While business lunchers do some work in the restaurant, most agree that the “business lunch” is less about working—or even eating—and more about accomplishing a little of both while strengthening a relationship.
Walk into Emiliano’s Cafe in downtown Gainesville during any weekday lunch hour, and you are likely to see as many people paying as much attention to papers and smartphones as to their food.
“Our business depends in great measure Monday through Friday on the downtown offices,” says co-owner Wanda de Paz Ibanez. She estimates that 95 percent of the lunch crowd is mixing business with the food.
Or check out Heavenly Ham in the Plaza Royale Shopping Center, where insurance adviser Bryan Williams regularly meets with clients and colleagues. “It’s a good place to meet other business people,” he affirms.
While it might not be the “three-martini” lunch popularized in the 1950s and ’60s (and revived, at least in memory, by TV shows like Mad Men), the business lunch is still alive and well in 2012. Even in an age of smartphones, email and videoconferencing, business people say the face-to-face meeting in an informal setting is not only valuable—it’s necessary.
“No matter how good Internet communication is, it can never replace face-to-face contact,” says Geoff Wilson, president and CEO of 352 Media Group, a business based around Web and Internet interaction. “Having a business lunch is a good way to reconnect and establish a business relationship.”
While approaches to business lunches vary, personal contact is a constant. For some, like Williams, with McGriff-Williams insurance, personal contact is central to his business. “In my industry, trust is important,” he says. “People want to trust whoever is handling their insurance.” That makes lunch a valuable, and unique, tool for getting to know people on a personal level.
“Meeting face-to-face never goes out of style,” agrees Patricia Craddock, the past president of the downtown Gainesville chapter of the Rotary Club, which was built around the idea of businessmen and women meeting and talking over lunch. Although Rotary is officially a group dedicated to community service, Craddock said it is not unusual for members to conduct some business at the club meetings as well. She said the ability to talk directly to someone and see their body language is valuable.
John Spence, a Gainesville business coach and author, likes lunches as a vehicle for sizing up people.
The business lunch also seems to prevail even in the face of a down economy. While some business people say the number of business lunches is down, most say that business lunches remain steady or are actually on the increase.
“I actually got a little bit of heartburn when I saw how much we spent last month on business lunches,” Wilson says about the frequency of his business lunches.
While the count could be as high as three to four a week, as in the case of Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce president Brent Christensen, most say they average a half dozen or so lunches in a month. Spence estimates he does about eight to 10 monthly lunches with business contacts, but could probably schedule one “every single day I’m in town.”