Everyone has to eat, and the euphoria that accompanies having a full stomach can open people up to new ways of thinking and even business deals. Plus, eating in a formal setting can help you see what people are like by the way they behave. Likewise, you can leverage your etiquette during a meal to make a favorable impression.
Inviting your potential clients to lunch or dinner can be a great way to win business. But it has to be done right to give the results you want.
The full low-down on using dining to get more clients.
When Should You Invite Potential Clients to a Meal?
Naturally, if you want to be a good host, you should pay for your potential clients’ meals. But, of course, if you went out getting everyone a free meal with no return, you’d be broke fast. Thus, you want to do your meal-hosting strategically, choosing the prospects with whom the invitation would have the greatest benefit.
Software entrepreneur Neil Patel describes generating $520,000 in revenue from clients for whom he paid for meals (he ended up spending a little over $72,000 entertaining these prospects).
While Neil notes that the ROI looks pretty good, he also points out that the deciding factor for which these companies hired him wasn’t the gesture of the meal, but rather his reputation and accomplishments.
Did the meals help? They definitely helped build trust, a sense of commitment, and an air of professionalism. Obviously, if you’re not the right person for the job, potential clients aren’t going to choose your business no matter how many free lunches you invite them to. But keeping all variables equal between two competing firms, a prospect will likely end up choosing the one that leaves a greater personal impact. Paying for a meal can help you do just that.
What does that mean for you? Don’t spend money on everyone. Identify the potential clients you feel you’re close to closing a deal with. The mean can be that extra push that leads them to sign. Remember that because paying for a meal doesn’t automatically mean business, don’t go all out and pay exorbitant amounts of cash to entertain your potential clients. Spend prudently.
Etiquette During the Meal
Having the right etiquette is key to winning people over during a meal. Don’t worry too much about intricate formalities. The basis of etiquette is showing others respect. Make it clear that you’re invested in your guest’s comfort and wellbeing. Take advantage of the time to showcase your friendly personality and skillset.
Follow these rules of thumb and you’ll be good.
- Put your phone on silent or vibrate, and whatever you do, don’t answer it! Give your guest the courtesy of your full attention.
- Be a good listener. Don’t hog the conversation. Show your guest that you’re genuinely interested in him.
- Be sure to eat a bit beforehand so you’re not too hungry during the meal. You don’t want to look like a ravenous wolf. But do try everything on your plate. Coming off as picky isn’t a good thing.
- Treat the waiter with kindness and leave a good tip. The way you treat the people who serve you speaks volumes about your character.
Inviting strong potential clients to meals can influence their decision-making in your favor. To make the occasion work for you (and to avoid spending your money in vain), demonstrate proper etiquette, put your guest first, and do your best to show that you’re a respectful, competent business person.