Lunch: Your Secret Weapon


Business lunch
Top salespeople have often used lunch as a way to help bond with a customer and close a deal. Getting the customer out of the office allows for relaxed conversation and freedom from ringing phones and similar interruptions. Going beyond those obvious benefits, though, there’s research that shows messages are more persuasive when accompanied by food.

Decades ago, Yale researchers had subjects read a “persuasive communication” while eating food; two other groups read the material with no food in one case, and no communication in the other. The subjects were told that the provider of the food was not the source of the communication and did not endorse it. The researchers found that opinions changed most when the subjects ate food while reading the material.

This simple experiment is just one of many that show that association with a favorable stimulus can change attitudes. Deliver good news, and you’ll be liked more. Accompany a client to an enjoyable activity, and some of that positive feeling will rub off on you (and your message).

Triple Play

So, taking a client to lunch delivers in at least three ways. As shown by the association experiment I just described, a good meal will make your pitch more persuasive. In addition, lunch offers the opportunity to socialize. In It Really DOES Pay to Schmooze, we saw that negotiation outcomes were much more successful for both parties when they had a chance to socialize first. Finally, to score a neuromarketing trifecta, treating a customer to a nice lunch may also invoke reciprocity, a feeling that one favor should be returned with another.

Do lunch the brainy way!

These various findings can be turned into a simple lunch plan. First, start by socializing – talk about families, golf, or whatever common interests you have. Relating to each other as people sets the stage for a deal. During the meal, introduce your most persuasive elements for working together. This will require a deft touch – nobody wants a good meal ruined by a sales pitch. Don’t overdo this phase, just work those key points into the conversation. If you can pull that off, by the end of the meal you’ll be much closer to a successful deal than when you started.

  1. Enjoyable post. It really is amazing how the association principle plays out in our lives – more often than not without us conciously recognizing it. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Denise says

    What about for those of us who have long distance clients? Any way to take advantage of the association principle?

    Are there any ways to use creative prospecting techniques to create the same positive associations?

    Curious minds want to know :)).

    1. Roger Dooley says

      That’s a really good question, Denise. It’s always tough to translate in-person research to the various ways we interact digitally. I think “schmoozing” can take place (and be effective) in various media, particularly with full-motion video tools like Skype, Webex, etc. Working on association is tougher – you need your client to have the pleasurable experience at the same time that you communicate your message.

      It may sound a little goofy, but one approach might be a “virtual business lunch.” Tell your client you’d love to take them to lunch, but since you are in a different city you’ll do it virtually. Schedule a lunch meeting that will use a web conferencing tool, and have food delivered to your client’s office (and yours). Then, schmooze a little, enjoy lunch, and squeeze in your message.

      Let me know if you try this, Denise!


      1. Denise says

        Thanks for the great suggestion. I actually do plan to try a virtual prospecting lunch :)).


  3. Mandy Lehto says

    This research muscles up something that we know and do instinctively. I just read something similar about how simple water cooler niceties can give us a career boost. It’s based on visibility and the feel-good factor. So perhaps it’s not only limited to clients. That cup of Earl Grey, and a few shared moments with colleagues, can also be good for one’s career. Thanks Roger. Great post.

    1. Roger Dooley says

      I agree completely, Mandy. The same association principle can apply to bosses, subordinates, and co-workers. There’s some common sense, too – if you are taking the time to socialize and interact with others, even without the association factor you are already ahead of the game. Too often, we get so wrapped up in getting business done we neglect the human factor.


    2. Mandy Lehto says

      Forgot to post that link – it’s worth a read: link

      1. Roger Dooley says

        Very relevant content, Mandy. I like the quote, “If people know you, and have a positive impression of you, then you will have a distinct advantage over others who are less well known… Set up a lunch date or grab a coffee if you want to discuss something important.”

  4. angie says

    Thanks for sharing! It really is amazing how the association principle plays out in our lives – more often than not without us conciously recognizing it…I really enjoy reading your post..

    1. Roger Dooley says

      Quite true, Angie, the association factor is just about totally outside conscious awareness.


  5. Deb Kolaras says

    So much better than a sterile ole meeting! I like your ideas and while we do “coffee” with people quite often, the thought of having a meal, then talking shop, while so simple, is also a very human interaction; we love breaking bread with others, and at the same time, it breaks the ice 🙂

    1. Roger Dooley says

      I agree, Deb, that’s the “schmooze” factor which has also been proven effective in reaching a successful conclusion.


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