Agents will go to lunch no matter what.... It's how we live.
--Karen Zaslow, an agent with the Roberts Co.
The writer's strike may be in its fourth excruciating month but the power lunch is far from dead for Hollywood's deal makers. Dinner and breakfast aren't doing so bad, either. We called more than 30 industry insiders--agents, producers, writers and restaurateurs--and found that while some people are eating out less, it's still not possible to walk into L.A.'s elite restaurants without reservations and be immediately seated. "I'm sure some people have been affected but we're not your regular restaurant by the studio," said Pam Morton of Morton's.
"We turn away five, six hundred people a week," claimed restaurateur Nicky Blair.
But full restaurants don't mean that habits haven't changed.
"Writers need more attention now," is how one source put it.
"I would think that people are eating out more because they have less to do," said Dale Pollock, a vice president of production at A&M Films.
"Part of it is the paranoia of having to keep busy," one agent said, "to prove to the bosses that you're working. You can point to your datebook and say, 'See I had a meeting at 10:30, and a lunch here."
Because of the strike, "you can't talk business, or even really allude to it," agent Karen Zaslow said. "But there are other things that can be talked about. We've been using the time to set up other contacts and getting to know our clients better."
"My (eating habits) haven't changed a bit--I'm starving as we speak," said Mary Anne Page, a vice president of production at United Artists, reached just before lunchtime. "But I am having fewer meals with agents, and more with other production people--producers, directors. And, of course, I am not having any meals with writers who are not my friends."
"My experience is that it's been a little bit easier to walk into some of these places," said agent Lucy Stille of Shorr, Stille. "Right after the strike started, and at the end of March, I think there was a difference, but looking at my schedule now, I'm booked up for the next two weeks."
But Candace Lake of Lake & Douroux says that she has cut back on her meals out "simply because it's hard to meet with producers without (making deals). The purpose of those lunches is to gather information and stimulate employment--the very essence of talking to a producer is to seek work for a client, we feel very strongly that we have to honor (the strike)."
Where she once ate lunch out five days a week and had working dinners two nights a week ("I never do breakfast; I don't like the idea of conducting business at 8 in the morning"), Lake now eats out about half as many times a week.
Writers can take a little solace ("very little," one writer said) in knowing that several producers have had to cut expenses, too. Normally, studios supply producers with office space, a staff and an expense account--as long as the producer gives the studio "first look" at every project the producer develops. But things changed with the strike; almost every producer who doesn't have a project in or about to go into production has been laid off. "For the first time in their careers," said one agent, "a lot of them are spending their own money in restaurants."
And producers may not be the only ones. The assistant to one agent at ICM ("I make all his restaurant reservations, so I'd know," he said) admitted that his boss' expenses have been trimmed by "about one-third to two-thirds." But the assistant denied that his boss was eating out less or eating in less expensive restaurants. When asked how his boss cuts back, he said, "He just does ."
"It's interesting," said Tom Kaplan, manager of Spago, which has remained full throughout the strike, "You find out who's in the B and C groups. The more flamboyant independent studio-types who try to come on like hotshots and order Dom Perignon by the case, those are spending less. But the more conservative, older types stay that way."