June 12 2009
“I have always regarded entertaining as a vital and underrated part of business – especially when times are tough. After all, forging and building relationships is really what business is all about. And there’s no better way to take a relationship to the next level than a good meal in the right setting.
Inevitably, it takes you into personal topics of conversation, something you just can’t do in the office environment. By getting to know the other person and what makes them tick, you have a much better understanding of what they are looking for – and how you can help.
I do a lot of breakfast meetings and by 8am, I am more often than not seated at The Wolseley in Piccadilly, which I love. It’s perfectly situated between my home and office, and its owners, Jeremy King and Chris Corbin, are friends of mine. Sometimes I’ll have a cooked breakfast if I’m going to the gym later. But it also depends on what my guest is ordering.
The Wolseley works because it is a place where people want to go. The food is excellent and the atmosphere is always busy. Moreover, it has just the right noise level – not too loud that you can’t hear yourself speak, and not so quiet that you can be overheard. You can enjoy a private conversation in complete confidence.
The other key advantage of breakfast meetings is that it’s unusual for someone not to be on time. It’s acceptable to be late for subsequent meetings because things do overrun during the day. But with breakfast, there’s no excuse. It just means you didn’t get up early enough.
I used to do more lunches when I first started Finsbury in 1994, but now people aren’t so keen because they can take too long. When I host a lunch, usually twice a week, I make it pretty quick and finish in an hour and a quarter. Generally, I eat fish because it’s light, and I avoid the wine list.
I’m very conservative in my choice of restaurant and tend to go to The Square, The Ivy or The River Café [pictured], all of which I am very familiar with. I’m a regular at Theo Randall, and I’ve been going to L’Ami Louis in Paris for over 30 years – its menu is unchanged, and brilliant for it. Occasionally, I’ll go to the top floor at Smiths for its wonderful views overlooking Smithfield Market. In New York, I always go to The Modern at the MoMA.
In our previous offices, we used to do lunches in a private dining room because I thought they would save time and money. But in fact, it turned out to be very expensive and we never achieved the right ambience. So now I prefer to use a small roster of well-run establishments where I know the maître d’s, there are no surprises and the food is first class. Also, I only go to places where I have an account. Settling the bill is such an irksome waste of time.
The best meal of all for business entertaining is dinner, when people have more time and are much more relaxed. I’ll have a working dinner in some form every weekday night. If I’m only entertaining one or two people, I’ll go to a restaurant. But if it’s a larger group, I do it at home where I have two well-honed formats. The first is built around a person of particular interest, where I’ll invite other clients and business people. Then I have more informal, networking dinner parties for 12-20, where I like to mix people up from business, art, politics and music.
Good food and wine are two of my great pleasures. I usually serve red meat because I like to pour some nice red wine. Having been brought up on bordeaux, I’ve got a fairly extensive cellar of classed growth claret, but we have lots of burgundy too, as my wife’s father was a Master of Wine and she inherited his passion for the region.
I used to host these dinners in private rooms in restaurants, but now I prefer to do it at home. It’s much more friendly and personal, and a lot more fun. In fact, I hardly regard it as work at all.”