Power Lunches Are Out. Crumbs in the Keyboard Are In.

Jan 22, 2015 · 42 comments
Alain (Montreal)
Back in the late 1970's a team of Wall Street lawyers came to the important Montreal law firm where I was a junior to discuss a number of things. No iPhones then, but a lot of stress nonetheless. When lunch time arrived, one of the NYC guys suggested that we grabbed a sandwich while continuing our discussions. My boss, a senior and very successful litigator looked at them with a bit of scorn and told them: "Grab what you want, Alain and I are going to our usual restaurant. Would you care to join us?" They were baffled but being polite they accompanied us. Yes, we drank Bordeaux, but we also ironed out subjects that the formal conference room could not handle.
susie (New York)
I found this comment hilarious. I mean who cares?? I'd rather have just had a nice meal with pleasant company!

"There’s always that slightly alarming feeling of returning from a long lunch and clicking on Twitter, and everyone is discussing something while you were away, and you’re like, ‘What are they talking about?’ "
andrew (pacific palisades, ca)
Only in New York would people care about going to lunch because of the status it conveys
Catherine (New York, NY)
Oh, another "trend" that the Times found a couple of examples of and decided "everyone" is doing. Most people never had the opportunity to power lunch, and most who aren't taking lunch at all now are being forced into that by corporate culture.
Ashley (MA)
Dignified. That's something it's hard to be while shoving a sandwich in your mouth at your computer (however hip/ fresh / local its ingredients).
OSS Architect (San Francisco)
The business lunch, if it ever existed in Silicon Valley, was gone by the 70's. I think Palo Alto was the only city ever capable of pulling off a white table cloth and napkins.

At the height of the Dot Com boom, places like the Lion and Compass briefly became the focal point for power lunches among the VC community, and just as quickly disappeared.

Engineers don't drink at lunch. Ever. Without alcohol things just get "weird" in a formal setting; sitting with people you spend 90% of the day not talking to. The art of small talk comes to Silicon Valley to die.

Nobody I know here ever went to a Prep School or University with an Eating Club. I'm not sure we understand the concept of power lunch.
Surviving (Atlanta)
I'm in Sales and many of my potential clients are working people who can only meet over their lunch hours. My colleague, who works remotely, can schedule appointments on my calendar (she's very considerate and checks in before scheduling lunchtime client visits). Therefore, I'm always working over the normal lunch hours. I usually run out to pick something up, and eat at my desk in installments. Or, every once in a while, I block out an hour and eat at my desk and read the NY Times mostly online. Every three or four weeks ago, I carve out 1-1/2 hours to meet friends at our favorite restaurant which is about a 15 minute drive away.

In a perfect world, lunch should be a time to connect with colleagues or friends, but I'll take what I can get these days!
Mike (Washington, DC)
We should come back to a world where sitting down for an hour for LUNCH is not a crime to be punished for in the workplace.
N. Smith (New York City)
Anybody who has ever worked in the Media KNOWS that's exactly what it is...
a Club -- Lunch, or not.
Mark Hayes (San Francisco, CA)
TANSTAAFL. Blue Coat Systems in CA used to provide "free" lunch to support engineers, delivered to their desks, on the condition that they eat at those desks and keep working through a 9-hour workday which included a mandatory "lunch hour". HR eventually banned this as illegal, and the free lunch policy was changed to eliminate the work requirement, but this had little real effect. The food-for-work deal simply became implicit rather than explicit, with few willing to risk actually taking an hour off in the middle of the day despite being required to allocate the time.
portlandia (Portland, OR, USA)
They're not dressed to eat at the Four Seasons anyway! They are wearing jeans and hoodies. As long as the midtown restaurants impose any kind of dress code they are never going to capture any meaningful business from the people the article is talking about. People don't see the point of wearing a coat and tie just so they can endure the privilege of being charged a fortune to eat lunch on a white tablecloth.
Quiet Waiting (Texas)
The true luxury of the power lunch is not eating at a table covered by a white cloth or having waiters bring your food. The genuine luxury is being so secure in your job that you can take a full hour to eat and perhaps half that much to recover while sitting at your desk. Time is the ultimate resource and as Veblen might have written, power-lunchers are telling everyone that can spend that resource as they wish.
kb (Los Angeles, CA)
For an amusing sidelight to the Michael's lunch phenomenon, take a look at the New York Social Diary. (A true guilty pleasure, it resembles The Palm Beach Social Register, meaning aimed at the Koch brothers demographic.), Almost every Wednesday the publisher eats lunch at Michael's and every Thursday he lists EVERYONE who was in attendance. Complete with nicknames.
shira-eliora (oak park, il)
I've experienced both extremes like neither. Good interviews should feel like conversations rather than interrogations. Although I'm not sure having a cat around would be endearing at that time. Being interviewed over a formal lunch is maddening....what do you order that involves the least amount of chewing to ask answer questions? On the other hand eating at one's desk because one seems to be slacking otherwise is not only uncivilized but hard on one's digestion. As usual in America we only relish the extremes...to take an hour that calms the mind as well as hunger honors the person, good health likely more productivity rather than less. We keep hearing that multi tasking doesn't really work. I'd say give moderation a try and see what happens.
Heidi Barron (Maryland)
i eat all my meals over keyboards which could now feed third world countries - can one of these companies which provide snacks for workers so they won't leave the office please develop a crumb-proof keyboard i can eat over? thanking you in advance!
Grossness54 (West Palm Beach, FL)
'Crumbs on the keyboard'. A perfect metaphor for today's corporate work environment: Thoroughly crummy. Gordon Gecko truly rules: "Lunch is for wimps." Work-life balance? Even Groucho never came up with anything THAT hilarious.
In my field, medicine, there are often times when you don't get any time set aside for lunch by itself. One workplace would hold business/ educational meetings and have catered lunch so that two things could be done at once. In my own practice, unless it's an emergency, I tried to set aside 30-45 mins to eat, read something, nap, etc.; my staff was aware of this and would triage matters for me. The lunch allows me s break and time to clear my brain a bit.

This runs in sharp contrast to when I was abroad in China during the late 1990s. We had 2-hour lunches, which allowed time to not only eat, shop, nap, do puzzles, etc. before the afternoon session. We also had a personal chef who did the cooking for us. I very much enjoyed it although that's hardly realistic today either in China or the US.
Rob (Berkeley)
Sometimes I bring lunch from home, sometimes I get a sandwich from a nearby shop, occasionally I eat lunch at a sit-down restaurant. My favorite lunch hour destinations are to be outside of the office, at the park, at the public garden a block from my office, or walking and sitting on a bench in the neighborhood. My lunch hour is not just for nutrition - it is a break from wired connections, it is a chance to breath fresh air, see green grass and trees, enjoy some sunshine, and either talk/laugh/commiserate with a friend/coworker, listen to music, and/or read a little (current book or magazine). The demarcated break in the day is paramount for me - although food/drink/nutrition are foundational to the lunch hour, I appreciate most this mid-day time to recharge and recalibrate.
Curious (California)
I get at least 90 minutes for lunch. I spend it either:

1. Running errands or exercising and then eating lunch at my desk,
2. Eating at my desk and working (which involves research and writing), or
3. Going to lunch with my friends/colleagues, where we mostly exchange information about work.

I engage in the first two options 10 times more frequently than the last one. Power lunches, in the age of greater productivity (from fewer workers) and with all of the pressure for a work-life balance, must be sacrificed.
Diane Clehane (New York City)
I couldn't disagree more. As someone who has been chronicling the lunch crowd at Michael's in a weekly column for mediabistro.com for nine years, I've seen the power lunch come roaring back since the end of the Great Recession. There is a large contingent of influencers in media, fashion, entertainment and other industries who understand there is a lot business that one can do over a Cobb salad. No amount of texts or emails will ever replace the value of 'bumping into' a hard to reach A-lister in collegial setting. Yes, millennials do eat at their desk more often, but in my experience if someone else is picking up the check, they're more than happy to come along and see how it's done.
andrew (pacific palisades, ca)
See how it's done? I mean, it's just lunch...
Tom (Midwest)
Having had a federal government job at one time where having lunch at your keyboard was expected, my private industry jobs actually encouraged taking time out away from the keyboard for lunch (at least as far as the lunch room). On the other hand, the described lunch habits of the younger generation are not unusual. They grew up in a time where constant connectivity and instant gratification are common and they are deathly afraid of missing the latest breathless tweet while thinking they are maximizing their time by not taking time to eat. The future may hold something quite different, health wise. Some research is showing the long term health benefit of stepping away from the iphone and the keyboard and actually taking a break is good for you and makes you more productive. What Google and FB are doing to their employees rather than for their employees may come back to haunt them.
DG (St. Paul, MN)
My boss gave me more work (no pay increase), cut my staff by 20%, and then told me that they won't pay for any work lunches with other colleagues since we're just entertaining each other.
What am I doing with my lunch? Hitting the gym instead and eating at my desk.
LosAngeleno (Los Angeles, CA)
I think it's also important to note that the financial norms may have shifted. A power lunch with drinks at these places is significant money and there's that awkward "Who pays?" at the end. If you're a young entrepreneur just looking to start out the return on investment vs financial cost of power lunching may not add up. During my days in management consulting, no one batted an eye putting a $75 lunch on your corporate American Express. Nowadays only management gets those and they've hired offshore firms in India to catch anyone who goes above the new ceiling of $20.
Beth (Bronx. NY)
I work in NoMad, where there seem to be mostly marketing/design and tech firms, employing mostly folks under 35. Judging by the incredible lines at the artisanal salad place, the artisanal fried chicken place, the artisanal grilled cheese place, the fusion Asian barbecue sandwich place, the locally-sourced organic takeout place and Chipotle, it looks like these people are having lunch. Not having power lunches and whether or not people eat lunch at all are two different issues. (Don't even get me started on "NoMad.")
HKGuy (New York City)
Dream on, Mr. Holland. Every fall, the Times, GQ, et al., trumpet the return of the suit, and every fall, men keep wearing jeans and T-shirt. No one is going back to stuffing themselves into a monkey suit — which is a big reason why Michaels & The Four Seasons are considered antiquated.

It's not that these people don't have any face time. It's just that it happens at industry parties and industry-related charity functions. And thank heavens, you don't have to wear a suit anymore to any of them!
Lorem Ipsum (DFW, TX)
But will I need a monocle?
Christine Louise Hohlbaum (Freiburg, Germany)
Technology will never replace the human touch. So eating a sandwich at your keyboard -- or in a conference room -- is not the same as having an intense conversation with someone at a dining room table. Have we lost our sense of etiquette and manners? Is a food truck really the more desirable alternative to eating with a fork, knife and (gasp!) cloth napkin? While it may feel too "formal" to actually sit upright in a chair, I'd say sacrificing face-to-face relatedness for the sake of convenience is like saying I'd rather eat fast food than wait twenty minutes for a nice home cooked meal. Some things simply take time. The lesson here is that we should too.
MenLA (Los Angeles)
I am a believer in the full hour lunch for no other reason than to get out of the office, if not the building for a much needed break. Alas, due to my commute, I only take 30 minutes. While I was never a big dealmaker, I do prefer to go to sit down restaurants rather than these half-service or help me- food trucks. A food truck at a park or festival is one thing, but one of the reasons I work is so that I can go to go to a full service restaurant. I would sooner have a lousy meal at IHOP than at a food truck.

ihop than a food truck.
Tom (Midwest)
Interesting. In my 50 year working life, I have never had a job that allowed more than a half hour for lunch (government or private) and going off site to lunch was a rare treat.
Laura (MA)
I think there is a purely social aspect to this as well. Millenials don't invite people to "power lunches" for the same reason we never ask each other out on dates or ask people over to our house for dinner. It's too formal, and a little too vulnerable.
Tim (Tappan, NY)
If you* can't ask someone to lunch, than I suspect you're doing it wrong. Or you need to brush up on your social skills. (*I don't mean you personally, Laura.)
JohnnyBrownLives (Los Angeles)
Millenial here, a young one, but I invite friends over to dinner all the time precisely because it isn't formal. And we can behave however we want, depending on company, because you know, undoing the pants because we ate too much in front of the ladies isn't so couth.
Not a millenial but inviting people to dinner isn't necessarily formal. In my 20s and early 30s, I and my friends (men and women) regularly held potlucks because we liked to cook/ eat but were short on time/ energy to do a whole formal meal by one person/ family. (although we did that too occasionally) When I expressed this to someone older once, they were appalled that we held potluck parties but so what? As long as everyone enjoys themselves, I don't see a problem.
Klegs (Philadelphia, PA)
Being 31 and have always worked in a fast paced environment, I've never taken a long lunch break. In fact, I mostly eat at my desk. No one has time to eat because we're all working hard to keep our jobs or do the job of two people since the recession. Maybe it's different in other cities or other industries, but in advertising/marketing we don't get time for a leisurely lunch. Not that I would be opposed to it... it would be quite a treat.
Thomas Reynolds (Lowell MA)
In my over 30 years in the American workplace, not one employer asked how I felt about the lunch break provided. I have been surveyed about pay, corporate culture, my immediate supervisor and my contact with the culture.
Meals provide more than fuel, the social/psychological benefits as well as creating a sense of time. We all have at one point divided our duties to before and after lunch.
It has been proven that judges give different sentences for the same crime depending on whether it is before or after lunch.
It would be interesting if employers started asking questions about lunch. Do their employees need healthier nourishment, social nourishment or a chance to dine with the end users of the goods or service that they make.
WGG (Harlem)
I thought the real importance was developing/nurturing relationships with people rather that just a business deal. That aspect - relationship building - is loosing out.
with age comes wisdom (california)
I have worked for a range of companies that ranged from wanting to keep you inside all day (and night if possible) to those who dictated a one hour period when you had lunch (they blocked everyone's calendar from noon to 1pm) to those in between. Some days I eat at my desk. Most days, I get out for lunch and a walk. The fresh air and the buzz of the street are invigorating. While we live in a 24 hour world, I've learned that it csn get along without me, even for a little while.
lmd (Washington, DC)
A lot more people are trying to have a reasonable work/life balance these days. Time taken to eat lunch away from the office translates to more time spent IN the office later in the day, catching up on work. I'd much rather eat my bag lunch at my desk while working and leave the office at 5 so that I have a few hours at home with my spouse and child. It's a easy choice for me.
Michael Trenteseau (Atlanta)
I have the opposite view - if I spend eight hours without leaving my desk, it takes much longer to decompress and it diminishes the value of the first couple hours after I get home. Even if I just go to a fast food place, I always leave my desk, leave the office, leave the building.
Surviving (Atlanta)
I do agree, Michael - a change of place, walking from the office to anywhere does clear the mind. I'm always thankful that there is a bookstore right near the office! It's nice to browse and maybe pick up a great new read!
Tim (Tappan, NY)
That steam engine known as the internet needs coal shoveled into it 24/7. No time to stop and eat and, God forbid talk. We live in a world where everything is considered "Breaking News!"
See also