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Out to lunch: Are you still entertaining clients?

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For decades, entertaining key contacts was a primary mode of hooking and retaining clients. But is client entertaining now a thing of the past?

1st Jul 2024
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Typically, changes in behaviour are incremental and nowhere more so than in our overwhelmingly cautious profession. It takes a pandemic to turn the world upside down and alter not only perceptions, but practice.

Five years ago, one of the most valuable assets in many firms’ armouries lay in their ability to keep clients happy and attract more through the medium of entertainment.

Austerity largely passed the profession by but it was noticeable that many firms began to cut back on expensive, large-scale events such as post-Budget presentations. The motivation in that case seemed to be two-fold, since clients had begun to forsake these, especially once Chancellors started leaking most of the juicy bits days before they took the legendary battered briefcase to the dispatch box.

Liquid assets 

On a different scale, some partners in larger practices spent the majority of their time in an unhealthy alcoholic haze, not just for the hell of it but also because it was their major duty.

I recall a colleague whose working day comprised dealing with business matters in the morning and then disappearing to a pub or restaurant for boozy “meetings” with favoured clients or contacts, only leaving in time for what might have been an even more raucous night, entertaining yet more happy punters.

Even a couple of decades ago, every day he would have been “investing” hundreds of pounds of the firm’s profits for the cause, not to mention putting his heart, liver and – before smoking in pubs and restaurants was banned – lungs at severe risk.

While this long-gone gent took the policy to an extreme, many other colleagues would spend innumerable lunchtimes and evenings attempting to drum up business in pubs and restaurants.

In March 2020, communing with even a single individual other than co-habiting family members was banned in an instant, unless you happened to work in Downing Street. It took a couple of years to return to a point where lockdowns ceased completely and co-mingling could resume.

While that might have been the case from a legal and social perspective, for many firms the long-established tradition of client entertainment has diminished or disappeared completely.

Nowadays, meeting clients face-to-face has become much more of a rarity, making the chance to take them out for lunch after getting the serious stuff out of the way an impossibility.

Further, many of us only appear in the office a couple of times a week, while a large proportion of our clients are in a similar position, making meeting and entertaining them a much bigger endeavour.

There are also some who, having endured the ravages of coronavirus, would be reluctant to spend hours in claustrophobic, enclosed environments.

Maintaining contact

On the plus side, this means that entertainment expenditure is now much lower than ever. The quid pro quo is that we may be missing opportunities to retain valued clients and mix with movers and shakers who might introduce new ones.

If you have come up with alternative strategies to maintain contact with those that you regard as important for the future of your firm, we would love to hear about them.

If you have largely given up on client entertainment and not found an adequate replacement, perhaps this is a moment to take stock and consider whether it might be time to revisit the issue, even if on a much more limited scale than in the past. 

Perhaps your most valued client might enjoy an afternoon out at Wimbledon, a trip to the theatre or a visit to a spa. In each of these cases, you would enjoy a one-to-one opportunity like no other to make them happy and secure the work. 

As mentioned, larger events may also have largely bitten the dust. While it might be expensive, booking a box at Royal Ascot or, more modestly, a quiz night or a wine and cheese tasting could still have merit on a one-off basis.

At the most modest level, during the early days of the pandemic, some businesses attempted to use online entertainment to stay in touch with their clients, although this was typically be far less effective than something more personal.

The other possibility is that those days have definitively been consigned to the dustbin of history and that P&L add-back for client entertainment has now disappeared from your accounts forever.

Replies (12)

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Rob Swan
By Rob Swan
01st Jul 2024 12:48

I suspect it won't be too long before the likes of [coffee shop of choice] charge an expensable fee -is that a word? - for 'meeting space' with a 'free' coffee (or whatever) thrown in - not literally - and... away we go. Pre-Covid it was pretty much the standard location for many of my one-to-one meetings and catch-ups and I was always surprised that no enterprising person cottoned on with some 'entertaining' choices.

When business entertainment was expensable - when pubs actually existed and driving after a couple of pints was OK - they were the obvious choice. Byegone days :(

If Wimbledon and Royal Ascot are within reach then... that's not really comparable with a few drinks or a decent meal. I'm pretty sure most of us here are not in that league :/

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Replying to Rob Swan:
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By bendybod
02nd Jul 2024 13:39

I know at least one pub, which is part of a chain, locally, that does just that. Pay £10 (may have increased since I last did it) and get decent wifi, a quiet area and free coffee. Oh, and here's the menu!

Going back to the article, however used I am to spending much of my free time in the local pool or spa, I don't think I'd want to be having quality time with my clients in a spa!

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paddle steamer
By DJKL
01st Jul 2024 17:22

I still entertain but not clients, I am the client and it tends to be our accountants or solicitors I treat to a lunch.

However hardly anyone drinks at lunchtime these days, if you have six for lunch you are lucky if two glasses of wine get drunk, the rest are on fizzy or still water.

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Replying to DJKL:
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By bendybod
02nd Jul 2024 13:41

Presumably you're lucky if they drink water, given the price of wine in a restaurant!

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Replying to bendybod:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
03rd Jul 2024 10:54

Frankly I wouldn't mind what they drank, the cost is minimal compared with what they charge for their time, when a lawyer is running at £300 per hour £50 for a bottle of wine is only 10 minutes.

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Replying to DJKL:
Rob Swan
By Rob Swan
03rd Jul 2024 12:47

I remember opening my first bank account...

My father took me to introduce me to the manger, who opened his cocktail cabinet... My father had a G&T, I had a Coke - under 18. Good old days ;)

I fear standards have 'slipped' a little since the '70s!

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Replying to Rob Swan:
paddle steamer
By DJKL
03rd Jul 2024 13:31

I more got a lecture, no drink.

My father took me down to Bank of Scotland age 16, I got a deposit account with passbook. Two years later I got upgraded to a current account but this came with a severe lecture about not writing cheques with insufficient funds. (Think it was branch accountant not the manager who delivered the lecture, was never sure why he was called the branch accountant when he seemed to be more an assistant manager)

I am wondering if I am going to eventually get a longest customer award (when I owed them money in the late 80s they sent me Christmas cards) as I still have my main bank account with the same branch some 48 years later. (Albeit the branch got moved along the road a fair few years back)

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Replying to DJKL:
Rob Swan
By Rob Swan
03rd Jul 2024 15:46

I got an excellent tutorial on how to write a cheque correctly - "...pounds and x pence, NOT x p.", if I remember correctly, "And put a line through any unused space on the lines and after the numbers." And how to 'cross' a cheque - those where the days when not all cheques were crossed!

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By Jamesion
02nd Jul 2024 14:37

The pandemic has significantly reduced traditional client entertainment, once essential for retaining and attracting clients. Many firms have cut back on events and face-to-face meetings, opting for remote work instead. While this lowers costs, it also limits relationship-building opportunities.

If you've found new ways to engage clients or believe it's time to revisit client entertainment, even on a smaller scale, sharing your insights could be valuable. Is client entertainment obsolete, or can it be adapted for today's world? Your experiences could help shape future strategies.

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Replying to Jamesion:
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By FactChecker
04th Jul 2024 17:18

And your point is?
Or is this just ChatGPT regurgitation?

FWIW ... client entertainment has never been central to the majority of successful and growing businesses.
Client *engagement*? Now that's a different matter, but requires a bit more effort than dipping your hand in the marketing budget.

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Melchett
By thestudyman
09th Jul 2024 00:39

Not really client entertainment related but I would love the days of going for a boozy 2 hour lunch on a Friday to come back!

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Replying to thestudyman:
Rob Swan
By Rob Swan
09th Jul 2024 09:04

Roger that studyman. 12:30, The Dog and Duck.

On a less (or more) serious note - take your pick - wouldn't it be great if AW had the occasional 'Friendly Friday' when such things happened at various locations?
Well, I think so anyway ;)

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