Be My Valentine . . . Mr. Foreign Official?
Valentines Day is upon us, and thoughts turn to romantic dinners. Restaurants perfect special dishes with names likes Lovin Spoonful Soufflé and Tuna Love Bites with Passion Fruitmenus that would make us cringe on any other night. On this particular day, thoughts typically do not turn to brisk lunches, squeezed into the middle of tightly scheduled business days, bordered on either side by calls, meetings, email, and paperwork.
Why do those hoping for romance opt for dinner? Dinner is typically more lavish and leisurely, offering a chance to impress and to linger. Dinner is more likely than lunch to include wine, at least in the United States, and the conciliatory glow that alcohol imbues. There's an exhilarating sense of not knowing where the evening will take you. And, for some, (scandalous spoiler alert) there is a sense of, well, quid pro quo.
Expensive. Wine-soaked. Open-ended. Unpredictable. And all with an implicit quid pro quo. Who first decided that dinner was a good setting for business negotiations?
Apart from one raucous and now legendary delegation from Russia that got my company TRACE banned from a local restaurant when its members drank cabernet shots (after learning vodka was unavailable . . .) and bellowed war ballads about Stalingrad, I have never known lunch guests to get out of hand.
Is it any surprise, then, that amongst the most persistent hospitality concerns of compliance officers is the commonplace dinner? The foreign official makes a grab for the wine list. Unknown cohorts, whose job titles are never mentioned, begin appearing shortly after the first course. The group and the bill balloon before your eyes. Goodwill, the point of all of this, is lost if you try to regain control of the evening or panic and cut it short. And it isn't long before another few bottles of wine are upended and talk turns to karaoke bars and worse.
Having an evening meal turn into a morass of potential corruption can be avoided quite easily. Enjoy your Valentines Day and your evening, but when it comes to businessstick to lunch.
Alexandra Wrage is the president of TRACE, an antibribery compliance organization offering practical tools and services to multinational companies, including due diligence, training, and industry-specific benchmarking.