Treat You To Lunch?

Why do sales people make a point of saying that they will treat you for lunch?

What's lunch? $20? $30? How long is lunch? 2 hours, considering eating, talking and traveling.

So the pitch is "hey, I'll pay you $10, $15 an hour for your time"

I do not understand why anyone of any importance would be attracted to that. Worse, it's condescending, as if such a trivial amount of money would impact a decision. Either that person has demonstrated enough value in what they know and/or represent or it's pointless, regardless of who's paying for food.

It must be appealing to some people, right? Otherwise, why would it be such a common offer?

That is an interesting thought John. I think more of it is that you might be made to feel like you "owe" them something in return like favoring them over another vendor. Personally I like it when someone else pays for the lunch/dinner lol.

Who took you out for lunch? I might want to avoid them too :) I am one of those that love taking my clients out for lunch. I have yet to take a new client out for lunch but I often take current clients for lunch and many also take me out. I have always believed in never eating alone. I always invite someone for lunch. I think lunch gives you a neutral ground that allows you to learn more about the person and less about the client. I am all about relationships. My best friend was once my client and one of my mentors was first a client. I guess it will depend on the reasoning behind the lunch. I have never sold a system over lunch. I also have never taken a new client out for lunch... mainly because I just don't know them.... but in the course of a relationship between a client and his vendor I cannot see why a vendor should not take his or her client to lunch... it is a great place to talk about other things and build a relationship. My 2 cents.

Margarita, oh, I agree with you. The intention is that someone would now 'owe' them something. I get why a sales person would try it.

However, to me, it's a petty and offensive bribe, that somehow I would 'owe' them or choose to meet with them because I get a lunch out of it.

I do think sales people should consider the negative impact of offending someone with such an offer.

Jose, I agree with you if there is some established relationship, whether it is a client, former co-worker, someone you talk to regularly, etc., that lunch makes sense.

What I do not get is offering to pay for lunch as a cold opening.

I think it depends on various cultures. In china having lunch togther is kind of minimum expected for doing a business. Also they do noithave ewaste real office works instaed use the lunch time more productively. Secondly it is give and take : Time.

Thanks for the feedback. I changed the title because I realize it's confusing the issue. I am not objecting to lunch meetings in general, simply the act of offering to buy someone lunch.

I think there may be something to Jose's point when it comes to new relationships as well: it's a neutral ground, if nothing else, and a good place to meet someone for the first time without the pressure for EITHER person of being on the other guy's turf (then again, if a salesdroid is uncomfortable being on a potential customer's turf, he's probably in the wrong line of work). This is true regardless of who's paying.

As for offering to buy lunch, maybe don't think of it as a bribe so much as... well, just relieving someone of having to pay. There may be instances where the budget is tight (last couple days before payday, anyone?) and the potential customer might turn down a lunch meeting as not being an affordable luxury. The vendor to cover lunch removes that concern. Might not be an issue if your potential customer is the CFO/CTO of a major corporation, but for personnel in small companies without an expense account... it certainly can be.

And besides all that, why can't it just be a nice gesture?

I agree that it can be appealing / useful especially for smaller integrators, those without expense accounts, etc.

As a side note, all IPVM employees have company credit cards and are required to pay for their own meals and to offer to pay for anyone they are eating/meeting with.

For me, though, there is no instance where who pays for lunch will impact whether I meet. The big cost to me is my time, which I value greatly. The cost of lunch is trivial in comparison.

So I guess there really IS such a thing as a free lunch. :o)

I think John is just a very generous kind of guy.

DO... NOT.... SCREW... WITH.... MY.... FREE.... LUNCHES!

I may not buy the product, but I'll give you my time and consideration at the drop of a hat for a free lunch. Yes, I am easy that way.

You're over-thinking it.

IMO, most sales people aren't offering to buy lunch as any sort of shady tactic to gain favors owed.

A good outside sales person can do 3 meetings in a day, a great one will do 4-5. One of those is likely to fall around lunch time, but statistically speaking, lunch meetings should be the minority of your overall meetings.

Some reasons that people like lunch meetings (I know a few of these were already covered):

1) It's neutral territory

2) The setting generally prevents things from getting too "in the weeds", and keeps the discussions more high level

3) Prevents interruptions, in-office meetings with popular/busy people can sometimes be cut short or interrupted by "fires"

4) Many people appreciate the lunch meeting as an excuse to get out of the office and get away for a couple of hours

5) Many people don't eat out often, so lunch meetings are a *small* draw for them.

It's really not about the "free lunch", most people aren't going to feel indebted to you for buying them lunch, and the kinds who can be bought will require a helluva lot more than just a lunch before you pull any sway with them. Basically, I think lunch meetings are just a simple gesture/option most of the time.

Offering to pay for lunch is not a "bribe" per se, but it does set up a host-guest dynamic, giving the salesperson a host's rights: the ability to speak first, the right to subtly steer the conversation, the right to offer to extend the meal by suggesting another drink or another desert, the right to invite someone else- a finance company rep, a sales engineer, a satisfied customer- to share the meal. It also gives the customer guest's rights: the right to excuse oneself when the conversation has gone on long enough, the right to refuse alchohol or desert or coffee or other attempts to extend the meal, the right to ask to be convinced further.

Besides, seeing how the salesperson treats the waiter or waitress is instructive; a person who acts like a jerk to the waiter or stiffs them on the tip unprovoked is a person who will rip you off if they ever get the chance. I'm sure there are exceptions to the rule but I've never witnessed it. The point is, seeing how a person acts in an informal setting is invaluable when deciding if you should pursue a business relationship with that person and their company.

Sales isn't just about numbers. Sales is about people. Do I want to get involved with this person and their product? It's not always easy to tell. Luckily, we have a way of getting to know the person behind the product, and part of this process is the business lunch.

The business dinner, however, is usually infinitely sleazier. I've taken to lunch and have been taken to lunch, and usually good things have developed from it, but I've only ever had one good business relationship come out of a dinner, and now avoid them. People going to lunch are going back to the office after. People going to dinner want to have fun after, and then you start veering into bribery territory, with concert tickets or sporting event tickets or activities even less family friendly. A salesperson wanting to take you to dinner, especially when you're attending an out-of-town convention, has a weak product and a too-large marketing budget, generally.

Years ago, the company I worked at the time for would sponsor "lunch and learns" with consulting/specifying engineers. We would have food delivered (usually pizza or sandwiches) and set up an informal presentation in their break or conference room, at most it was $5-10 a person. Engineers are busy individuals with project deadlines that don't have a lot of time for vendors, but they do take a lunch break or go out for lunch just about everyday. It was a win/win for both sides. They didn't have to go out for lunch, learned about our products and meet our engineers for some "geek speak". The sales guys got some "face time", and a great chance for individual discussion and feedback in an informal setting and develop new contacts (This was long before the era of Twitter and LinkedIn). We never paid for fancy dinners/drinks, golf outings, sports/concert tickets or trips, as there was a strict policy against it. But token lunches like these were OK and encouraged.

Now I work with more city and county government clients, they will go to lunch but it has to be dutch. A free lunch from a vendor or potential vendor is a big no-no for them.

To add to Ari's waitress observation, I'm not a big golfer, but one time I did go on a golf outing with a vendor's sales guy. He cheated like hell: took mulligans, used the foot wedge, and put deflated numbers on the scorecard. I figure if he cheated at golf, which is basically cheating yourself, what chance did I stand? That day backfired and killed a relationship.

yep. learn a lot about a guy on the links or in the bar.

As en end user / client, if a meeting runs into lunch we will buy the meal for the sales person / integrator / manufacturer.

In fact, we have treated a few fellow IPVM users to lunch :)

We would not allow a new vendor / integrator / manufacturer treat us, esp for an initial meeting. Then again we also competative bid and thoroughly descope all of our Integrators (even those with an established long term business relationship). Yup, we are "one of those" lol.

Ari's observations are spot on and the golf incident mentioned by John is so true. A business lunch or informal outing has a higher chance of impacting a potential relationship negatively than it does positively.

You know, I was thinking about the original question in light of all these replies:

What's lunch? $20? $30? How long is lunch? 2 hours, considering eating, talking and traveling.

So the pitch is "hey, I'll pay you $10, $15 an hour for your time"

I do not understand why anyone of any importance would be attracted to that. Worse, it's condescending, as if such a trivial amount of money would impact a decision.

It occurs to me that John is in a rather different position than, well, everyone else here, in that he never needs anyone to sell him anything, and indeed, specifially avoids letting anyone sell him anything... and as such, the related aspects of the vendor-treated business lunch beyond just "what is my time worth", as others have laid out here, don't really apply to him.

Not that he's never been in such a position in a previous life, just that maybe he's forgetten those aspects after doing the IPVM thing for so long. Which is why the rest of us are here to remind him :)

Anyway... was just an observation, not an indictment or anything :)

Matt, I agree that there's differences in one's position, business model, etc. As an integrator, it certainly wouldn't be as much of an issue.

That said, I do think that even for integrators, if you are a sales person and your lead pitch, "I'll buy you lunch" it's weak unless (1) s/he has demonstrated that his offerings have potential or (2) s/he is knowledgeable person that you might learn something from.

At one point in my past life as an integrator, we told one large, lagging company to stop taking us to dinner and to put that money to R&D instead.

I don't think they listened.

But regaling fish stories and football anecdotes is so much easier than all that stuffy R&D, Ethan.


Ethan, did you do so by ordering the phony bologna from Tony, the sales rep from...

Nope, but that was funny and only mildly confusing.

It's also a regional thing. East Texas? Lunch will be involved. Bowling Green, Kentuky? Lunch, and probably booze. New Orleans? 4 course dinner at a 5 star restaurant. The restauant may or may not be in a house.

Selling on value depends on relationship. Relationship depends on trust. Trust is a slippery squirmy thing, but you can't really trust people who you don't know. Sitting down with briskit and sweet tea is a great way to get to know people.

If you sell commodity, skip lunch and send a line card.

I'm sitting in Bowling Green, KY (boozeless at the moment). That was too random of a location choice so I have to ask the connection.

One of my sales guys told me a story about meeting with an elected official near Bowling Green. When asked for a lunch recommendation, he insisted that they go across the state border to a certain restaurant. When they got to the restaurant, about half the patrons were city officials from around the region, and most of them had a drink in their hand!

"It's also a regional thing. East Texas? Lunch will be involved. Bowling Green, Kentuky? Lunch, and probably booze. New Orleans? 4 course dinner at a 5 star restaurant. The restauant may or may not be in a house."

I truly LOL'd at this, and it reminded me of one of my favorite film clips of all time:

New York City? Pizza while standing up, or perhaps a hot dog or a falafel from a cart. If you do sit down, your cutlery will probably be plastic. Unless you play in the big leagues, of course.

Sounds about right... I've got to figure out how to join the cool kids club. :)

Let's also not forget that if the sales guy takes you to lunch, the company pays for his also.

In other words, he's just using you to get a free lunch himself? :-)

That's the last time I underestimate the cleverness of a sales person!

Come on now, we all know that's not true!

Don't laugh... As a sales guy if you go to lunch by yourself, it comes out of your wallet. Been there, done that, many years ago.

I think Marc has it right. Everybody else is over thinking the whole free lunch thing.

First off it is polite to offer to pay for someone's lunch - did chivalry die already and get replaced with fear of impropriety?

Secondly, I prefer lunch meetings for the very reason that my time is valuable! Meeting me during work hours means I am forgoing some level of productivity whereas a lunch meeting is dead time anyway. No better way for me to kill two birds with one stone.

"Did chivalry die already and get replaced with fear of impropriety?"

I am not a Victorian woman nor child so chivalry does not apply.

If the sales person really wants to be polite, they can appreciate my time and make a pitch / effort to provide useful information, that is far more valuable than picking up a check for a hamburger.

John, you can pay for my lunch anytime. :-)

Ed, next time you are in the Islands, let me know and it's on me!

John, you're on!

Road trip!

(metaphorically speaking, of course, unless you own an Amphibicar)

So, looks like we have a few takeaways here.

1. Salesguys like to eat lunch for free.

2. Many people will let salesguys buy them lunch.

3. I like people from East Texas.

4. People will read too much into anything you say or do.

5. John Honovich does not want to go to lunch with you, so stop calling already. ;-)

I spend anywhere between 60 and Infinity hours a week working. If I can have my way, I'll work with people I like and make the work enjoyable, and I enjoy eating a good meal with people I like. If I really like you, I'll plan on dinner, and we'll bring spouses, and maybe we'll splurge on some wine and we'll laugh too loud and stay out too late and we'll talk business in a way that makes us forget that "by the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made."

That being said, I'm posting this from a Starbucks on 5th and Church in Nashville, waiting on a meeting!

Don't offer to pay for the coffee - that would be insulting and inappropriate!

What is it about hornet's nests that make them such attractive rock-throwing targets? ;-)

Hal, I like you already. How about lunch?

Look me up at ASIS in Chicago in a few weeks if you're there. I'll be at the Panasonic booth. We'll send the tab to IPVM's table!

Look me up at ASIS in Chicago in a few weeks if you're there. I'll be at the Panasonic booth. We'll send the tab to IPVM's table!


you really enjoy openning Pandora boxes, don't you...?

I take people out to lunch very often and done so when I was a technician, pulling wires in NYC, a project manager, and any other phaze in my career. (Not trying to sell anything, that's my point...)

While some people may enjoy e-mailing and texting, in an evermore digitalized world, I still enjoy meeting people face to face and learning about them from a genuine conversation, and yes, making friends beyond Linkedin and Facebook.

In todays world where most sales people work from home, Lunch/ coffee is the only way to meet people face to face on a one on one settings.

Yes, we can probably meet on the bench in the park where no one spends money, but it seems a lot more shady that way :)

There is an Indian buffet in downtown San Diego to which I usually invite people for a meeting. It is around $13 for lunch and I never make the assumption of "My treat" or "Your treat"...

Does it mean that I value people at $13 an hour??

Sometimes lunch is just lunch! (I think I stole someone's slogan...)


Great points. I agree with you that it is an increasingly digital world and we have lost that face to face appraoch in many ways. Also, great point about the lunch costing 13 dollars but that does not necessarily mean you value their time at that. Can we just admit that some people just like the social aspect of doing business? It doesn't have to be so black and white all the time. My 2 cents.