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Always Pay for Lunch


Sitting there, at the table, we knew it’d be interesting to see who would pay for the meal. But even as the waiter was approaching the table, it was clear something was going to jump off quickly. Two friends jumped up from the table, one faster than the other, and took off. Running.

But they weren’t running away from the table or from the waiter. They were running towards him – to see which could grab it from his hands and have the rights to pay for the meal.

It’s been more than twenty years and I can still remember the first time I watched two guys fight over the right to pay for a meal. Not the right to a free lunch. After all, there are no free lunches. But the right to be generous.

I’ll admit, I come to this dynamic easier than others. I have a personal value for generosity that I know not everyone shares. But aside from the deeper motivations of why I think it’s essential to be generous with people, and aside from the fact that I think it has the power to break us from a nasty cycle of greed – aside from all that, I find there’s really practical reasons to learn and play this game.

I’ll be honest, twenty years ago I had credit card debt and was stressed about money. Paying for someone else’s meal was the furthest thing from my mind. I know some folks who are tight today. I get it.

So Why Do It?

I’d like to suggest to you that there are four reasons why you should consider always paying for lunch.

Everyone likes receiving gifts.

How much better would life be if everyone around you was constantly happy? When you pick up the tab, the first thing people think or say is, “you know you don’t have to.” And it’s the truth. So what you’re doing is offering them a tiny gift. But it’s a gift nevertheless. And this gift will often have an emotionally positive consequence. That’s always a good thing.

Those who receive gifts like to reciprocate.

I’m not stating this to be manipulative. People who know me know that I can’t stand manipulative people. That said, we often ask others for little, tiny things to help us. And often they don’t hesitate. But it makes it even smoother and faster if you make your request after a paid meal, like “hey, would you mind being a personal reference as I apply to this new job?”

If consistent, it’s a better spend than a lot of marketing.

I know a lot of folks who suck at marketing. They’re not good writing about themselves or their company. They hate the copy on their web site and stopped creating brochures. But they know how to have lunch. They like to eat. And if they consistently act generously, the networks they’re in will come to know them as generous and friendly. If that lines up with their brand – then it’s cheaper than hiring a marketing team.

It helps you find partners.

I’ll say this may not work out for everyone. But personally I can say that when I go to lunch with someone, they’re one of two kinds of people. They’re either people who say thank you and move on, or they’re people who step up their game and look to beat you next time. Those that escalate and play the game have always turned out, for me at least, to be the kinds of folks I partner with.

So How Do You Pull It Off?

So if you hang with folks that know me, they know I win at this game a lot. And they don’t mind losing – after all, it’s a free lunch. But some will give it a good try to win. And we like playing the game. Unfortunately some folks are constantly losing. So I took pity on them today and shared with them 10 simple tricks. They’ve experienced them all, so I didn’t feel bad sharing them. Trust me, I have more…

1. When first meeting your waiter, ask their name and introduce yourself. Chances are good you'll get the check. #AlwaysPay4Lunch — Chris Lema (@chrislema) April 21, 2013

2. Mid-meal, ask that the check be brought to you. Look the waiter in the eyes and sound determined. #AlwaysPay4Lunch — Chris Lema (@chrislema) April 21, 2013

3. Hand your card to the waiter before the check arrives. #AlwaysPay4Lunch — Chris Lema (@chrislema) April 21, 2013

4. For that matter, hand your card to the waiter at the start of the meal. #AlwaysPay4Lunch — Chris Lema (@chrislema) April 21, 2013

5. Add something pricey to the check, like a bottle of wine. Use it as an excuse to grab the whole bill. #AlwaysPay4Lunch — Chris Lema (@chrislema) April 21, 2013

6. Call ahead and ask to be seated in the section where you already know the waiter. Relationships trump. #AlwaysPay4Lunch — Chris Lema (@chrislema) April 21, 2013

7. When the bill arrives, hand the waiter cash. Cash is king. #AlwaysPay4Lunch — Chris Lema (@chrislema) April 21, 2013

8. If you did #7 and you didn't give them enough cash, they'll still come to you for the remainder. #AlwaysPay4Lunch — Chris Lema (@chrislema) April 21, 2013

9. If someone beats you to the check, follow the waiter to the register and swap cards. #AlwaysPay4Lunch — Chris Lema (@chrislema) April 21, 2013

10. If beaten, and the waiter has another person's card, highlight that their credit is dubious. #AlwaysPay4Lunch — Chris Lema (@chrislema) April 21, 2013

So, are you ready to join the “Always Pay for Lunch” team?

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