Psychology of the lunch meeting

In the Mad Men days, the long business lunch was how managers, bosses and sales guns got things done. In the morning, you sorted out what happened in the previous lunch. Then, around noon, you left for a multi-hour meal/meeting with that day’s clients, associates, vendors or mentors.

It was deal-making. It was planning. It was networking. It was relaxation. It was a boardroom away from the boardroom. It was a micro corporate retreat. And it worked. It was also a massive old boys’ club and expenses rort. A fringe benefits tax crackdown in 1985 largely snuffed it out.

They were onto something though. Where they went too far and lost the farm, we can pick the best pieces and use lunch to make connections and do business better.

Why? Because of the food, the setting and the quality time of sit-down meal all play on the strong subconscious connections between belly, heart, and mind to turn acquaintances into allies and proposals into agreements.

One catch: the power of the lunch meeting flows both ways. You can’t use these tips to ‘take advantage’ of your lunch partners, because, ready or not, the same effects will happen to you too.

Matters to a head

The central thing is that business lunches are fertile ground for the ‘association principle’. Basically, when people enjoy themselves, they subconsciously associate that enjoyment with the circumstances they are in – even when there is no logical connection between their circumstances and the source.

People generally like eating and making friends. A lunch meeting is a unique opportunity to enjoy this in a business context – especially if everyone blocks out a good 90 minutes and puts away their phones (at least for most of it).

Firstly, be friendly

Your lunch must be low stress. No one says ‘You’ve got 5 minutes to make a genuine connection with me. Start talking’. Don’t rush. You don’t have to be magnetically charismatic, you just have to be present and pleasant.

While you should let your guest/s know the real reason you are asking them to lunch in the invitation, you shouldn’t start talking shop straight away! Also, your invitation should make it clear they could gain something (besides friendship) from lunching with you.

The takeaway here is that people like making genuine, mutually respectful connections. Further, most people also have the psychological inclination to like people they have made an investment in. Sitting down for a long lunch is a serious time investment for any busy businesswoman.

Make it mains

You don’t need to blow your diet, but remember you are going to lunch together to actually eat lunch together. The mental, emotional and physical benefits and effects of a full belly are incredibly powerful. There are many foods that help regulate energy and make you feel good. Here’s a few:

  • Salmon
  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Brazil nuts
  • Peaches
  • Mushrooms
  • Eggs
  • Almonds
  • Berries
  • Quinoa
  • Oysters
  • Dark chocolate
  • Fresh coffee
  • Green tea
  • Spicy food

Notice there’s no red wine. While it does offer a slew of health benefits, whether it’s okay to have a glass over lunch is at your guest’s discretion. Also, be cautious around sugars, processed foods, and heavy carbs. While they are gratifying in 1 minute, they are nap-inducing in 10.

Talking with their mouth full

While you can do the backgrounding earlier, the 25 minutes during and after your meal is when you and your dining partners will feel most open to negotiating and finding mutuality.

Don’t go hard-sell, but this is your time to talk deal. In these moments, your audience is literally chewing over and swallowing what they’re taking in. This is the golden window where the association principle really kicks in.

Cheque please

Avoid splitting the bill. Try to pay for everything. Especially if you want a follow-up meeting. Doing so creates a subtle imbalance of manners even in the friendliest of relationships. Your lunch partners will be more likely to agree to future meetings if only for the chance to get ‘even’ with you.

Spending a few hundred dollars to woo a contact who could be worth thousands makes sense. In business, it’s not what you know, it’s not even who you know, it’s about contacts exchanging tips and advice while being a great (and free) coaching and support network. Sometimes all it takes to build or become part of such a network is to have initiative and something interesting to talk about.

So, make lunch plans with a businesswoman you admire this week. Be honest, be upfront, be confident. Chat, laugh, tuck in. Skip dessert, the result will be sweet enough.


About Your Guest Blogger: Sharney Ryan is the CEO of Digital marketing agency