Serious About Business? Then Get Serious About Business Meals

A business meal certainly is not anything new to most of us, and if you have them frequently, you may already consider yours a success. But what about very serious business deals--involving many millions of dollars, heavy topics, important contracts and so on? Or, on a lighter level, what about impressing someone you're working with to truly secure the relationship for a viable long-term partnership? All of these things and more can happen over the course of a well-run business meal at an established restaurant.

When you have a business meal at a restaurant, it is not simply to satisfy hunger. A restaurant acts as a live theater for your meal, and this is especially important for business. Having just the right blend of ambiance, quality cuisine, noise level and customer service all lend itself to securing serious business deals--or to celebrating monumental deals already won! Really, if you're serious about business, then it is time to get serious about how these meetings unfold and what impression you make for your guests. This is where you improve your odds for a successful conversation.

Choosing the right restaurant

A proper business meal begins with choosing the right restaurant; this is extremely important. It's imperative to choose a restaurant with private dining options, especially if you are going to be discussing matters that are confidential. For example, at Valentino, my restaurant in Santa Monica, California, we have an exclusive private wine cellar where we host many special meals. These types of rooms are ideal for intimate discussion.

Additionally, you'll want to choose a restaurant that provides the right harmony for your business dealings. This means considering whether the restaurant offers unobtrusive servers, soft music and very few distractions--keeping distractions to a minimum allows for the potential to really make things happen. Meeting at a crowded coffee shop or a loud restaurant where you're squeezed in table-by-table is generally not suitable for making big deals happen.

It all starts with the host

Rely upon your restaurant host to help guide your meal. Discuss your plans with the host, and you may want to order in advance for you and your guests. You can discuss wine options, food preferences for the group or special requests. An experienced host will help move your meal along with ease and focus your menu options, thereby limiting distractions. And with larger groups, eliminating or limiting the need for menus is critical to being able to focus your discussions. A good rule to abide by is that guests should make as few decisions as possible.

The host can help to guide wine recommendations for the evening--eliminating awkwardness among your group and streamlining the experience. If you have a price range you want to stick to, let them know in advance. And your host will also be able to tactfully avoid any miscommunication or confusion when it comes time to paying the bill. Relax, and let them guide and serve you.

How the evening unfolds

People tend to require a cocktail or wine to loosen up and open themselves to discussing matters, so your meal will likely start there. Generally, business details are spoken about more towards the end of the meal, after everyone has had time to relax and warm up to each other's company. And take into account the reason you're gathering: If it's a very serious dinner, say, to discuss a medical matter or a trial, expect drinking to be more limited; however, if it's celebration, you may expect more cocktails and perhaps more expensive bottles of wine.

And you'll want to dress the part. Always err on the side of dressier versus more casual, even in warmer areas such as Los Angeles. Men should have on at least a jacket, and women would be in a business suit, or nice slacks and a blouse.

Put away your cell phone, your iPad and laptop unless absolutely necessary. It's not the time for lit-up screens, buzzing or outside conversation if you can avoid it. Of course, if you're a doctor and you're on call, then it's completely acceptable to have your phone by your side. And given the technology tools of today's business dealings, most fine restaurants will have cell phone charging facilities available to you should you require one.

Looking to impress your guests? You may want to give them the honor of choosing a bottle of wine for the evening. You may also consider ordering items considered special, such as truffles or a special fish or beef.

The deals are real

I'm honored that many important (and lucrative) business deals have been closed or celebrated in my restaurant including everything ranging from historic trial wins, significant mergers and acquisitions, large-scale fundraisers and business negotiations involving world-renowned luminaries and institutions.

Given the proper planning and attention to detail, an elegant restaurant with attentive service can be the best possible stage for your next act.