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Methods: Entertaining clients

by David Blakey

Entertaining clients with tea or coffee during a meeting can be an interesting exercise in consulting methods.

[Monday 9 December 2002]

If you want to provide refreshments for clients at your premises, you need to make some decisions. As we are consultants, we shall look at the strategy, implementation, operation and resource levels of this process.


First, look for alternatives. These are the best alternatives, in descending order.

  1. Clubs

    If there is a good club near to you, then check out how you can become a member. If you know someone who is a member, then that can be useful. I don't just mean that it can be useful for them to sponsor your own application for membership. I mean that you can ask them to invite you to the club at various times. There may be times, such as breakfast and lunch, when the club staff concentrate on work in the dining room. The lounge may be neglected. You do not want to take a client to your club if they are going to have to wait for service.

  2. Hotels

    Hotel lounges do not have the same feeling of exclusivity as club lounges, but they can be adequate in every other way. Again, you should check the standard of service at various times of day. At hotels, staff may be diverted into work for conferences and other events, as well as for dining.

  3. Coffee shops

    Coffee shops can work well, too. Some coffee shops are attached to hotels, without being the hotel lounge itself, and this can be a better answer than the lounge. Generally, you should avoid a coffee shop that is inside something else. So forget about the coffee shop if it is inside a department store or a shopping mall.

Consider that, if you are going to do all your client entertaining at this venue, then so will everyone else in your business. If you're a single consultant, then a club is the best option. It can become expensive if you're a larger business and you need several people to be members of the club.

Consider also that you and your clients will be in public at this place. If you work as a consultant within a particular sector and if your clients know that you work for other clients in that sector and if they see this as an advantage for them, then fine. But, in other circumstances, you and your client may not want to see another consultant from your business who is entertaining one of your client's competitors.

To put this in the terms of management consulting, If you have no good external supplier of these services, you may have to do them yourself in-house. Remember that it is not your core competence, however; continue to look for an external supplier.


External supplier

The main issue with an external supplier is how you will pay.

  1. You can pay for each transaction.

    If you pay each time that you go to the place, you will have to get receipts and keep these properly organized. So will your employees, and you will have to settle expense claims.

  2. You can pay using a charge card.

    If you have employees, you may decide that you do not want them to have company charge cards.

  3. You can have an account with the supplier.

    Your employees will just sign every time that they visit the place, and you can settle a single account periodically. You may find that the limited opportunity for abuse outweighs the convenience of this method.


Decide where your facilities will be.

  1. Kitchen

    You can have a separate kitchen, containing all your facilities and supplies.

    Other members of your staff will also use the room. You will rely on these people to keep the kitchen clean and neat.

  2. Meeting room

    You can have all the facilities in the meeting room. If you have more than one meeting room, you might consider having a separate kitchen for the meeting rooms. You can consider this option anyway, if you have enough space.


Decide how you will manage refreshments.

  1. On arrival

    You can get them when your clients arrive. This may mean your clients having to go to the kitchen with you. You will take them to the meeeting room first, so that they can leave their brief-cases and anything else they have with them. Then you will go to the kitchen and get the rrefreshments that you want. Then you will all return to the meeting room.

  2. Before arrival

    You can get everything ready in the meeting room. That will include biscuits and pots of coffee and tea or hot water. If you know that your guests prefer something else, then you can have that available as well. Or you can go and get it from the fridge in the kitchen when your guests arrive and you have told them what you have available.

It does help if you know what your clients' preferences are. You should add this to the information that you collect about them. You should add other information as well, if you know it, such as a preference for halal or kosher food.

Client personnel database
NameDavid Blakey
BeveragesCoffee, black, no sugar
Not cappuccino or latte.
Pepsi Blue
SnacksBiscuits: shortbread; shrewsburys (‘Jammy Dodgers’)
Any chocolate biscuit.
MealsIndian, French.
Not Italian.
Not Indonesian.
Reds, except for dessert wines.
Does not drink alcohol at lunch. Do not offer!

With this information, if I were your client, you might ensure that a cafetiere of coffee and a plate of chocolate biscuits were available. Anyone in your company could determine that taking me to lunch at a bistro and ordering a bottle of Evian water would be a good idea. Collect this information and use it.


If you entertain in-house, you will need a variety of utensils, depending on how you organize your refreshments. You may need enough coffee-pots or cafetieres to keep a meeting room running for a day. You may need enough cups and saucers so that clients can serve themselves at a coffee machine for a full day. You will need to arrange fresh supplies.

As consultants, we can work out most of our requirements through storyboarding and walkthroughs.

If we do apply our consulting methods to our plans for entertaining, we can really impress our clients. That isn't just with our fare, but also with our knowledge of their likes and dislikes. Our attention to and respect for their needs can help us to win business.

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The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.

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