by T. N. Toost
There was a recent article in Forbes
by an attorney named, curiously, Judge, that discussed the advantages of breakfast for business. It was an article worthy of Forbes. She told stories about breakfast, and how she was in a big city in the States and learned how to eat breakfast and do business at the same time, and oh! when she came to London it was such a foreign concept to the peasants! and she discovered The Wolseley before it was popular, and now it's popular, so she goes to The Lanesborough, but it might be a bit expensive for you, and it has a lot of tourists so it is good for business!
Sigh, sigh, sigh.
It is nice to see a rag like Forbes getting into the breakfast game. Maybe they're trying to diversify their income stream or something. Of course, any regular reader of the LRB can tell that they have a lot to learn, but they have to start somewhere, don't they? At least she brings a lawyer's attention to detail to her observations.
While she touches on some of the virtues of a business breakfast, she doesn't really get into the finer points of how to pull one off. Instead, if one were to read this piece carefully, one would learn:
1) She started in the business breakfast world by being nice to the maitre'd;
2) Breakfast is generally cheaper than lunch or dinner, and she does not drink as much;
3) Lawyer Judge quotes herself;
4) She can laugh if she makes a joke about breakfast, because it's funny;
5) She won't pay £15 for a cup of coffee, even if it comes with breakfast;
6) She will deny it, but among some people, her opinion of breakfast restaurants is rated very highly indeed;
7) She likes to have breakfast where there are important people like her around;
8) She can't hear very well;
9) WTF is that picture? Don't tell me she chose it for herself? For God's sake, don't these Americans have any taste?
Now, I've similarly had a "lifetime of breaking bread with clients," even if my lifetime has been much shorter than hers, and not nearly as tied to the rise of atomic energy. Regardless, here, mes amis, are some pro tips that you can use to have a good business breakfast:
1) Keep it to a reasonable hour, and leave when you have to. Don't be shy about cutting it short in the name of D-U-T-Y.
2) Scope the place out beforehand, and figure out where the restaurant has its clocks. You want to sit where you can see a clock so that you don't have to rudely glance at your watch when you think you might have to leave.
3) Become a regular at a place. In fact, become a regular at a few very good places, and offer to meet clients at a place convenient for them. They think that they have the home court advantage, but you should have already left several healthy tips for the waitress, who will remember how you like your eggs.
4) If you can't be a regular at a place, at least get there a few minutes earlier than your breakfast companion. Review the menu and choose what you will order. If they know what they want when they arrive, it puts you on equal footing; if they have to scan the menu, it gives you an upper edge.
Order coffee early and put a discreet amount of sugar in it. Opt for brown crystals over white, of course; hell, if they have pieces of raw cane on the table, use that. Just get a small amount of it in your system early so that you can regulate your blood sugar. If your dining partner decides not to poison his veins with that tropical filth, laugh inwardly at him, knowing that your brain will be working faster, faster.
5) If you're at your regular spot, order the same thing every time. There's no need to make it the healthiest thing on the menu, but don't order the Fullest English in England. Tweak it in some way - get the eggs shirred, or over easy on the potatoes so you can pierce the yolks, or ask for Sriracha (actually, always ask for Sriracha). Do one thing different so that not only does the waitress remember, but your partner will notice how particular and exacting you are.
6) Tip well.
7) Bring paper. Sketch things out with a pen. Breakfast time is no time for tablets, and certainly not a time for your partner to stare at the back of a screen.
8) Bring a newspaper so that, if you have to wait, you can be productive.
9) Do not use your phone at all, especially if you're waiting for the other person. Use the moments for reflection and thought and preparing for the day. Or read the paper.
10) Come with a goal. If you know what you want, clearly, you're more likely to get it from your companion. People are very agreeable at breakfast, all things considered.
11) Leave with action items that you can email around immediately upon arriving at the office.
12) If you are not independently wealthy, make sure you tell people what you just did at the office, and get them in on it. "Hey Gary! I just had breakfast with Lady Judge. No, she doesn't look like that picture at all. I know, I know. Yeah. Well it's confusing, but she's American. Oh, no discretion at all, mate. Or style. Well listen: we should invest in atomic energy, it's about to blow up. No, no pun intended. Yeah. Well, she's going to send me a spreadsheet of the companies that they're going to contract with so I can move money into the right accounts. Yeah. OK then, ta."
13) As long as your breakfast partner doesn't have a hearing problem, go somewhere moderately loud. The advantage is that it forces you to lean in, forcing intimacy and a sense of camaraderie. What's more important than anything is the table size; you want to be close yet have a wide surface on which to write and sketch and doodle.
14) Do not order kippers. In fact, don't order anything that requires any thought or special effort whatsoever to consume. Don't distract yourself; eat something simple and relatively healthy and focus on what you want out of the business, not the breakfast. I once had breakfast with Malcolm Eggs, and we both ordered kippers, and were silent for almost a whole minute. Then we had a bottle of champagne, had a good laugh, became close friends and got on with our business in the allocated hour. On our subsequent meetings during my trips to London we always had breakfast like that.