This past week, I was asked to participate in a lunch meeting sponsored by an organization looking for ideas to embrace emerging technologies. We were contacted via email regarding the meeting, and the coordinator provided a list of lunch options, which included sandwiches and salads. I selected the chef salad because this particular shop is known for making good ones.

To the right of me sat Norma, who also ordered the chef salad. However, I believe she selected the ranch dressing, while I went lighter with balsamic vinaigrette. I noticed that while I poured the dressing on my salad, she took the dipping approach. Every once in a while, she would dip her fork in the dressing. This seemed unusual to me, but I’m definitely not an expert regarding the proper way to eat a salad during a business function.

Before the Food, Norma is Chatty

Here is what I found interesting: Our food arrived about midway into the meeting. Before the arrival of the sandwiches and salads, Norma was fully engaged in the discussion. In fact, she couldn’t stop talking. In one example, she talked for several minutes. She talked for so long that she even made one good point!

After the Food, Norma Goes Dormant

Once the knock on the door came and we were informed that the food had arrived, I noticed Norma’s focus changed. She was no longer interested in the meeting itself. I suppose that the pangs of hunger overcame her. Because this was a working lunch, we continued to discuss the agenda items. However, Norma stopped contributing and focused entirely on devouring her salad.

I did notice that every few minutes Norma would mutter something largely incoherent, but it gave the impression that she was listening. After 20 minutes or so, she was done with her salad, and it appeared that she was energized and ready to get back in the mix.

What’s My Point?

I know some of you are wondering if I was even paying attention to the meeting. After all, it seems that I was preoccupied with Norma, and her salad eating approach. The fact is that I can multitask. Ha!

My point here is that working lunch meetings can disrupt the flow of a discussion. How is the meeting leader supposed to write on the flip chart and eat a sandwich at the same time? Should she put the sandwich down on the table, and get up and write? Is it proper for her to hold the sandwich in one hand while writing with the other? Does this approach distract the audience?

Some of you know that I’m using humorous examples, but think about how awkward it is to conduct and participate in a lunch meeting. When should the food arrive? What type of food should you order? Are boneless chicken wings a good idea? On the one hand, they are tasty, but they are also a bit messy. Who makes the decision on whether it’s wings or something else? This is important.

I finished my salad in about 10 minutes, and Norma was still doing the dipping thing. The two-hour meeting ended, and I felt we only had about 60 minutes of fruitful discussion. One other observation I made, however, was that we had 100% attendance, and I wonder if the free lunch had anything to do with it.