Business Development and The Strategy of the Business Lunch

By Tim Askew 
CEO of Corporate Rain International

Philosopher George Santana once wrote:  “There is nothing to which men, while they have food and drink, cannot reconcile themselves.”

Year after year I find myself returning to thoughts of simple business efficiencies and common sense–things that cost little or nothing, yet can produce dependable results and efficacy for the growth process.  It’s often these quotidian things that define, clarify,  and professionally personify you in the best possible manner.

One of my favorite little ways to do this is through the well-thought-out business lunch.  A business lunch should be an effective tool to develop your brand and begin strong business friendships.

In no particular order here are 14 effective ways that I have used to make business eating ROI effective over the years.

  1. Pick a quiet restaurant.  It obviously makes conversational intimacy easier.  I’ve noticed increasingly higher restaurant noise levels in recent years.  Try to obviate this by choosing a more muted environment.
  2. Choose a central, easy to reach location.  It releases some of the tension about clients finding the restaurant, as well as making your client at ease about getting to her next meeting at the end of the meal.
  3. Arrive early and make your presence, specialized needs, and desired manner of service known to the maitre d’ and the wait staff.  It relieves last minute anxiety.
  4. Pee beforehand.  You then will not be forced to truncate a good conversation at an inopportune moment.
  5. Tip well.  Hopefully you have found a restaurant that you will return to again and again.  Waiters have long memories.  (I know.  I was one.)
  6. Don’t order messy food.  Your flawed eating habits are quite disgusting enough.
  7. Don’t rush.  Listen well and carefully during the meal.  Don’t backend a meeting to your lunch that makes you need to conclude prematurely.
  8. Turn off your cell.  Of course.
  9. Pay for lunch.  Even if your guest insists on paying.
  10. Possibly pay in advance.  This eliminates distracting clumsiness at the end of a graceful and successful business meeting.  (Note my friend, writer Glenn Plaskin, who was once taken to lunch by Jackie Kennedy-Onasis to discuss a writing project.  They met at a Park Avenue restaurant where Kennedy had picked out a quiet corner table and no bill was presented.  Classy.  Memorable.)  (However, be careful.  I once arranged to pre-pay for a dinner meeting.  My client sat down and immediately ordered a bottle of Romanee Conti burgundy priced at over $1,000!  Gulp.)
  11. Do not sell during a business lunch.  Never, never, never.  A business lunch exists to develop relationship, friendship, and trust, not to close deals.  Work only on knowing and loving your client.
  12. Be aware that a shared meal can bring unconscious physiological openness to you and your client.  Neuroscience shows that when you share a meal with someone, your glucose level rises, enhancing complex brain activities and reducing prejudice and aggressive behavior.
  13. Become an ally of your restaurant partner.  For example, my favorite place for a  business lunch in New York is called the Benjamin Steakhouse.  It’s one block off Grand Central Station and convenient to everyone and everything in NYC.  It’s a discreet and fairly quiet place with fine, but simple, cuisine.  I’ve been going there for many years, so they know me–where I like to sit, what I eat, etc.  They often allow me to stay and work after my meetings and I particularly like their wait staff which has an uncanny sensitivity as to when to serve and when not to interrupt.  Over the years I have learned to make this restaurant my entrepreneurial partner, as well as my gastronomic vendor.  I always introduce my clients to the maitre d’ and recommend the joint.  It is important to remember that a restaurant is just as much an entrepreneurial business entity as your own company is.  And you are natural business allies.  The relationship should be collegial and mutually beneficial.
  14. Finally, recognize that eating is drama.  Get into its process.  Enjoy it.  Famous restauranteur Warner Leroy writes, “A restaurant is a fantasy–a kind of living fantasy in which diners are the most important members of the cast.”

Note, the central rituals of many world religions center around food.  The seder, the communion, the iftar, etc.  A successful business meal should be enjoyed for its ceremony and process as well as for its utility.  A good business meal is a graceful human dance about which preeminent American food writer M. F. K. Fisher once wrote:  “Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.”  Thanks Mr. Fisher.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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