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The Allure of St. Louis Bread

April 8, 2005

Why is this the ‘place to meet’ — Sure it’s got a wi-fi hotspot, but I beg to argue that oral meetings, especially in a restaurant are doomed from the start. Disagree? …

This is a needed article for any real business man / entrepreneur. I don’t care what anybody says, oral meetings, especially those in a restaurant don’t accomplish anything. Tell me, how productive were you in your last restaurant excursion? Come on guys, let’s get out our laptops and discuss issues! *Cheers* We got our cell-phones, we can meet from ANYWHERE! Let’s design our next ultra project at Applebees!

I don’t know where this mindset comes from — maybe it’s that 90’s mentality of ‘technology! wow! it’s so … so …’ — yeah, that’s just it, you have no idea what you’re talking about. Sure you can meet from anywhere but that doesn’t mean you should. It’s doomed from the start. I’ll tell you why:

1. There’s too many distractions.

The lady with her 6 non-disciplined hellians who just happen to sit next to you. Or the drunk army guys hitting on the waittress. I can picture it now. You’re asking how much they’re going to pay for the project only to be ‘conveniently’ interrupted by the waittress who never leaves you alone. Remember, this is the last meeting you have before you have to give them a quote only to find you never find out anything new. Just wait, next time you’re wanting to discuss real issues such as pay and project details — they’re going to be there, just wait. All your friends from the obnoxious environment ‘moving’ to the cheesy pop-music we all ‘love’. In the end, all you can remember is the vague blur of music, food, and the good time you had trying to do anything real.

2. Vagaries rule

This is the real reason I think ‘business’ people like restaurants. They can conveniently be vague. Why? You’re always distracted by who knows what any time you want details. “What exactly do you mean by a new project management system that integrates with your accounting department. How do things work now?” — “Oh we use …” *waittress – “I’m sorry, but do you need some more water? Oh, also, your food will be out shortly.” — “Thank you.” *pause*. Oh wait, here it comes — SUBJECT CHANGE! “I just love [ what they ordered ]. I used to always eat [what they ordered ] with my son back in [ some location you don’t have time to talk about ]. They have the greatest [whatever in whatever]” — Blah blah. You’re off subject — You’re right where they want you to be — talking about their dog, some vacation getaway, whatever. One time, in a meeting, we got so off topic he started telling me about a sci-fi book he read back in the 70’s that changed his life forever. If you’re the guy to give them a quote on a project, this is where they want you. Sometimes I think this is their goal. They want you to have only a vague idea of the project and vastly underquote them a bid. They may think they have you, but don’t give in. They want you to think If you change the subject back, you’re not personal and not a nice person to ‘work’ with but believe me, the price of getting stuck with a huge project vastly underquoted because of vague ideas is a far worse punishment.

3. You’re Hungry

If this is a real ‘eat-together, meet-together’ meeting, you’re hungry. I normally am. Do you normally feel like working when you’re hungry? Can you fully concentrate? If you’re really eating during a meeting, I wouldn’t doubt a good 40% of the meeting will be stares across the table watching the other chew. That’s productive.

4. Oh, the Music

God forbid, but unfortuantely, there’s some of you out there who actually like the music they play in these places. To you, focus will be your enemy. Your mind will constantly be battling between your favorite song and what really needs to get done. I won’t even mention the places with TVs playing college sports. Far be it from me to watch college sports, but this may be your thing and your end.

The Solution

Don’t let the distractions defeat you — stay focused and diligent. Don’t abruptly stop their stories, but don’t let them go on for any more than a few statements. Make them get back onto the project. If they’re a real business man they’ll shift back and say, “You know, you’re right, we need to get this project moving.”  Actually, if they’re a REAL business man, and this is a REAL meeting they will have an outline of things to discuss — an all-inclusive checklist of things that need to be discussed, going over each item one by one and both parties confirming that the topic has been covered in proper detail.  These meetings are rare though and most you’ll encounter are far from this organized and serious.  They think somehow it makes things easier and more personal for everybody to be ‘sloppy’ and cut-corners and ‘oh, we’re honest small-time guys, we don’t need to do all that stuff.’  Well, you do, and because you don’t, that’s why you’re small, but that’s another article.

Other points to remember is when meeting with upper level management, they’re almost always vague.  Realize that these guy’s don’t actually know the any details about what the project entails.  They think big boxes and shapes and arrows connecting the boxes.  You need to try to have meetings with lower level guys who actually do the job as well.  This is a key and has to be done for a true successful project negotiation.  Top management won’t mind either, in fact, they’ll encourage it and you’ll find actual employees who do the job day to day will be very specific as to what they actually do and what needs to be done.  I don’t like to give a quote at all without meeting with the employees who will actually be using the product you’re creating.

Conclusion

Where do these meetings take place? Applebees, Steak Houses,  and there’s St. Louis Bread — ‘the’ place to be. Why? Maybe it’s wireless internet access for those laptops that you need to work on why you’re eating. Maybe it’s that cozy brownish environment they have that looks so … ‘businessey’. Or maybe it’s that food — that bread and soup and salad — the executive brunch for sure. Honestly, the allure of St. Louis Bread remains a mystery to me– but next time you’re asked to meet in one of these fine dining environments to discuss that big project, remember these words and just see if I’m not right!

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