Doing Business Is an Art in Madrid

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- June 1, 2016

In Spain’s geographical center, Madrid is not only its capital but its major city, with a population upwards of 3 million. The metropolitan area ranks the third-largest in the European Union, and Madrid serves as Southern Europe’s major financial center. Most major Spanish companies — including Telefónica, Iberia, Urbaser, Dragados and Prosegur — maintain headquarters here, and the city remains a major center for trade fairs, supported by the Trade Fair Institution of Madrid. For all its commercial importance, Madrid is a gracious and beautiful city. Its relatively compact central area stretches from the expansive Buen Retiro Park through the Golden Triangle museum district to old streets around Plaza Mayor, ending at the Royal Palace.

The Caixa Forum Museum and the Vertical Garden

The Caixa Forum Museum and the Vertical Garden © STILLMAN ROGERS PHOTOGRAPHY

Wide Paseo de la Castellana leads north to the tall towers of AZCA, a modern business center near the convention center, Palacio de Congresos y Exposiciones. AZCA is easy to recognize by the 516-foot Torre Picasso office building and the Bernabeu Stadium, home of the city’s beloved Real Madrid soccer team. Four even taller skyscrapers of the newer Cuatro Torres Business Area tower over the Chamartín neighborhood, farther north. Central Madrid’s grand plazas, Baroque architecture and picturesque narrow streets hide a thoroughly modern infrastructure and an excellent transit system. The fast and frequent Metro can often get you to your destination more quickly than a taxi. It extends to Madrid-Barajas Airport, with stations in terminals 2 and 4, where Line 8 reaches the AZCA business park in 12 minutes. RENFE trains from Terminal T4 stop at the more central Atocha train station. Taxis to central Madrid cost about $30; use only those in the taxi rank just outside the terminal. Licensed taxis are white with a red stripe; be sure the meter is engaged. AresMóbile offers private transport by an English-speaking chauffeur who will meet you inside on arrival. Perhaps the most difficult thing to get used to when doing business in Madrid is the daily schedule. Although air-conditioning and Spain’s entry into the international commercial world have changed business hours here, they are still more flexible than in Northern Europe. While meals are considered an important way to establish business relationships, deals are not usually sealed or even discussed while dining. So the American concept of a power breakfast or lunch may not play well in Madrid, where meals are a time to relax, get acquainted and size each other up. If it is necessary to discuss business at lunch, be sure to mention this in advance. In a city where dinner doesn’t begin until 10 p.m., you may have trouble getting much enthusiasm for breakfast meetings, but clients will find it hard to resist an invitation to the elegant and supremely comfortable La Rotonda, under the stained-glass dome of The Westin Palace. Linen-clad tables are spaced discreetly inside the colonnade, and plush chairs fill the center below a kaleidoscope of colored glass. Order a basket of croissants and chocolate rolls and entrées that include smoked salmon and Spanish ham. The juice is freshly squeezed from Valencia’s famous oranges.
The Atrium, the Museo Reina Sofia

The Atrium, the Museo Reina Sofia © STILLMAN ROGERS PHOTOGRAPHY

Hotel Wellington’s La Llave de Oro serves breakfast daily from 8 a.m., with pastries baked in house. In good weather, reserve a table on the terrace above Velazquez Street, a good choice for business lunches, too. Impress important clients with a private à la carte breakfast overlooking the gardens at La Biblioteca, in the former palace of the Duke of Santo Mauro. The private dining rooms serve up to 10 guests at breakfast or lunch, or choose the more casual Santo Mauro Gardens. For an informal business breakfast in a traditional setting, choose one of Madrid’s classic cafés, such as Café de Oriente opposite the Royal Palace. You’ll be seated on red velvet banquettes to savor a breakfast sandwich of local cheeses and Spanish ham. Your Spanish guests will probably order something lighter, accompanied with thick hot chocolate. Spanish lunches begin late, so time your invitations after 1:30 p.m. Many restaurants, like Goizeko Wellington, don’t open until then, serving lunch until 5 p.m. At this smart restaurant, star chefs collaborate on seasonal dishes inspired by Basque cuisine. Lunch might begin with asparagus tips in truffle oil or ceviche of lobster and butterfish. Michelin-starred Santceloni begins serving at 2 p.m., but the veal terrine with pistachio nuts and dried fig purée or the sea bass with candied tomato and hazelnuts are worth waiting for. Michelin stars also reflect from the sparkling crystal at the royal family favorite, Zalacain, with a wine list as impeccable as the menu and service. Expect truffles and foie gras in the ravioli and innovative takes on Spanish and continental cuisine. Or try Volvoreta in the Eurostars Madrid Tower, on the 30th floor of one of the four imposing skyscrapers in the Cuatro Torres Business Area. While savoring views of the mountains beyond, your guests can select from a seasonal Mediterranean menu featuring sea-fresh tuna tartare, venison loin or slow-cooked Castilian lamb.

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