How having to pay for lunch saved me from paying for a big mistake later.
About 12 years ago I met a man who ran a successful event business. I was attending one of his Home and Garden Shows that ran every spring in my city. It was one of eight local shows he owned and managed through his company.
You know the ones, inside a local arena or community hall, two dollars to get in and you wander around from booth to booth seeing owners of local businesses in their finest suit, taking the opportunity to show you their products and services. It really is a great way to engage customers face to face.
Each of the businesses pay a fee to occupy a booth from Thursday to Sunday, marketing or selling their products or services. And he (we will call him Jimmy) would pay for the advertising of the event in the city and surrounding area, as well as the cost of the facility.
On this particular visit, Jimmy, who I had met at a seminar, gave me a tour of his operation and explained how the business worked and why it was so successful. I was not until a month later that I understood why he was so anxious to show me around. Seems he was wanting to sell the business and was looking for buyers.
Jimmy invited me to come see him at his office, which was located about 90 minutes from mine, and we would meet over lunch. I agreed to make the trip for two reasons; I was curious to know more about the business, and my parents live on the way, so I could kill two birds with one stone.
We agreed on a day and time and he suggested a local restaurant that was quiet so we could talk. I headed out that day to meet Jimmy and arrived just before noon. The restaurant was fancier than I expected but it was going to be nice to eat some place that did not have to line up to order my food at, for a change. Jimmy was already seated and working on what appeared to be a gin and tonic, and waved me over. He rose, shook my hand and invited me to sit in the chair opposite him.
When the waitress arrived I declined his offer for a gin and tonic, and choose a Diet Pepsi instead. (I tend not to drink at business meals, leaving me an advantage over my sometimes inebriated companions. Jimmy sucked down the remainder of his drink with a loud slurp and ordered another. During the time of the arrival of the drinks and the menus, we made chit chat on his various adventures in business and how successful he had become. Jimmy indicated that at his age he need to start thinking aboutretirement and was look at offers for his business.
When the waitress returned, I indicated Jimmy should order first. Here is why. I was assuming that as he had asked me to drive ninety minutes to meet him, that he was looking to sell his business and I was a potential buyer, that he would be offering to buy lunch. And if this was correct there is a general understanding in business, that you do not select a meal that is more expensive than the person that is buying it for you. So, if Jimmy orders first, I will know the price range and can order appropriately. (please note the word assumed, this will be important later when you see me get schooled)
Jimmy ordered fish and chips, a medium priced meal, made more expensive with addition of a glass of red wine, the 12 oz not the 9 oz. I ordered fish and chips as well, sans the wine, and we set to talking more about his business. Jimmy went on about his operation at his office, computers, staff, contractors, etc. And how I should consider buying his company, at a rate I thought highly inflated for what his operations actually was worth. He carried on during lunch, getting so excited about his business, that pieces of white fish were flying from his mouth and spotting the red table cloth around his plate (and landing very close to mine).
As the waitress came to get our plates, a woman arrived at our table. It was his wife. He said he had asked her to join us, but as she was with a client she could only come for dessert. I rose, we shook hands, and she joined us. Our dessert, apple pie with icecream for each of them, apple pie for me, could only be consumed, as far as Jimmy and his wife were concerned with a Spanish coffee (tia maria coffee liqueur, bacardi rum, whipped cream, cherries oh yes and coffee) As they each enjoyed their desserts, his wife repeated most of what had been said earlier by Jimmy.
The time I had allotted to spend with Jimmy had long since passed, and I was very relieved when the waitress arrived with the bill. As this was a fairly classy place, she had brought the bill in a fancy leather waiters wallet and placed it in the middle of the table (avoiding the still present pieces of fish). And there it sat.
Now let's go back to the part I mentioned earlier about my assumption - that the person inviting me and try to convince me to buy his business, was going to pay the bill. Well I assumed wrong. We sat there like two gunfighters in the old west, at high noon, waiting for the first on to draw his gun (or credit card, in this case). Finally, Jimmy said, How about you pick up this one Steve, and I will get the next one. Jimmy had drawn his gun and shot me right in the wallet.
What did I learn. And that was the moment that taught me. And actually it taught me two things, the first was not to assume in a situation like this and that Jimmy was not the kind of person with whom I wanted to get into business.
Picking up the cheque was expense, but not as expense it would have have cost me, both monetarily and otherwise to get into business with Jimmy.