Let’s Kill the Business Dinner Before it Kills Us

It’s such a common situation, it’s almost a cliché.

Man travels for work. Goes out for a “business dinner” most nights. Over time, gains 20+ pounds. Exercises less, so that’s 25+ pounds of fat, obscured weight-wise by 5+ pounds of muscle loss. After dinner, still email and other work to-do’s…so sleep is reduced.

I was an often-traveling consultant for years, then leader of a small globally-focused organization…so I say this not with cool detachment, but with firsthand experience.

This “business dinner” culture and behavior is literally killing people. Or at least, gravely threatening the “OlderBeast” vision for 40+ guys: fearlessly embrace your age and double down on fitness and nutrition, to feel great, look your best, keep getting happier, and live long.

Imagine hearing: “My colleagues and customers expect to smoke cigarettes together as part of business…so I smoke a pack a day.” Given all we know about the dangers of being overweight, not exercising and missing sleep — this analogy is not as extreme as it may first sound.

So, with a belief this is urgent, here’s a plea and proposal for escaping the Business Dinner Syndrome, brothers.

First: An Acknowledgement & Disclaimer

I know there are important reasons for eating with colleagues, clients and customers. Team-building, making a “sales” or “business partner” relationship more personal, etc.

I’m not suggesting you stop entirely. Just that you take initiative to change the overall pattern.

I bet many dinner participants will welcome the change, too. And besides, the alternatives I tee up below will often be as good or better at achieving your business/social goals.

The “Business Dinner”: What’s Wrong with It

Nutritionally, the typical business dinner is:

Too much food. Appetizer and desserts are often “part of the occasion.” And, many “upscale” restaurant serving sizes are huge (unless they’re ridiculously small, but that’s a subject for a different rant).

Unhealthy food. “Bad carbs” (sugars, white flour, starchy foods)…high salt…often, unhealthy fats.

Taken together, these two factors make the average restaurant meal more than 1,200 calories (48–60% of your daily total), according to several recent university studies.

Accompanied by more alcohol than advisable. Even “a couple of drinks” is a lot day-in and day-out, calorie-wise. Example: two 5 oz. glasses of red equals 250 calories. Nicer restaurants often have a slightly bigger pour, so let’s say 300 calories.

Add the food and alcohol calories together. It’s not at all unusual for a business dinner to be 1,500 calories or more. That’s 60–75+% of your daily recommended “weight neutral” calorie total!

Too long. After a day’s work, you’re squandering a precious commodity with 2–3 hours at a sit-down dinner in a “real” (with tablecloths) restaurant. With non-discretionary work tasks in the evening or before the next start-of-business…the time squeeze from a long dinner hits your exercise or sleep, the “sacrifice-able” parts of your routine.

By contrast, a 45-minute dinner gives you, at least, an hour-plus back into your schedule.

Solutions

As appropriate for the people involved and what your “goal” is for business/social time that day, try these:

⇒ When “wining and dining to impress” is not needed (it’s needed less often than people think), opt for a casual, healthy-food-oriented place. No tablecloth. Maybe even where you order at the counter!

⇒ Do some non-eating “together” activity (then eat at a healthy/casual place if desirable to spend further time together). These alternatives include:

  • Experiential things, like a brief gallery or museum visit
  • Walks (great way to explore a city and have fun together)
  • A workout. Maybe a run, an exercise class, a trip to the hotel gym. People do this…you could be one of them!

⇒ Among colleagues, a healthy team culture also makes it OK to have “a night off” where people just do their own thing. A self-perpetuating expectation of “go to a restaurant every night” becomes burdensome, and is part of the overall syndrome we’re trying to break out of.

Are you thinking: “maybe with colleagues, but no way would this stuff work with clients or customers?”
For certain customers, I bet this would be a refreshing change-of-pace and an authentic personal connection. It will differentiate you from other wine-and-diners seeking their attention and their money!

The Company View

If you’re a general management, HR or finance leader whose employees travel or otherwise have “business dinners” a lot…this should be a welcome proposal to you.

Your team members will (a) be more long-term healthy and productive, and (b) will spend less on “meals and entertainment.”

To really embrace this, you may need one policy adjustment: allowing employees to expense exercise costs when traveling, or when with clients/customers. This is part of any solid corporate Wellness program, anyway.

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One final perspective and reminder. Just as with day-to-day nutrition, I’m not arguing you should seek continuous perfection. That’s not realistic. Rather, think of a “high batting average.” Maybe resolve, for example, that no more than one day per week will be a fancy “business dinner.” Then eventually, just once or twice a month.

Dude, do whatever’s needed to NOT live the cliché of the overweight, weakening, exhausted business traveler. That’s a horrible fate for you…and it’s not even good for your career or your company, over the mid- and long-term.

“Time for a cool change. I know that it’s time for a cool change.” (Little River Band, Cool Change-click to listen)

Take Care of Yourself, with More Perspectives Like This

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