Back in the 1980s, there were a lot of articles and books about power lunching. The most popular book on the subject was, “Power Lunching: How You Can Profit from a More Effective Lunch Strategy” by Ligita Lienhart and Melvin Pisel. Written in 1985, it comes across today as a fun “how to” book that gives an interesting history of the way the supposed big players conducted business in the 1980s. It’s all about how to exert power at lunch to get the business decisions you want.
Some of the advice is hysterical. For example, the writers say to “Avoid wimp foods like pasta and anything creamy. Instead order something powerful like steak tartare. It is easy to eat and shows your virility.” After reading that advice, I figure if you combine steak tartare with a Scotch on the rocks and Caesar salad, you can bet your breath will certainly exert power!
Today we still use lunch with business associates an as opportunity to secure decisions and negotiate deals. However, the “decisions” may just be getting to know someone better, thanking someone for their business, or for more strategic reasons, like laying the groundwork for establishing a new client relationship or negotiating that all-important deal. Having had hundreds and hundreds of business lunches over the years, I have a few thoughts on how to make them more effective for whatever your reason.
The overall goal is to create an experience that makes your guest comfortable thereby giving them a favorable impression of you. If they like you, they are more inclined to want to work with you, whether it is to retain your services or negotiate a transaction. Somehow I don’t think intimidating your guest during lunch it the best way to accomplish your business goals … unless for some odd reason that is your goal.
Be a good host. When you invite someone to lunch, you are the host. Select a restaurant that is near their office or near major streets allowing them easy access. Ideally the restaurant is one you have frequented. It’s even better if you are a frequent diner. If the staff knows you, the chances are better that you will get more personal service. That gives you the advantage of being more in control of the lunch.
Strategically select your table. You should try to arrive at the restaurant before your guest. Arriving early will enable you to select a table that will provide the best opportunity to talk and be heard. Avoid tables near the restrooms or where silverware is stored. I am not a big fan of banquet seating. If you don’t want the folks at nearby tables to hear your conversation, request a “four-top.” I also like to sit catty corner to my guest as it is easier for you to hear each other.
Make your guest comfortable. Match your order to your guest. If they order a salad and an entree, you should as well. The same goes for dessert. The one exception is alcohol. Frankly, I usually say to my guest “you don’t want any wine, do you?” However, if my guest wants wine, I will order some as well, but not drink much of it.
Order food that makes you look good. Avoid eating messy foods. I typically avoid stringy pastas, anything you pick up with your hands like sandwiches or hamburgers, and lettuce salads. If you get food all over yourself, it is going to take away from the positive impression you are trying to create. Plus, let’s face it—nobody looks good eating a hamburger. Save that for dining with your friends.
Watch the time. You should ask at the beginning of lunch if they have any time constraints. Knowing their time constraints enables you to control the pace of the conversation (or negotiation).
Know when to “talk business.” The normal agenda for a lunch is light conversation at the beginning before you order. Once you order lunch, you can move to covering the business purpose for the lunch. If there is time for coffee, a lot of folks prefer to get into details at that point. Without lunch plates on the table, there is more room to take notes if that is necessary.
Pay the check. As the host, you should pay the check and not make a big deal out of it. That also means you need to keep the conversation going while you figure out the tip. If the service is reasonably good, I try to leave a 20 percent tip.
Follow up. If there are any next steps or follow up items, get to them as soon as possible. It is best if they are done while your guest is still feeling positive over their wonderful lunch with you.
These are some practical tips for the new way to “power lunch” in 2016. As many businesses and cultures believe in eating together, breaking bread over lunch or dinner will help you get to know your colleagues and build that trust. In today’s world of connections, those acquaintances and friends can give us the “power” to broaden our influence within the business community.
Eliza Solender is the president of Solender/Hall Inc. a commercial real estate brokerage firm that specializes in representing nonprofit organizations. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.