Wining and Dining in Business – A Cautionary Tale

Let’s face it, wining and dining are an integral part of business these days.  The act of taking a potential client out to dinner, or furthering your career over lunch with the CEO can be one of the most stressful, and rewarding experiences you will face as a professional. And frankly, I think it is easier than golf!

I was doing some reflecting the other day as to what experiences in my life really sparked me and pushed me to dive into wine.  Eventually,  I discovered a new calling and decided to make wine my career.  When it comes right down to it, I never would have taken this path if it were not for my background in Business Development and Sales.

Out of University I spent the first 12 Years of my career in Finance, Fine Art and then Real Estate and Construction.  I was a professional Business Development Strategist and Salesperson in each of the roles I held.  Being in that world involved glorious dinners, with very well to-do individuals, that I desperately wanted to do business with. Each and every business meeting, networking event, or dinner always involved some aspect of food and wine.  Not only that, but after doing homework on my clients, I quickly learned that MANY of them looked at wine as a hobby.  They cared about it, and they knew their stuff.  Whether they collected it, took vacations to wine regions, or simply got a thrill of showing off their wealth by ordering something rare and expensive on the menu, it was often a major point of conversation.  When I started out, I knew very little about wine.  Looking back, I laughably realize I knew nothing.  But I thought I did.

Wine is a great topic of conversation in business.  Bonding over a well chosen bottle can be a catalyst to great success – If you know what you are talking about.  

I remember the first time I sat down for dinner with the CEO of a major company we were trying to do business with.  New to business, I was secretly terrified going into that ‘meeting’.  I was new to this world, and I had an impression I needed to make.  I was prepared with my subtle but ultimately persuasive pitch.  I knew about the challenges his company was facing, and how we had a solution to their problem.  I also did my personal research, and knew that he had a huge wine collection, and had just come back from a trip to Bordeaux.  We sat down, the waiter asked if what we would like to drink, and the CEO proceeded to say we would like to see the wine list.  Then, to secret horror, he handed that list to me and said “I think I will have the steak, please take a look and order what you would like.”

Clueless, I ordered a bottle of very inexpensive white wine from France.  Because… Well…

  1. I liked white wine
  2. He had just been to Bordeaux
  3. I didn’t want to break the bank

I liked wine, but knew nothing about French wine.  I took the Internet’s advice of “try something new so you can talk about it.”   I opened up my mouth and started talking about the very little I actually knew about wine.

In one 30 second decision, I lost credibility.

I ordered the steak too… and my host and I gritted our teeth through what was France’s version of Barefoot Sauvignon Blanc.  It was BAAAAD.  And with the food, it was even worse.  One sip and I knew why he raised his eyebrow, but as a polite host he said nothing to persuade me to make a different choice.  Instead of talking about business he tried to dive into my wine knowledge.  I tried to steer the conversation back, but had quickly realized my mistake, and became a ball of nerves.  Pardon my French, but I probably looked like a Bullshitter.  A silly ordering mistake had gotten the better of me, and I felt like I had already lost credibility before we had even really began.  Right or wrong, I suddenly felt incompetent in the situation, and it probably showed.

12 years later of wining and dining clients and business partners, numerous professional wine designations, and a little life experience – I now fully understand the art of wining and dining in business.

In the professional world, you should make sure you arm yourself with enough knowledge to do it right, and if not be sure to ask for help!  Always be honest, and don’t embelish your knowledge.  A real wino will know.  My best piece of advice, defer to the expert at the table, or start becoming educated yourself.  You will be pleasantly surprised how far sound knowledge will take you!

Have an important meeting coming up and have a question about wine, or a wine list?  Follow this blog, and then ask away in the comments of this post.  I will happily answer to save you the embarrassment I went through!


             –  Kathryn



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