Mexico and Central America are both relationship and status driven societies. It’s really about who you are and who know and how they “take care” of you. The wait staff may serve a table that arrived after you because they know the diners, or because they are aware of the diners’ statuses. Additionally, if you are one of three business proposals and the Central American company has a personal relationship with an associate of another company, well, which company do you think will be chosen?
It is important to network as much as possible and lay some groundwork before attempting to conduct business with Central American companies. By building these relationships, you build confianza (trust, special treatment or personal favors) and simpatico (establishing compatibility). Realize that people in Central America like to do business with those they trust and are essentially on good personal terms especially family. Many of us do not hesitate when family asks for favors and we do anything in our power to help out family. Centro Americans are similar, knowing that their families would take care of them and they would take care of their family (or extended kin). The long and short of it, build relationships and network, pay it forward (treat them like family and stress compatibility), and present yourself as the friend (i.e. extended family) who they know will grant a favor should they ask.
So establish relationships with company associates before proposing business deals… if they will have you. Along with paternalism in Central American society is the importance of reputation. Not only do you need to be wary of the hierarchical structure and what you say, but you have to present yourself as someone worth caring about. Central Americans want to conduct business with important people, with top people at your company, therefore putting your best foot (or sets of feet) forward for important business deals is extremely important. In Central America, wealth and power are synonymous and shown through an ostentatious display of wealth with luxury items and status symbols. They dine at fine establishments, wear luxury brands, drive expensive cars, physically displaying their success. As a potential business associate of these Central American companies, it is also important for you to portray yourself as an equal, by staying in fancy hotels, dining at fine establishments, dressing well, pretty much going the whole nine yards. By living somewhat extravagantly you imply that you are successful, like how in medieval times skinny was considered ugly and heavier was beautiful as it meant rich and bountiful, i.e. successful. Put your full title and all the advanced degrees on your business cards, act the part, dress the part.
The dress for business occasions is typically formal. The fashionable look to Europe. Men dress in stylish (dark) suits, white shirts, interesting and sophisticated ties, polished shoes, stylish accessories (watches, cufflinks, ties, etc.). Women dress fashionably and accessorized.