It’s noon: Where are you? If the answer is donning a perfectly tailored suit, perched in a red leather banquette and sipping a crisp white wine — all while discussing your next venture capital deal — then you’ve nailed the power lunch.
But in today’s world, is anyone actually doing this anymore? Corporate expense accounts were giving way to in-house cafeterias and sad desk salads long before the pandemic relegated us to our home offices. These days, it seems we’re more likely to be discussing big ideas and closing big deals over Zoom rather than over three martinis. Which begs the question: Is the power lunch dead? It depends who you ask.
The term “power lunch” was coined in 1979 by former Esquire Editor-in-Chief Lee Eisenberg. He penned the definitive guide to the phenomenon, setting the scene in the Four Seasons Grill Room along Park Avenue, at one time the hottest lunch reservation in New York City. As Eisenberg explains, “It was to midday in Manhattan what Studio 54 was to midnight in Manhattan.” Here, New York City elite like Nora Ephron, Henry Kissinger and Jackie Onassis sat at tables draped in cream linens — and set far enough apart that you couldn’t steal your neighbor’s big idea.
Eisenberg’s opinion is decisive: “Yes, the power lunch is dead. In fact, it was already dead before the pandemic had us all eating last night’s leftovers alone in our kitchen standing at the counter in our sweatpants.” He notes that the decline began in the late nineties, when it wasn’t cool to spend hours languishing in a pricey restaurant. “People were now into grabbing a salad and taking it back to their desk,” he says. “So while COVID has radically changed where and how we work, it’s hard to blame it for the demise of the power lunch.”
Not so fast, though. Bret Csencsitz, owner of illustrious New York City haunt Gotham, remains optimistic. “I believe in the power lunch,” he asserts. “For nearly four decades, Gotham has been known for its power lunch scene — primarily a mix of business lunches, publishing lunches and longtime clients who would lunch with us almost daily. We’re excited about the return of lunch service, allowing for meaningful conversations in a grand setting that’s both special and inspiring.”
Another proponent is Ti Adelaide Martin, proprietor of Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, a stalwart for midday power players. She acknowledges, however, that the tradition has evolved over time. “People used to think of the power lunch as business men and three martinis,” she says. “Well at Commander’s, they may have three martinis, but it may just as likely be three ladies or three young entrepreneurs strategizing or celebrating.”
The power lunch is dead! The power lunch is thriving! Which is it? Here’s an idea: Let’s make it socially acceptable to have a homemade meal in your athleisure one day and a three-course lunch in a three-piece suit the next. Cheers to both, with your crisp white or that third martini.
Read this article as it appears in the magazine.
Check out our list of top power lunch restaurants across America.