Clients are like plants - except instead of watering them and placing them in direct sunlight, you need to take them to dinner sometimes. And also like plants, they have very specific needs. You have to go somewhere that’s nice, but not awkwardly formal, and fun while still being quiet enough for a conversation about why their “[insert company name] & chill” campaign is a bad idea. It should also have food options that will appeal to just about everyone. Here are 13 corporate-card-worthy spots that meet all these criteria.
You spend a large portion of your life at work, so instead of having an extra meal surrounded by people you are contractually obligated to be nice to, plan a business lunch instead. Cafe No Se has brunch every day of the week until 3pm and serves things like avocado toast, quinoa bowls, and a great burger. Plus, the client will love South Congress during the day and will probably be very confused as to how there are so many people shopping and drinking wine at lunch on a weekday.
When dinner is going to involve more substantial questions than “Where else should we eat in Austin?” you’ll need somewhere you can actually hear one another. Olamaie is a quiet spot in an old house near downtown that serves high-end Southern food, and it’s a good place to have a semi-serious, multi-hour conversation. Sure, you never thought you’d pay this much for biscuits, but these are perfect biscuits and you’re not paying, right?
Those few months a year when you’re not sweating through your work-appropriate button down call for meals outdoors, and Olive and June’s patio is one of our favorite places to go since it feels a little bit like you’re eating in a treehouse (on the ground). Start with a charcuterie and cheese board, order a bottle of wine for the table, and let your group get settled in before the full meal. The client will feel so relaxed, you’ll have them vowing to work with you until your kids are through college. Just be sure to get that in writing.
Maybe your clients only visit once a year and you have something confidential to discuss, or maybe you just have a client who won’t stop talking about how watching Game of Thrones could never compare to reading the books. Either way, rent out the Flour House, a secret cave room under La Condesa that’s one of the best and most unique private dining situations in the city. If you can’t score the cave, or you’re looking for a bit more in terms of decor, you can also just grab a table in the restaurant or on the patio instead. The street corn, tostadas, and margaritas should help smooth things over once someone mentions not realizing the show wasn’t based on true events.
When you have a local client who has lived in town since the days when Austin City Limits was just a TV show, they might not want to go somewhere that opened recently enough to have sidewalk scooter parking. Vespaio is a solid Italian spot on South Congress that you can bring a big group to so you can try a bit of everything, like spaghetti carbonara, sausage and roasted pepper pizza, and chicken parm.
Choosing Mexican food feels like a safe bet for that client who has a recurring “meeting” on her calendar for Margarita Monday. The drink menu at ATX Cocina has an almost uncountable number of tequilas and mezcals, yet somehow the food is still the main draw. The crudos are great, like one with hamachi and papaya, but they’re small so get a few and then round them out with some of the bigger plates like carne asada or chili-roasted chicken with white mole. Those should help make sure no one regrets agreeing to a six-month campaign targeted to potential dog-parents after trying one too many tequilas.
Not everyone works at a coworking/goat yoga shared warehouse on the East Side, so when we want something a bit more classic, we head to Fonda San Miguel. This Mexican spot in North Austin is an institution and the perfect balance between casual and still impressive to out of towners. It has a super colorful interior, along with great queso fundido and cochinita pibil, though you really can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.
There are plenty of places in Austin to go for large amounts of meat, but Eddie V’s is our favorite for a big client meal. It’s a large steakhouse a block from the convention center that stays relatively quiet and is somewhere everyone can start with martinis, seafood, and wedge salads before ordering a few steaks for the whole group to try.
If your client hasn’t asked you to take them to get barbecue yet, it might be because they’re afraid to eat off wax paper with the people they sometimes all-caps-email-yell at. And while you need to convince them to try the metal tray/Wonder Bread kind of place, Lambert’s works perfectly for a nicer lunch or dinner. Try the fried green tomatoes or deviled eggs to start and then get a mix of meats like pulled pork and brisket.
Jack Allen is a really comfortable restaurant, with sparkly lights inside, big windows, and lots of kitschy art on the walls, so even though you’d never bring your clients to your house, you can get a similar sort of feeling here. They serve comfort food like barbacoa stackers and pork tacos, have a whole section called “Chicken Fried Anything,” and bring a bunch of dishes out in mason jars. The restaurant has been around for a few years and has a few locations, so it’s easy enough to get a reservation, and everyone will feel taken care of, which you can take credit for instead of the restaurant to win some points.
Having a client in town is a really great opportunity to not have to eat another sad desk salad. Take advantage of the opportunity and schedule a midday offsite at Elizabeth St. Cafe. It’s a really impressive looking spot, from the pastel colors and fun wallpaper to the colorful macarons, but it’s still very casual - and is especially great on a sunny day. Weather depending, pho is always a good choice here, but the spring rolls and pork belly banh mi are also crowd-pleasers on warmer days. Stay for a coffee and really extend lunch so you “accidentally” miss that meeting about budget planning you were supposed to get back for.
Ideal for a one-on-one meeting, Epicerie is a quiet cafe/gourmet grocery store with small tables and a healthy-ish menu. Come here for a breakfast or lunch client meeting when you really need to get some facetime in and don’t want to yell over the conversation at the table next to you. We always like the salmon and kale salad or the cured salmon toast for lunch and while you could do dinner here as well, the place can get a bit romantic at night, which probably isn’t what you’re going for.
We all have that client who sends an email to say they’ll be five minutes late for breakfast, then a text that they’ll be just ten minutes more, and then finally show up around lunchtime. Plan to wait for them at Texas French Bread. It’s a casual all-day spot where breakfast meetings can easily turn into lunch ones. Try the spinach omelette or grab a pastry and coffee while you wait, then order a sandwich when your client finally arrives.