Insight: how to draw in the suits

by on for Hospitality & Caterer News

Insight: how to draw in the suits

The lunchtime trade is alive and flourishing in cities – not just London – and towns across the UK. But not every restaurant, despite its location, attracts the lunchtime ‘suits’. Here, Nicky Richmond of Brecher Solicitors provides some key guidance to trading successfully at lunchtime.

Drawing in the suits

When we talk about drawing in the suits, we are generally talking about the lunchtime trade. Having worked as a lawyer in Central London for nigh on 30 years, I’ve had a lifetime of lunches, many of them with people who wear suits.

I’ve lived through the boozy lunches of the 80s, the abstemious water-filled 90s and the recessionary restraint of the post-2007 crash. But at no time did people stop going out altogether. And these days, it’s a combination of big lunchers and clean living low-carbers, so trying to appeal to all is no mean feat.

The secret for attracting suits?

There are certain essentials for the suits, who will tend to visit the tried and trusted in times of need and it’s hard to get them to stray from their safe places. So what’s the secret of success for attracting suits?

  • Ease of booking: make it easy to book and cancel – business lunches often need to be re-arranged at short notice and cancellation fees are a no-no. Everyone understands the problem with no-shows but, knowing how often lunches are cancelled at the last minute, one needs to book somewhere that can accommodate a late dropout. In the long run, you will get more business through repeat bookings.
  • Speedy service: there’s usually a time limit to lunchtime entertaining and no-one wants to be looking at their watch, stressing over whether they have time for dessert, let alone coffee. Restaurants that guarantee a turnaround time are a godsend.
  • Fixed-price menus: suits often have an entertainment budget and need to know that they can keep the costs down. There may well be legendary lunches still taking place but, often, it’s all business.
  • Privacy: if it’s a business lunch, suits need to know that their sensitive subjects aren’t the subject of someone else’s supper-talk. Tables spaced at a reasonable distance are good, or end or corner tables.
  • Music: anything too loud and it doesn’t feel right for a business lunch. Discreet enough to block out adjoining conversations, preferably there would be no music at all.
  • Discreet service: actually this works for everyone – nothing is more annoying when trying to chat up clients than waiting staff checking if you like the course they delivered to you not two minutes earlier. This goes for wine too – usually people are very happy to pour it themselves.
  • Who pays? For female suits, it’s important that the restaurant gets it right. Never assume that the woman isn’t paying, and check before pointing the payment machine at a male. I find that some of my clients don’t take kindly to being called Mr Richmond. Or being given the cash machine at payment time when I’m taking them out – it’s just embarrassing.

But what about the food?

Suits may not be the most adventurous of diners and, if it’s a true “suit lunch”, it isn’t about the food so much as the setting. Consistency, choice, safety, value, comfort. These are what will draw the suits to your restaurant, time and again. Make your restaurant one of their safe places and you’ll enter into their regular rotation.