From the January 1998 issue of Startups

Another day, another business lunch. If the prospect of dining with clients in yet another trendy (and overrated) restaurant strikes you as unappetizing, there's a simple solution: Serve lunch in your home.

Yes, we know it's a departure from the norm--but isn't that the whole point? Even etiquette authority Letitia Baldrige has labeled the power lunch at home as "chic."

"It's really just a way to be casual and straightforward and to laugh and chat in a way you don't in a restaurant," observes New York City entrepreneur Karen Fisher, who frequently hosts business lunches on her terrace. "By the time [clients] leave, I feel we've gotten to know each other in a way we never could have at a restaurant."

Not that a casual tone should connote a lack of preparation--or professionalism, for that matter. "It's business," stresses Barbara Pachter, co-author of Complete Business Etiquette Handbook (Prentice Hall). "It's still an extension of the workday. If you can, have [the lunch] catered. If not, at least use good [dishes]--don't bring out the paper plates."

For her part, Fisher gives considerable thought to meal presentation. "Everything should be special," says the owner of Designer Previews, a 13-year-old interior design referral service. This includes linen napkins as well as a carefully selected menu featuring nonmessy fare and foods that clients may have expressed a fondness for. One item probably best left off the menu: alcohol.

With such caveats to heed, might it be better to opt for that trendy restaurant after all? "It's often nice just to get away and go someplace else," points out Pachter, founder of the homebased Cherry Hill, New Jersey, business etiquette and communications training company Pachter & Associates.

Then again, how many clients would turn down an invitation to your house? "In general, people are very flattered," says Fisher. "An invitation to your home is a privilege." And, we suspect, a much quieter place to break bread.

Takin' It To The Streets

By Charlotte Mulhern

Busy entrepreneurs without a moment to spare hardly have time to shop around for the right office equipment. With that in mind, Select Office Solutions, an office equipment, furniture and supplies dealer, came up with a time-saving solution: Mobilize a fleet of Winnebagos and bring the products to the customer.

Since May, the Irwindale, California, company has serviced Southern California businesses with its five 33-foot Winnebagos, which average about 400 trips every week. Each is stocked with two top-of-the-line copiers wired for free, on-site demonstrations. Upon request, customers can also arrange to try out fax machines, printers and other equipment available for sale.

Select Office Solutions provides equipment delivery (for a nominal charge), setup and training for its clients. For more information or to arrange a product demonstration, call (888) 84-SELECT, or visit the company's Web site at http://www.selectnow.com

Code Red

By Janean Chun

Amazing how three little numbers can change your life. Rona S. Hamada, president and owner of Andrews Telecommunications in Needham, Massachusetts, had her area code change from 617 to 781 last September, which means she can now walk to another area code.

"First we were all 617, then some of us were 508," says Hamada. "Now, [with 781,] how do I know which area code to use? Even I find it confusing, and I'm supposed to know these things."

Expect the number of area codes--and the confusion--to mount. California alone experienced five area-code changes this year, with another five expected in 1998. The invasion of new area codes is happening nationwide, says Doug Hescox of the California-Nevada Code Administration, who says he's never seen anything quite like this in his 25 years in telecommunications. "This is being driven by our insatiable demand for new telecommunications devices--pagers, cellular phones, fax machines, additional lines on our computers to access the Internet. Most of us have two or three phone numbers we didn't have five years ago. Changing to an information-based society causes us to require more numbers to keep up that [level of] communication."

For homebased business owners, this has some tangible, low-tech consequences. Letterhead, business cards, print advertisements and brochures must be updated. If a new area code is coming soon to an area near you, you have to recode your equipment for speed dialing or automatic reselection and reprogram the header for your fax machine. Also, Hescox points out that older pieces of equipment not designed to acknowledge an area code with a middle digit other than 1 or 0 may now be obsolete. Fortunately, one thing that will not be affected is long-distance costs. "If it's a local call before the area code change, it'll be a local call after," says Hescox.

To ease some of your burden, and possible loss of business, phone companies usually provide plenty of lead time when changing area codes. In California, Hescox says they inform people two years in advance about plans to change area codes. Then, 15 months before implementation, boundaries are drawn and those impacted are notified. Subsequent to implementation, those with new area codes have a six-month grace period, in which callers dialing either the old or the new area code are connected. This is followed by a three-month mandatory dialing period, which connects callers to a recording with the new area code.

Still, Hamada isn't satisfied. "Something," she says, "is going to slip through the cracks."

And there may be more cracks to slip through. After toll-free 800 numbers became scarce, 888 numbers were offered; now, a year later, those have practically run out.

As she holds off on printing her new brochures and stationery, Hamada yields to the fact that change is not only inevitable--it's downright unstoppable. In the grand scheme, she reasons, "this is just one more thing."

Andrews Telecommunications, (800) 488-0408, http://www.andrewstel.com

Designer Previews, (212) 777-2966, decorpro@aol.com

Doug Hescox, c/o Chris Kniestedt, e-mail: kniestec@fleishman.com

Pachter & Associates, P.O. Box 3680, Cherry Hill, NJ 08034, (609) 751-6141

Select Office Solutions, 6229 Santos Diaz St., Irwindale, CA 91706