How To Have A Proper Power Lunch
Mr Matthew McConaughey in The Wolf Of Wall Street, 2013. Photograph by Paramount Pictures/Photofest
Where and what to eat when you mean business.
In a movie packed to the rafters with stinging one-liners, perhaps the most memorable line of all in the 1987 blockbuster Wall Street, after “greed is good”, is the immortal “lunch is for wimps”. In 2017, though many might agree with the former maxim, few would willingly admit it. “Lunch is for wimps”, however, is a phrase that our Americanised work culture seems to have taken on board wholesale and without irony.
So it’s significant that Mr Michael Bloomberg has declared the new City of London Bloomberg HQ a “no-cafeteria zone” to avoid what he calls “Google Syndrome”, whereby employees spend all their time enjoying luxurious on-site facilities without engaging with actual people outside the office. This kind of behaviour, of course, is particularly bad for Mr Bloomberg’s business of journalism, which relies on the juicy gossip and insider information that come from face-to-face conversations, which in essence, is the purpose of business lunches.
So, perhaps it’s time to bring back the power lunch. Lunch used to be not just a means of sustenance, but a thing of legend, especially in advertising and finance, where tales of client entertainment would have made Bacchus himself blush. (For evidence, see the cocaine and martini-fuelled lunches in The Wolf Of Wall Street and Mad Men.) Clearly, in today’s unstable and somewhat less flush world, things are different. So how should we do it in 2017?
“The first rule of lunch is to have lunch,” says Mr Jonathan Heaf, features director of GQ, who has been writing the magazine’s Out To Lunch column for the past 13 years. “It’s so easy to just bail and have coffee when lunch is such a nice thing to do in order to get to know a person.”
His first tip? “Dress up,” he says. “It’s still an occasion, so dress up and don’t be lazy.” What to wear will depend upon whom you are lunching with and the venue. Somewhere smart such as The Wolseley will call for a nice suit, or at least an outfit composed of tailored separates, which is much more modern. Smart dressing is essential because, while lunch is a pleasurable occasion, it is also a professional one, an arena built for the subtle transfer of knowledge, ideas and power.
Then there is the not insignificant matter of whether or not to drink. “It’s still a relief to most people to not have a drink at lunch,” says Mr Heaf. “There’s still a lot of pressure to get sloshed. In that situation, I order a glass of the most expensive wine on the list so that I don’t feel guilty.” However, should your lunchee decide to go for it, by all means let them. You never know what might slip out. The only exception to this rule is when lunching with good friends. “Alex Bilmes [editor of Esquire], [stylist] Katie Grand and I have something called lunch club, where we gossip and discuss projects we might work on together,” says Mr Heaf. “I’m always being asked for an invite, but sorry, it’s very select. Having said that, lunch is especially useful for getting to know new contacts outside your direct sphere of influence.”
Lunch is a place for cool-headed Machiavellian manoeuvring, and nothing will make you look more stupid than bumbling into the service door before having to beg an uninterested waiter where you might seek relief. So, says Mr Heaf, you should know your lunch spots inside out. “I know that table 11 by the window at the Chess Club is a good one,” he says. “If you’re going to The Wolseley, you need to be in the inner quadrant facing inwards.”
If you’re unable to get a good table at The Wolseley, then don’t bother. You may as well be in McDonald’s. Lunch is not for wimps, and the venue and table have oodles to say about your influence, taste, budget, style and savoir-faire. In foodie cities such as London, there’ll be a restaurant that’s perfectly calibrated for the exact impression you want to make. When plotting New Labour’s rise to power, Lord Peter Mandelson made a point of regularly having lunch at a prominent table at Wiltons, the favoured restaurant of the Tory high command. This is the lunch equivalent of parking your tanks on the enemy’s lawn.
Food should not be allowed to interfere with the main course of lunch: conversation. “You shouldn’t be hesitant when presented with the menu,” says Mr Heaf. “Be au fait with the signature dishes. Don’t go somewhere where you’ll be presented with a 50-page menu or a 17-course tasting menu.” Baroness Margaret Thatcher ensured that meat was served off the bone and crustaceans separated from shells, for this purpose.
When it comes to pursuing your interests, Mr Heaf suggests getting to the point. “There’s nothing worse than leaving the purpose of lunch till the espressos,” he says. “A little small talk and get down to it, then you can spend the rest of the meal enjoying yourself.”