How to Entertain Clients with Class

How to Entertain Clients with Class

By Caroline Levchuck, Yahoo! HotJobs

For some people, entertaining clients is as much fun as entertaining their in-laws. But showing clients a good time is good for business -- as long as you get it right.

Use these tips to master the art of blending business and pleasure.

Planning Makes Perfect

If you want your time with clients to be successful, go on a fact-finding mission first. Find out what your clients' likes and dislikes are and plan accordingly.

"Learn as much as you can," says Maya Kalman, founder of Swank Productions, a Manhattan-based event-planning and design firm. "You can never have too much information."

At Swank, Kalman and her staff fool-proof all their events by careful planning and thinking events through. Kalman says the best way to safeguard against a mishap at a client outing is to imagine worst-case scenarios and then create a plan to avoid such incidents or address them if they do occur.

"If you're afraid clients won't be able to find a venue or restaurant, plan for that," Kalman says. "Provide transportation or escorts to make sure they get there. You must be able to anticipate problems."

Muster More Than a Meal

Everyone likes to eat out, and clients are no exception. However, try to plan an additional activity or outing that will make your meeting memorable. Kalman recommends doing something with clients they haven't done before. "If you're going to take them to a show and their tastes are a bit edgy, try something like 'Avenue Q,'" she says.

Swank Productions has also helped arrange adult scavenger hunts for its corporate clients. "We work with a company called Watson Adventures that writes these group scavenger hunts," says Kalman. "Some feature finding things in certain artwork at the Met or the MOMA, kind of like The DaVinci Code. It's a great bonding and team-building experience."

Sporting events, golf outings or touring a local landmark can be fun. Whatever you choose, Kalman says to be wary of the shock factor. "A gentleman's club or comedy clubs can both make clients uncomfortable," she says. "Know their likes and limitations before planning anything like that."

Set the Mood

Entertaining clients can feel like play, but it's still work, so make sure you set an appropriate mood. "Don't go to a place where the music is so loud that it prohibits conversation," recommends Kalman. Conversely, she says, "Don't put too much pressure on people to interact with each other immediately."

If you're worried about a lack of energy, she recommends a well-orchestrated surprise at some point during the day or evening. "A timely surprise really adds life to an event or outing," she says. "Right now, a lot of folks are planning small, surprise after-parties following an event, and they've been very successful and fun."

Balance the Booze

At many company outings, food and alcohol go hand in hand. "Feeding people is really important," Kalman says. "A lot of people focus on having drinks first, but you must offer some food as well. You don't want to set up a situation where a client overindulges and does something embarrassing."

Also, she says, "You want people to keep their energy up. Making sure food is available at healthy intervals throughout the day and evening ensures that."

A client may not always ask for what she needs, so Kalman recommends checking in, even if you're just making eye contact. "Oftentimes, people have a question or a need and are hesitant to bring it up," she says. "Scan their faces for a curious look."