Where To Go For Dinner When You Can Expense It
The best places to eat and drink when your company is paying for it.
One of the perks of living in San Francisco is that you’re surrounded by some of the best restaurants in the country. Some of the downsides are that you have to spend most of your time working, and some of those places are so expensive that you’ll want to clone yourself so that you can enjoy the meal and work off the check simultaneously.
Fortunately, your office has pretty great perks, and in addition to your branded company puffy vest, sometimes the company will pay for dinner. This guide has the spots you need to know about when you’re expensing a big meal, whether it’s to impress someone into joining your team, win over a few potential clients, or want to show your employees that they’re doing a good job.
This is one of the last old-school, fine dining restaurants in San Francisco, and taking partners here is a good way to show them that you’re not screwing around. Choose a set of three, four, or five items from the prix fixe menu, and order a bottle of wine from their phone book-sized wine list. Everything you get will be perfectly cooked, from the lobster with potato puree to the massive filet. And if you have trouble choosing, the staff will be happy to suggest a few things from the menu, especially the peanut butter bar dessert, which you should not miss.
Sometimes clients can be like family - you know each other so well that you won’t feel weird if things get quiet and you resort to talking about the weather or your favorite Netflix show. When that’s the case, take them to dinner at Ju-Ni. It’s one of our favorite omakase spots in town, and should be saved for a special occasion - both because the sushi is so good and because its a two-hour commitment. So if you’re comfortable with your clients, it’s absolutely worth booking a table. If not, you could end up awkwardly talking about managing snack thievery from your respective break rooms all night.
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Everyone on your team hit their quota, and the company is turning a blind eye so you can reward your troops. Skip the karaoke bar that you take them to too often, and get a table at Foreign Cinema instead. Whether it’s for brunch or dinner, split a bunch of oysters and at least try to toast them for once without using the phrase “teamwork makes the dream work.” Trust us, they’ve heard it enough for one lifetime.
You’re looking for a power lunch spot to discuss manufacturing costs for your latest line of smart socks that make people think they’re walking on a beach. You want to take your materials supplier somewhere nice so they’ll know you’re excited about the meeting, but not so nice that it feels like a hardcore negotiation. Head to Bellota in SoMa and get some great Spanish food in a space that doesn’t feel like a membership is necessary to enter. Keep ordering them pan con tomate and Iberico ham as you try to talk them down on fabric costs, and if things get really tight, let them have the crusty part at the bottom of the paella. If that doesn’t say you’re willing to work with them on this, nothing will.
Cold Drinks Bar
A couple of students figured out a way to wirelessly stream the cure for the common cold, and now you’re looking to acquire them. You know that a few other VCs are interested, so making them like you is paramount. Tell them to meet you at Cold Drinks Bar for a cocktail. It feels pretty low-key with their semi-secret entrance, and even if it’s crowded, you can’t help help but think you’re in on something that only the other people in the room know about. Plus, the whiskey drinks from their always-rotating menu are great.
You’ve got potential partners in town. If things don’t materialize, they can microwave bean burritos in their hotel room for all you care, but if all goes according to plan, you’ll need to have a celebratory dinner lined up to show them that they made the right choice. Prepare for the best and book a large table at Mister Jiu’s for some of the best Chinese food in the city. Sitting in the middle of the dining room will make anyone feel like they’re the master of the universe, especially while eating Dutch Crunch pork buns and sharing a punch bowl with you.
Your marketing firm took the fledgling direct-to-consumer online candle merchant Smell-ly and made them go gangbusters without using any of your budget. Celebrate your ingenuity at Atelier Crenn. Each meal comes with a menu delivered in the form of a poem, and it’s one of those meals you remember for the rest of your life - kinda like how you revolutionized purchasing scents online risk free.
Liholiho Yacht Club
You’ve paid your dues working 19-hour days and eating ramen off a futon five nights a week, and it’s finally paying off for you and your two partners. You’ve got some money flowing in, and you deserve a meal to remember. Liholiho Yacht Club isn’t the fanciest restaurant in SF, but it’s still one of the coolest spots in town. Try some tropical cocktails and split some fried oysters and the beef ribs, and while you might’ve eaten spam mostly out of desperation before, their house-made version should be on your table.
School Night is permanently closed
The AI you created to help push your work along has matured into an angsty teen that won’t stop locking itself in its server. Your team needs a weekend, but it’s only Tuesday. School Night in Dog Patch is a good place to escape work for a while with good cocktails in a buzzy atmosphere. They also have a short menu with good things to eat like al pastor tacos, in case Alix the AI keeps changing the office microwave screen to read “You just don’t get me!” Maybe don’t talk about work at the bar tonight.
State Bird Provisions
A lot of the fun at State Bird comes from the fact that the food is served dim-sum style, but it’s tiny portions of what would be full courses at other restaurants. You can get as much or as little as you want, depending on how much you’re allowed to spend, and if you can’t get away with whole bottles of wine, State Bird has a good by-the-glass selection. The menu changes regularly, but it’s always interesting and delicious, and you should make sure to get the state bird.
Leo's Oyster Bar
You discovered an accounting flaw that’s been costing the company millions, and while the CEO didn’t invite you to his beach house, he has asked you to lunch to discuss your future. The choice of where is yours, and you want to pick somewhere you’d never normally go to, but that’s not totally insane. Leo’s Oyster Bar is the move. Order some raw things, and get to know your boss on a more personal level. The oysters will go quick, but if all is going well, get a lobster roll, too. If that’s the case, you’re definitely on the fast track to success. At least you and Mr. Lomax think so.
photo credit: Eric Wolfinger
Let’s get straight to the point, your general counsel is terrifying - she never has a hair out of place or makes a misstep when speaking, and even her kids look like they were siphoned out of a Lands End catalogue. You want to enjoy a nice meal with her, but also want to be able to see outside so you won’t feel so claustrophobic. Fortunately, she enjoys the finer things, so you can take her to Monsieur Benjamin. The restaurant is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows, so you can look out into Hayes Valley, instead of the walls closing in on you, and they have a menu of well-executed French food, like mussels, beignets, and frogs legs. Everyone wins.
House Of Prime Rib
It’s been a big year, and you want to celebrate accordingly with your coworkers. Somewhere that’s nice, but you won’t be looked at funny by the time your wine-bottle-to-person ratio is one to one. Think ahead and book a table at House of Prime Rib. This place is an SF classic, and since everyone you work with is a carnivore, it’s pretty much your Graceland. Load up on prime rib, order a martini, and make sure you don’t miss the creamed spinach. Depending on how much you drink, it’s pretty reasonably priced for what you get. Plus, if the photographer comes around, you’ve got the perfect holiday card to send to your clients.
Flour + Water
This year’s annual Precast Concrete Sculpture tradeshow is being hosted in San Francisco, and while you’re not here to wine and dine people, you know you can get away with splurging a little bit on food since none of your coworkers have ever been here before. See if you can get a table at Flour + Water. In a city full of creative pasta, Flour + Water makes the best, hands down. If you’re truly dedicated, go with the pasta tasting menu, and if you have a hard time getting reservations, a large portion of the restaurant is reserved for walk-ins.
It’s a bi-monthly tradition for your office to spot the bill for you and your fellow engineers to go out for pizza, but they never said where you had to go. You know your backend APIs are bulletproof, so why not have a little fun. Book a table a few weeks ahead for you and your team at Che Fico, order all the fancy pizzas you want, and if someone asks who approved this, point out that if your team wasn’t in charge of the company’s data, all of the passwords would still be *1234.
You just finished your last meeting on this trip to SF, you’ve got your bags with you in the FiDi, and you have some time to kill before you have to leave. Work’s buying lunch, so you might as well travel like a 1960s businessman. Walk over to Tadich Grill, sit at the bar, and order lunch at the oldest restaurant in the state. Get a piece of halibut and a martini, and slow down before you have to jump in a car for SFO.
Swan Oyster Depot
The Chicago office is in town for the week, and you know some members of the team are prolonging their stays through the weekend. Tell them to save their per diems, and take them to Swan Oyster Depot on Saturday morning so they can load up on the fresh seafood that’s harder for them to get back home. Get a few dozen oysters, some raw scallops, and the smoked salmon. Just make sure they take a picture of the scribbled-on napkins that serve as receipts here.
You got a sweet offer for a new gig, but your manager’s manager doesn’t want to lose you, so they’re going to try to win you back with a conversation over lunch. Might as well see what they have to say and get a good meal out of it in the process. Have them take you to Yank Sing in Soma for dim sum. If you like what they’re saying, keep ordering more soup dumplings. And if you don’t, keep ordering anyway and maybe get some pork buns, too.