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Des Moines business leaders share entertaining tips


When it comes to showing clients a good time, Des Moines area business leaders have a few tricks up their sleeves.

Not everyone we spoke with wanted to share their wining and dining strategies, including the folks at the Greater Des Moines Partnership, who called the information “proprietary.”  As for those who were willing to speak, their advice follows.

Rick Tollakson, president and chief operating officer of Hubbell Realty Co., likes to take clients to local restaurants he feels capture the essence of Des Moines. For breakfast meetings, for instance, he takes clients to Urbandale’s Machine Shed.

“It is a restaurant that they are usually not familiar with, and it  represents what their perception is of Iowa,” he said. “This allows me to have a little fun with the perception. The large cinnamon rolls that are on display when you get seated are a big hit, although I have never had someone order one.”

For lunch and dinner, Tollakson and his clients frequent Nicks Bar and Grill, Phat Chefs, Cosi Cucina and Mosaix. His customers appreciate the varied menus and intimate settings of those eateries, he said.

If a client is making their first trip to Des Moines, Tollakson said he likes to take them downtown to show off the capital city’s skyline at 801 Steak & Chop House, Centro or Forty Three Restaurant and Bar.

“This gives me the opportunity to show off the downtown environment which is quite active for a city our size,” he said. “Most clients are not in town long enough to do much more than eat and meet.”

Porter and Associates founder and Chief Executive Tom Porter says he doesn’t entertain clients for lunch often, but when he does, it’s strictly at the Embassy Club. For dinner, he gets a little more creative.

“I usually take them where I think the client hasn’t been before, or that I know they’d like,” he said.

His favorite places include Trostel’s Greenbriar Restaurant & Bar in Johnston and Sage in Windsor Heights. What if he doesn’t know what a client likes?

“In that situation, I usually take them a place I really enjoy, where I’ve had a good dining experience,” he said.  His tips to ensure a good time include choosing places that aren’t too noisy and set the right mood.

“I want to be sure that I’ve got an upscale atmosphere,” he said. It’s important that the background music “be at a level where you can converse across the table, and you don’t have to scream.”

He looks to spend $20 to $30 on lunch and as much as $100 on dinners. If he’s making a sales pitch?

“I just don’t order a lot of food,” he said. “If you’re going there to sell something, you’re not really going there to eat a whole lot.

The Iowa Department of Economic Development routinely co-sponsors events for existing Iowa companies, such as the John Deere Classic golf tournament that’s held annually in the Quad Cities. It spent $27,000 on the tournament this year. About 120 people attended the event, which included a reception, golf outing and a day in a skybox to watch the tournament.

“We invite companies that are looking at doing projects or that have done an expansion in the past year,” said Tina Hoffman, an IDED spokeswoman.

Recruitment is the other side of the entertainment coin. On Friday, for instance, development officials were scheduled to join Gov. Tom Vilsack to meet corporate site selectors and company officials at the Cubs game in Chicago. About 60 people were scheduled to attend that two-day event, including about 12 local economic development representatives. On Thursday, Vilsack attended a reception that was designed to encourage former Iowans to return to the Hawkeye State.

Additionally, state economic development officials said they may host a promotional meal for site selectors visiting Des Moines.

There are rules state officials have to follow when they entertain clients, Hoffman said. For instance, state money can’t be used to buy alcoholic beverages. In cases when alcohol is consumed at an event, it’s paid for with private dollars, she said.

“And we don’t go extravagent,” Hoffman said. “We don’t take people out for $200 meals.”

In the past year, Iowa employers invested $493 million in new capital that resulted in about 3,800 new jobs and the retention of 269 jobs.

At Deloitte & Touche’s Des Moines office, clients are entertained “modestly,” said Marv Debner, managing partner. “We generally have golf outings with clients, or go to dinner occasionally,” he said.

They also take clients to Iowa Cubs games, or provide them use of the firm’s season tickets.

“It just depends on the business involved,” Debner said. “Oftentimes, there’s a need for a time outside the business day to get it all done and figure things out with clients.”

From a tax standpoint, businesses can deduct 50 percent of their client entertainment costs as a business expense, provided records are kept to document the event.

“What the IRS tends to do is look at the lavishness of it and ask, was the primary purpose of it business?” he said. “If youre taking someone to the Super Bowl, it’s more likely to be challenged than taking someone to the I-Cubs game.”

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