British business needs you - to take a long lunch

The Apprentice 2015

How did you spend your 'lunch hour' today? Did you head off for a long boozy lunch with work contacts or munch on a limp sandwich while hunched over your computer keyboard? A new study suggests that the vast majority of us did the latter, and a vanishingly small number of people ever have the time or money to spare for a long business lunch.

According to the survey, by Bookatable, 66% of people have seen business lunches decline during their career, and workers now spend a fifth less on lunches than the average worker did in the 1980s.

Some 41% of people blame financial pressures that mean fewer companies can afford to treat potential clients, while 28% say there isn't enough time for wining and dining their contacts, 20% say staff shortages mean there aren't enough spare bodies for anyone to go for a long lunch, and 17% blame the financial crisis.

A quarter of Brits say they go on fewer business lunches than they used to, and 38% believe it's less acceptable to take the time out of the office to go for lunch.

Is this so bad?

The figures seem to indicate that some of the 1980s excesses were an expensive waste of money, and that cutting back may be no bad thing. The majority (79 per cent) of those who have been working throughout the last few decades cite the 80s as the 'heyday' of the business lunch, with almost half of workers (44%) having access to an expense account to pay for business lunches. This is in stark contrast to modern workers, who must stick to a budget when business lunching (45%) or use more affordable chain restaurants as business lunch locations (36%).

For businesses in the 80s, eating in Michelin starred restaurants was the norm for 22% of Brits, and lunch was a much longer affair spanning two to three hours for three quarters of workers. A third even admit to often returning to the office drunk after a business lunch during the 'heyday', and 21% agreed that lunch hadn't been a success unless the client was drunk.

Nowadays, 34% of people will race through a business lunch, spending an hour or less at the table. The average spend today of £35 per head is a fifth less than their peers in the 1980s used to spend (£42 per head).

The downside

However, while arguably there have always been a fair number of 'jollies' with no real purpose or benefit, many seemingly indulgent lunches were where relationships were built and deals made. Some 40% of people say this is how deals have been done in the past, 25% say they have found out about business opportunities this way and 22% say it helps them keep clients.

Businesswoman and The Apprentice finalist, Vana Koutsomitis, who is backing the call for more business lunches explains: "Whenever I meet with a potential client or investor, I suggest that we meet over lunch at a restaurant... Spending quality time with a client, whether prospective or long-term, is invaluable to build lasting relationships and I am a firm believer in taking the time to get to know someone out of the office environment. If you want to seal a deal, or make a business partnership, I believe it is best to do so over lunch."

Around a third of people in professions that rely on building relationships say the decline of the business lunch could harm their profession.


Clearly Bookatable has a vested interest in persuading us all to book a table for a business lunch immediately - which is why it has launched National Business Lunch Week (which runs next week). However, clearly there's a middle way between wasting the day and hundreds of pounds on a Michelin-starred blow out and neglecting your clients.

Vana suggests picking a restaurant that has a speedy set lunch menu, so you can treat your clients on a budget, and be in and out in an hour.

There's also the option of meeting for breakfast or coffee - which are both quicker and less likely to derail the day. If your lunches tend to be boozy, meeting for an early evening drink won't be as disruptive and will still allow you to ply business contacts with alcohol.

Research by Forbes magazine a few years ago also came across a company that sent pizza to contacts and clients on a Friday afternoon and another that sends an ice cream van during the summer - thereby entertaining the client without having to leave the office or indulge in small talk.

But what do you think? Do we really need to revive the business lunch - or is it all a bit 20th century?

The UK's most-despised professions
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British business needs you - to take a long lunch

If you're a politician, you could perhaps fudge things in a brief conversation by describing yourself as a campaigner, then wheeling out a pet cause that nobody could really object to.

Generally, though, there's nowhere you can really hide. Console yourself with the fact that most of the time you'll only be meeting kindred souls who are all in favour of your plans to dish out handouts to the undeserving while clobbering decent people.

Once the election's over, after all, you can avoid your awful constituents for another five years.

They always seem to call during dinner and they won't take no for an answer: it's no wonder telemarketers appear on the list. If you are one and want to disguise it, the best way is probably to break the news gradually. Start with "I work in finance"; move on with "I'm a sales consultant"; and only once you're sure you can get away with it, admit you badger people about PPI.

"The suckiest thing was when people would insult my intelligence based solely upon my job," writes one poster on a jobs forum; sign up for an evening course and tell people you're working to pay your way through college.

All of the above apply to door-to-door sales, too - but with the handicap that you're more likely to have somebody recognise you and blow your cover. Wear a disguise at work.

Recently, one Patrick Sheehy wrote indignantly in the Guardian about his appearance in the famous 2011 photograph Bankers at Leadenhall Market.

"I like this photograph, but the fact the photographer called it Bankers at Leadenhall Market irritates me. I recognise every face in this picture and not one is a banker," he wrote. "Everyone in the photograph actually works in insurance."

Most people wouldn't see much of a distinction; but what this shows is that even to someone at the heart of the financial industry, the accusation of being a banker is too much to bear.

As with politicians, though, you're likely to do most of your socialising in situations where your job - and the pay packet that goes with it - is more than acceptable. Otherwise, a clever use of syntax may do the job: "I work in a bank" and a mention of "the manager" could give the impression that you're counter staff.

The Northern Echo recently catalogued some of the insults and assaults experienced by local traffic wardens. They included death threats, a head-butting, and even a case where two female wardens were sprayed with deodorants that were then used as flame-throwers towards them. They are frequently pushed or spat at.

Out of uniform, you can always describe yourself as a public servant, or even a road safety worker - and just pray nobody ever sees you at work.


Lunch for Less

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