Sharing a meal tells you a lot about a person – their taste, their manners – and I often interview people at the table because everyone lets their guard down. Restaurants and clubs are also key to getting deals done because the setting takes the edge off: the meal serves as a kind of romantic seduction. Instead of gladiators sizing each other up in the boardroom, a rapport-building lunch or dinner in a disarming setting leads to a broader conversation.
A perfect example of this was our acquisition of Baccarat from Société du Louvre. That deal started with a four-hour dinner in Paris between chairwoman Anne-Claire Taittinger and myself. The company wasn’t for sale then, but when it did come onto the market, the bank involved, Rothschild, came to us because we had established a trust over that meal. Anne-Claire recognised that we weren’t just another private equity firm and that we had a people-focused approach.
Choice of venue is key and I always research what my clients like. If I’m trying to impress offshore bankers or real-estate investors, I’ll book a formal restaurant like New York’s Marea for its quiet atmosphere. I’ll take architects and designers to fun, less serious places like Barbuto or The Little Owl, which have a stylish, downtown vibe.
I find breakfast meetings tough because no one really eats and they are not that much fun. Lunches work well, as do celebratory dinners. For special occasions or dinners with spouses, I’ll opt for Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester County, near our Connecticut offices. The farm-to-table menu is excellent, and we looked to them for inspiration in the restaurant design at our new 1 Hotels group. I like to eat well and stay in shape, so this is also a perfect choice for like-minded, health-conscious clients.
In Asia, I’m usually the one being wined and dined so I follow my host’s lead. But if I’m choosing, like when I’m meeting our client Jin Jiang, I’ll opt for the buzzy Café Gray Deluxe in Hong Kong’s The Upper House, which has views of the harbour. In Seoul, drinking is a big part of doing deals and we tend to establish a friendly rapport over the course of the evening. Shuchiku is a Japanese place in Building 63 – one of the city’s tallest, landmarked buildings – with incredible views and great sake.
I spend a lot of time in Miami and love Casa Tua’s spectacular food and outdoor setting, which is great for meeting with real-estate partners. For more boisterous evenings, when privacy isn’t a prerequisite, both Zuma and Prime 112 work well. Clubs are also great places for conversation and in London I like to entertain at 5 Hertford Street and The Arts Club. The former feels warm and cosy and has great acoustics, as well as nooks and crannies that allow for private negotiations, while The Arts Club has energy and caters to a more international, creative clientele.
For confidential deals, I’ll book a restaurant’s private dining room; in New York that might be at midtown’s The Core Club, which is convenient for meetings with bankers and lawyers, or at Casa Lever or Eleven Madison Park. This is down to an important lesson I learnt early in my career, when I was working in Chicago. I had a business dinner at Spiaggia with representatives from a company we were trying to acquire. At some point I went to the bathroom and overheard two of them talking about how they were going to negotiate and the price they were ultimately seeking. You definitely have a leg up when you know what figure will get a deal done. In a public restaurant, you never know who is sitting next to you.