Conference calls and emails form the bulk of our workdays but when it comes to shaking hands on an agreement, the restaurant still rules.
There are certain places you go to eat where the air is thick with significance, as if a storm is about to rumble, a fight is about to break out or a deal is about to go down. When you walk into one of these places, people turn and look and judge. In an instant your presence affirms or denies, adds to or takes away from that sharp, self-made atmosphere, the slightly seamy heaviness of the place. Are you anyone? Who are you meeting? Are you the producer or the starlet and what’s in that attaché case you’re carrying? A script? A newspaper and a pack of Camels? A gun?
These people in suits or trainers or shorts or shades; those people whispering, boasting, making eyes at or passing pieces of paper (with zeroes on) to each other are all here to do a deal. It might be the deal to make the next Avengers movie or sign the next Drake. That shiny suit and heavy watch might point to a new oil pipeline in a place with a Z in it. That tear in the eye behind the Ray Bans might denote signing on the dotted line of the memoir that’ll pay for the divorce but kiss goodbye to a whole lot more than the ex. Oh, you could cut the atmosphere with a butter knife.
These restaurants and bars, these places where you go to stare at eggs on a plate or push a Dover sole around or sip an Old Fashioned, are good for deal-making because they specialise in private behaviour being displayed in public. They encourage gossip; they might as well be a stage. These places are clichés with tablecloths and staff in black tie. They are where you go to make like a good student in a maths exam and a successful actor: you go to show your working and show you’re working.
And they are important, these time-honoured places, because there are more and more billboards in Hollywood, London and Paris encouraging you to invest in conference-call systems that mean you never have to shake anyone’s hand again. There are invitations to Skype meetings and Facetime summits in which everyone looks like a gnome. Avoid these like the plague. We recommend making an entrance in that almost shy way that you have – five minutes late to make them wait – taking the corner table, sitting facing out to the room and watching the theatre of dealmaking raise its curtain again and again and again. Here are five tables at which deals are still getting done.
In Los Angeles, choosing where to book for a must-impress lunch has added significance. “When you bring someone to somewhere this beautiful you show that you care,” says Jason Hammons, director of food and beverage at Sunset Tower. With its plush corner booths, the restaurant at the top of the art deco Tower Hotel is a slice of old Hollywood. It’s not just film-industry big names who are regulars but players in the music and fashion sectors too. The menu is filled with easygoing classics (think omelettes, club sandwiches and cobb salads) that please even fussy-eating clients. “A few guests come every day; it’s like their office,” says Hammons. “Setting and food can make an important meeting less intense – but the personal approach helps drive home the point.”
Art Basel has been the art market’s annual World Cup since the 1960s but the Swiss city offers better venues for dealmaking than a temporary fair booth. The most important is Les Trois Rois, a hotel founded in 1681 and one of the oldest in central Europe. The atmosphere in its bar is cosy and refined, with creative cocktails made using Les Trois Rois’ own gin; it’s an ideal spot for collectors negotiating art acquisitions with the world’s top dealers. Dom Pérignon and the ever-popular Aperol spritz are also tipples of choice. Emissaries of the Zwirner and Gagosian empires often stop in, along with collectors from around the world. The corner table by the window – near the fireplace, with a view of the Rhine – is a favourite. For big deals opt for the privacy of the Salon du Cigare.
Joe Allen has been a favourite of London’s theatre crowd since it opened in 1977, as one of the few places where actors and their colleagues could eat after a show. Even since it changed premises, diners might glimpse the likes of recent Olivier award-winner Patti LuPone or veteran director Trevor Nunn in conversation over a new project. Those in the know pick the conspiratorial table 26 on the mezzanine – away from the action but with a view of the room. “If you’ve broken bread with someone you have to follow through,” says operations manager Cathy Winn. Meals can be extravagant or not: some order burgers and a bottle of Dom Pérignon but a meal of, say, Caesar salad, Joe’s fishcake and a moreish pecan pie (plus wine) can be had while allowing change from €115 for two.
Many of Hong Kong’s business crowd bank on Duddell’s for a discreet post-deal banquet. Since the fine-dining Cantonese restaurant opened in 2013 its Ilse Crawford-designed private dining rooms have played host to a generous spread of industry events, celebrating everything from towering property transactions to speculative online-gaming acquisitions. New listings on the nearby stock exchange also head to Duddell’s for its meaty menu of braised abalone, lobster two ways and pan-fried Wagyu beef in wasabi sauce.
Most attendees at Salone del Mobile know Bar Basso as the drinking den where everyone ends up after midnight. In April the concentration of people in the design industry here is so high that meetings tend to happen whether they’re planned or not. “There is a protocol even at 2am,” says owner Maurizio Stocchetto. “Whoever’s here is always working. You need to behave; you can’t drink too much or everyone will be talking about it the next morning at the fair.” Daytime meetings take place inside (tables in the mirrored salon are a favourite) but at night the action moves to the pavements and even the bathroom queue. “Young designers find themselves next to big names and end up talking about projects,” says Stocchetto. “There are lots of broken promises – but some promises kept too.”