The power lunch has turned into the coffee talk, power walk or beer run for workers who don’t have three hours to fritter away, but still make time to network outside the office.
Take Steven Cox, 47, a San Diego-based startup founder who prefers talking shop over a cup of Joe.
“Most of my meetings are held at a local craft coffee shop. We order our flat whites, whip through investor discussions and then I ride my bike back to the office in less than 35 minutes,” Cox told MarketWatch, adding that it’s unheard of, particularly in the tech world, to take time out of the day for a boozy lunch. Many meetings are done on video calls, or over what Cox calls a “walk and talk” to the beach. “It makes more sense for us to talk shop and work through challenges – all while getting to see the ocean. Plus, you burn calories instead of consuming them.”
Those beachside meetings are a new version of the power lunch, which some say is officially dead along with the Four Seasons restaurant in Manhattan. The white-tablecloth hot spot for business deals and lavish meals among martini-sipping A-listers and business moguls announced it would close Tuesday after 60 years in business. The New York institution moved to a new location last year, a stone’s throw away from its original space in the Seagram Building in Midtown, and industry insiders blame rising rents in New York, coupled with the state’s $15 minimum wage for non-tipped employees, for its sudden shuttering. (The Four Seasons did not immediately return a request for comment).
Millennials worry about being ‘lunch-shamed’
One reason for the demise of the power lunch? Younger workers aren’t taking mid-day meal breaks. The three-course power lunch has devolved into a sad desk sandwich or salad for some workers who aren’t taking the time away, despite the myriad health benefits of taking breaks from work. Just 37% percent of millennials take a lunch break, and among those who do, 54% take just 30 minutes or less, according to a survey by Tork, a workplace hygiene company. What’s more, one in four millennials feel they’ll be “lunch shamed” by their boss, whom they fear will think they’re not working hard enough if they leave the office. With a staggering student-debt load and childhood memories of the financial crisis, it’s not surprising that millennials want to burnish their workplace images to keep their jobs and salaries secure.
Relaxing beers have replaced stuffy cocktails
Some millennials, like 24-year-old Sean Pour, co-founder of SellMax.com, a car buying service, says his best business luck comes after having brewery lunches, a more casual setting to network.
“Almost all of my business deals get conducted over a beer at a local brewery,” Pour said. “It’s a more casual environment, and we can speak freely and just relax. I find that we form more of a friendship here and get to know each other. When you’re in a very strict business environment you don’t get into a casual conversation. At the brewery, it’s not as uptight or fancy,” he adds of meeting with partners in cities like Austin or San Diego, where he works.
One private equity managing partner has conducted meetings at museums
With expense accounts becoming as rare as the career-building golf game, power lunches are getting cheaper, too. For Robin Allen, 34, a New York-based managing partner at a private equity firm, that means light bites that are easy on the wallet. His latest meet-up was at Revolution Cafe in the Mission District of San Francisco, where he met a future business partner to strategize about a new plan over a salami sandwich, bread pudding and sparkling lemonades. The business talk lasted for 30 minutes, and cost $20, Allen said.
“We don’t have the time and money. You can’t expense it the way you used to,” Allen explained. He’s even met up for business meetings at affordable spots like museums for a change of scenery. “A lot of companies are bootstrapping. The last thing they’re going to do is throw down $300 for a liquid lunch.”
High-end chefs are pivoting to casual options
Chefs who may have presided over a power lunch menu in another era have started fast-casual projects to meet shifting consumer demand for quick, affordable and healthier fast food. Mark Ladner, who was with upscale Manhattan Italian restaurant Del Posto, opened up the fast casual eatery Pasta Flyer last year, which has been called the Chipotle of pasta dishes for its speedy fettuccine Alfredo and rigatoni Bolognese made to order on an assembly line. And restaurateur Danny Meyer, whose hospitality group is behind fine dining restaurants like Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern, pioneered fast casual with burger chain Shake Shack.
Last month, James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur Michael Schlow expanded his fine-dining portfolio of restaurants with his first-ever fast-casual eatery, Prima in Bethesda, Maryland with healthy customized Italian bowls — like a buffalo mozzarella salad with white beans and herb pesto — priced between $10 to $13.
“The idea of going for a nice lunch is still lovely, and people still do, but maybe not as often. We need an array of choices. Growing up in New York, and working in Boston, people are living hectic busy lives, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want good food, if we can give them that in a matter of minutes, that’s really interesting to me,” Schlow said.
One CEO has replaced the power lunch with power walks
Grab-and-go is more of Deborah Sweeney’s speed. The 44-year-old CEO of MyCorporation.com, a career site for entrepreneurs, is also a fan of the power walk before grabbing lunch with her employees. She says a lengthy, alcohol-infused meal will just leave her and her team feeling lethargic.
“We discuss items on our respective agendas and take four to five laps around the office as we go,” Sweeney said. “It’s not 100% a lunch replacement — we still have a quick bite to eat once we’re back in the office — but it does cut back on all the wasted time waiting for a table, waiting to place an order and then waiting for said order to arrive, divvying up checks at the end. The power lunch, in spite of its name, usually leaves individuals ready for a nap once they’re back in the office.”
Careers can advance in 15 minutes
Career experts say the 15-minute meeting, whether it’s grabbing coffee or chatting on the lunch line, can be an effective networking tool.
“In certain businesses, face-to-face meetings are still done, but our lives have become so over-scheduled, overcommitted and over-connected they can be condensed to 15 minutes,” New York based career coach Kathy Caprino said.
If you’re reaching out to someone to try to get a meeting for the first time, mention something unique about their work in an email, or how you know them and whether you have a mutual connection, Caprino recommends. Then suggest a coffee chat where you can discuss how you might be able to partner.
“Most people don’t have an extra minute,” she said. “The goal is to make the meeting convenient and mutually beneficial.”