As Power Lunches Return, Remembering Their Heyday

Hearty food, business deals and power dynamics

Expensive lunch
Two businessmen making deals over lunch, circa 1977.
WATFORD/Mirrorpix/Mirrorpix via Getty Images

Dining trends have a way of moving in circles — and while that’s often said when describing the popularity of certain cuisines or approaches to decor, it also applies to certain types of meals, full stop. Consider the power lunch, a phrase that conjures up images of the wealthy and powerful convening for the second meal of the day and shifting the balance of power in a particular industry.

Power lunches seem to be on the rise these days. In an article for InsideHook last year, Evan Bleier observed that the resurgence of The Lambs Club was evidence of power lunches being on the rise. Writing at Eater earlier this year, Kathleen Squires noted that “the death of the power lunch announced during the pandemic was premature.” As chef Angie Mar told Squires, “People are still making deals and deciding the future over lunches.”

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t still nostalgic reveries for the power lunches of an earlier decade. In a new piece for Air Mail, Tracey Jackson revisited the history of the power lunch — which includes appearances from everyone from Nancy Reagan to Fran Lebowitz.

Jackson’s article offers an in-depth look at the social mores and societal hierarchies of power lunches past. “Having your own table was not arbitrary,” she writes. “Your own table was essential both for your ranking on the power meter and for other power players’ ability to find you.”

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Spend enough time looking at the history of power lunches and you’re likely to note even more evidence of their cyclical nature. Just as power lunches fell out of fashion for a while after the pandemic, so too did they become less pronounced after the September 11 attacks. Still, it wasn’t long before power lunches were — so to speak — back on the menu.

A 2003 New York Times article by the late David Carr contains plenty of details about the power lunch’s early-2000s return. “[L]oyalties can be placed under strain, particularly in a city where buzz — that ineffable heat of publicity and chatter — plays such a strong role in determining where a reservation should be made,” Carr wrote at the time. Some things in New York may change over the years, but the power lunch endures.


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