Putting on the Ritz (or Hilton, or Hyatt)
The glamour of a smart hotel can rub off on you - if you're lucky.
Take a ruthless look at your office. If it strikes you as less than impressive, client meetings there could harm your carefully honed image.
So you might want to capitalise on the style and status oozed by a fancy hotel. Yes, you can recruit the lobby or cafe of a five-star establishment as a makeshift venue that feels good and buffs your image. Just ask digital marketing agency owner Frederic Chanut, who is compiling a review of Sydney's top hotel lobbies.
Drawn to hotel lobbies' "refined, slower pace" compared to high-street cafes, Chanut judges hotels by several benchmarks. For starters, each prospective hub should be downtown, in case something comes up, forcing a venue shift.
Old-school or modern? Make sure your hotel choice matches your clients. Photo: Getty Images
Other location details he scrutinises are the distance from the client's office or the place of the last meeting. He looks for plentiful power plugs and wi-fi access, and a calm atmosphere. Chanut says carpets, plants and thick wallpaper are good because they soak up noise.
Ensure that the style matches your invitees, he says. His lobby review defines the design flavour of Sydney's Shangri-La as "Asian chic" and describes the Menzies as "old school" and Swissotel as "trendy flash". His coffee pricing figures range from $4.50 (Stamford) to $7.50 (Langham).
His top overall pick is Swissotel. It is secluded and features pods for privacy. The feel is "modern, trendy, upbeat", he says, adding that the staff are great.
His other favourite haunt is the Bistro Fax at the Radisson Blu Plaza near Wynyard. "Great location. Right mix of old and modern. Great staff. Probably one of the best spots to have a meeting." The worst spots, which he skips, are run-down or - at the other extreme - pretentious.
After you find a fit, if you are expecting more than three or four people, don't just waltz in – ring in advance, he says. Never schedule the meeting before 9am or after 4pm because then guests may be eating breakfast or checking in or out. "So it can get a little crowded and noisy and smelly." Arrive early to secure a spot and set up, armed with enough battery power to last the duration.
Resist the temptation to order any serious food or booze, unless you want to strike an after-hours drinks mood. But do not wait more than an hour to order coffee because that will bug staff.
"Get them in your pocket" through tipping and playing nice. Then, whenever you hold a meeting on their territory, "they will help you make the experience just right". Keep your client sweet by covering hospitality costs, Chanut suggests.
Typically, he spends $7 per hour per person, which may sound steep when advances in video conferencing mean you can run a meeting remotely for virtually nothing.
Still, the yen for a traditional, personal, human connection persists. Branding consultant Steven Lewis meets clients at the lobby of the Marriott on Sydney's Pitt Street because the staff are professional and unobtrusive, he says.
"They're not forever interrupting to ask if everything is all right or trying to get you to order something else. Drinking three cups of coffee in an hour isn't good for anyone," he notes.
In other lobbies he has tested, the staff are pushy. Or the vibe recalls a crowded shopping arcade.
Pick somewhere low-key, with ample seating – if all seats are taken it is embarrassing, Lewis says. He also warns against noise.
"Australian interior design does favour the hard surface, which is an acoustic nightmare," he explains, adding that the best hotels' coffee shops often occupy teeming, echo chamber-like marble lobbies. So a hotel "one rung down" might be better.
The key interior resource is comfortable chairs set at tables, Lewis says. A toilet also helps, he reckons.
For any client meeting, Lewis wears business gear or a smart-casual jeans ensemble. In contrast, at information technology-based hotel meetings, Chanut has worn thongs and T-shirt, but he still champions a suit: corporate attire.
"Act as if you are meant to be there," Chanut says, "not as if you were sneaking in: don't dress up as a bum or someone that just came out of the gym."
For more information on Australian hotels, visit The Australian Hotels Association.