the dotted line. If they love tennis and haven’t got tickets to Wimbledon, find a way of getting hold of a pair and drop them an email asking them along. A small amount of effort goes a long way in the business world and people will remember those efforts for years to come.
Emma Howe, Head of Corporate Late Night London.
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