How to fill your stomach and your pockets

March 08, 2008

Posted in Small Business.

Most people love food and I’m no exception. I cook a lot and I take pictures of my meals. I have lists of restaurants I want to go to and try, and I’m enough of a regular at a few of our area restaurants that they know what I’m most likely to order. My fondest memories usually coincide with good meals.

But I also love to do business over food. I’ve heard a lot of debate over this, with people claiming it’s a distraction from the meeting or insults your guest (client/donor/employee) with the informality. But I find it’s actually an advantage.

Because food makes people happy, meetings are more positive. It’s hard to eat a meal angrily. It’s just not natural.

Business Breakfast

Early morning meetings are rough. But a cup of coffee and a muffin or an omelette can go a long way. I can get up early for a breakfast meeting. And caffeine (for coffee or tea drinkers) increases your sense of energy – which people associate with positivity and optimism. Just eating breakfast can have this effect as well, especially for people who tend to skip this meal. And even a classy breakfast place doesn’t usually cost that much.

Business Lunch

This is the least advantageous, in my opinion. Going out to lunch during the work day is so common that it doesn’t feel as special. Bookended by hours of work, lunch is a reprieve from working. So doing business at lunch can often rob a person of a needed break. However, a free lunch still feels pretty good. I like to schedule brainstorm sessions over lunch and have lunch brought in.

Business Dinner

This is my favorite and can have the best results. Taking your time, having a drink or two, and talking business over a good meal is a relationship builder. So what if the conversation strays? It’s all part of communication and building trust.

To illustrate, I want to show you a clip from The Office, where Michael Scott shows a glint of brilliance and lands a big sale over a dinner meeting. I wish that NBC didn’t fight the tide of YouTube videos so I could show you here, but the next best thing is to watch the first minute or so of this clip from “The Client”, season two (after their ad).

It’s not about the money

I mean that in two ways. First, if you go into sales thinking about the money, you’re going to get distracted by the money (which isn’t what the client wants to think about). Second, don’t worry so much about the cost of the meal. If you’re in a low-margin business, this might not be for you. But if you’re selling someone a $5,000 contract, what’s $50? There’s a reason why big companies spend tens of thousands to land a new client – because they want to land the $2 million contract.

There’s one other part of this that you may wish to consider. Meals and entertainment only fetch a partial tax deduction, so it doesn’t count the same as a normal business expense. I can’t speak for all situations, but for my S-corporation I get a 50% deduction. I don’t mind this – I’m still saving money.

One final tip: take your client to a restaurant off the beaten path. Something unique, like a sushi bar or a really great Mexican place. Avoid chain restaurants. And bonus points if you’re a regular there and get special treatment.