A business guide to San Francisco

By Kristen V Brown for Business Life magazine

Photography by Francesco Carucci/Getty

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June 2016

A new generation of startup giants has set up shop in the City by the Bay, and the effects can be seen everywhere.

The lowdown

San Francisco is in the midst of a mass migration. During the first dotcom boom, tech companies set up shop further down the Peninsula, in suburban Silicon Valley towns such as Cupertino, Mountain View and Menlo Park. But in recent years, San Francisco has been outpacing the Valley in job growth. While the Valley is still home to industry titans such as Apple, Google and Facebook, the next generation of giants – Uber, Airbnb, Pinterest, Dropbox – are all based in the city. Downtown San Francisco is a tangle of cranes, and the Salesforce Tower, once complete, will be the tallest building in the city. Even Silicon Valley stalwarts such as Google, Yahoo and LinkedIn have expanded their presence in the city. And the startup scene, too, is flourishing.

San Francisco’s business culture is famously casual. Handshakes are customary, but don’t be too surprised if someone gives you a hug instead

In 2011, the city offered a tax break to draw tech firms to the long-neglected Mid-Market neighbourhood and so far more than a dozen companies, including Zendesk, Twitter and Yammer, have taken advantage. Advances in technology have also enabled the industry’s transformation to a more urban aesthetic – no longer does starting a tech company require a huge office space to house masses of servers. The influence of the industry is visible everywhere in San Francisco – from the ads for software-as-a-service companies at San Francisco International Airport to the masses of Uber and Lyft cars that troll the city’s streets.

Business etiquette

San Francisco’s business culture is famously casual. Handshakes are customary, but don’t be too surprised if someone gives you a hug instead. Text messages are nearly as common as emails. Silicon Valley prides itself on efficiency and business dealings are typically direct and to the point – often over a friendly cup of coffee or drinks.

Discover our cheapest Club fares to San Francisco

  • Best slap-up dinner: Dress to impress at Rich Table
  • Tuck into a breakfast of kings at Vitrine at St Regis San Francisco
  • Caffeine fix: Blue Bottle Coffee

Food and shopping

The hallmark of San Francisco dining is fresh, seasonal produce – the city's best establishments pride themselves on using locally sourced goods from Northern California’s abundant farmland. The city’s rich immigrant tradition means that it‘s also easy to get a very good cheap meal, be it Mexican, Chinese or Ethiopian.

Best business breakfast: Vitrine

A slick SoMa spot for business breakfasts offering creative twists on morning standbys.

Where? 125 3rd Street, 4th Floor of the St Regis hotel (+1 415 284 4049; stregissanfrancisco.com)

Best power lunch: Blue Bottle Coffee

A San Francisco power lunch is more likely to be a power pour over coffee – here it's served alongside simple salads and sandwiches.

Where? 66 Mint Plaza (bluebottlecoffee.com)

Best slap-up dinner: Rich Table

Elegant but relaxed and unfussy with inventive riffs on classic Californian cuisine.

Where? 199 Gough Street (+1 415 355 9085; richtablesf.com)


Union Square and its surrounds are the best spot for luxury brands, department stores and well-known chains. Haight Ashbury is known for its mix of vintage shops. Fillmore Street has its chic, trendy boutiques. The best San Francisco souvenirs, though, are edible – head to Boudin Bakery for classic San Francisco sourdough bread or Ghirardelli for the city’s best-known chocolate.

Read our San Francisco shopping guide

  • Suite dreams: the Balcony Suite at Fairmont San Francisco

    Did you know... ?

    Tony Bennett first sang his famous song, I Left my Heart in San Francisco, at this Nob Hill Fairmont hotel in 1962. There is even a suite that pays tribute to the singer.

    Book a stay


Many of the city’s business hotels are clustered around downtown – near shopping, public transit and the Moscone Center. The city’s hillier neighbourhoods offer smaller boutique establishments with incredible views.

Fairmont San Francisco

A historic Nob Hill hotel with panoramic cityscape views and 55,000sq ft of meeting space. Top tip: the Crown Room meeting area has the best view.

Book a stay at Fairmont San Francisco

Parc 55 Wyndham Hotel

A luxury hotel at the centre of it all in Union Square with well-appointed meeting rooms.

Book at stay at Parc 55 Hotel

Loews Regency San Francisco

This high-end hotel offers epic views of the Bay and Golden Gate Bridge. The Embassy Room offers excellent views of the city centre for meetings.

San Remo Hotel

This quaint Victorian hotel is a good budget option with a neighbourhood vibe in North Beach.

Did you know... ?

  1. San Francisco has been a hub of innovation since long before the computer was invented. Denim jeans were invented here for Gold Rush-era miners.
  2. Bizarrely, Irish coffee was invented here, too
  3. Much of downtown San Francisco is built on top of ships. In the early 1900s, when the city began filling in parts of Yerba Buena Cove to make room for its growing population, many of the ships moored there were simply buried.
  4. The historic 1906 San Francisco earthquake was not the first time the city was destroyed by fire – it had burned down six times before that.
  5. San Francisco has the most coffee shops per capita of any city in the US.
  6. In February 2004, San Francisco became the first jurisdiction in the US to issue same-sex marriage licenses.

Your tips

We asked British Airway’s LinkedIn followers how to dress for business in San Francisco.

‘Smart jeans and a shirt, and I’m usually one of the smarter dressed in the room.’ – David Vigar

‘Flip-flops are OK in the office but not for client meetings.’ – Chris Kirschke

‘Wear a suit unless you are in the San Francisco Bay Area. When you are in the SF Bay Area, NEVER wear a suit. You will look like and be treated like an IRS employee.’ – Steven Keith Coulthard

‘My rule of thumb is to never trust a developer in a suit.’ – Graeme Quantrill

Getting around

BART, the Bay Area’s commuter transit line, runs between the airport and downtown in 40 mins for less than $10. Or Super Shuttle is a shared van service that costs $17. A taxi costs about $45. Uber’s black-car service is around $65.