Breakfast is the most important meet
For senior executives and CEOs, 8 am meetings are where most work gets done. It's why mornings over food are the new happy hours
Composer and entrepreneur Ashu Phatak is often one of the few people to walk past Starbucks and into Doolally for morning meetings. The coffee shop and the microbrewery sit cheek-by-jowl at Kemps Corner's Kwality House, a stone's throw from his August Kranti Marg residence. On a Tuesday morning, when we join him for a "power breakfast" at the brewery, indie musician Tejas Menon's The Next Best Thing is playing on the speakers. "The first time I came here for breakfast, I was told that they serve beer, not coffee," he laughs.
He didn't mind settling for the English breakfast on the menu as long as the space offered peace and quiet, and the option of bringing Prince, his delightful golden Labrador. "He accompanies me on most meetings," says the founder of True School of Music (TSM), and the Quarter at the Royal Opera House.
Ashu Phatak, founder of True School of Music, with his labrador, Prince, at Doolally, Kemps Corner. Pics/Ashish Raje
If it's fried eggs and sausages for Phatak, Prince has a separate menu that includes boiled chicken, dog food and vanilla ice-cream. Like the ambient music, Phatak's pet is non-interfering and happy to 'give paw' when asked to. "For a musician, I wake up quite early because I feel my brain is most productive in the mornings," he adds. What works is that his colleagues share his ethic.
Like Phatak and his clique, many high flying executives and CEOs are discovering the efficacy of holding meetings over croissant and coffee instead of drinks and dinner. For many, this is the real "happy hour".
"Your mind is fresh, centred and focused," says Phatak. Tanya Swetta, founder and joint manager director at id8 media solutions, a Mumbai-based PR agency, agrees. She has been following this routine long before it became a trend. "It's been a decade since I started holding breakfast meetings at Vista," she says. Her clients, mostly from the US and Thailand, are often treated to a breathtaking view of the sea along with a range of coffee options that the restaurant offers. "Earlier, my favourite was cold coffee. But now I am a little health conscious and end up ordering the mixed salad," she says.
Masala eggs Benedict
While Phatak's meetings revolve around intellectual property and music compositions, Swetta's forte lies is developing brand strategies for companies. She was 21 when she founded the company. At 40, she has figured what works and doesn't. "I've seen that international clients prefer morning meetings because they are hard pressed for time. They prefer to wrap up in 40 minutes and then move on to their next agenda," she says. Here, flexibility is key because the proximity of the restaurant to home or workplace is a factor that should work for the people involved. Sometimes, if Phatak's colleagues can't make it to Kemps Corner, he holds the meetings at Cafe Zoe in Lower Parel, which is close to his office.
But, to get the creative juices flowing, the restaurant "vibe" is important, believes Shantam Mehra, co-founder and marketing head of Student Tribe Accommodation, a premium student housing brand. He and brother, Aman, who looks after business expansion, prefer Bombay Coffee House at Bandra West and Bombay Baking Company at JW Marriott Mumbai Juhu. The latter scores brownie points for offering valet parking. "The vibe there is playful and the interiors tasteful. We have sat for hours at end reading books, chatting with the team and also getting our work done," he says.
Being a start-up, the average age of his team is under 30, which is why some amount of "life and hustle bustle" is welcome. The space, adds Aman, reminds them of their London days where they worked and studied. "London is one of our favourite cities for its variety of food and unique places to visit — and this scores well in comparison. The book store and the artisanal product sections are always a great conversation topic," he says.
Away from the stuffiness of the workplace, it's the unhurried pace and relaxed environment that compounds the experience. "When it comes to the breakfast buffet at Vista, you just need to fill up your plate and walk to your table to carry on with your business. It's peaceful," says Swetta, who is usually one of the first few customers to turn up as early as 7.45 am. Most have their favourite tables. While Phatak prefers the bar stalls because he likes the height, the Mehras occupy the one at the end of the open kitchen next to the shelves which gives them privacy.
Aman and Shantam Mehra, founders of Student Tribe Accomodation at Bombay Baking Company
Given that the meeting is being conducted over the most important meal of the day, the food matters. Swetta usually takes her clients for wholesome breakfast buffets mainly for the variety on offer. "I cannot afford to have a hungry customer discussing business," she laughs. Antony Alex, founder and CEO of Rainmaker, a company that conducts PoSH compliance trainings to create ethical workplaces, frequents the Kitchen Garden, and Suzette at Pali Naka, for its healthy fare. It helps set the tone for the day.
"Sometimes I finish my morning workout and head straight for a meeting there," says the fitness enthusiast. He recommends the avocado sandwich and berry smoothie. The Mehras prefer to order the yoghurt bowls, fresh fruit salads and juices, eggs Benedict and all-day waffles.
Tanya Swetta, founder, id8 media solutions at Vista, Taj Lands End
The restaurants, on their part, are tailoring the experience to suit diners' needs by ensuring seamless WiFi connectivity, minimum noise, protein-packed menus, adequate lighting and comfortable seating. "Never have we had any issue that wasn't resolved within a couple of minutes," says Aman. The hands-on attitude is evident when Phatak's dog, Prince, is served water before anybody else. "It's the little things that make you want to come back," Phatak says.
Antony Alex, founder and CEO of Rainmaker, an online learning company, wraps up his morning workout and heads straight for a meeting to Kitchen Garden, Bandra
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