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Mixing Business and Pleasure – Over a Good Meal

Regus CEO

Can you, or should you, mix business with pleasure? If, like me, you find business to be one of the most reliable sources of pleasure, then the question seems absurd.

The best things happen when business and pleasure are mixed – over a good meal, for instance. Must business be conducted solely in offices, meeting-rooms or environments designed to minimise the possibility of joy or pleasure? Why such self-denial?

One of the things that matters most to me is that people should be themselves. No one should feel obliged to adopt a particular persona, or put on a business face.



So here’s my suggestion: if you want to do business with someone, invite them to a meal.

Business lunch

When you sit down to eat with someone, it is understood that you are looking after yourself, satisfying your own appetite, while simultaneously showing consideration for your companions, passing the salt or filling their glasses. It’s a moment when, to some extent at least, barriers are lifted and hierarchies disappear – whether within an organisation, or with customers or contacts.

Have you ever been to one of those all-day business meetings, in which the morning is tight, tense and scripted, and then everyone adjourns for lunch, some unstructured conversations take place, and after that everything loosens up? That’s because business depends on human relationships, and the average business meeting barely gives those relationships a chance to get started.

There are some interesting cultural variations here – and it seems to me that on the whole, eastern cultures have most of the advantages.

In the first place, Asian or Middle Eastern food is much more obviously suited to sharing. Think of those magnificent Chinese banquets, where you sit at round tables whilst various dishes are placed on a revolving tray in front of you; or meze platters in Middle Eastern countries; or Indian meals in which you pass each item round, telling your neighbour anything you might happen to know – or even tasting it in advance, so you can warn them if they’re worried about it being too spicy. That’s the best kind of knowledge-sharing.



It used to be the rule in Japan that a business relationship would begin with a bow, handshake and exchange of cards, to be followed by an exchange of beautifully wrapped gifts, then at least one shared meal, possibly even a game of golf, before anyone would consider it proper to raise the subject of business. Such elaborate preliminaries may no longer be the norm, but the tradition persists: get to know the person first, then get down to business.



At the opposite extreme, British culture has always tended to see business as a part of the hunter-gatherer’s duties, whereas the pleasures of eating and social life are reserved for the home. So if food needs to be incorporated into the business day, it must be strictly functional, designed only to give the participants sufficient stamina to continue working while providing minimal distraction.

This attitude strikes me as crazy. You can have a business meeting, including sandwiches if necessary, and you may well cover every item on your agenda, but no one will have let their defences down and revealed much of themselves. Who knows what business opportunities will have been missed?

It was the legendary French chef, Anthelme Brillat Savarin, who said in 1826: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” Or, as people tend to abbreviate it nowadays: “You are what you eat.”

What would Savarin have made of the people responsible for those grim repasts wheeled into the meeting-room on a trolley, with cardboard chicken morsels, triangles of cold pizza, curling sandwiches, with batons of raw carrot or cucumber providing the only vegetable content?

Wherever you are in the world, people reveal themselves with their attitude to food, not least whether they are the kind of people you’d wish to do business with.

Even hunter-gatherers ought to be able to see the value of this. Think of it, if you must, as an opportunity to size up your victim, allowing them to relax in order to reveal their weak points. After all, no one says you can’t be as ruthless as you like afterwards!

How do you mix business and pleasure? Leave a comment

Photo: khrawlings on Flickr

  • Jayne Albiston

    Fabulous article Mark and I could not agree more! I am the Director
    of an Organisation called Business over Breakfast (BoB) and our
    Breakfast Clubs are run exactly on your premise. When people eat or as
    you say, ‘Break bread’ together, in a professional but friendly relaxed
    environment, genuine relationships begin to form – and people start to
    journey along the Know, Like and then Trust path which as we all know,
    leads to tremendous opportunities.

    Here in Auckland, we had a
    fantastic relationship with Tanzi Braidwood, your exGM from Regus
    New Market – Tanzi saw huge value in doing Business over Breakfast and
    joined one of our Auckland City Clubs as the members and their
    associated networks and connections were all from Regus target SME
    market. Many of our members’ clientele were exactly who Regus is looking
    for. Unfortunately your Marketing Manager from New Market, shocked us
    all by closing down Tanzi’s membership, stating that she did not see any
    value in ‘Business over Breakfast’ for Regus. Sadly for Regus, we are
    now developing a relationship with Cliftons – who seem to take your
    approach Mark.
    Reading this article absolutely resonates with
    me Mark, as this is the way my company does business and the rewards
    come in leaps and bounds. It would be absolutely fantastic if your
    approach and your focus on human relationships could filter down to your
    Marketing Management Staff here in NZ. Interestingly enough, our
    Business over Breakfast members have commented on hearing the extensive
    radio advertising that Regus is doing at the moment in Auckland – it
    seems they prefer the impersonal approach rather than mixing business
    with pleasure and developing genuine quality relationships.

    • Sandra Corcellut

      Hi Jayne. My name is Sandra and I am Regus’ global customer service director. Mark Dixon asked me to look into this, so I had a chat to Tanzi’s manager.
      It seems that, while the networking event was great, it meant that Tanzi couldn’t start work until 12pm every Friday, which was causing problems with customers in the centre – and in the end looking after our current customers always has to take priority over getting new ones.
      But your feedback is really interesting, and we will take it on board. Thanks for the comment.

      • Jayne Albiston

        Hi Sandra – Great to hear from you and thank you for taking the time to reply! It appears that you have been misinformed- our Business over Breakfast Clubs meet every second week and most clubs meet from 7 – 8.30am. The Mt Eden Club is the only exception and meets from 9.30 – 11am. Tanzi only attended 3 breakfasts and when her membership was not approved, the reason given by the manager was that Business over Breakfast was not a good fit with Regus industry type – which is quite absurd as all the Business over Breakfast Club members including Business over Breakfast NZ are exactly Regus target market. We are opening Business over Breakfast right across NZ and soon into Australia and we were very keen to do business with Regus until we were told that we were not a great fit. Our members continue to have clients and contacts that they would love to refer to Regus but have been put off as they now have the impression that Regus is not into forming quality relationships and connecting with people but would rather have big radio spends for example and go for the more impersonal approach, which is so contrary to Mark’s amazing blog that I had to comment and give feedback. Feel free to email me on jayne.albiston@bobclubs.com