Ever since we started hitting animals with rocks and roasting them, human beings have been bonding over a meal. Sitting down to the table with someone is still one of the most intimate settings, and it’s a time when business relationships are formed and deciders shake on deals to be formalized later. Handle a power lunch properly and you could land yourself a valuable contact, a new client or a coveted job. Handle it badly, and you’re out the cost of lunch, having just embarrassed yourself in front of potential colleagues.
A power lunch can reveal any bad habits you have, which will speak much more loudly than anything else you say. Don’t answer your cell phone; turn it off. Don’t drink at lunch. Even if your guest orders a drink to relax, stick to water or a soda. You’re here for business, not to get a buzz. And treat the staff well. Someone who bullies the server comes off looking like a petty jerk. Don’t project that persona in this meeting. In fact, why are you giving the waiter a hard time anyway?
Most importantly, have your pitch ready. Whatever you’re trying to bring across needs to be well thought out, clearly communicated and — most importantly — brief. Boring prospective clients or partners with a vague, ill-defined proposal, is insulting and it wastes everyone’s time.
The Invite: Busy, powerful people get invited to a lot of lunches, and they can’t meet with everyone. They may also dread getting dragged to a power lunch, only to spend their entire meal fending off desperate people trying to pitch to them. Realize that a lunch meeting may not be right at all and offer meeting at their office as an alternative.
Your best chance of getting a meeting at all is to be honest and up-front about what this meeting is about. Make it clear that you have something you want to pitch to them and that you are inviting them out to lunch to talk about it. And make it a low-pressure, casual invitation; feeling like they’re backed into a corner, without a graceful way to decline, makes them view you as an annoying antagonist and could destroy your chances of any kind of meeting.
The Setting: Pick a neutral place, or agree on a suitable nearby restaurant beforehand. Know how to choose a restaurant, and have some places in mind to suggest. You don’t want to take someone to a vegan Thai joint when they’re really down for Mexican. You want your power lunch to be a comfortable, casual affair where the focus is on what you have to say, not on exotic food or wacky décor. Scope out the place beforehand, take a look at the menu to be sure there are no surprises, and get a reservation. Nothing makes you look unprepared like having to wait 30 minutes just to get a table during the lunch rush.
The Food: Don’t order anything that’s hard or messy to eat. Stick with a simple sandwich or a burger, and avoid pasta or soup. If you don’t get your proposal out during the power lunch, it won’t matter how much you enjoyed your meal. Also, follow your guest’s lead on ordering courses. If he doesn’t order dessert, neither should you. But don’t leave him to be the only one eating; that creates a distance between you.
The Pitch: Whatever your proposal is, don’t start slinging ideas as soon as you sit down. Start a casual conversation, avoiding sticky topics like politics and religion, and don’t delve into personal details about your guests. Keep it light, and don’t start your pitch until everyone has ordered. When you do get into things, keep it brief and substantive. Respond to questions thoroughly and don’t talk over your guests.
The Bill: You should already have established who is taking who to lunch, so there shouldn’t be a fight over the bill. Just discretely pick it up, slip your credit card into the folder and hand it to the waiter. At this point, you should be wrapping up any discussion of your proposal and returning to casual chit chat.
The worst thing you could possibly do at this point is drag out the encounter. Just thank your guests for their time, be sure they have your contact info to follow up on your proposal and maybe drop them a note the next day, thanking them again. If you’ve made preliminary agreements with them, you can follow up after an appropriate time. But if you don’t hear from them after a reasonable amount of time regarding the proposal, don’t make a pest of yourself by continuing to pursue things.
If you follow these guidelines, you’re less likely to make potential gaffes that would sink an otherwise productive meeting and ruin your chances of having your proposal accepted. Of course, you still have to have a killer idea to pitch in the first place…
image via Open Table