The contract negotiations were progressing well until the woman in the tiny bikini interrupted to ask Mitchell Stevenson and his client if they wanted drinks.
"He was distracted; I was distracted. Our minds weren't in the same place they were before," said Stevenson, a producer of online advertising content. "That's usually the distraction cute girls serving you drinks."
Such are the drawbacks of conducting business poolside.
Long a fixture in Beverly Hills and Miami Beach, cabanas have become hot hotel amenities in other warm-weather places, and a growing number of business travelers are joining the Hollywood crowd and well-heeled vacationers under those canvas canopies.
"In Southern California, a lot of deal-making tends to be in settings that aren't necessarily the boardroom," said Gregory P. Jenkins, partner at the event-planning company Bravo Productions.
"I'm increasingly seeing small groups of people wanting to get together in unusual or nontraditional spaces," said Betty Wilson, vice president of divisional sales for North America at Starwood Hotels and Resorts. Within the past year, business demand for cabanas as well as other "sun and fun" spaces grew considerably, she said.
Cabanas, patios and even spas are increasingly the new boardrooms.
"Recently, there are customers that are looking for out-of-the-box ways to conduct their business," said Robert Pfeffer, director of sales and marketing for the Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort in Florida, where meeting planners started asking to book its 20 thatch-roofed beachfront huts almost as soon as they were built a year ago.
Last year, the Loews Miami Beach Hotel added eight new cabanas to appeal to business users, said its general manager, Alex Tonarelli.
The two-story, air-conditioned cabanas are at the outer perimeter of the pool deck, buffered by an area with day beds and chaise lounges to cut down on noise or other disruption from the pool.
Jenkins said on a recent business trip to Las Vegas, meeting with his contact in a rooftop cabana "created a nice vibe, a very casual vibe," but he warned that balancing casual with professional took some finesse.
For instance, booking a cabana to meet someone for the first time could result in an awkward "blind date" feeling an insight Jenkins came to after a female client booked a small cabana just for the two of them to meet. "You could tell that she'd set up something that made her uncomfortable," he said.
Another source of discomfort can be the dress code or lack thereof.
"I love getting people out of their makeup and out of their natural state," said Anese Cavanaugh, an executive leadership coach who likes nontraditional settings such as spas and pool decks because "people tend to open up a lot more."
Cavanaugh acknowledged, though, that her clients might not always share her enthusiasm. "I would imagine there's a little bit of discomfort" with the prospect of talking business barefaced or in a bathrobe, she said.
More typically, spa or cabana meetings are conducted in an extra-relaxed version of business casual attire.
"You can wear just a pair of khakis and a summery shirt," Jenkins said. "But you don't want to come in beachwear." He added that it was important to be clear about atmosphere so the other party didn't show up overdressed or underdressed.
In cooler cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia, outdoor terraces have become popular meeting places in warmer months, and lounges and spas are in use for meetings year-round.
Companies like the Campbell Soup Co. and Destination Maternity have used the rooftop lounge at the Hotel Monaco Philadelphia for meetings of up to 15 people.
Amanda Schmiege, spa director at the Trump SoHo New York, said the hotel's spa played host to around one business meeting a week in its relaxation lounge or on the terrace. "The meeting planners generally love it because whoever they're having the meetings with actually wants to come," she said.
"We're trying to shift to get more value from the fun stuff we do," said John Kane, director of sales development and marketing for Cutco, a cutlery company.
Kane, who has used the Hotel Monaco Philadelphia's lounge for meetings, said setting a meeting in a relaxed place primed younger employees to talk about it on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. "That's a shift in the way we're thinking."