Hulcher & Hays, LLC, Client Development Consulting

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Lunch Is on You

Buried in work? The mid-day meal may be your best chance to grow your practice

Like it or not, lunch is a big part of marketing. Whether youíre trying to woo a prospect, squeeze referrals out of another lawyer, or keep your hooks firmly embedded in the mottled flesh of a valued client, lunch is often the time to do it.

After all, you have to eat, right? Right. Thatís why "lack of time" doesnít cut it when attorneys are dishing up excuses for client development inactivity, especially after I see them from my car, taking a leisurely lunch hour stroll up Central Avenue, eating frozen yogurt with one of their colleagues, their secretary, someone elseís secretary, or another non-source of business.

More often than not, the real problem isnít lack of time; itís lack of planning, will, and confidence in your ability to make productive use of the noon meal (or, for that matter, breakfast or dinner).

Becoming a lunchtime marketing machine requires that you do three things:

  • plan ahead,

  • know where to go, and

  • have a firm grasp of certain lunch protocols.

Plan Ahead

Spontaneity may be a wonderful and exciting thing in some aspects of your life, but not when it comes to setting up a power lunch. Few people whose lunch companionship is worth your time and money are going to be available on short notice, so always think several days ahead.

Make a list of clients, prospects, attorneys and other referral sources with whom you want to break bread. Then get on a regular schedule of calling one of them Ė preferably not the same one over and over Ė far enough in advance that you can get together.

Lack of advance planning is probably the number one cause of non-lunch. By the time you notice that itís almost noon and you actually have time to eat, itís too late to do it with anyone who can do you any good. So you succumb to an invitation from one of the firmís lesser lights to run over to Boston Market for some meat loaf and an ear full about his big weekend in Albuquerque. Not that thereís anything wrong with that ... until one day it hits you that your workloadís getting pretty light and the last place you had a productive lunch closed six months ago.

Staff Support

If youíre too busy, unfocused, indifferent or shy to initiate a steady diet of lunches, think about getting some help from your secretary. Give her your list of potential lunch companions and ask her to remind you every week or so to call somebody on it. This practice works just fine ... in Utopia, where attorneys donít automatically blow off everything their secretaries tell them to do.

If making phone calls isnít your thing, make your secretary do it for you. Give her a list of people who know you well enough that they wonít be put off by having someone else invite them to eat with you, and ask her to get them on your lunch calendar. This will normally work with acquaintances (including other lawyers) and some of your better clients; it will not work particularly well with prospects, clients who hate you, and strangers.

Your secretaryís ability to tell a white lie may be essential to her effectiveness in setting up your lunch dates. I know, even the faintest hint of dishonesty cuts against the grain of most attorneys, but having your secretary say, "Mr. Mahoney, Mr. Strockenmueller is in court this morning, but before he left he asked me to call to see if youíre available for lunch next Friday at the University Club," sounds a heck of a lot better than, "Mr. Strockenmueller apparently wants to have lunch with you, but youíre evidently not high enough on his list to warrant a call from the great man himself, so he says to me this morning, ĎI donít have time to talk to that worthless pile of cow dung Mahoney. Call him and set up a lunch somewhere thatís cheap and quick and far enough in advance that I can cancel if anything better comes along,í so what do you say to Dennyís, say, next spring?"

Know Where to Go

Behaviorists, sales professionals, et al., seem to agree that people eternally connect you with wherever they were when they first spent time with you. So if you want a prospective client or referral source to have positive lasting thoughts about you, I say Alexiís wins out over Schlotzskyís.

Initiating lunch at a nice restaurant may not come naturally to you, especially if you lean toward places that have "character." Avoid your favorite neighborhood haunts, including any at which:

  • the parking lot is unpaved;

  • the main entrance is through the kitchen (exception: Durantís);

  • you can sit at the counter;

  • you can play pinball;

  • the servers are surly, mute or unwashed, wear lip or tongue jewelry, occasionally band together to clap hands and sing annoying birthday-related songs, or sit with you while they take your order;

  • the majority of vehicles in the parking lot have more or less than four wheels or display the Stars Ďní Bars or weapons in the back window; or

  • vermin racing is a pari-mutuel wagering activity.

Also avoid taking high priority guests to any dining establishment that doesnít take lunch reservations or credit cards, has too many weird rules printed in the menu or taped to the cash register, offers an early bird menu or serves its entrees on a tray or in Styrofoam.

Instead, join a private club and go there all the time. If thatís not in the budget, find two or three nice, quiet, tastefully decorated restaurants that have good food and service. Become a regular. Get to know the hosts and hostesses well enough that they call you by Mr. or Ms. whatever-your-last-name-is. Call for reservations sufficiently far in advance that you can get your favorite table. Familiarize yourself with the menu so that you can make recommendations to your guests, or at least steer them away from the pork tar tare. And tip generously. (Be subtle, though; making a big show of peeling off Jacksons for everyone from the parking valet to the bus boy may be viewed as boorish by your more cultivated guests.)

Know Your Lunch Protocol

Even in these barbaric times, there are a few rules of etiquette and common sense that govern the lunch process:

  1. When you call to invite someone to lunch, be ready to suggest a day and place. It saves time and makes you look like youíve given it some thought.

  2. Offer to pick up your guest. Itís not only a courtesy, but it can also spare one of you from cooling your heels in the waiting area (or at the wrong place) while the other made the mistake of taking a call on the way out the door. If you donít know or canít remember exactly what your lunch guest looks like, swinging by his or her office helps you avoid the embarrassment of having to introduce yourself to every stranger in the restaurant before you find your guest.

  3. If you wear a hat ó regardless of style or the direction in which the bill points ó take it off, and leave it off for the rest of your life.

  4. If you can pull it off without having to deliver a hip-check, take the seat with the best view. You want your guest to concentrate on you, not on the other customers.

  5. As soon as youíre seated, put your napkin in your lap (preferably after youíve removed your silverwear) but don't unfold it all the way.

  6. Let your guest order first, and then order something comparable for yourself. If he or she orders ch‚teaubriand, youíre going to look silly and cheap asking for a side salad and a glass of water.

  7. Cocktails may be okay with dinner, but not with lunch (unless you're at Durant's and you consider lunch an early dinner) or breakfast.

  8. Even if you forget the other rules, remember this one: If you invite someone to lunch, you pay. When the server brings the check, promptly and smoothly slide it to your side of the table. If your guest offers to pay, say that itís your treat. If he insists, tell him he can buy next time (if you want there to be a next time). If he starts to make a scene, let him buy; few things are more gauche than fighting over a check. Also be prepared to go Dutch if your lunch guest is a hyper-ethical government employee or otherwise prohibited from accepting gifts and favors.

Finally, know when to have your business discussion. Use the pre-ordering phase to make small talk and get better acquainted. As soon as youíve placed your order, get down to business. There arenít a bunch of dishes on the table yet, and you donít have to worry about grossing out anyone by talking with your mouth full. If youíre going to put the moves on a prospective client, do it now. If youíre lunching with a potential referral source, now is the time to ask, "What can we do to generate more work for each other?"

Donít wait until after youíve finished eating to get serious in your discussion. By that time, your guest may be starting to glance at his watch, already more focused on what awaits him back at the office than he is on whatever it is you wanted to talk about.

Oh, and don't bring marketing materials to a power lunch unless you absolutely have to; your business card will suffice. Leaving your brochure at the office gives you something to send your lunch companion as a follow-up, along with an appropriately uplifting note.

Do It Now

Donít let your heavy workload cause you to put off lunch engagements and other marketing activities until you have more spare time. Now is the time to be talking to people, learning what they need and showing how you can help them. Donít waste this opportunity.

In Julius Caesar, Shakespeare wrote, "There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune." The tideís coming back in; ask someone to lunch today.

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