The business lunch meeting is a long-standing tradition. It's not about the food though. It's about forming a bond, a relationship. It's about discussing what you can do for them, or what they can do for you, and all in an informal atmosphere.
It never occurred to me to replace such an obvious face-to-face aspect of business with a virtual analog, but then I read a blog post by John Jantsch in DuctTapeMarketing. According to John, with a little bit of prior planning you can turn lunch into eLunch.
I'm going to have to disagree a little with John Jantsch. Don't get me wrong, I like the idea. It's clever but… impractical. Have you ever combined eating and video conferencing before? I remember a video conference from last year. It was informal, among friends, and happened to take place during lunch time. It wasn't a pretty sight.
We did get some good laughs out of it though.
The idea behind an eLunch is to capture the informality, the "getting to know you" part of a lunch. You don't need food for that, not these days anyway. John suggested using social networks to research a clients favorite food to have it delivered to an eLunch, but that very research is a form of "getting to know you."
People share a lot of personal information on sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, and Face Book. Not so much that they get in trouble, perhaps just as much—or a little more—than they would during a lunch. By following someone's updates on social media, and commenting and messaging through same, you develop an informality and closeness that has a chance to be deeper than anything achieved over hot wings.
Having eLunch is a neat idea, but it's a bit of a gimmick. To truly reach a bond that will rival one gained over lunch, it's probably better to get to know someone over time through social networking to effectively improve relationships for video conferencing.
But if you're still interested in having an eLunch with a client, like John, I would recommend pizza. Though when you order the pizza, have them put exactly half in the box to be delivered to the client. Then make sure you have half a pizza in camera view when they open up their box. Voila, you're sharing a pizza!