In 1980s Perth, alcohol-steeped power lunches were de rigueur, as much a part of doing business as handshakes and handovers. Indulgent, excessive and surprisingly productive, they became the medium through which deals and careers were forged. Dieting teetotalers languished; the hungry and ambitious thrived.
But in this post-GFC era, the long, boozy lunch on the company dollar is a rarity. It all started with the introduction of the Fringe Benefit Tax in 1986, curtailing tax deductions for entertainment and forcing companies to question the value of the business lunch, parsimoniously tightening their budgets. The mining industry’s no-alcohol policy did further damage to the city’s lunchtime quaffing culture.
In response, corporate culture has evolved into one in which productivity is king. More and more employees wolf down lunch at their desks, and marvel at how executives once managed to go out for multi-course, waistline-widening meals and return the office hours later – with a buzz to boot. Others wonder the point of meeting up at all when you could email, text, tweet or even Skype. In our increasingly time-poor and technology-driven world, face-to-face contact – especially over lunch – can feel inefficient, outdated and just plain time-consuming.
“These days, business people are busy,” explains one West Perth restaurateur. “Before, they would come for a long lunch, but now they only live for business. They might stay a maximum of one hour, but they don’t drink or spend anymore. It’s just the way lunch goes. The boom of the 80s is gone forever.”
So has the business lunch died? Nope. It’s evolved. Just ask restaurateur Scott Taylor, owner of The Beaufort Street Merchants and The Trustee, two of the city’s most popular lunchtime venues for the corporate set.
“Business lunches have certainly changed over the last few years. They are still happening with the same frequency, but the tables are for smaller groups,” Scott says. “The guests are drinking less, but are drinking better; there is a staggering amount of serious quality wine going out to lunch tables instead of vast quantities of less expensive bottles.”
David Best, the general manager of Rockpool Bar & Grill at Crown Perth, concurs. “Despite the GFC and supposed tightening of corporate belts, business lunches are still popular at our restaurant,” David continues. “Customers seem to have more time limitations these days, but there is no marked change in what people
are ordering or spending.”
So who’s doing all this lunching? The majority is from financial services, management, law, consulting, recruitment and service-based industries to the resources sector – industries that consider the business lunch as an integral part of their business.
The reasons are numerous. The business lunch offers uninterrupted one-on-one time with a current or prospective client in an environment of your choosing, putting you on equal footing. Because typical business lunches last around
90 minutes, it gives you ample time to do more than just make your point, it gives you time to make an impression. The old adage is true: people do business with people that they like. And a lunch gives you time to be liked.
You don’t have to tell Dermott McVeigh. He’s the director of Avior Consulting, and
a regular business luncher. In his 15-year career, he’s worked in Perth’s biggest accounting firms, and was once one of Deloitt’s youngest partners. In his field, credibility is everything, and Dermott has built up his reputation through networking and rapport-building lunches, of which he takes 3-4 a week.
“I believe that 85 per cent of our business is relationship-driven,” says Dermott. “The business lunch is core to maintaining the acknowledgement of your thought leadership, so the client sees you as an expert in the field and keeps you front of mind. If you aren’t doing it, you’re definitely losing market share, because
I can tell you that your competitors are doing it.”
So why lunch, and not a meeting in the boardroom or a cafe? “It takes people out of the business setting,” explains Dermott. “The introduction of food creates a different environment and it means you can get one step closer to your client as an individual. The lunch brings you to a depth of the relationship that you could never achieve in a meeting or over coffee.”
Dermott continues, “You don’t necessarily close a business deal at a lunch – all it does is lower everyone’s guard for 90 minutes. That being said, it does get expensive, especially when it doesn’t have the outcome you hope for and the opportunity is lost. But it’s a positive experience if something is gained in the relationship.”
Gemma Tognini, director of GT Media, believes that despite the rise of new media technologies, face-to-face communication remains as relevant as ever.
“In terms of building relationships, it’s absolutely critical. I mean who wants a relationship – business or otherwise – in which the only contact is via email, phone or tweets? New media is no more to blame than the sun in the sky – knowing what makes your client tick, how they like to engage and going from there, that’s the secret.”
Gemma invites her clients on at least one business lunch per week. “I’ve heard it said that the long lunch is dead. I know for my firm, we’re guided by our clients and what their needs are. My own observation is that there’s a more conservative approach to business lunches than perhaps in years gone by. They still happen, but it’s not a free-for-all.”
It’s no secret that in Perth it’s all about who you know, and opportunities are often
given to the best connected. Cynics might accuse these prolific business lunchers of buying clients’ favour or – even worse – encouraging favouritism.
“There are some bankers in town that actually tell you openly that the more money that is spent and debauchery that is had, the more business you get,” says Dermott. “If the entertainment includes lots of alcohol and strip clubs, then you’re setting yourself up for trouble. I obviously don’t want any part of that; I see
that as a time bomb. Most bankers, too, see it as completely inappropriate. Normally, a lunch is just to maintain the relationship. Does it mean that you’re buttering them up? I don’t think so.”
Gemma believes that you just need to be up front with people about why you’re asking them to spend time with you.
“People aren’t fools,” explains Gemma. “Whether it’s an existing client or someone you’d like to do business with, you won’t get anywhere unless you are honest, genuine and respectful of their time. Don’t play games. Partnering with clients should be treated like a marriage, not a one-night stand.”
A successful business lunch requires more than simply sending a meeting request, shooting the breeze for an hour, footing the bill and expecting business to fall in your lap. It requires finesse, professionalism and charisma. It’s also an investment in time and money, so to ensure your next business lunch has the greatest chance of success, you have to put your best foot forward
For that, we turned to business etiquette guru and frequent business luncher Natasha Di Ciano. As the managing director of image management consultancy EGAMI, Natasha coaches her clients on the protocol surrounding dining out.
“The way you dine can say a lot about who you are, how you interact socially and how you value people,” Natasha says. “Etiquette is really about making a distinct effort to be considerate, to look after and be respectful towards others – to make them feel as though they are the only person in the world that matters. After all, that’s what hospitality is all about.”
Natasha gives us a few face-saving tips to ensure the meal doesn’t just run smoothly, but also makes the best impression possible.
First thing’s first. Before you even invite your guest to lunch, choose a restaurant carefully. The best are those that are clean, comfortable, quiet enough to hear each other speak and relatively private, especially if you’re keen to discuss something confidential. Once your meeting is confirmed, call ahead to request the best table and give your guest the seat with the view, for that extra touch.
“Take the time to establish a relationship with a selection of restaurants and get to know the owner, general manager and chef,” says Natasha. “It really enhances the dining experience.”
On the day of the lunch, make sure to dress for the occasion. It all depends on who you’re dining with and where, but looking professional and approachable sends the message that you’ve made the extra effort.
Arrive early, giving yourself time to collect your thoughts and stash your gadgets (phones and tablets) so you can give your full attention to your guest when they arrive.
When they do, take the lead from the start, introducing guests to each other, and making recommendations on what to order if asked. Simple food that’s easy to eat, and that doesn’t stain or get stuck in your teeth is best. Ordering multiple courses is fine, but bear in mind that your guest may feel obliged to match you
course-for-course. They won’t thank you for their post-meal lethargy if they feel forced to order dessert. Finishing with a coffee or tea is also a good idea, if time permits.
During the meal, remember the basics: keep your elbows off the table, chew with your mouth closed, eat at a steady pace, use cutlery properly and avoid overindulging on alcohol. The most important thing is to remain in control, so drink well within your limit and only if your guest is drinking as well.
While you should have already made the purpose clear beforehand, avoid discussions about business until after the mains are finished to allow your guest time enjoy their meal.
“The business lunch is a great avenue for getting to know a person as an individual, outside of their corporate environment,” says Natasha. “So it’s important to do some research about your guest before lunch, such as learning about their interests, their career history or current affairs that may impact them personally.”
Although it may be tempting, don’t let the lunch run overtime. By honouring the
agreed-upon lunch duration, you show that you value your dining companion’s time.
Remember, you may not sign that business deal over your post-meal espressos, but if the lunch was a success, then you have put yourself in good stead for the meeting that you do.
Natasha Di Ciano is the managing director of image management consultancy EGAMI. egami.com.au
PERTH'S BEST BUSINESS BITES
Where you dine could make or break your relationship with a client, so follow our guide to some of Perth’s best restaurants for business lunching.
For the wow factor
Rockpool, Crown Perth
Iconic, intimate and discreet, Rockpool is for those who want to impress.
The Trustee, CBD
An extensive wine list and quick service make it one of the best on the Terrace.
Quick and central
Tony Roma’s, CBD
Being a worldwide franchise, Tony Roma’s is where to bring international corporates.
This elegant family-owned restaurant serves up some of the city’s best Italian.
Witch’s Cauldron, Subiaco
An institution for the last 43 years, Witch’s is a go-to venue in Subiaco.
Villa D’Este, West Perth
Professional staff and authentic food with a dash of Italian elegance.
Its days of larrikinism long gone, Steve’s is now a stylish restaurant with a gorgeous terrace.
The Breakwater, Hillarys
The harbour and ocean views set a relaxed, yet professional tone.