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Evolution of dining

Will advertising lunches survive the rise of the breakfast meeting? Francesca Fisher investigates the evolution of dining.

Normally, you’d kick off with a gin and tonic. The traditional adland lunch was a fantastically relaxed affair with little attention paid to the level of alcohol consumption (as long as it was a lot), the time on the clock, or even the size of the bill.

Advertising has been famous for its lunch habit for decades. Indeed, it used to be front-page news for Campaign. Take the 7 August 1992 issue, where the splash story detailed a particularly expensive lunch by the former D&AD chairman Edward Booth-Clibborn. The lunch cost £448, was held at The Gavroche and included two-and-a-half bottles of wine. The half-bottle came in at an impressive £126.

Indeed, many a restaurateur has become rich from the lunch habits of advertising and media executives.

For many years, The Savoy Grill was the venue of choice for any big media deal. It wasn’t that media sellers and buyers were sending out early feelers over the table, they would hammer out the actual deal over their Black Forest gateaux. Likewise, Langan’s was always full of dealmakers, sitting down to all-afternoon sessions.

And because big deals were being done, it seemed perfectly acceptable not to return to the office in the afternoon. Stuart Pocock, the managing partner of The Observatory International, fondly recalls many a long lunch. He says lunches would stretch into the evening, not only because there was business being done, but also because the pubs were closed in the afternoon. He says: “It did become excessive in the 80s. You’d do your business, order another bottle of wine, then the stickies would come out. You’d keep going until the pubs re-opened.”

Such long lunches were commonplace until the mid 90s. However, since then, not returning to the office is now an extremely rare occurrence.

But, it seems even the standard-length lunch is endangered, as shown by the rise of the breakfast meeting.

Most people interviewed for this piece named The Wolseley as their number-one dealmaking venue because of the hive of advertising activity that occurs there every weekday at about 8.30am.

Jeremy King, a co-founder of The Wolseley, explains: “London has already seen a huge rise in the number of people using breakfast for business – it’s quicker, faster, cheaper and more efficient.”

The Wolseley’s arch-rival is not to be outdone, however. The Ivy is opening a members’ club this month, which will, naturally, serve breakfast. It’s rumoured that all 700 of the 700 people invited to join the club have accepted, some even taking out lifetime membership at a cost of £10,000.

Despite the rise of breakfast and the decline of the all-afternoon lunch, most adlanders concur that lunchtime is still a very good time to do business. Lunch stalwart and Karmarama partner Nicola Mendelsohn says: “We should be a different experience for clients to hanging out with their lawyers.” She adds that getting a good table at The Ivy really does impress clients.

Few would argue against the notion that talking shop over a lovely lunch, oiled by a bottle of wine, can help forge a bond with a client that you just wouldn’t get in a two-hour meeting held at the agency.

But, as any Ivy or Wolseley regular will tell you, there’s an awful lot of lunching going on that does not involve clients. You’ll regularly see two former colleagues, now at rival shops, chewing the fat for a couple of hours over lunch on a Friday.

But this kind of lunching also serves an important purpose. Advertising is a social business; it’s what makes it fun and what keeps a lot of senior talent locked into the industry.

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