Really, Leaders Should Stop Going Out to Lunch

I received quite a response to last week’s article, Why Exceptional Leaders Skip Lunch. I pointed out that working at your desk through your lunch hour was a good way to maximize your time. But many readers misread the piece and thought that I was telling them not to eat at all. That’s silly. And I have to say, some responses were just ridiculous.


A few readers compared me to Gordon Gekko, of all people. Others were worried about my health, like this one:

Clearly you are malnourished and getting delusional.

I assure you that I am neither malnourished nor delusional. In fact, I love to eat — ask anyone. Some friends say that they have never seen anyone put away so much food at one sitting.

Another reader seemed concerned about my oral hygiene:

So, do exceptional leaders have bad breath all afternoon? Or a packet of mints, at least?

Huh?

Well, here, at least, was one reader who had something constructive to say about the noontime meal.

Lunch is a valuable time for networking both in and outside of your company, and maybe developing relationships with your peers and subordinates.

That is an intriguing thought. Is lunch really all that?

Let me be serious for a moment. I never miss eating lunch. I am not telling you that you should never enjoy a meal with your colleagues. It is good to go out and celebrate special occasions or surprise your team with lunch. However, it should be the exception, not the rule.

Those lunches out simply are not helping your career, and here is why.

You are wasting more time than you think
My earlier estimate of one hour wasted each day is probably too conservative. Next time, do the math. How much time do you spend Googling places to eat, driving there, finding a parking space, ordering your food and eating, and trying to stay awake all afternoon? After a big lunch, the last half of your day simply will not be as productive as the first half was.

It is not a great time for networking
You may think that lunch with your team builds camaraderie. But a loud, busy restaurant is not an ideal place to solidify your business relationships. You will be lucky to have 15 minutes of small talk followed by five minutes of meaningful conversation before everyone needs to get back to work. If you want a leisurely meal with good conversation, take your employees out to dinner instead.

You are spending a lot of money
If you are going out to lunch several times a week, the costs can really add up. In fact, Americans spend nearly $1,000 a year on lunches out. Not surprisingly, men spend more than women, $21 per week compared to $15. Ironically, those who make less per year actually spend more on average than high earners! That is a lot of your paycheck to spend on food that is probably not good for you.

All this thinking about lunch makes me wonder. Have we become conditioned to expect lunch as a reward, like some Pavlovian response for work? And why? Maybe something is a little off-kilter.

If going out to lunch with your colleagues is the biggest thing you are looking forward to in your workday, that is a clear sign — your job is not fulfilling you.

Eating is good. We must eat to live. But if you are living to eat, something is missing. It is up to you to figure out what that something is.

So, what are you really hungry for?

About Brian and Aha!

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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