Food | The Captain’s Table

David Giampaolo’s dining boltholes

David Giampaolo is chief executive of Pi Capital – part independent private equity house and part investment club. Pi offers its members a wide range of social and educational events.

April 11 2010
John Stimpfig

“I do a lot of business entertaining, which often means breakfast, lunch and dinner in the same day. So it’s just as well I really enjoy it. But the main reason I do it is because it’s such a productive use of time.

The key is focus. A business meal is all about eye contact, connection and engagement. You have the other person’s undivided attention for a set time, which is incredibly valuable. Moreover, when you “break bread”, it creates a new level of bonding and trust. For instance, you can delve deeper and ask what they do for fun, whether it’s fly-fishing or playing the saxophone. These things don’t come up in a formal meeting. And that allows me to say that one of my best friends is a sax player or owns the rights to a river that has great fishing. Suddenly, you see a sparkle that wasn’t there before.

But to entertain successfully, you need to have an agenda. Plus, you have to get the details right, which involves putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Otherwise, a positive can quickly become a negative. We’re all super-busy people, so breakfasts and lunches really do need to be brisk and run to time. Evening events have a more relaxed ambience.

The venue is always vital. I live in South Kensington and work in Mayfair, while a large number of Pi members are nearby. So I mostly entertain in the West End, often within walking distance because I am invariably fighting the clock. I use George [pictured] a lot, as well as Scott’s, La Petite Maison and Morton’s. If I go for Indian cuisine, I pick Benares. It’s Nobu and Umu for Japanese.

However, I’ll go anywhere if that’s what it takes. Once I took a £4,000 transatlantic flight just so that I could sit next to someone for eight hours and eat lunch. We were in the final stages of a major negotiation, which I wanted to close and this was the only way we could meet. After we landed, we shook hands and he told me, “Great, we have a deal.” Then I took the next flight home.

For our regular Pi events, I’m usually entertaining larger groups of about 20. So I have to make careful choices based on the infrastructure and quality of the private rooms. I tend to use The Ivy, Scott’s and Mosimann’s plus The Berkeley, The Lanesborough and Claridge’s. I like the late Mark Birley’s Mark’s Club for breakfasts, partly because it’s not actually open in the morning. They make an exception for me, which I appreciate.

Occasionally, though, even the best places can screw up. Last year, Scott’s failed to realise that my guest and I were waiting for each other in different parts of the restaurant – for 25 minutes. What’s worse is that they knew us both and should have made the connection. Fortunately, my guest was very relaxed about it. But it was completely avoidable, and I was mad as hell. (To their credit, they picked up the bill the next time I was there. That was good management.)

My biggest peeve is waiting for the bill. Often you get to the stage where you’re “done” and you just want to pay, shake hands with your guest and leave on a high. But if you are left waiting for the bill, small-talk is just an anticlimax. These days, I ask for the bill early.

The only downside of entertaining so much is that it does tend to add on a few pounds. So this year, I’m trying to cut down on breakfast meetings. But to reduce my entertaining any more would be impossible and counterproductive. Although that’s not to say that there haven’t been times when I wished I didn’t have another lunch to go to.

But I’d never cancel an engagement at short notice. It’s unprofessional. You just don’t do it, however tired or busy you are. Besides, I’m invariably glad I did the lunch because it almost always produces something worthwhile.”

See also