“Let’s have that chat over lunch.”
“Thanks for that (insert business-related helpful thing I sent their way) – can I buy you lunch?”
“I think you’d love (insert person they just met who does what I do) – I’d love to introduce you over lunch.”
Or – the ultimate – “I’m thinking of doing what I think you do – can I meet you for lunch so I can pick your brain and save myself the trouble of learning what you already know?” (usually phrased less directly but equally clearly).
No. Thank you, but no.
Now I know all of the reasons why lunch is a useful time to network, to build relationships, even to close deals (and if you have any question about that, see Keith Ferazzi’s classic “Never Eat Alone”).
That said, I rarely – if ever – meet anyone for lunch. At least not a business contact.
For me, protecting my lunch time is a form of self-care.
In a normal day I’m on and off the phone with clients, and in and out of client offices. I’m listening a lot, talking some, paying loads of attention.
And – at least for most of the last couple of decades, I’ve been juggling my client time with the demands of being a single parent. Which means I’ve had to make every single moment as productive as possible.
If I meet someone for lunch, I’m “on.” I’m not enjoying the food or the restaurant ambiance. I’m listening attentively, thinking carefully about how best to respond based on why we’re meeting. It requires effort and focus and energy. And, as an “extroverted introvert,” I get lots of energy from being with people – until I don’t, at which point I need to crawl into a shell and rejuvenate myself. And if I’ve got clients in the afternoon, I’ve likely expended some energy over lunch that would probably have been better directed towards giving my clients my best.
Building business relationships is important. Investing in your network is important. But equally important is finding a way to do those things that either builds your energy or is at least neutral.
For me, it’s phone calls and the occasional coffee. Smaller chunks of time I can weave more easily into my busy day and that allow me to retain sufficient fuel for the people who are paying me.
So when I decline your invitation to lunch, please don’t take it personally. I care about you. I just care about me more.