May 09 2010
“There used to be an old truism in the agent world that ranked the importance of a client according to what kind of rendezvous you made: least important was an office meeting, then coffee, drinks and breakfast. Lunch and dinner were the most important. I don’t subscribe to that – it’s old Hollywood – but it does reflect the general attitude of the industry. The life of an agent is conducted almost entirely through phone calls and e-mail, and it’s rare you get the time to have a long and focused conversation with someone other than over a meal. Because this business is so relationship-based, what can be achieved in this sort of relaxed atmosphere is often intangible, but it is also very important.
That’s why I have scheduled work breakfasts twice a week, lunch every day, and dinner about three times a week. Breakfasts are often for internal agency business with colleagues; lunch is hard-core business with clients; and dinner is more of a celebration. It lasts longer, and usually involves a good bottle of wine.
When my previous company sold to ICM about three and a half years ago, the decision was made over a series of about 15 dinners, which was a great forum for understanding the people I was dealing with and what their motivations were – what made them tick. The meetings were usually held in private dining rooms, often at Toscana, because I knew they would be kept quiet. That is pretty typical of how I still work.
Restaurants in Los Angeles used to close very early, often by 9.30pm, but happily that seems to be changing and there is a trend toward more places staying open on what I call a New York schedule: until about 11pm or midnight. This is great, because it means if I go to a premiere or take a client to a Lakers game, which I do on average about 20 times a year, we can go out afterwards.
When I was a kid agent, I was primarily a television agent, during the heyday of TV comedy, and when shows were taping we’d go every Tuesday and Friday night to check in on the sets of Frasier and Coach, to see clients and make sure the networks weren’t killing them with notes. We’d start about 5pm and often be there until 11pm or later, and we’d be absolutely starving, and there was only one restaurant to go to, called The Olive. It was great but it’s no longer there, so it’s nice other places are closing the gap.
Generally, I choose restaurants based on the quality of the food. I think it’s the most important consideration. I tend not to worry about the people-watching aspect, though I know for some people in my industry this is all-important. The only other factor is the service, because bad service can be a real disaster. If it takes three hours to get your food – which has happened to me – it’s not a good thing, because then the meal and the conversation becomes all about the problem with the food, not the person you are with. I think lunch should take an hour, or at most an hour and a half. Dinner can be longer, especially if you’re going somewhere with a tasting menu.
Places I like are, in Los Angeles, Tavern (pictured) and Toscana. In New York there’s Il Mulino, Michael’s for lunch, Raoul’s after a premiere (I love the steak au poivre), and Daniel for the tasting menu, but that’s a three-hour commitment. In London, The Wolseley and – this may sound crazy, but true – the Virgin lounge at Heathrow. I’m there a lot.
Recently, in LA, I took a friend and client out for his birthday to a new place called Animal, and it was amazing: it serves stuff like pork belly sandwich and rack of ribs, but really focuses on bacon. It even has a bacon chocolate bar dessert. It sounds weird, but it’s amazing; someone on the food network picked it as the best thing they’d ever eaten, and I agree. Anyway, it was a very successful evening. My friend bought the cookbook, and now he wants to do a TV show with the chef.”