Rethinking the Power Lunch

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By Courtney Cochran

In a down economy, a lunch invitation is a valuable thing. Implicit behind said invitation is "I will pay - I am inviting you, so it's my treat." So when my sister invited me to lunch downtown today, I was thrilled (good company and a free meal - I can hardly think of a more pleasant prospect). But when I stepped gleefully though the doors of Sam's - an institutional eatery in San Francisco's financial district known as a hot spot for lunch time power players - I was floored by what I saw: a nearly-empty restaurant, nary a power player in sight.
Expense Account Exodus
According to the New York Times, this sort of scene is standard these days.  In an amusing but somewhat unnerving piece called "At the Power Lunch, the Check Is Kryptonite," the Times reports that as expense accounts increasingly go the way of Lehman Bros. (i.e. gone baby, gone), executives the country over are shirking from large midday meal bills - and as a result dining out far less for working lunches.  What's taking the place of power lunches, you might ask?  According to reports, scaled-back diner-style meals, coffee shop chats and - in some extreme instances - in-office meetings with...bottled water.  

Though disconcerting, this newfound midday sobriety puts Americans' previous levels of spending - particularly on corporate expense accounts - into perspective.  For too long we were spending at unreasonable rates on all sorts of things, from mortgages to credit cards to, yes, power lunches.  Unfortunately, the trend away from working lunches is leaving restaurants like Sam's that cater to said power players out in the cold.  All we can do, it seems, is hope that these spots find a way to weather the storm - and in the mean time, keep our eyes peeled for the ever-more-elusive free lunch. 

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