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Tables at the Top : Executive Dining Rooms Hit the Spot With Corporate Leaders, Developers

March 24, 1991|RON GALPERIN | Galperin is a Los Angeles-based free-lance writer who has covered commercial real estate for several years

Let's do lunch--executive-style.

How about starting with a soup of asparagus with lemon creme at Salomon Bros.? This specialty of the investment-banking firm is served amid mahogany paneling, silk walls and a collection of Chinese porcelain on the 32nd floor of the Wells Fargo Center in downtown Los Angeles.

Then on to the Cobb salad at Glendale Federal Bank headquarters. Lunch is not as formal here, but the 14th-floor view of Glendale is quite attractive, especially on a clear day.

Sushi is another option. Toyota Motor Corp. offers a daily selection of raw fish and other Japanese specialties at its U.S. headquarters in Torrance.

And, if soup, salad and sushi aren't enough, try the all-you-can-eat buffet at the investment-banking firm of Bear Stearns & Co. in Century City. Entrees include broiled salmon with red bell pepper coulis and chicken breast with artichoke hearts and tarragon.

Finally, there's dessert.

Trust Co. of the West, a pension fund manager, offers a fine selection of pastries, seasonal fruits, ice creams and sherbet. Diners at TCW can savor these while admiring a collection of valuable Southwestern landscapes and a view of downtown's Bunker Hill.

Welcome to an inner sanctum of corporate Los Angeles, the executive dining room.

While most office workers nosh at a local eatery, bag a lunch or grab a sandwich at the company canteen, there are a privileged few who enjoy the pleasures of a posh restaurant just steps away from their desks.

The menu, service, style and exclusivity of these executive facilities vary with each company. Some firms coddle their top brass and clientele with sterling silverware, gold-rimmed Limoges china and Baccarat crystal. Other employers prefer more modest accommodations and self-service buffets.

Increasingly, executives are appointing their offices with antique furnishings, museum-quality artworks, silk--and sometimes suede--walls, marble and granite surfaces. Perhaps the ultimate status symbol at the office, however, is the executive dining room.

Developers have taken notice of this and now plan most major office projects to accommodate some sort of executive suite and dining room. Building codes mandate a long list of do's and don'ts for developers and office tenants.

How easily a building can handle the need for kitchen facilities--which require, to start with, extra ventilation systems, open shelving and specific floor and drainage requirements--can be an important issue in lease negotiations. And landlords looking to create a high-class impression for their properties welcome tenants indulgent enough to build and maintain an executive dining facility.

While executive dining rooms tend to create an impression of elitism, "this is not a perk. It helps us do business better," said Ernest Schmider, a partner at the law firm Latham & Watkins.

By keeping attorneys near their desks at the First Interstate World Center, Schmider said, the law firm operates more efficiently. Clients who demand instant attention can have their attorney paged rather than wait for his or her return from lunch.

"It makes the lawyers more accessible to the clients," Schmider noted. "That's reason enough to have it."

Andrew Haas, a senior managing director at Bear Stearns, agrees. "It's a highly efficient way to conserve our time," he said.

Besides efficiency, Haas quipped, he savors "that magical moment when the check doesn't arrive."

In fact, the diners at both Latham & Watkins and Bear Stearns are billed for almost every meal they take in-house. However, they needn't worry about having enough cash or plastic on hand.

Business executives, for the most part, like to describe their dining rooms by such phrases as "understated elegance," "a bunch of tables and chairs" or "just like any restaurant."

Unlike any restaurant, though, corporate dining rooms tend to be "customized for the chief executive," said Ron Michaud, regional vice president at Marriott Corp., which operates about 90 dining facilities in the Los Angeles area, including Northrop Corp. and Times Mirror Co.--publisher of The Times--which maintains a series of dining rooms, each with its own art collection.

Some top executives insist on personally approving every detail of the executive dining room. Others may seek to surround themselves with the works of a favorite artist or a preferred brand of cigar.

Tradition and formality are especially important in cities such as New York, Boston and San Francisco. In Los Angeles, executive dining facilities are not as widespread or as elitist, Michaud observed.

What sets these executive retreats apart from other eateries, however, is the premium placed on convenience and a reticence about publicity. The latter is especially true during a recession, when companies are under pressure to cut costs in other departments.

"We take a very low profile here," said Sheila Stevick, senior vice president at Trust Co. of the West in downtown Los Angeles. "It's the way we work."

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