Sylvia Pennington
Business Journalist

Sylvia Pennington writes regularly on business and technology for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

Sylvia Pennington
Business Journalist

Sylvia Pennington writes regularly on business and technology for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

The lunch meeting is a staple of new business tactics, but how can you help seal the deal without spending the world?

Getting food is a time-honoured way to help seal a deal or boost relations with your clients, new business opportunities or customers. The stereotype is a three course meal with all the bells and whistles, but for businesses operating close to the ground, doing it somewhere fancy can be a hip pocket hit you can well do without.

So how can you blow your clients away without blowing the budget? We look at a few ways to manage expectations without spending a fortune.

People having meeting at a cafe

Why are we here?

Start by considering the occasion, business etiquette expert Anna Musson advises. If it’s to celebrate something significant or clinch a major deal, a fine dining establishment may be appropriate.  For a catch-up lunch, somewhere licensed and more casual will do perfectly well.

You should also choose a venue that reflects both your business and personal brand. Young and funky? Head to a cool coffee shop. If you’re more demure, a wine bar or more formal surrounds might be a better bet. 

Set expectations

It’s lunch, not a state banquet. Rein in the cost by letting your guests know you’ll be sticking to just a couple of courses, Musson suggests.

“When you are perusing the menu, try a comment like, ‘in the interests of time, I thought we might just have two courses today, entrée and main, so you can be back at your desks by 3pm’,” she says.

“For more than four people, it’s thoughtful to say to the waiter in a voice they can all hear, ‘we will probably start with some bread and then straight to mains’, so all guests hear and have an understanding of how many courses to order.”

My shout, my choice

Want to appear a gracious host but ensure the drinks bill doesn’t go stratospheric? Give your guests their choice of red or white but keep hold of the wine list, Musson says.

“Offering it to guests is a quick way to sample the finest wine on the list and break the budget before you’ve eaten a bite,” she says.

Meanwhile, ordering some tap water discreetly with your waiter can save up to $9 a head; the going rate for the bottled variety in some establishments.

Online orders

The internet can be your friend when it comes to snagging a champagne experience at affordable prices for your clients. Sites such as Great Food, Great Value or Eat Out Sydney and its sister sites in the other capitals offer a selection of dining specials. Regular hosts may also consider investing in an Entertainment Book

Order in

Or instead of asking them out, invite them in, suggests former Brumby’s Bakery CEO Michael Sherlock. Now chief marketing officer at property trust Sentinel and a mentor to a string of start-up companies, he says sushi in the boardroom can have the same effect as Wagyu with a view – minus the three or four figure tab.

Make the most of your time and outlay by inviting several clients at once for a low-key networking event.

Over easy

Economical entertainers may also like to consider moving their meet forward a few hours. Eggs benedict and coffee is kinder on the wallet than scallops and sauv blanc, with the added bonus that a breakfast catch-up will take less of a chunk out of the working day than a lingering lunch.

Or just keep it to a couple of cappuccinos, at least in the early days of your business relationship, Sherlock advises.

“Take the speed dating approach – have coffee first and work out if they’re worth a lunch,” he says.

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