Stylist tells you how to master the science of doing business when you're out of the office...
First came the three-Martini lunch, then the caffeine-fuelled power breakfast and now we're brainstorming over afternoon tea. Taking a business meeting over a meal has always been incredibly effective. But picking the perfect meeting spot is about so much more than loving the decor and eggs Benedict. Making the right choice, says Professor Cary Cooper, occupational psychologist at Lancaster University, can significantly affect your power to bond with potential clients, secure sales, nail that presentation or pitch your ideas.
Jennifer Ackerman agrees. In her book Sex Sleep Eat Dream she explores our circadian rhythms, the body clock which releases hormones and regulates temperature, which can affect our abilities at any given hour. "We tend to be driven primarily by what's going on in our minds, but also by the hidden ups and downs, the little crises and triumphs of our bodies, which cycle over the course of a day." Here's our guide to arranging the meeting that will work for your agenda.
Best For: Tackling complex tasks, making important decisions, sealing deals
"Our brains are at our sharpest in the morning," says Professor Cooper. Why? Researchers at Neurosense found that stress hormone cortisol, which helps make us focus on complex tasks, is at its highest levels in the early hours.
So how can we build on that biological advantage during our work hours? First, arrange your meeting to start between 9am and 10am but don't arrive on an empty stomach. Our testosterone levels (the hormone that gives us the extra drive to seal that business deal) reach their highest at around 9.30am, and New York's Sleep-Wake Disorders Centre found that as long as we've eaten something beforehand - a banana will suffice - by 10am rising glucose levels mean an increase in concentration and logic.
Don't be tempted to use your commute to cream facts and figures, there are more effective ways to prepare yourself for success. Move your eyes from left to right for 30 seconds - bilateral eye movement boosts the level of communication between your right and left hemispheres, increasing creativity. Then, advises psychobiologist Ernest L Rossi, let your mind drift for 20 minutes. Your stress levels will drop and enhance your ability to work on your feet.
Finally, choose from the menu carefully. Judith J Wurtman, author of The Serotonin Power Diet found that just 28g of protein produces the brain boosting chemicals dopamine (helping us make better decisions) - scrambled eggs and smoked salmon it is then.
Where to go
The Wolseley (pictured above)
The grand, award-winning eaterie remains wildly popular with the breakfast meeting crowd.
160 Piccadilly, London, W1; 020-7499 6996
The Fourth Floor restaurant has lovely views over the city and a menu including smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and caviar. Elegant yet informal. 107-111 Briggate, Leeds, LS1; 0113-204 8000
Manchester’s sleekest hotel offers a chic backdrop for high-end breakfast meetings. The River Bar & Restaurant; 50 Dearmans Place, Salford, M3; 0161-827 4000
Best for: Impressing clients, making a sales pitch, asking for a raise
If you’re looking to impress a colleague or a client with fast, accurate insights, make it a lunchtime meeting. A rising body temperature means increased mental performance – Harvard University found heightened alertness, visual attention and memory in the early afternoon.
As well as a great time to secure sales (Robin Jay, author of The Art Of The Business Lunch found her sales increased 200% once she began meeting over lunch), this is the perfect time to pitch a radical proposal to another person. Shai Danziger from Israel’s Ben Gurion University found that, in the hour directly after lunch, judges are more likely to grant parole to prisoners than at any other time, with leniency granted in 70% of cases rather than 12% later in the day. Lunch is also the time our verbal reasoning is at its pinnacle, making our proposals sharper and more cohesive.
However do pick your hour carefully, says Ackerman. The older the client or colleague you are meeting, the more likely they are to be distracted later in the day, falling back on “familiar decision making routes”, such as refusing to think outside the box. So book lunch for 12.30pm instead of 2pm, and the result is more likely to go in your favour.
To maximise your chances further, order a bread basket for the table. Carbohydrates increase the amount of calming tryptophan in the brain, making us more open to agreement and cooperation.
Where to go
Make an impression with a menu from a double Michelin-starred chef. An elegant private room is also available if you need to be discreet.
107 Piccadilly, Manchester, M1; 0161-247 7744
60 Hope Street (pictured above)
Doubling as an art gallery (Damien Hirst and Lucian Freud have both displayed here), this award-winning restaurant makes this an ideal spot for creative inspiration.
60 Hope Street, Liverpool, L1; 0151-707 6060
The place to seal that very big deal; chic, quiet and given a number one food rating in the Zagat London Restaurants 2011 guide.
127 Ledbury Road, London, W11; 020-7792 9090
Best for: Creative meetings, networking, conducting interviews
It might be a stylish alternative to lunch, but afternoon tea isn’t suitable for every kind of meeting. Studies show that, overall, our brain is at its slowest between 2pm and 4pm in the afternoon, as our bodies divert blood from our brain to our stomachs in order to digest our lunch. We also produce more epinephrine, a relaxing hormone. But being laid-back can have benefits. “It’s a great time to interview a potential employee. By this time of day people’s guards are down so you’ll get a very honest idea of what they are like,” says Professor Cooper.
Afternoon tea is also the perfect time to get creative. Research from the University of Milan found that creative brains improve throughout the afternoon, so a late afternoon meeting is a great time for a brainstorm.
But while our brains are dipping, our physical body is peaking between 3pm and 6pm so if a meeting requires even simple props such as handouts, make it at afternoon tea.
If it’s a champagne tea you’re after, pick 5pm. It’s the time of day when you’re least likely to feel drunk, says Dr Edlund, author of The Body Clock Advantage, because your liver is most efficient then. For something alcohol-free, pick peppermint tea, it has been found to make you 25% more alert.
Lastly, if you’re nervous about the meeting, pick a spot that plays classical music. It’s been found to reduce activity in the section of the brain called the amygdala, reducing fear and anxiety.
Where to go
No-bread sandwiches mean the De-Light menu is just as delicious as the full-fat version, but without the carbohydrate crash.
19 Old Park Lane, London, W1K; 020-7447 1000
Missoni Hotel (pictured above)
Try a traditional spread in the retro splendour of Bar Missoni. If it turns into early cocktails, you know you’ve won the client over.
1 George IV Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1; 0131-220 6666
This elegant boutique hotel offers a classic spread and an intimate, wood-panelled 1860s setting that’s ideal for networking.
1 Devonshire Gardens, Glasgow, G12; 0141-339 2001
Words: Marianne Power