Monday, October 21, 2019

Can stirring a pot of chicken soup, serve up better business and personal relationships?

How does my cooking Chicken Soup, drive business discussions?  How do they relate, and not talking about ingredients and instructions, but how can they help progress business and personal relationships?

These business discussions on golf courses, ball games, and entertainment venues help progress business relationships as well as personal ones.   

But what if you don't play golf?  or sitting through a professional baseball game makes you root for the winning team just to get out sooner?  or what if you want a more quiet and friendly environment to get to know your colleague that isn't the usual bar or loud restaurant?  Well, one avenue less discussed, is inviting these colleagues and friends to your home for a dinner. 

It may not have the same "excitement" of a Steelers' Box seat, or a seat in the stadium of the US Open watching Serena Williams play.  But, in our hustle and bustle world, a simple meal at your home can be a unique approach to engage your colleagues and business prospects.  

I wouldn't recommend it for someone you have never met, and you certainly wouldn't invite them if it could be taken as a "date". In a more relaxed environment , in the comfort of your home,  sharing  a nice meal you have the opportunity to connect casually and get to know each other.  You may also find along the way what their real business priorities are as well as suggest new business opportunities for the future, and hopefully make a new friend as well.

Finding time to create a good but simple menu to cook and entertain from home has worked wonders for me and with the right plan, you can amaze your guests with little pressure on you.  

Here a are a few tips, along with lessons learned, i have picked up along the way: 

1) Practice is always a good first step, don't experiment on company.  Find a few recipes that you like, and perfect them so you are confident and comfortable making them.  I would suggest foods that are not time sensitive, as your guests may be delayed, and you really don't want a piece of fish that could be trying out for the sole of a shoe.  But there are some go to recipes like a meatloaf, pot roast, roasted chicken and others that you can keep warm and in many case time can even help the taste.  If you are really crafty, something like a Pot Roast or Meatloaf will be better the next day so you can make it ahead of time.  Also, consider the season, for a summer meal I have made a "salad bar" where the ingredients are cooled like chicken or salmon, which can be made ahead and the sides can either all be home made or some from your favorite gourmet store of local deli.  Remember, the goal is a nice relaxed dinner, not tension that makes you look like you have been walking a tight rope between buildings.

2) Next, be prepared, plans don't have to be complicated, but you will benefit from a simple plan from start to finish.  I made the Beef Bolognese recipe from the NY Times.  Was supposed to be the best of all time, and was quite good, but when they said it took all day, they meant it.  Having to double the recipe for company made the time longer than I had for dinner.  Luckily, this was for family so ordering ordering in was OK, but if it had been for a business dinner I would have been quite embarrassed.  

Plans should start, with the menu starting with appetizers and drinks when they walk in the door.  What would be a good appetizer to start with?  Simple works, chips and salsa.  Easy toast your own pita or tortillas into chips and wait for them to thank you!  Check your local market if they have vegetable tray and dip or even a simple cheese plate.  My experience, people come in with business on their mind and are hungry and thirsty.  So, you want them comfortable from the moment they enter your home.  Don't forget about music and if you have pets make sure your guests are aware.

3) Ask, your guests ahead of time about food allergies, vegetarian or vegan, and casually ask if they drink.  You can adjust your menu, but not asking can cause what happened to me recently.  A family friend sat there with steak and a spicy curry dish in front of her and asked about dessert.  She happened to be vegetarian who didn't like spicy foods. This was embarrassing for sure, but if there had been a business opportunity on the line not sure they would have admired my thoughtfulness (or lack thereof!).  With the aid of Google, you can search for recipes and adjust.

4) Finally, plan for dessert and coffee, don't forget.  Everyone is on a diet, until you put something fabulous on their plate.  Find a local bakery that will delight your guests, or if you want to bake something over the weekend go for it.  I don't bake "pretty" so tends to be cookies or something that doesn't have to look a certain way to be successful but that sweet will be their last memory of your evening.  A For those that insist on being on a diet, keep some fresh fruit handy.   Coffee is also good, especially if there has been some wine or spirits served during the meal.

Some other thoughts find a celebrity chef (I like the Barefoot Contessa!) and see if their recipes work for you. This gives you a go to source for new recipes that you can make with confidence. Flowers can be a nice choice, but not heavily scented ones, same tip for candles.  You will find an urge to clean dishes in between courses, or toward the end of dinner.  Hold off and wait till they leave.  The point is to get to know each other and you washing dishes creates distance, and you can finish off the bottle of wine while cleaning up from a well cooked and hosted dinner. 

Finally, don't let the cooking get in the way.  With thoughtful plans, beer and pizza, can work in a pinch.  What you want is a nice relaxing evening at your home that will be appreciated and may just be what they needed to relax and get to know you better. 

Remember, People buy and do business with people they like, and what better way than a nice evening and meal at your home.

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