Food and business: a perennial bond

Articles
September 23, 2009

Food and business: a perennial bond

Think of a friend you love who is really a slob at the dinner table. Would you hire him or her, knowing that’s the image of your business that clients would take away from the meal?

Think of a friend you love who is really a slob at the dinner table. Would you hire him or her, knowing that’s the image of your business that clients would take away from the meal?

How about a more presentable friend who just might eat salad with the wrong fork at an inopportune moment? Is that a deal breaker?

Consider the countless business deals that have been brokered and sealed at meals through years, decades, even centuries.  Not everyone nailed his or her etiquette lessons beforehand; they just knew enough not to blow the opportunity. 

We got to thinking at SupermarketGuru.com about the inextricable relationship between business and food—about how we eat and what we eat might somehow disclose our readiness to succeed on a project or career path, or impress or horrify someone who has the power to make a difference in our professional lives. This goes deeper than surface etiquette. We know Emily Post wrote “Nothing is less important than which fork you use,” and we agree.

We wonder, though, if a person’s manner around the table accurately reflects generosity or stinginess, thoughtfulness or rudeness, abilities to multitask and make people feel good, and more. Can you glean true insight into a person’s character by seeing how and what they eat? We haven’t identified any scientific studies around this, but in a recession where millions of jobs vanished and every impression counts, we think the topic is worth discussing.

Certainly it is the conversation and attendant behaviors that form a more complete picture of a potential employee or business partner at a meal. Someone who lacks the etiquette fundamentals, however, may not get a fair chance to dazzle with conversation. There are plenty of DVDs, books and online courses available to address this.

A significant turn of events, we think, is the recession-driven downscaling in power meals in major urban markets—which might translate into fewer or shifting opportunities at the table. In New York City, where media and banking industries have been hit hard, Steve Millington, the general manager of mainstay Michael’s told Ad Age earlier this year that patrons remain “anxious to make deals and make things happen” and he is “stunned by how upbeat and busy we are.”

But not every place is Michael’s. Reports of more breakfasts instead of lunches, more lunches instead of dinners, and more fixed-price meals throughout Manhattan power eateries, reflect a time where tighter spending intersects with shorter sit-downs and leaner time schedules. For people who need to impress at the table, this means greater pressures to exude comfort and confidence with both the dining and the business at hand.