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How to Make the Most of Lunch Meetings

Lunch meetings can be tricky, and may even be passé in some regards. Consider that weekday foodservice lunch visits declined by 7 percent in the second quarter of 2016, constrained in part by more people working from home and higher menu prices, reports NPD Group, which analyzes the restaurant industry.

“My philosophy is that lunch is not the most productive place to do business,” observes venture capitalist Eric Manlunas. Business productivity expert Nancy Gaines agrees. “Productive people focus on the right actions at the right time — they value their resources and spend them on actions that produce strong outcomes.”

In that light, mid-morning or mid-afternoon coffee meetings — usually relatively fast, convenient and cheap — are becoming more popular than traditional sit-down lunch meetings as contemporary workplace meeting standards continue to evolve.

Meeting in-house.

Another alternative is to serve food to employee groups and/or customers in-house at lunchtime to review an impactful topic, policy or course of business. Here’s how to make those types of lunch meetings run smoothly.

Name a point person.

Any successful meeting starts with a designated organizer, who handles the details of attendees, location, time, menu selection, room setup, payment and cleanup. Some companies, such as Apple, list the “directly responsible individual” on the meeting agenda.

Emphasize the purpose.

Attendees should receive an agenda before the meeting. That way, they know both who will be there and what needs to be accomplished within the given timeframe. Consider having purpose-specific meetings over standing ones, like status updates. Those meetings are rarely a good use of time, according to Forbes.

Invite the decision-maker.

If the purpose of the meeting is to move forward on a project, make sure to include the person who can give the stamp of approval (or his/her designee), advises business blogger Kelly Whalen.

Face forward.

If the meeting features a presentation, arrange seating so that no one has their back to the speaker. The food pick-up area should stand apart from the seating area so that people don’t have to cross in front of the speaker.

A cramped table won’t be conducive to a productive meeting with food involved. Each person should have enough table space to eat their food and take notes on paper or electronic device.

Allow for food sensitivities.

“These days, having a gluten-free option and a vegan option is a good start. In fact, it’s practically essential,” notes this office meeting tipsheet.

Encourage intra-company networking.

One of the great side benefits of group lunches is to bring together different teams or individuals. Briefly socializing before getting down to business helps build relationships that can help drive overarching goals.

Stick to the schedule.

Remember that employees are breaking from their normal routine to attend a lunch meeting and may have pressing deadlines later in the day. The meeting leader should keep an eye on the clock and move toward wrapping up crucial points before adjourning.

Issue a recap.

The person who called the lunch meeting should follow up by documenting the key takeaways or to-do items and who is responsible for any next steps. Meeting notes or recordings can be placed in a shared document or similarly accessible resource.

The successful business lunch — like any project management activity — hinges on effective planning, clear communication and efficient time management. When well-executed, attendees will leave having satisfied their appetite for a good meal and useful information.

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Frank Irving

Frank Irving is a Philadelphia-based writer specializing in business, healthcare and technology topics.