Is Coffee the New Lunch?
I don’t know when I stopped making lunch dates and replaced it with meeting people for coffee. Timelines post COVID all seem to blur. But, there is no question at a certain point, I stopped meeting most people for lunch and replaced it with “you want to meet for a coffee?”
I am not alone. I did a survey on my scantily used Instagram page and asked people, “Has meeting for a coffee replaced meeting for lunch much of the time?” One hundred percent responded yes.
A new era, not only the end of the Power Lunch, but the end of most lunches has descended upon us.
Boomers didn’t create the Power Lunch, but we certainly perfected it.
At the age of eighteen I moved to Los Angeles to be an actress. Within a brief period I ended up dating the owner of one of the most iconic Power Lunch places of all time – Ma Maison.
I learned young the power of the Power Lunch. I also learned the rules, and boy were there rules.
First off, have one spot you go to all the time. Be a regular. I learned this from Patrick Terrail, the owner of Ma Maison. He told me to find a spot, go all the time, be a regular and you will always have a table when you want one.
Power Lunchers tended to go to the same restaurant every day. Dinners, dinners were more let’s try that new place in the Village. But if you ever walked into any Power Lunch spot, you were sure to see the same faces day in day out.
In the Ma Maison years, your lack of power status was emblazoned on your forehead if you could not get a table there. The only exceptions being young, pretty girls. Young pretty girls get a ton of entrance exceptions. At least they did before everyone got so WOKE. And it makes getting older that much harder; wait I don’t get a good table anymore just for being under thirty and cute.
In New York at that time, and up until Michael’s took off, The Russian Tea Room was the spot to be seen. Rewatch Tootsie, if you doubt me.
These places were media “hot spots” as they were once referred to. And hot they were. On any day, you could walk into any of these restaurants and see not only the same faces, but all of them powerhouses in their industries. And if you were lucky enough to sit with one of them, well that made you powerful by lunch association.
Different groups had different places. The big money guys and Real Masters of the Universe used to go to The Four Seasons in New York. There was a time when what was once a socialite ( they like everyone else seem to have been replaced by influencers) used to go to La Grenouille. The Europeans all went to La Goulue and Sant Ambroeus.
For years, and when it was open, publishing people went to Union Square Café. For fifteen years, if you walked into Union Square Café at lunchtime, you would find my husband, in his corner table. After he moved offices he could be found at table number two at Michael’s.
This was another rule of the sadly departed Power Lunch, you HAD to have your own table. And if you didn’t get it hissy fits ensued. Nothing like a master of the universe stomping his foot and getting red in the face because someone deemed more important is sitting in his chair, at his table.
Having your own table was not arbitrary. Your own table was essential for both your ranking on the power meter and other power players ability to find you. If you didn’t have the same table, people “who just happened to run into you” would not know where to wander on their way to the bathroom.
Power lunches could make your career. And you had them almost every day. I’m not sure how we all got so much work done, stopping at 11:30 or 12:00 getting to power spot; eating the lunch, trying to get others to notice you so you could maybe close the deal. Getting back to the office, this was a chunk of your day. But the payoff at that time was so big you did it.
Pre cell phones, I think we all had a lot more time for fun activities that also helped us on our journeys.
I loved lunches. LOVED. LOVED. LOVED. After my Ma Maison days and Ma Maison ended, I had a brief time of being a Eurotrash groupie (can we still say that? I doubt it, but I am too old to care) at that time I went to La Goulue many times a week. If I was trying to climb up the actress pole, I needed to be seen at The Russian Tea Room.
When I moved back to LA in the nineties and was legitimately employed and considered a good lunch date myself, there were several spots to go to. LA being so spread out, driving far took too much time by then. Proximity often equaled power spot.
So, I was thrilled when I was given an office on the 20th Century Fox lot and had access to the commissary. In its day nothing was more powerful than saying, “meet me at the commissary.”
This obsessive lunching was not all about ego, you really did feel that if you were seen out, people would be reminded of your existence. You would walk by a table, say, “hi, we have to get together” and maybe that person had a job you were right for. Or the brief encounter gave you an excuse to pick up the phone and call them later that day. Yes, we did that, we picked up our phones, that sat on our desks, and we phoned people.
It was all so direct and personal, and it led to jobs, other opportunities and socialization. And we all had the fine art of social skills, conversation, listening to the person we were with as we did not have one eye on our phone. OK, one eye might have been cruising the room to see if there was someone more powerful we needed to make contact with. But for the most part it was all social and career enhancing.
If the Power Lunch was not an essential element to your career they would not have created a whole wardrobe around it. Remember the power suit? Shoulder pads and swagger. If not, rewatch Working Girl.
Yes, Millennials, we actually dressed up every day. We looked good. We did not wear jeans and sweats and sneakers between nine and five. But unlike you we had to go prance our power over lunch.
There are many reasons for this seismic shift, most people are still not in their offices. And if they go into the office, many are going in three days a week. If you are only in your office three days a week taking a two-hour lunch break is not time well spent; especially if most of the other power players are not around.
I think for the Millennials cost is a huge factor. Inflation has made lunches the cost of pricey dinners. And if no one else is doing it, then there is no reason to spend all that money to accomplish something you can get done over ZOOM.
And , like most everything else it’s tech that really changed the way we do lunch.
Lorraine Fox, who was a big player in tech and finance told me that Andy Grove, the renowned CEO of Intel, used to say, “Eat lunch or be lunch.”
I am going to LA next week, the biggest meeting I have on a project I am working on is being done over a coffee.
I have a lunch scheduled at The Polo Lounge, which used to be a Power Lunch place. But is is now mostly women my age, with little to do, wanting somewhere to show off their largely unused wardrobes.
I am meeting my friend Sheldon as we both like to get dressed up and go there. It reminds us of when we first met and worked together and used to have power lunches several times a week at place called the Columbia Bar and Grill.
The Columbia Bar and Grill is not a widely known power spot. I think it’s closed. But back in the Power Lunch days, it had a power patina as it was geographically desirable for people who worked at Paramount or had offices at Sunset Gower Studio, where Sheldon and I had overall deals with Sony.
Our offices were two doors down from each other. If it were today, we might just Postmate in a sandwich or go pick up a smoothie across the street, or if I had my present-day way, grab an ice coffee and a muffin.
I miss the Power Lunch. I miss cities bustling with people running in and out of places at lunch time. I miss having my own table and saying put it on my account. I guess those things made me feel special and like I had made it, which I had. I got good tables when my youth had faded but I had accomplished enough to earn my spot. I had a thirty year run of power lunches and success. Not bad.
I guess I am glad the power lunch fizzled out around the time my own working prowess did too. I don’t feel so left out. I’m twenty pounds lighter! And I do still get in the odd lunch every now and then.
But mostly I just meet up for a coffee like everyone else.