Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Tips for a great business dinner

Posted by shannonclark on April 23, 2007

In the past week I organized 3 different business dinners, all on the spur of the moment, and all very successful.  Here are a few tips for how you too can organize great business dinners.

One – Choose the right restaurant. Simple, but key. Business dinners are not all about the food – first and foremost they should be a chance for people to talk and socialize – restaurants which are too loud, too “hip”, too formal or fancy, or too informal for that matter will detract from your event.

Two – Have a backup. Last Friday I suggested a restaurant which had just opened that week, though the menu was (I think at least) great, when we arrived with a group of 5 we would have had to wait for about 30 people to get their main courses before we could have been seated. Instead we went to a fantastic Indian restaurant across the street.

Three – Keep everything simple for the attendees. All three of the dinners I organized this past week I ordered the food for everyone, and we then shared it family style. While a tad informal, any family style meal is a great way to get people to talk to each other and interact over the course of the dinner. It also means that you can order a balanced selection of dishes which highlight the restaurant’s skills.

Four – ordering family style also keeps payments simple. One of the meals I organized was paid for by one of the attendees, in the other cases we split the bills – but by having kept everything simple this was a quick and very easy process in every case.

Some further suggestions and advice about how to select a restaurant, as well as how to order for groups.

For business dinners I look for restaurants with spacious layouts where we will be able to be seated as a large group, yet have a private and comfortable conversation. Private rooms are great whenever possible. I also prefer restaurants which can seat us at a round table whenever possible – long rectangular tables tend to break conversations up into smaller clusters.

From a food perspective I seek out cuisines and dishes which will be easily shared. I almost always select locally owned restaurants, whenever possible places that use local and fresh ingredients. A locally owned place will usually also remember you after a few events and that always makes everything smoother.

Always call ahead, especially when you have a party of 5 or more people. When I call ahead I usually ask if they can do a group menu – and get their advice about dishes. Whenever possible I stop by the restaurant myself in advance and go over the menu – though I have also always had good results by asking for help and trusting in the abilities of the restaurant (note this is true when I have either already eaten at the place and/or have good reason to trust them – if when I call and ask for help with a group menu I get a sense that this is a challenge for them, I will change restaurants.)

Chances are very high that in any medium sized business group you will have individuals with various food preferences (and/or allergies). As a starting point I always order vegetarian appetizers and at least one vegetarian entree, usually at least two for larger groups serving family style. People with food allergies generally tell you about them – treat nut allergies in particular very seriously (and see above, any restaurant that is unwilling/unable to accommodate  someone with a nut allergy should not get your business).

My typical pattern for business dinners is to order appetizers and entrees, only occasionally salads or desserts. For one thing this usually keeps the costs down. But more specifically it is harder to share salads and desserts – and often by the time you have been eating many courses shared in a group, you have little room left for dessert.

For the entrees I also try to order a variety of dishes with varying ingredients. Having all chicken or beef dishes is, I find, fairly boring. I’ll usually try to get three to four different types of meats plus vegetables for most larger dinners.

The dinners this past week were all in San Francisco. A dinner for 5 at a Chinese restaurant – Canton Seafood at Folsom & Hawthorne, a dinner for 5 at Aslam’s Rosoi an Indian restaurant on Valencia between 21st and 22nd, and a dinner for 11 at Cafe Zoetrope at 916 Kearny. All three dinners were less than $30 per person inclusive of drinks, taxes and tip.

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