Work lunches

Should you charge for lunch dates?

June 26, 2012: 10:51 AM ET

People whose brains have been picked to death often wind up feeling like they are just being used. As a result, many are now charging for lunch dates.

By Ji Hyun Lee

FORTUNE -- If you're an established professional, you've been approached -- "Would love to know how you got to your position. Could we have lunch?  I'd love to pick your brain."  People whose brains have been picked to death often wind up feeling like they are just being used.

As a result, many professionals are now charging for their wisdom.

In June, a charity auction was held for a power lunch with Warren Buffett: It fetched over $3.46 million on eBay (EBAY). The winning bidder and seven friends will lunch at New York City steakhouse Smith and Wollensky, all for the opportunity to glean whatever wisdom they can get in between bites of sirloin with the billionaire investor.

Given Buffett's stellar investment track record, it would be fair to say that the knowledge contained in his brain is probably worth the price. But these people are also paying to be in the company of a business celebrity.

Warren Buffett's charity exploits aside, is it fair for everyone to charge for a lunch date?

"In my 50-plus years in business, I've never charged or been charged.... If told I would have to pay, I would get up and leave," says Keith McLeod, CEO of Business Center, an Arizona-based firm specializing in mergers and acquisitions. For McLeod, a lunch date is an opportunity to connect with prospective clients and a chance to showcase the kind of services he is able to offer. "My price is based on [the] value I create … and not for the time and cost of a lunch," he says.

MORE: Exposing management's dirty little secret

Not everyone agrees. Jim Angleton, president and CEO of Aegis FinServ Corp, which provides debt resolution and other financial services, believes that charging for lunch dates can work, if it's within reason.

That's a big "if."

Angleton recalls a time when he needed some professional advice.  He reached out to a retired CEO of Western Union who, after two brief phone conversations, invited Angleton out for a lunch date in New York with the request, "Meet me at The Harvard Club and have a cashier's check prepared to my personal name for $9,000."  Shocked, Angleton rejected the offer. More

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