Feature

Where the deals get done

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

Lunch...can it survive the rise of the breakfast meeting?
Lunch...can it survive the rise of the breakfast meeting?

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.

IN DEFENCE OF FINE DINING ...

People who don't "do" lunch are probably the same ones who moan: "You only won the business because of your contacts."

Well, yes, that is how it works, and quite right too. Clients want to work with people they like, trust and respect, and it's difficult for them to do that if they don't know you. At its simplest, lunch allows you to get to know people better. You have a different kind of conversation, a little less hygienic, a little more human. And ours is a human business. We have to understand people, which means meeting them, not sitting on an office getting information and understanding from a screen, munching on a curly tasteless sandwich, feeling self-righteous and productive.

Damn, I've strayed into talking about food, which I was trying to avoid. Because lunch is not about food. I know this because Jeremy King told me. A restaurant is not about the service, the ambience or the food - it is a place where life happens. Where people get engaged and divorced, fired and hired.

AA Gill inevitably summed it up well: "At first glance, you may look at a menu and imagine that what a restaurant serves is food, but you'd be wrong. What a restaurant serves is people." As do we.

So if you're filled with work-ethic guilt at the thought of an enjoyable couple of hours in a restaurant, remember you're working.

You will have heard people talk about the excesses of the 80s, the long lunches. I'll let you into a secret - the 80s were rather good fun.

You may also have heard that the economy is a bit dodgy at the moment. I suggest you go and have a Champagne risotto with peppered truffles or lobster with mashed potatoes and Alsace bacon. It's dangerous not to enjoy yourself - it turns Jack into a dull psychopath.

Lunch: it's part of our culture, and we should say grace and be thankful.

- Moray MacLennan is the European chairman of M&C Saatchi

LUNCH IS FOR WIMPS ...

Paul Weinberger once berated me for being a lousy lunch date because, as he put it, I was a "2.15 twitcher". So what causes the Pavlovian twitch that means I dash out of restaurants like Cinderella from a ball? And no, it's not the arrival of the bill!

First, our industry's love affair with lunch conveys something that's no longer true. Lunching has come to represent the excesses of an era when "the men from the agency" lived a rock 'n' roll lifestyle. Although those days have gone, many clients still labour under this misapprehension, which hardly helps us defend our modest fees.

Second, most lunches seem to be agency-folk entertaining other agency-folk, justified under "relationship-building". There's an element of truth here: Abbott, Mead and Vickers' legendary lunches at the Helenic revealed the friendship and closeness of those three key partners. Today, however, lunches are more about being "seen" than about building a relationship with the person opposite.

Third, isn't "let's do lunch" a pretty unimaginative way for creative people to build relationships? Instead, I try to attend events where I can really get to know my clients. The downside of this is that you reveal a lot more about yourself than your ability to navigate a wine list. I re-learnt front crawl at the age of 40 to avoid drowning mid-triathlon, and trained for three months to do a leg of the Giro d'Italia, only to discover my fear of juggernauts thundering past with only a thin layer of Lycra for protection.

My best experience, however, was on the 3 pitch when the clients asked each agency to organise a night out. Our competitors went to huge lengths to secure tables in the most sought-after restaurants in town. We cooked dinner at Gerry Moira's house. A great idea, until the client arrived early to find me with my hand up a chicken's bottom, Russ delicately tearing mozzarella and Gerry elegantly arranging his Stinking Bishop alongside some carefully selected grapes.

My advice? Cancel your lunch reservation and slip into some Lycra - a lot more fun and a whole lot better for your heart and soul!

- Mark Cadman is the chief executive of Euro RSCG

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