There is such a thing as a free lunch but nobody cares

I have to laugh when I get e-mails offering a "free lunch" in the context of some kind of product demo. It's the time-share presentation of the technology age. They try to lure you in with lunch so they can get some of your time to review their products. I don't get it.

Since when is "lunch" such a valuable resource? Well, not since I was worried about covering my rent. And back then, I wasn't exactly in a position to make a purchasing decision about any kind of software tools, if you know what I mean. At some point in our careers, our time becomes from valuable than a $9 plate of rubber chicken. So I suspect that the free lunch thing is probably targeting the wrong kind of audience (people who care about free lunch).

Every so often, I'll get a schedule request for an internal meeting where the announcement prominently highlights the fact that pizza will be served. This signals to me that the person that scheduled the meeting is worried about people showing up (which I can totally understand...I've scheduled some of those kinds of meetings before). If the meeting content is great, I'll show up anyway and the food is an extra benefit (thanks!). But I do notice in some circumstances that food is being used as the tool to get people there in the first place. It's a little different internally, but still, I find it interesting.

Of course I write all of this as I have scheduled a mixer for the marketing recruiters at Microsoft to get together next week. We are all over campus and the field so it's great to get everyone together and yeah, we'll have some beer and wine and snacks.But the highlight of the event will be the sparkling conversation. And there will be no software demos.

Comments (8)

  1. Heather — You are not a male geek!!  We will flock to a "free" lunch any day.  Just put out pizza, subs or anything we can grab with our hands and we will be there.  Sad but true. 🙁

  2. HeatherLeigh says:

    Ah Chris, you have cracked the code! Why is it that male geeks like free food so much?

  3. B says:

    I agree in principle with you heather, altho I will tell you the first thing i do at our breakfast series meetings is grab a krispy kreme…I look forward to the information I get there, but I also look forward to a treat I don’t allow myself any other time. 🙂

  4. HeatherLeigh says:

    B- fair enough. As long as you are getting real info there not just using the Krispy Kreme’s (evil food!) just to get people there. I just cannot let myself look directly at the Krispy Kremes.

  5. Heather — Because it is free silly!!!  why do geek males love free t-shirts?… because they are free.

  6. HeatherLeigh says:

    OK, Chris, you just explained why I am still single. I still don’t get it.

  7. andrewceverett says:

    This post made me stop and think.  

    First, by referring to the "$9 plate of rubber chicken" you make me think about the disconnect between perceived value and actual cost.  If that rubber chicken is being served in a Hyatt or Marriott, I bet it’s actually $25-$35 per plate by the time you factor in service charges and sales tax.   So, if the real point is to bribe you to attend, maybe a gift with a $35 perceived value would be more effective.

    But I wonder if that’s the point.

    If you are attending only for the bribe (lunch, sweatshirt, or whatever)  then you are probably not a qualified prospect.  Presumably you have some interest in the product, or you wouldn’t take the time.  Ah, that’s it! Time is our scarcest resource.  So, by doing the product pitch over lunch, they are making it easier for you to justify the time.  You have to eat lunch anyway.  Sure there are more convenient places to grab a bite, but if the presentation has value, attending over lunch is better than breaking up your whole morning or afternoon schedule.

    Maybe the internal pizza offering serves a similar purpose.  Certainly that’s why CPA firms provide dinner for their employees during the tax crunch. Time is precious.

    Of course this logic may be lost on the people writing the emails.  They may believe that the all-powerful word "FREE" is what motivates you.  This tends to be overused, such as "Call for a free brochure."  A free brochure is such a silly phrase — who the hell would pay for one?  

    From the standpoint of the company hosting the lunch, if they can attract 25 qualified people to attend their presentation, is is well worth the cost of overpriced chicken.  Imagine how much less efficient it would be to try to do 50 individual sales calls.

  8. HeatherLeigh says:

    Oh yeah, I just threw $9 out there…I have no doubt it costs more than that. Cost relative to perceived value, etc.

    I get your point about the scarceness of time. But eating time is personal time. So they are asking you to give your personal time for their product pitch (hmm). I know most people don’t differentiate tht much between personal and work time, but  still, it’s not just about the value of your work time.

    I might even feel differently if they could tell me that the other people at my table might be people I want to network with. That could justify the time investment. Of course, they can’t do that…those other people are the ones that want a free lunch too (though to Chris’ point, if I wanted to strike up a relationship with a male geek, that might be the place).

    Free brochure….hah, good point.

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