(Reuters.com) - A new social network that seeks to cover all networking bases - work, friendship, dating - has soft-launched in London with the aim of empowering employees to exploit their lunch hour and spend it with newfound contacts.
After signing up to getlunched.com, users can search profiles of people with whom they might want to eat.
The site's co-founder Matt Bandy told Reuters that the lunch hour is often wasted in London, citing the pressure of the economic climate meaning workers do not want to appear to take a long break. While it's not in any employer's interest to revert to the long boozy lunches of the 1980s, experts agree that an engaging conversation is a prime motivator.
"Ideas are a really rejuvenating tonic," says Dr Andreas Liefooghe, head of the Department of Organisational Psychology at London's Birkbeck University.
"And if you can have a good conversation with someone, I guarantee you will have a skip in your step when you come back to the office."
Liefooghe adds that it is especially odd that nowadays, when staff can be linked up to office networks on portable mobile devices, many stick to the in-office snack lunch.
But just how realistic is it that city professionals will find ready connections online? Much depends on whether sites like getlunched.com reach that magical critical mass of active members. Bandy knows this is no easy feat.
"There needs to be more people on there; it's difficult to guess when that will happen. I've looked at the growth of other social networks, but it's not a comparison as they're in a safer, better-known territory. This is a new concept."
Making a comparison to LinkedIn, the current market leader in social business networking, Bandy says it is very good for showing you people, but it stops there.
"We call getlunched a social-action network because it takes you that step further," he explains. "People like to help, but there has to be a reason for it. If you're just emailing people to ask them to connect you with other people, there's no real incentive or excuse to help. If someone buys you lunch, then yes, they will."
Liefooghe concurs. "The big thing is for people not to go out there willy-nilly, which I think a lot of people do on sites like LinkedIn - it's all about having a plan. I'm running a department at a university and have to deal with things like marketing. Sometimes it would be really great to get a marketing director, ask if I can pick his brains over lunch. Then another week he might want to know about some training or work psychology and invite me to lunch. It's a very civilised arrangement."
After selecting a perspective lunch partner on getlunched.com, the next step is to agree terms. Clicking on an "I'm buying", "You're buying", "50:50" or" Open for offers" category, members can signpost their expectations from the get go.
Bandy expects most people will say they're up for either 50:50 or open for offers, but explains that if someone wants some advice, on a mortgage for example, treating a relevant advisor to a good meal would be much better value than shelling out on expensive consultancy fees.
It may also help fend off that awkward point on a first date when both parties reach for their wallets; a 50:50 split can be interpreted as a signal that the date didn't go so well. Bandy and his team expect many users will use the site as a location-specific dating portal.
Getlunched.com also wishes to encourage inter-departmental lunching.
"It's about connecting junior people with senior members of staff, who normally wouldn't have access. Senior people in companies we've talked to so far have responded really well to that."
Whether Brits will take to the blind-lunch-date idea is another question. Bandy concedes that the less socially awkward American and Australian market might engage with it more readily.
"People are going to have to be a bit brave to use; not everyone is going to take to lunching with someone they've only chatted to a few times. But once you do it, you get a buzz out of it. It's like internet dating." says Bandy. "And people aren't scary."
The invite code "Getlunched-Reuters" will get readers of this piece onto the beta version of getlunched.com
(Editing by Mark Kolmar)