British business needs you - to take a long lunch

The business lunch is dying - is this a great way to save money or lose business?

Updated: 
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.

Alternatives

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

The UK's most-despised professions


Lunch for Less