Red Lobster president explains why you should never eat lunch alone

Salli Setta Red Lobster
Red Lobster president Salli Setta. Red Lobster

We know eating a sad desk salad while staring at your inbox is bad for your creativity, your health, and your stress levels.

But according to Red Lobster president Salli Setta, there’s another reason to get out from behind your screen at lunchtime: It’s a prime networking opportunity.

“Someone told me a very long time ago ‘never eat lunch at your desk,'” she says. That’s why she encourages her executives to keep their calendars full. You should always have someone next up on your lunch docket, she advises.

But productive lunching takes some planning. “It isn’t about saying ‘hi, what are we going to talk about, let’s talk about sports'” Setta says. “It’s about identifying the object of this lunch in your mind.” That means going in armed with “a couple of things that you want to ask, and a couple of things you want to share.”

Your goal should be two-pronged: to get information from them that will help you “think about your job differently,” while also getting on your companion’s radar.

“I really liked the meeting we were in the other day, where we were talking about XYZ,” Setta riffs. “I know you’re an expert in that, let me ask you what you’re thoughts are, what’s on your mind. But let me also tell you what’s on my mind.”

While everyone can and should be harnessing the power of the power lunch, Setta sees meals as particularly key for female executives, since some of the more traditional corporate networking opportunities may not be as available. “In many companies, it would be very easy for a man to say to another man, ‘hey, let’s go play golf on Saturday.'” If you’re female, that can feel less appropriate. “You don’t just go up to your male boss and say ‘let’s play golf together,'” Setta says, but it’s easy enough to suggest lunch.

And the rewards can be huge.

“I just saw this happen,” she says, recalling up-and-coming colleagues who recently had a potentially game-changing lunch with a higher up. “He walked away saying ‘wow, that person is really great, we gotta get her in another role.'”

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