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Once upon a time, it was common for companies to splurge on lavish entertainment to wine and dine their clients. Today’s tougher economic realities mean that many businesses can’t afford to splurge on client entertainment — and clients often don’t want them to. When you spend a lot of money on lavish gifts and entertainment for your clients — or even when you just seem like you have – you risk sending the wrong message.

When you spend money on your clients, they’ll assume that they’re paying for it in the form of higher prices for your products or services. Your employees could get upset if extravagant client treatment isn’t matched with raises and bonuses for them. After all, if the company is doing well enough to lavish posh gifts on the clients, it should be doing well enough to reward the employees too. However, you do want to keep your clients engaged and show them you care. The good news is that you don’t have to spend a fortune entertaining your clients well.

Host a Dinner at Your Home

You don’t have to be a French-trained chef in order to host a nice dinner for your clients in your home. If you can’t or don’t want to cook, hire a professional to cook the evening’s meal in your kitchen — a hired cook can even provide the ingredients. Consider bringing a wine expert to recommend the right pairings for your meal and even give a talk on wines.

Exercise Together

Are you good at a sport your client would like to learn? Offer to give him or her some lessons. Alternatively, you could invite your client on a hiking trip or a bike ride. Use your discretion; this is really only a good option for physically active clients. It’s always a good idea to make sure there’s a cafe or coffee shop nearby, in case your client would like to stop for a break.

Use the Same Restaurant Every Time You Entertain

If you do a great deal of client entertaining, choose a restaurant you like and use it every time. This way, you’ll develop strong relationships with the restaurant staff, allowing you more control in the setting. When making arrangements for a meal with the client, it’s always best to work directly with the manager. Don’t make any reservations, event arrangements or table selections with the receptionist. Always speak directly with the manager about the details of your event — this is another reason having a relationship with a particular restaurant is a good idea.

If you have a relationship with a specific restaurant that you always use for client entertaining, you’ll be able to request the servers you like best. Make your arrangements a few days in advance, and call the day before to confirm and order any specialty items your client might want. Having a relationship with a specific restaurant will also make it easier to do things like order off the menu, arrange for more private seating or arrange to have an appetizer waiting at your table when you arrive. Make sure you tip the staff generously. Get to know the owner of the restaurant and don’t be afraid to take the opportunity to introduce your client to him or her.

Take Advantage of Social Media

Social media is an especially cost-effective way to market your business while entertaining clients. Younger clients will appreciate your social media-savvy if you use platforms like MeetUp to organize client entertainment events. Whenever you host group get-togethers, don’t be afraid to encourage your attendees to tweet about the proceedings in real time, using a relevant hashtag. Twitter is an excellent platform for spreading awareness of your corporate events.

Have Snacks Delivered

Save money on client dinners out by skipping the dinners out and simply having snacks delivered to your client’s home or office instead. Send a lunchtime pizza, a box of doughnuts or, during the warmer weather, an ice cream vendor. A box of chocolates, a fruit basket or selections of gourmet coffees are some other great ideas that should fit into any budget.

Organize a Tour

Group tours are an affordable way to get to know your clients and show them your appreciation. Organize a tour of an interesting local attraction, such as a local brewery or historic site. Let your clients’ interests be your guide. Arrange for your clients to receive souvenirs of their trip.

Entertaining your clients does not have to cost an arm and a leg, and in fact, your clients will be more inclined to stick around if it does not — they’ll feel more confident that they’re not being overcharged if you’re not spending a lot of money to shower them with lavish gifts. Think about your clients’ likes, dislikes and interests, and offer entertainment options they will enjoy.

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