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  • Writer's picturePete Heslop

Building community over food

There’s something about the shared experience of food which connects people like no other.

As humans, we’ve been breaking bread around a table since the begining of time.

What if, along with advertising, networking and content, we added ‘tables’ to our marketing strategy?

Picture: Guest blogger, Pete Heslop, Founder, Steadfast Collective.

For the last few years, I’ve been using gathering around a table, as a way to build community and, in turn, grow our business. It sounds obvious, but until someone pointed it out to me, it was those connections that I had been sharing meals with that often became the most important for us.

So why does this work, and how can you get in on the action?

All cultures, races, people groups and communities have been eating together in homes, halls, hotels, restaurants, indoors, outdoors, you name it, for thousands of years.

For most, a meal over a table is a safe place. It’s familiar, and there’s always something to discuss (even if it’s just the food). Like all good stories, a meal has a start, middle and end, meaning, unlike those countless Zoom meetings you’ve had, you know roughly where you’re at.

As a natural introvert, I find it easier to open up and chat with new people over good food. Food and drink enable us to relax. Eating with others is something we’ve been wired to do from the beginning of time.

A meal provides an opportunity for uninterrupted time and space; a shared experience whereby everyone at the table has chosen to be present for the duration of the meal. Meals naturally provide space to breathe, tell stories, share experiences, laugh, relate and engage with one another in a way that a five-minute introductory conversation at a networking event never could.

How does this work in terms of ‘marketing’?

At Steadfast Collective, we split our ‘group business dinners’ into two categories;

Clients, Friends and Fans

At least once a year, we book a restaurant for 12 people, and invite those who have worked with us, cheered us on or referred us to someone. It’s a perfect platform for ‘Steadfast Collective Friends’ to meet, catch up and connect.

Our clients love to meet each other, and because the dinner has been curated, they have the reassurance that other like-minded, high-calibre folk will also be attending the dinner, each with unique stories, skills and experiences to share.

These meals allow for more in-depth, personal conversations that go beyond the usual business-related topics. These connections help foster loyalty and encourage continued collaboration. They provide people with space and opportunity to open up and share their stories, to discuss goals, challenges or projects with the breathing space for others to share insight, experience or inspiration.

A good meal is a springboard for imagination, inspiration and, ultimately, collective enjoyment.

Clients will have had the opportunity to get to know us better, to feel re-assured in our strengths and services as they chat with other clients who have had positive experiences of working with us, and will have met interesting people, expanded their network and met others who could benefit their business in the future.

It’s also an excellent opportunity for us to show our appreciation to them for working with us.

Topical Dinners

Our Digital Community dinners are the perfect example of a topical dinner.

A set agenda around a fixed topic for a niche set of people. The goal here is to gather like-minded people, to help orchestrate the conversation, and to produce as much value as possible for everyone sitting around the table.

These are open invites, allowing anyone in that field to join and get stuck into the community.

By hosting topical events, your business is seen as a facilitator of community-building and a catalyst for meaningful connections.

These dinners provide a place of belonging for those working in similar fields or sectors who might previously have never met. They are a place to glean wisdom, share skillsets, provide ideas, level out problems or simply encourage and champion one another.

Our hope with all of our meals around the table is that people can make meaningful connections with others, often gaining a wealth of knowledge, whilst enjoying food and drink in a relaxed setting.

From a marketing perspective, we often find those who have gained valuable insights from their experience will be excited to return.

A meal allows us to expand recognition of our brand further, to provide value through the facilitation of interesting discussion, and to make ourselves the most important person in the room - which puts us in good stead for being memorable to those who might need work from us, or could refer us to friends in the future.

If you want to grow your network, meet new potential clients, enjoy marketing in a relaxed and easy-to-facilitate environment, try getting around a table, it’s where ideas are sparked, and fresh communities can unfold.

Pete Heslop leads, a team that exists to craft digital applications that bring people together for communities and membership organisations.

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