The NARCA Conference is coming up soon (10/17)! In addition to the excellent sessions, I try to take advantage of all the great networking opportunities there. The best networking times can be over a meal. I think most people agree, so making arrangements months in advance is important to ensure you are able to meet with the people you want to see. Planning in advance is just one of the tips for successful networking that I’ve picked up along the way.
Networking over breakfast, lunch or dinner is an opportunity you should take not pass up! Consider some of the following tips I’ve learned over the years while attending conferences. The idea is to successfully combine your hunger for food and your “hunger” for networking opportunities.
I try to schedule dinner meetings around the NARCA events. I make reservations close to the hotel within walking distance, or I set up transportation ahead of time. I usually schedule Wednesday night dinner early, around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m., so I can make it to the 9:00 p.m. reception, sponsored by the Defense Bar, and later, about 9 p.m., on Thursday after the Opening Reception. I like to attend the Friday night NARCA events, so I keep my calendar open Friday night. The Friday night NARCA event is a great networking opportunity, as well.
Some friends of mine work for companies that provide valuable services to debt collection companies. We like to plan dinner parties with a group of people. My friend invites a client he or she has a good relationship with that I would like to meet, and I do the same. Some of our attorney members also do this. They plan a dinner party together, each inviting a client they work with to introduce to an attorney friend in another state, and then they split the tab. This is a great way to network. And it’s a good way to meet up with old friends and make new ones!
Before the Meal
- When sending a calendar invite, be sure to designate the time zone.
- Reconfirm the meeting the day before.
- Exchange cell phone numbers, in case of an emergency.
- Check with your guests ahead of time to ask if they have any food allergies or dietary restrictions. If you don’t get a chance to ask, pick a restaurant with a wide menu selection.
Selecting a Restaurant
- Choose a restaurant that has quality food, good customer service and friendly ambience.
- Use an app like www.opentable.com for making reservations.
- Use www.zagat.com for restaurant reviews.
- You can check with the hotel concierge for recommendations, but remember that sometimes they get perks, like a free meal, for recommending certain places. Tip them for their time and advice.
Master Social Graces
I read in Getting Ahead With Etiquette, by Tina Hayes, “If you take care of all the details beforehand and then wow your client with exemplary table manners, you will be able to focus on your client, and you will more easily move your business agenda forward.” More good tips to follow:
- Don’t be late.
- Turn off your cell phone.
- Allow your guest to order first. Then order the same number of courses, so you will keep pace with your dining companion. If your client orders soup, salad or dessert, follow suit.
- The general rule is to not discuss business at the beginning of the meal.
- Show respect to the wait staff.
- Order a meal that is easy to eat. Avoid messy and challenging foods.
- To avoid talking with food in your mouth, take small bites.
- Don’t drink too much.
Ordering Wine for the Table
The host usually orders wine for the table. A good rule of thumb is to start with a half bottle per person. If the group includes at least three people, you may want to order a red bottle and a white bottle.
To discreetly inform the server how much you would like to spend without announcing it to the table:
- Start by selecting a category of wine, and then find a price point you are comfortable with.
- Show the server your selection, and ask for his opinion.
- Place your finger on the price, rather than the name, when pointing out the wine. This communicates to the server the price range you are comfortable with.
For more tips on ordering wine, check out this website.
You Invite, You Pay
The common rule is “The person who offers the invitation pays. Protocol-wise, there are no exceptions to this rule unless expressly agreed upon beforehand.” One way to impress clients and friends is by arriving early and handing the restaurant your credit card before the meal begins. If you and a friend are hosting a dinner together, then you can split the check.
I try to respect my fellow-diners’ time. When appropriate, especially for breakfast and lunch, I let them know in advance how much time I have and ask if that fits into their schedule. When we’re finished, I verbally express appreciation for their time. Then I send a thank you note. That also gives me an opportunity to recap the things we discussed during the meal.
Please share your tips for successful networking, during meals or otherwise, by commenting below. We would love to get enough of them to fill another blog.
By Beverly Unrath