The dress codes established for the interview, for the trade show and for the business meeting have been established a while back. The rules wax and wane, but not too far from the general basics. It gets a little more complicated when food is involved–not food from a buffet, but sitting down with a small group of people, face to face, for at least an hour and a half. Now it’s not just about your outfit, it’s about your outfit transitioning from business office to business impression at a restaurant.
The logical train of thought may lead one to think that you should wear an outfit to your dinner meeting that you would wear to a business presentation. However that’s not entirely the best method. If you wear a suit to the office and the client really wants to go to a restaurant that specializes in ribs and BBQ sauce, then you may convey the impression of ‘uptight corporate’ versus ‘flexible working partner’. That venue may be more suitable for pressed slacks and a crisp top. Something clean, professional, but lacking in ‘stuffy’.
Depending on where you are going, dress appropriately, even if it doesn’t coincide with your dress code. You want to make your client or business partner comfortable. You can’t do that if your outfit clashes with the restaurant décor. That doesn’t mean you can get away with jeans, but it does mean that you should do your homework on where you are going–find out how the average clientele dresses and take the next step up. Remember, this is still a business meeting.
Taking the opposite approach, if you are meeting at a very upscale venue, that doesn’t give you men the reason to unbutton the top button of your silk shirt or for you women to wear your low-cut blouse or skirt with a slit that causes wandering eyes to keep on wandering. Just because the cocktail servers dress for tips, that doesn’t mean you should too. However, that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t kick your outfit up a notch. If you are going to a fine dining venue or upscale cocktail lounge, maybe wear those signature cufflinks or don a stylish cowl neck to replace your blouse under the suit jacket. There is a lot of back and forth with business meeting dress code, and that is precisely because the activity is right on the line between business and dinner. It is your responsibility to marry the two wardrobes into one – sad to say, no one said it was easy.
Men should keep it standard, wear a suit and tie. If it’s a much more casual atmosphere, lose the jacket and wear a button-down shirt and slacks with a belt. I wouldn’t advise wearing a polo unless you are at a golf outing.
Women should also keep it simple but make it more professional than the business casual office is used to. Wear slacks or a knee-length skirt with pumps (ballet flats I’m sorry to report, are never appropriate for a business meeting) and a tucked-in blouse with a jacket. Another option is a just-below-the-knee dress with a cardigan and/or blazer. Simple jewelry or a single statement piece that isn’t too overwhelming to the outfit. And carry a larger preferably leather purse to carry your personal and business belongings–if you can avoid the briefcase I would recommend it. The dinner meeting is an excuse to do business out of the office, and it’s usually appreciated on both ends to take some of the business accessories out of the evening.
For all business individuals, it is very important not only to look professional but also to be comfortable. Yes, this is a meeting…but you will be eating…in close proximity to those of which you are trying to start and/or keep a business relationship. Don’t wear anything too tight; and if just in case there is stray pasta sauce, stick to darker colors.