One of my favorite places to do business these days is at a bar. Power breakfasts and power lunches have become the norm and invoke all the informality and ease of doing business in a brightly lit conference room. Or dentist’s surgery room. This, of course, makes it harder to make deals since everyone acts like they are meeting with their date’s parents. Best behavior is on display at all times and personal idiosyncrasies are hidden away, along with agendas.
Trying to win new business, gain financial backing or scope out a potential joint venture requires genuine insight into the people and personalities that you are considering getting into bed with. You need to work out how much you like them before deciding if you want to get to first (or second or third) base. Preferably as quickly as possible. See? Not that different to dating.
Let’s be clear though. I am not talking about drinking copious amounts of booze here, despite how that seems to work out for Mad Men’s, Don Draper. It is about getting people into a genuinely informal environment. It’s the fastest way I know to cut through the B.S. and get down to the business of doing business. So here are my top tips when doing business in a bar.
1. Know your territory.
Never arrange a meeting in a bar that you don’t know. No one is going to stick around to talk shop in a noisy bar with harsh lighting and wait staff who clearly want you to move on.
The Manager of Lake Buena Vista Resort Village & Spa often finds himself meeting over drinks to do business. And who knows business in a bar better than the hospitality business themselves. He advises that if the answer to any of the following questions is “no”, you need to find another bar:
– Are the wait staff efficient?
– Are the wait staff polite?
– Is the volume of music/crowd noise low enough to hear each other easily?
– Will you be able to book or easily get a table?
– Is the lighting and décor inviting?
These may seem like superficial considerations, but they will make a huge difference to how successful your dealings are.
2. Leave the Appletini for now.
The drink that you order matters. It sends a signal about who you are and what your business or idea represents. Unless you are trying to win the rights to produce a musical about Carmen Miranda’s life, anything with fruit or little umbrellas is clearly a no-no.
Wines, beers and ales are obvious safe choices. So are drinks with an “and” in them – think scotch and soda, gin and tonic, whisky and dry. Because they are watered down they help you pace your drinking and that is a good thing.
Also remember that not everyone is a drinker so if someone orders plain water, be an adult about it and don’t flinch. You are not in a frat house.
3. Eating is not cheating.
Ensure your bar also offers suitable bar food. Your aim is to have a relaxed meeting, not a sozzled one. If the meeting goes well it may go for a while in which case food will be needed to keep everyone’s heads level. So it is probably best to avoid places promoting Taco Tuesday, all you can eat anything or a range of finger foods that require the wearing of a man-sized bib.
4. Timing is everything.
Be aware of the type and size of crowd which frequents your chosen bar at different times of day. You don’t want to find yourself in a place which may suit city workers by day but is overrun by university students after 7pm. Also, long waits for drinks (or to use the bathrooms) will disrupt the momentum of your discussions.
5. Don’t be afraid to get personal.
Allow yourself to relax and enjoy things a little. This will give your meeting partners permission to do the same and is the whole point of getting out of the boardroom. Do you really want to do business with someone you can’t enjoy a drink with?
So consider taking your business date to the bar. Most entrepreneurs think outside the box anyway and will appreciate a fresh approach. Just make sure you take the time to scout the best locations however, and take into account who you are meeting with and why.