Lunch or breakfast can be a good way to reach physicians and other healthcare providers – both potential and existing referral sources. It can also be a great way to waste money feeding a ton of people, take time out of clinic, and have little to no meaningful conversation with providers and referrals staff. The goal of these lunches is to have a great dialogue with providers and staff – either thanking them for referrals or learning what you can do better to get more referrals. What can you do to improve the success of marketing lunches? It’s not all controllable, but there are key steps you can take to increase the success of physician outreach lunches.

First, make it clear that the intent of the meal is for your provider(s) to get face time with their provider(s). If they can’t confirm that it will be possible, consider whether or not it’s worth the gamble.

Get good information when ordering. Nothing is worse than spending time and money on a lunch only for it to be a huge dissatisfier. I have to really put my good filter on when I do these. Some offices are kind and appreciative, but some are demanding and lack manners related to receiving free food. Keep the end-goal in mind – great dialogue over food. Ask when scheduling:
– How many should you plan for? If you are trying to save money, go light and don’t eat at the lunch until it’s clear there is plenty of food. Most offices over-state. If you are trying to please, over-order.
– Any food allergies or special dietary needs? Definitely find out if there are any food allergies or non-meat eaters. Then, you can decide how well you want this to go. If you want to really make them feel special, ask if they eat healthily or like comfort food. Ask if there is anything they don’t like. I tend to order healthy-ish food for physician offices. This generally has worked out well, although it burned me once with a large office, so if I do salads and don’t know the practice, I’ll order soup, bread, or hearty sides to go with it.
– What time should food be delivered? Tell the caterer 15 minutes earlier than it actually needs to be. I want the food and the non-providers there when the staff starts coming in.
– When will doctors trickle in? I don’t want the providers to take more time out of clinic than they have to, so I will typically tell them to arrive at the time that the staff tells me doctors start trickling in. If you have extra time on your hands, be there the whole time. If not, be there when the docs take lunch.
-Confirm the date and time. It never hurts to confirm the details at the end of the call.
-Get the name of the person that set up lunch in that office. It’s useful for calling to confirm the day before and it helps the caterer.

Send a note (via mail or email or even fax) to the providers in the clinic one week ahead of the lunch to let them know that you have a meal scheduled with them on X date at X time and that you are looking forward to it. Send I’m always shocked how often we show up to lunches with doctors and the providers at the clinic we are visiting say that they didn’t know that we were coming. If your providers have a relationship with the practice you are visiting, have them text the day before or morning of to remind them that they are coming. Most providers will take the time to come chat if they know the other provider is there.

Call the day before (earlier in the day is better) to confirm the lunch with the office. Then, confirm with the caterer. And, remind your providers.

Show up early and engage with every staff member you can as you set up food and get things ready. Ask names, what they do in the office, how long they have been there. Use the time to get to know the staff and the physicians. Ask what kind of reports they want, how they want you to communicate with them, if they have any preferences on how their patients are cared for in your office. Don’t pitch yourself. They’ll ask questions if they want to know. Use the time to learn about them.

Afterward, send a note to the providers and staff individually thanking them for their time. Include something you admire that you learned about their practice and recap any action items you’ll take (like changing how you send information) based on their feedback. Make good on those promises. Then, stay in touch quarterly. It doesn’t need to be a visit every time, but just some kind of contact.

Track referrals and see if the lunches work for your practice.