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After a nice dinner in London last week, I’m not sure about the business model many restaurants have.
The meal was perfect and most ingredients were present to have a great dinner, but the one or two thing I feel should change to increase the dinner’s effectiveness.
The three right ingredients were a Conversation topic, a Light meal and a Private space.
The topic was centrally introduced and the participants actually came based on an invitation from the Facebook Group with a theme: ‘Meeting Architecture’. All participants were interested in the same topic and valuable conversation follows automatically.
We had a private upstairs room, and even though we were only 12, it helps conversation when you have privacy. The music is switched of and the sound of other conversations and loud amusement is absent. In such silence, you can understand everyone, even in one conversation between 6 participants or more. A short round of introductions is feasible and if needed a few short speeches can be held.
The meal was reasonably light, although portions could have been a bit smaller for the main course.
One thing was, I feel, a challenge, or should I say, a problem: the way alcohol was pushed. Making money as a restaurant, I think, maybe depends on serving quantities of wine. By permanently serving wine, a hundred pounds could be charged on top of the expected bill. The value of the evening however really goes down because of alcohol. At a given level, the amount of alcohol in the blood slows down the process of building new connections in the brain that are responsible for remembering; the more alcohol, the less we remember. All the interesting conversations and connections lead to less memory. Even though more wine costs more: the effectiveness goes down.
And if you organise a dinner, people are easily satisfied and will express satisfaction if the food was good. This is a consequence of our old brain circuits. Like breathing and our Heartbeat is controled by the old, primitive core of our brain, so is the feeling of hapiness generated when we receive or consume a meal. But the real value of organising a fgroup meal lies elsewhere. It lies in the newer outer part of our brain: the (new) people we meet and what we learn from them; that really creates long term value.
Of course, the meal needs to be good. A bad meal will create a bad atmosphere and people will be less open for whatever happens next. A simple, light, or healthy meal however, does not need to be bad and loads of Alcohol is not a necessity for a good dinner experience. Limiting Alcohol is to be agreed upon with the restaurant or caterer and managed by the organiser of the dinner. In most groups this may need some facilitation and explanation, and you have to feel comfortable with that. Making several kinds and brands of water available on the table and not whine, and serving juices or ice tea rather than wine is part of your briefing with the house and the waiters. And last but not least, the health and safety risk and liability in case of an accident is another issue that you address when managing alcohol within boundaries.
Secondly, what I should have done is Mixing participants: this creates divers conversations and more networking. By changing places between courses, you get to know more people and the chance you create a lasting connection increases. In small groups like our 12 participants, you still can end up close enough to the same person for continuing good conversation with the same person if the first contact went well.
THE NEW DINNER FORMAT
The dinner format I want to introduce is the CLAMP Dinner. It includes all of those elements that can turn a dinner into a high value evening of learning, networking and fun.
CLAMP Diner stands for Conversation; Light Meal, Alcohol limitations, Mixing participants and Private space.
In short: (this can be your restaurant briefing)
C Conversation: The dinner is organised for conversation around a preset topic The value of a dinner lies in the conversation: in what participants learn from each other and who they get to know as they talk.
L Light meal: The meal is light, small portions, healthy and local product A heavy dinner hampers sleep which is important to transfer short to long term memory
A Alcohol limitation: e.g. One glass at reception and two glasses (wine or beer) during diner
Alcohol inhibits the creation of new connections (synapses) in the brain and without the creation of these connections we do not remember. We don’t learn from the conversations and we don’t remember who we have spoken to.
M Mix participants: after each course half the participants (e.g. all the men) change places Conversation varies and networking is optimal
P Privacy is maximised via separate space or silence. Optimal conversation can take place and creates value for participants.
Restaurants or caterers can support this dinner format by:
Providing dishes, forks and knives per course so participants don’t have to carry their cutlery when they change places
Having permanent presence of or service with water, juice, etc, not wine.
Shutting down the music
Adapting the menu
Brief the waiters to take orders for drinks at pre-defined moments rather than permanently serving.
I look forward to the next dinner we organised via the Face book group, this time in Torino, Italy. The restaurant just got my CLAMP briefing. I’ll be interested to see how they react on the alcohol limitation and light meal proposal…
Maarten Vanneste, CMM