Thursday, August 1, 2013


Lunch is an amazing thing in business. Lunch gives people an opportunity to connect better than they ever would by sitting in an office. People let their guards down a bit and display habits they can otherwise conceal. So much information is communicated at the lunch table that cannot be communicated elsewhere. You can learn a little bit about the person's tastes (literally), their manners, the way they treat people that serve them and even how they approach unknowns.

When you take someone to lunch and it is already understood that you are paying, what do they order? If they find out you are paying after you get to lunch, do they change their order or demeanor? Are they cautious not to order something somewhat messy? Do they order something complicated, like fajitas? Something spicy? Something boring? Do they order alcohol? Do they order water? Can you tell if they are health conscious? All of these questions speak to the person's tastes and preferences. The answer to these questions will communicate different things to different people. The point is, these are valuable things to watch--and to be aware of. What do these communicate about you if someone is paying attention?

Manners are also very important and absolutely show up at the lunch table. Does the person place the napkin in their lap? Do they eat "continental style" or "American" or with no etiquette at all (Check out the difference here)? Do they rest their elbows on the table? Manners also enter in in the way they converse. Talking with mouths of food, being curt with the waitstaff, interrupting, beginning to eat without everyone at the table, etc.

One other key factor that is very easily overlooked is how you talk to the person or people serving you. This is perhaps the most telling aspect of the lunch. Does the person talk down to the server. Does the person treat the server as an underling? Are they grateful to the server for serving them? How does the person tip (if they are the one tipping)? If you are interviewing for a job, this is a golden opportunity to really blow it.

The last one is something I heard about in my management class. We were studying a famous business leader that always conducted interviews over lunch. One of their tactics was to watch what the person did with the food. Specifically, they watched to see if the person salted the food before tasting it. For this leader this simple action spoke volumes. If they automatically assumed the food needed salt before they tasted the food, would they also automatically assume whatever task they were being assigned would need to be changed before they even "tasted" what was already there? Would this middle manager try to implement changes before even seeing what was already in place?

I think it is pretty cool how something as simple as sharing a meal can tell so much about a person. Its why we take dates out to dinner. Its why churches have meals together. Food brings people together and allows them to relax. If its a business meal, however, pay attention. Remember what you could communicate to an observer.

What do you notice about people during meals? What messages do you pick up on? Have you been accidentally communicating the wrong thing during meals?

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