Hosting a business meal can present a powerful opportunity, provided the occasion is managed and designed to spotlight its own benefits. When their role is played expertly, a host conveys executive presence, exudes a sense of curiosity and compassion, and provides an entire lunch hour full of valuable business insights for their guests.
A host should realize that he or she has the “home field advantage”. But that alone doesn’t win the ballgame. Responsibility for orchestrating and setting into motion a well-rounded and polished restaurant meeting requires you to command a table of guests gracefully, without coming off as domineering. If you find yourself playing the host role, either frequently or only periodically, I have direction for you in three early phases of the meeting. Mastering these techniques will start you off in the right direction each time, earning you respect as well as motivating your guests.
A Meeting of The Minds
Always arrive early to the venue and, if practical, sit at the table before your guests arrive. This will allow a brief meeting of the minds with your server for decisions about how to pace the meal. If the server knows that you’ll need to be in-and-out within an hour, or that you and your guests would like 10 minutes to speak before menus are presented, it will prove valuable to that pacing. This also serves to curtail routine interruptions by the server, allowing you to convey your ‘opening message’ in a seamless manner.
The Dance Begins
The moment your guests arrive is the official start of the meal, despite the absence of food and beverage. If you’re introducing people, begin with the “why”: “I’ve been looking forward to getting the two of you together because…”. If it’s a prospective client you’re courting, courtesy is the theme: “I’m grateful to have this time to learn about your business needs and challenges”. The words are yours, but the official welcome indicates subconsciously to the guests that you are directing this meal and that the ‘dance’ has begun.
Taking The Lead
Ordering food is a juncture where second-guessing may become a distraction. As the host, it’s your duty to try and prevent that second-guessing. What others should order is not your responsibility; How much to order is a valuable bit of data you should provide for your guests. Put yourself inside their minds: “I might seem gluttonous if I order an appetizer, but then again, I don’t want to stand out as the only person without one”. Once someone’s attention is diverted from conversation by this mental tug of war, it might be difficult for them to reengage. Avert this predicament by offering clues as to how they should order: “I’m going to order a starter”. Another approach is to mention that you’re not getting a starter, but that everyone else should. You may also opt to let your guests take the lead by inquiring about how heavy their appetites are, or suggesting “If you’re hungry, the 3-course prix-fixe is a great way to go. If you’re up for it, I am too.”
With a little practice of these opportunistic techniques, you’ll become a natural host, full of grace and charm, with a knack for keeping everyone focused on the business at hand.