There was a time in my business career when I regularly dined out with vendors or suppliers of various goods and services. Invariably, the destination for such evenings out was the classic, high end steak house. I’ll refrain from naming names, but you know the format: à la carte menu, mostly beef, lobster or crab add-ons, creamed veggies, decent wine list, an armada of servers with those little crumb brush gadgets. Typically, the check will come out to ~$100 a head. For chain restaurant food. I’ve eaten at that kind of place across America and even in western Europe. If it’s expensive, it must be good. Right?
Tonight I ate at one of those places (on someone else’s dime) and left wholly unsatisfied. Stuffed, but unsatisfied. The food was boring. The service regimented. The ambiance stuffy. It was like eating at a dinner theater staged in a funeral parlor. Maybe it’s just me, but I think the Art of Wining & Dining as a business activity has taken a left turn. It’s no longer just about the hunk of meat and price tag. It’s about style, about fun, about thoughtfulness.
If I were a potential customer agreeing to take time from my schedule, either while at home or on the road, I would be looking for something a little more creative:
- What’s good?
- What’s new?
- What’s interesting?
- What’s local?
- Most importantly: what’s memorable?
Particularly when you are talking about trying to build a relationship, I think American business needs to move beyond “impressing” someone to something more meaningful. Did your customer enjoy themselves? Did you make a unique, differentiated impression upon them that made them think: “That was worth my time. I would like to see these people again and learn more about why I should be in business with them.”? To me, this is what you’re aiming for and this is how you judge the ROI on the receipt you turn in with the rest of your expenses.
Maybe that’s the longtime employee-owner talking. Or maybe after a couple years on my own and a couple working within a very thoughtful, client-focused organization, perhaps my perspective has been influenced. Either way, I calls it likes I sees it. So next time you’re taking out a prospective or current client, be bold. Take a chance and do something interesting. Even if the food turns out to be a bust, there’s a conversation starter to be found in the shared experience of doing something different. The End.