September 26 2011
“Despite challenging economic times, I am dining out as much as ever because you still need to spend quality time with business associates. The fact remains that you can most easily achieve a relaxed atmosphere over a good meal. Consequently, like a lot of bankers, it means I tend to eat for a living.
The key to successful business entertaining is to make your guest feel comfortable. For that reason, the most effective hospitality is actually quite non-ostentatious. If you over-treat someone, it’s counterproductive.
One of my golden rules is to use places I know and would go to privately – because if you’re not relaxed, your guest won’t be either. Another is never to overrun, especially at breakfast and lunch when people have appointments and meetings afterwards.
I live in Oxfordshire and like to get in early. So a breakfast meeting at 7.30am or 8am is almost invariably the first meeting of my working day. Ideally, lunch should begin at 12.45pm or 1pm and take an hour and a quarter or so. Therefore I use venues that are efficient as well as good.
For lunches in London, I go to places that I can walk to quickly in Mayfair such as Mark’s Club, Le Caprice and Hélène Darroze at the Connaught. I prefer to be seated in corners where you can see what’s going on and can’t be overheard.
I also go to Texture restaurant, in which I have a part-share. The food is extremely light and fresh: when you have to perform in the afternoon, you don’t want a heavy meal. For the same reason, I rarely drink wine at lunchtime.Texture also has a very good private room but my favourite is the one at Mark’s, which has real character. Mosimann’s has several, so you can match the number of people to the size of the room.
At breakfast and lunch you need a specific agenda, otherwise people wonder why they’ve been invited. But dinner can be much less structured. You have time to relax and talk more generally with some nice wine. I find dinner is incredibly fertile territory for new business. I can think of numerous deals that began over dinner.
In London, I tend to use the same venues for dinner but also like to entertain in Oxfordshire, especially at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons [pictured], where Raymond Blanc does a terrific job. Equally, my wife, Sarah, and I enjoy hosting dinner parties at home. This is particularly good because people feel part of the family and it takes the relationship onto another level.
Occasionally, things do go wrong. Once, for example, I was chased out of The Greenhouse in Mayfair by a waiter shouting, “Your bill, sir!” He didn’t realise that, as usual, I was escorting my guest to his car before settling up. Fortunately, my guest thought it was hilarious.
Over the years, I have done a lot of business in Europe. Paris is wonderful and one is completely spoilt for choice. There, my favourite places are Taillevent, L’Ambroisie and Les Ambassadeurs at the Crillon. My favourite restaurant in France is Georges Blanc in Vonnas, where I have been going for 30 years. In Brussels, La Truffe Noire has very good food and wine, and a great atmosphere.
Not all my entertaining takes place in restaurants. I host a party at Royal Ascot on Ladies’ Day and like to take people to Covent Garden or Garsington Opera. I enjoy the social side of business entertaining enormously. But it can take its toll. June and Christmas are usually the busiest periods: you can be out every night. After that, it’s nice – even necessary – to have a quiet night or two at home to recuperate.”