Savoir faire is one of those ethereal attributes that a lucky few are born with and something that most of the rest of us have to constantly work on. The world of sales and business development folk very often involves a business dinner in a fine dining establishment. Very often dinner is a prelude to the next days work, so dining is a great opportunity to get to know the customer.  

It is important to realize when taking a potential client out for dinner, one is very much under inspection. A client can be put off in many ways. Poor table manners, boorish behavior, poor listening skills, and shabby taste in restaurants can turn the dinner from a plus plus into a minus minus.

Here is how you make a big impression on a client. I learned this from a professor at Denver University’s hotel & hospitality school. Go to the restaurant the day before and meet the maitre d’. You introduce yourself and explain that you have an important engagement the next night. Give him/her a business card and a several $100 bills. Explain that you want to be addressed by name as you enter the restaurant.

Next, you find the waiter and repeat the instructions. You want to be greeted by name as you are seated. You don’t want their life story, you just want them to be efficient and scarce. Finally, you go into the kitchen and greet the chef. Explain that the next evening is important and ask if he/she has any items that are not on the menu. Thank the chef profusely and go about your business.

The next evening after dinner, overtip the staff. Throwing around a few hundred dollars will get peoples attention and should get you a better table and better service. Doing it ahead of time invests the staff in the gig and will be gratefully appreciated.

I couldn’t help but reprint this list of Tips on Tipping from Bruce Feiler at Gourmet.com. His 3 page essay on learning how to get a table in a posh restaurant and how to tip in advance is quite well written and should encourage the socially inept to give it a try.  Remember, don’t fumble with your wallet fishing for a crumpled note. Have the note neatly folded and ready for a discrete handoff. Show a little style for cryin’ out loud.

Tips on Tipping

  1. Go. You’d be surprised what you can get just by showing up.
  2. Dress appropriately. Your chances improve considerably if you look like you belong.
  3. Don’t feel ashamed. They don’t. You shouldn’t.
  4. Have the money ready. Prefolded, in thirds or fourths, with the amount showing.
  5. Identify the person who’s in charge, even if you have to ask.
  6. Isolate the person in charge. Ask to speak with that person, if necessary.
  7. Look the person in the eye when you slip him the money. Don’t look at the money.
  8. Be specific about what you want. “Do you have a better table?” “Can you speed up my wait?” A good fallback: “This is a really important night for me.”
  9. Tip the maître d’ on the way out if he turned down the money but still gave you a table.
  10. Ask for the maître d’s card as you’re leaving. You are now one of his best customers.
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