Dinner-date don’ts

Janice Northover’s encounter with a monosyllabic broker lets her see why so many MIPIM attendees just don’t do dinner

Janice Northover
Janice Northover

I thought I had MIPIM sussed. It was all going so well. That is, until last night.

The fact that several people during the day had told me that they “didn’t do dinner” should have been my warning sign. As one acquaintance put it, dinner is a big investment: if you’re going to spendthreehours of your MIPIM day with someone it needs to be with someone you genuinely like. MIPIM is all about making new contacts, but dinner blind dates are high risk.

Back home a contact had kindly connected me to a broker who I had been keen to meet for quite some time. He was coming to MIPIM so we arranged to meet up at one of the dinners.

However, I wasn’t quite prepared for his opening line, which was words to the effect that he didn’t want to discuss his business, wasn’t interested in meeting any of the other guests or knowing about their businesses and wasn’t interested in my firm. He, as he put it, knew everyone he needed to know and wasn’t interested in widening the circle. As a litigator, I’ve usually got an answer for everything but, even after three glasses of champagne, I struggled to find a response to that. Well, actually, there was something that immediately sprung to mind but I can’t repeat it here.

In an effort to rescue the situation, I decided to steer the conversation away from business and stick to safe topics like leisure interests and travel. So, I asked, do you have any leisure interests? Golf? Football? “No,” he replied. Do you have children? “Yes,” he replied. Do you do much travelling? “No,” he replied.

There was a pattern emerging that was unswervingly monosyllabic. I tried not to let the one word answers put me off, but even for me this was making conversation a little tough. I did feel for him though. ImaginehisMIPIM: presumably he’d been sent as an ambassador for his firm, expected to return with armfuls of new business cards, a calendar overflowing with follow-up meeting dates and promises of juicy new instructions. And here he was in the middle of the property world’s biggest networking event clearly hating it all, too shy to engage in any kind of decent conversation, just wanting everyone to leave him alone to eat his dinner in peace. I’d always thought networking wasn’t really my thing either, but compared to him I looked and felt completely in my element.

So I tried to fill the void, upping the sparkle in my own conversation to make up for his deficit. By the time the desserts arrived I was exhausted.

My colleague and I tried to salvage the night by heading to a couple of after parties, but I think the dinner and perhaps last night’s events had taken their toll on us. At 1am we admitted defeat and headed back to our apartments. I’m hoping I’ll bounce back after a good night’s sleep but one thing’s for sure: I’m not making any dinner plans tonight.

Janice Northover is a partner at Brecher