Friday, March 24, 2006

I just had breakfast with a client. Not one of my favorite clients, but he brings easy business to the firm and doesn't scrutinize the bill too closely, so from an organizational perspective, I like him. On a personal level, I'd rather eat breakfast with my wife. Maybe. This guy invites me to breakfast whenever he needs a personal legal favor that isn't really part of what his company should be paying the firm for. Some tax and estate planning for his relatives, a strongly-worded letter to get his son out of a drunk driving charge, an intimidating phone call to whoever he thinks is trying to cheat him out a few dollars on his dry cleaning or dental work or airline tickets. It's a bit sad to see a millionaire dickering over the price of laundering a sportcoat. But we humor him.

I'm not sure what makes eating with him as unpleasant as it always is. Usually when I feel this way, it's when dealing with a young associate who hasn't yet figured out proper business lunch etiquette and stares at his plate for half an hour not sure how to eat and talk at the same time. Last week I took an associate for lunch and he got a Greek salad to start. We were talking about real estate prices, a fine lunchtime discussion, and he's staring at the salad, trying to figure out how to attack it. I could tell he wanted to eat the olives. He stuck his fork into one of them, hoping against hope that they'd been pitted. But he struck pit, and immediately pulled out the fork, put it down, and went back to staring at the plate. There's nothing wrong with this course of action, obviously -- he was smart enough to know that there's no good way to eat an olive and remove the pit from his mouth while still remaining a polite lunchtime companion -- but for the successful business eaters, it's all second nature. I don't want to see the wheels turning in his head. I don't want to see the thought process played out right there in front of me. See the salad, know the salad, stick to the feta cheese. It's not crunchy, it's not drippy, it's not going to stick in your teeth. The feta cheese is pretty much the only part of a Greek salad anyone should even contemplate eating at a business meal. And no dressing. Dressing drips. And no onions. Onions smell. And no lettuce. Lettuce makes noise, and is hard to eat without a knife.

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