So, what exactly is a purposeful meal meeting? First, I'll clarify what it is not. It's not a way to escape work. It's not a time to have three martinis. It's not a romantic date. And it's not about critiquing new restaurants or reviewing fine wines. All these things can be great fun; I'm not arguing that. But it's just that none of them are focused on, or maybe even conducive to, productive networking.
A purposeful meal meeting is nothing more than a meeting that includes a meal and a specific, meaningful purpose. And the specific purpose I want to talk about today is networking. When networking at a meal meeting, your networking purpose might be to further develop the relationship, to help a colleague solve a problem, to learn how to refer someone in your network, to introduce your colleague to someone significant, or to teach someone how to talk about your business to his own network members. These meetings are strategic and results-oriented. They provide high value for your invested time.
Related: The Key to Success? Relationships.
Let's begin by considering the average workweek of five days. There are three main meals that could be eaten per day. Barring the usual hindrances to daily scheduling, this gives you 15 opportunities each week to have a purposeful meal meeting. That's 780 opportunities in a year. Now, dining with 780 people could not only put a hole in your pocket, but it could tear a hole in some of your personal relationships as well. Let's be realistic...imagine what your significant other would begin to think if instead of eating the majority of your meals with them, you were out eating each meal with a different person. You certainly don't want to stay away from home so much that your children and/or pets no longer recognize you. So, let's say half of your meals are spent eating with your family-you still have an estimated 390 opportunities for purposeful meal meetings.
The point is, the potential exists for a substantial amount of networking over meals. No one capitalizes on this concept better than my friend, Keith Ferrazzi. In his book Never Eat Alone, Ferrazzi states: "I'm constantly looking to include others in whatever I'm doing. It's good for them, good for me, and good for everyone to broaden their circle of friends."
This level of networking increases his productivity and helps him connect with people from different parts of his community. Ferrazzi believes that his strongest links have been forged at the table. He has learned how powerful the art of throwing a dinner party can be in creating memories and strengthening relationships. Something magical and companionable happens when friends break bread together.
Ferrazzi is quick to mention, however, that if you continue to have dinner parties with the same people, your circle will never grow. His solution is to identify and invite "anchor tenants" to your party. These are people who are related to your core group but who know different people, have experienced different things, and thus have much to share. They tend to be the people who have had a positive influence on your friends' lives. It's akin to inviting the CEO to the manager's table, as Ferrazzi says. Soon, other executives will want to be there, too.
I had the opportunity to experience one of Keith's networking parties firsthand, and the anchor guest that night was the legendary author Gore Vidal. Providing the entertainment was America's oldest collegiate a cappella group, the Whiffenpoofs of Yale!
Now, clearly, not all of us will be able to get Gore Vidal and the Whiffenpoofs at our networking party, but I'm guessing that Keith didn't have them at his first party either. However, the strategy is sound, and I encourage you to try out the concept as a way of building your visibility in the community. Keith has paid close attention to how a meal can most appropriately be leveraged for a business networking opportunity. The primary focus should always be on developing the relationship. Learning about each other, helping one another with problems, and giving of ourselves - that's what defines a purposeful meal meeting.
Why not start now - begin to plan some purposeful meal meetings or dinner parties where you can make memorable, beneficial connections.
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The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.