In the same spirit as “Apres Ski = Sports Marketing,” I make an effort to go out to lunch as often as possible. Even to me, my penchant for working lunches seems out of another era; part “Mad Men,” part 21 Club, and part Irish bar. Reading that last line, the lunches I describe might come across as both pretentious and limited to middle aged white men with drinking problems. As it turns out, my dining companions rarely fit these stereotypes.
The first group I like to take to lunch is comprised of members of my team. I enjoy their company, and I love continuing our conversations about both general subjects and specific projects while out of the office and relaxed at lunch. In smaller groups and between bites, we dig a little deeper, and we can address sensitive subjects without worrying about eavesdroppers – the diners at adjacent tables don’t often take much interest in our conversations. I also remember the firm where I worked between college and graduate schools. The principals were mentors and good bosses, and are friends to this day, but they did not socialize with their staff. Perhaps such walls are good for business, but for my money (and I do pick up the check), our DFA culture is at least in part built on going to lunch – not to mention pizza Fridays.
The second community of stakeholders with whom we dine is made up of our contracting partners. When we go out with our builders, we accomplish many things. Foremost, we break down the expected hierarchy by treating our contractors as partners, not adversaries. The amount of goodwill we’ve built by having a meal and a bottle of wine with our builders cannot be overestimated. Beyond good will, we solve, or at least attempt to solve, specific project issues as well as the industry challenges we all confront.
Most business owners would put our third category of lunch companions first, our clients. Accountants used to call client lunches entertainment. Lunches with clients can certainly be entertaining, but the real value is in the opportunity for frank communication. Much of what we do is nuanced, and is better communicated face-to-face, and talking over a meal amplifies this opportunity. If you want to actively discuss ideas, which would you prefer; email or sharing a meal?
And lastly, something I do too infrequently, I like to go out to lunch by myself. Dining alone can be precious downtime, affording the opportunity to recharge. I always remember to bring a notepad to jot down my meandering thoughts.