The Lost Practice (and Art) of the Lunch: Lessons from Asia
Unfortunately, in a time of economic uncertainty, we seem to have fallen out of love with Lunch. And by Lunch, I mean a proper sit down affair, over which there is no working agenda nor papers set in front of you to review except for the menu. In a classic case of ‘time is money’, we have increasingly felt the need to generate tangible outputs from our lunch break and I believe we are in danger of forgetting the value of Lunch.
Last year, the Hong Kong stock exchange reduced its lunch break for the second time in two years, from 90 minutes to an hour (it was previously 2 hours). Uproar ensued, including street protests. The stock exchange reasoned that the move was necessary to make Hong Kong more competitive by aligning its trading hours with other major exchanges in Asia. The brokers argued that the extended lunch break was integral to their bottom line as the time was spent meeting with clients over a meal during which business was discussed. The restaurant owners in the financial district joined in because the shorter lunch break meant a loss of business.
Prior to joining WCG in London, I worked as a communications consultant for our PROI partner agency in Singapore across various industries in the Asia-Pacific region. Lunch has always been and still remains an important part of the fabric of business, particularly in Asia. Not only that but the details of the activities during and around the event (and yes, it should be considered an event) are vital to the success of the Lunch.
1. Lunch as a way of nurturing the client relationship
- A hungry client is a grumpy client; a well-fed client, on the other hand, is a happier, more amiable client
- The Business Lunch offers many opportunities to build rapport, from deciding what to order from the menu, to making pleasant conversation between courses [Conversely, launching straight into business talk insinuates that you are only interested in his/her money rather than the relationship]
- The choice of restaurant says a lot about how you view the client: a balance of good food (bonus points if you have chosen a place that specifically caters to the client’s dietary needs/preferences) and ambience shows that you value the relationship
2. Lunch as a branding exercise
- Choosing the location for the Lunch is an art in itself – it has to be trendy enough to show that you are in the know, but not too trendy lest you come across as unimaginative; in recent times, being too flashy in your choice of restaurant is also frowned upon
- The selection of the menu for a corporate reception (which tend to be Lunch) speaks volumes about your level of discernment and taste
3. Lunch as an internal team bonding activity
- In Asia, the lunch break is sacred and many people will leave their desks (if not office) to partake of their lunch, often in groups, for the full break time. The time away from their desks allows staff to unwind and get to socialise with other colleagues, helping build stronger relationships and camaraderie.
- Team lunches are a regular affair, spearheaded by team leaders or senior management executives – they serve to motivate staff, who often work long hours, and foster stronger team spirit
At WCG in London, we recognize the value of developing strong personal relationships, both on a client level and among our teams. Many of us not only have our little black book of places to go but also keep notes about our client’s interests and preferences. This has helped us show that we are invested in them as real people and encourage real partnerships. We have retained several clients since we opened our doors in 2008 and the relationships have supported mutual growth of our businesses: these clients are not only cornerstones but have helped open many doors to new business opportunities.
Who is ready for Lunch?