One of the most powerful ways to bond with another human being socially, emotionally and psychologically is the sharing of food. As a custom, it goes back to the beginning of time when we first ventured forth out of the cave and sought or welcomed — perhaps even tolerated — the company of others.
As a species, it is one of the identifying characteristics of human social organization. And, although there are other primates that share critically valuable resources, humans are the only species that appear to have developed social-sharing systems, customs and rituals revolving around the sharing of food.
Its importance is deeply rooted in our genetic memory, tied to a time when food was an incredibly scarce and valuable resource: to a time when giving away a portion of that resource took far more courage and confidence than it does today.
When we sit down to break bread with one another, the feelings and range of emotional response generally associated with both giving and receiving is buried deep within our collective consciousness. The gratitude and appreciation one feels as a guest is generally the result of the warmth and generosity one exhibits as a host — as much a matter of sociology as it is psychology.
My fascination with this phenomenon was born more than 25 years ago when I first started doing presentation work. Those seminars were generally sponsored by a warehouse, jobber store or group and it wasn’t long before I recognized a direct correlation between the success of the sponsor and two very distinct behaviors.
The first was whether or not representatives of the sponsor were present during the presentation. And, the second was how well they interacted with their service dealer customers — if they interacted with their customers at all and didn’t just huddle together as a group in the back of the room.
The successful operations — the dynamic organizations — were there, both willing and enthusiastic to be with their service dealer customers in order to learn more about us. The operations and organizations who appeared to be struggling invariably had one or two people show up, unlock the door, turn on the lights and then disappear for four hours only to return with lunch and then leave again until it was time to say good night and lock up. It was an opportunity to learn, grow and bond with your clients, customers and prospects forever lost.
I’ve thought about this a lot over the past two weeks, perhaps because we were in the middle of the holiday season and three of our suppliers brought in lunch for the shop.
In one instance, lunch was delivered. It was delicious, it was deeply appreciated and it arrived on time. However, I’m not sure that either the company or the outside sales representative who provided that meal received the same benefit they might have enjoyed had someone accompanied the food and remained at the shop to share it with us.
In the second instance, the rep asked us what we would like to eat and who we would like to order it from and then presented us with a gift certificate. A nice gesture, certainly. And I am sure that everyone will enjoy the food we bring in. But, where is the powerful and positive sociological or psychological benefit normally associated with sharing a meal?
The third vendor told us they would like to treat us to lunch. All we had to do was order it, pay for it, eat it and then present them with the bill. Realistically, I’m not sure this will ever happen. It is almost certain to result in the antithesis of the desired result!
So, let me share a little food with you — a little food for thought. If you are thinking about providing food for some of your clients, think about what you are doing and why you are doing it. Think about the desired result and the difference sharing can make — sharing the food, sharing the experience, actually sharing in the lives of your clients and customers.