Lunch Date or Free Consultation?

A recent CNN/Money article caught my eye this morning as it posed the question “Should you charge for lunch dates?” In addition to making me crave P. F. Chang’s (as it is the site of many of my lunch dates), it also made me think about the increasing level of complexity to business luncheon etiquette. From choosing appropriate environments and crowd-pleasing menus to the awkward tug of war about who picks up the check, there are already plenty of opportunities to wow or alienate a business contact over lunch. So how would you react if you requested a lunch with someone and in turn received a bill – and not just for your spinach salad, but for his or her time?!

Ji Hyun Lee provides a number of examples of people who do just that. Maybe Warren Buffet charging for a power-lunch and donating the proceeds to charity sounds reasonable and perhaps independent consultants providing you their services should add that lunch hour to their periodic billing. But if you drop an old colleague a line and ask them if you can pick their brain about a new project would you be comfortable with paying for more than coffee? Or, if you are the old colleague, would you seek compensation for 45 minutes of solicited advice?

Like most questions of etiquette, every situation may warrant a different answer. It is certainly thought provoking and adds to the complexity of this ever socially driven world. The next time you are planning a lunch date you might want to ask your appointment about more than food preferences.