How to Choose the Right Restaurant for Business

Business dinners are more important than ever. As the lines between personal and professional blend together just as much work can be done out of the office as in it.

Do you know how to properly pick a bar or restaurant to conduct business? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as finding something that’s on the city’s trendiest list.

First things first, try to leave alcohol out of the conversation. Here are some reasons why:

  • Many people simply don’t drink. It’s estimated that 10% of the population has never tried alcohol, and about 10% of the people in the US are recovering from alcohol or drug abuse. So there’s a 1/5 chance your dining companion doesn’t use alcohol in his or her life at all.

  • Many people are on medications that don’t blend well with alcohol. Antidepressants, antibiotics and many other prescription drugs require abstinence from alcohol. Don’t put your companion in an awkward position where they say they can’t have a drink – or, worse, they drink anyway and become someone they usually aren’t.

  • Altogether, only about 50% of the people consume alcohol regularly during the weekdays. If you don’t know the person you’re meeting with very well, she or he may form an opinion about you that may not be flattering in front of others.

  • Alcohol may be a social lubricant, but it also reduces inhibition, focus, tact, and so many other prerequisites for proper etiquette. It’s best to be sharp when it matters most for business discussions.

Choose a restaurant that is close to where your dining companion offices. You don’t want to make her or him drive all over the city to meet you. Make it convenient rather than a trek to get there.

Choose a restaurant with a comfortable lobby. If one of you gets there early, it should be a place to sit for a while without being escorted to the table or the bar.

Choose a restaurant that is relatively quiet and has good acoustics. Many eateries are springing up in large, open spaces with hard surfaces on the floor, walls and ceiling, which makes it loud and hard to hear across the table. You don’t want a restaurant that’s so quiet you can hear a pin drop, because your table neighbors will be able to hear the details of your conversation. Booths are ideal for business dinners.

Choose a time around 6pm to start the meal. This is an ideal time for a couple of reasons. First, it’s close enough after work for your companion to finish work and travel to the restaurant without staying late or leaving early. Second, you will be able to finish the meal before 8pm, which will allow most people to get home before their kids go to bed – an important part of the nighttime routine for many families.

Choose a restaurant that accommodates everyone’s culinary interests. While you may love spicy Thai food, your companion might not like food with heat. If you choose a steak house, be sure she or he isn’t a vegan or vegetarian. A safe bet is a New American restaurant with a variety of cuisine.

Choose a restaurant with excellent service. You don’t want the service – or lack of it – to become a distraction to the meal. During business meetings, table maintenance is crucial to experience for you both. Your decision on the restaurant and service caliber is an extension of your own etiquette.

So what is the ideal dining experience to negotiate your next deal with a client?

My recommendation is to find a local four- or five-star hotel with an upscale restaurant. Proximity is usually close to offices and city centers. They are open early and have a good buzz about it around 6pm so you don’t feel like you’re in an empty restaurant. There’s a lobby lounge for comfortable seating while waiting for your companion. The restaurants are usually cozy with booth options, which are nice for conducting business privately. Service is typically excellent, and they are used to having people in who are conducting business, and so can navigate the meal with appropriate interactions and timeframes. The cuisine is often interesting and always approachable, and dietary restrictions will be honored easily.

Julian Leaver