- Written by Janika LeMaitre -
Here’s a scenario for you: You’re meeting a colleague at the hottest new restaurant in town. You don’t know any more details. You arrive and try to valet, but it turns out they don’t offer it. So you circle around, and around, and around again until you finally find a spot that someone just vacated. Okay, no biggie. You meet your guest inside and are told there’s a forty-five-minute wait for a table.
The host asks you to wait outside, takes down your telephone number, and lets you know that they will call you when you’re ready to be seated. Your frustration starts to build, and so does that of your guests. Then it starts raining so you begin to lose it a little. This is clearly not a good start to the evening and whatever you are going to discuss will be overrun with your emotion. Do you think your guest will want to meet you again?
Organization is key to a successful meal. Several C-suite executives and executive assistants of public and private companies have shared their own behind-the-scenes planning with me.
The tips that I have learned are well thought out with every single detail looked over and no stone unturned.
Here are their combined list of 21 questions you’ll first want to answer before hosting:
What is the main goal of this meeting?
Where is your guest traveling from?
If they are staying at a hotel, what hotel is it and how far away is it?
Are they driving?
Do you have enough cash for valet parking?
Do they have any food allergies?
What is their favorite style of food?
What type of cuisine may surprise them from your town? For example, if you live in Boston you’ll want to show them the best clam chowder in the city to create a great memory, only if they like seafood.
Is a reservation possible ahead of time? (This is non-negotiable.)
Does the restaurant have a dress code?
Do you have a rapport with the host or Maitre D?
Do you know the wait staff well?
Where is the best spot to sit for privacy in the dining room?
Can you prepay for the meal to avoid the check coming to the table?
Is there a time frame you must adhere to?
What color napkins does the restaurant use? This is especially important for dark-colored clothes, white napkins leave white lint on clothing.
What time does the restaurant close?
If the guests want recommendations for what to do in your city, can you make informed suggestions?
Do you have a budget?
Are you prepared to pay for the entire meal and also tip?
If your guest is international, is it protocol to bring a cultural gift?
Planning a meal out means setting up the schedule for the entire experience so that it goes as smoothly as possible. A lot of this is chalked up to investigative work. One point to bear in mind is that in business, your meal is about business, not about eating the actual meal.
It’s actually about the conversation.
Be sure to get to know the other person in a professional manner before diving into the heart of the business agenda. For example, if you want that person to collaborate for an upcoming campaign, ask them after the main course and before the dessert course.
When communicating your invitation for a business meal with a guest, make sure to email them with the details of the restaurant including a link to the website for the menu and pictures. This ensures that there are no surprises for the other party.
Most importantly, determine the reason and know your talking points for the meeting. Be prepared for the conversation.
There may be an instance where you feel that your home is the perfect location. However, before you decide to host at your home, ask yourself these 11 questions:
What is the purpose of your get-together?
Where is each guest traveling from?
Will you cater or cook?
What are the drink preferences for each guest?
What allergies should you be aware of?
Are there special instructions you need to relay?
How formal/informal is the gathering?
What is your expected dress code?
How can you make their time enjoyable?
How will you invite your guests? Mail, email, or text?
What decorations are appropriate?
It’s easy to skip over some of these points, but trust me when I say, you’ll know when you do.
I recently entertained a group of acquaintances, and I made the mistake of not checking for my guest’s husband’s favorite summer drink which is vodka with soda water – generally an easy-to-accommodate request. Unfortunately, I did not have any soda water. This was definitely a rookie mistake. When put on the spot, you learn quickly.
There are a variety of instances where you may organize meeting someone for a meal, be it socially or for business. For example, you often meet or interview in many industries over breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Aside from the conversation, you are judged on how you present yourself before, during, and after dining at the table. So, if you need some help figuring out whether you're prepared to make a good impression as a host, please refer to and answer the 21 questions to help you get an advantage.
About the author, Janika LeMaitre
Jan is a certified etiquette advisor, specializing in personal brand strategy. Her mission is to provide life-changing soft skills for business owners and industry trail-blazers to self-manage and evolve their reputation. Jan is certified with the Protocol School of Washington® and The British School of Excellence™. In addition, she is the board president of Women's Business Group Connects, and as a second-generation Rotarian, proudly serves as a board director at the Rotary Club of Weston & Wayland.
Download your complimentary copy of Jan's "Handling Gender-Neutral Pronouns With Style" quick guide here.