When you spend time with a person one-on-one over a meal, you change the nature of that relationship. I find that eating together creates a different kind of wavelength, and one that enhances trust when you return to the business setting. Over a meal people suddenly become human.
I only do breakfast meetings in the rarest of instances and that’s because I’m a morning person. I am up and fully revved at 6am, and I like to use this time productively for reading and emailing. My New York social gene kicks in at lunch, however, and I’ll often go to my clients and to their cafeterias: the canteen at the Condé Nast headquarters at One World Trade Center is wonderful theatre. You’re surrounded by people whose world is fashion and the orders for “low sodium, no this, no that” are hilarious. I just go with whatever the person in front of me is having because I like to eat healthily too.
I’ve had some productive lunches at the Dining Club at the Rainbow Room at the Top of the Rock with real estate developer Rob Speyer, president and CEO of Tishman Speyer; the portion sizes are just right, everything is incredibly fresh, and the setting is sublime so we can focus on the discussion of global real estate trends. One of the lunches that illustrates how important relationship building over meals can be was with Amanda Burden, former head of New York City’s Department of Planning, six years ago. We met at The Odeon in Tribeca – over a hamburger for her, a Caesar salad for me – and discussed the beginnings of the rezoning of Midtown East in Manhattan. This was going to be a major undertaking. In late 2017, after laying that early foundation, I met with deputy mayor Alicia Glen at Lincoln Ristorante on the night before the vote on this rezoning. Over spinach pasta and wine we debated what the city would get out of the deal, and while I didn’t win the argument, we won the war and the ordinance changed so that our clients like JP Morgan Chase can build bigger, better buildings on existing sites.
For internal lunches, I like the private rooms at Patroon where the Nantucket Bay scallops and Brussels sprouts are always good. The Garden restaurant at the Four Seasons on 57th Street is another favourite for lunch or dinner (the grilled branzino is outstanding) and I shared many meals there with executives from Christie’s when we were negotiating a new location. Closing dinners are a moment for celebration and one of the most memorable was with our clients, the NBA, at Gramercy Tavern. Restaurateur Danny Meyer knows how to orchestrate a perfect dinner party. That night, the menu consisted of small risotto starter, chicken, fish and a salad.
Another venue that is conducive to business lunches and dinners is The Modern at The Museum of Modern Art. I recently hosted a lunch to honour Amy Rose, newly appointed CEO of Rose Associates, and there were many commercial real estate women in attendance. The Parmesan-crusted seabass with black truffle broth and celery root was a highlight.
My customers’ hangouts have become mine too, so if I am downtown that might be The Beekman for drinks with Bruce MacAffer, head of Group Real Estate in the Americas for WPP, or a dinner at CUT with my fellow Howard Hughes Company board member, David Weinreb. I always get the Wagyu steak, and I don’t even eat meat – it’s that fantastic.
Sharing a meal – as well as your story – always leads to better business. I can’t think of one instance where I’ve gotten up from the table and said, “Why did I just do that?”