The Power Lunch Of The Rich And Famous

Actress Virginia Madsen arrives at the opening of Wolfgang Puck's first steakhouse "Cut" at the Regent Beverly Wilshire on May 31, 2006 in Beverly Hills, California.
GETTY IMAGES/Michael Buckner
If you really believe there's no free lunch, then the Four Seasons is your kind of place: truffles that cost more than your car, world famous celebrity chefs, captains of industry and pillars of society. It is the site of the power lunch.

"The power lunch in New York is where two people who take themselves super seriously and think they're big shots have a lunch together and try to do some business together that will result either in financial success or some sort of publishing success or some sort of movie success," author of "The Manny," Holly Peterson, told Early Show national correspondent Tracy Smith.

And that can also mean restaurant success: New York's 21 Club, which began as a speakeasy during Prohibition, is still a favorite with power players, real, or imagined, like Gordon Gekko in the movie "Wall Street," who said "lunch is for wimps."

In old Hollywood, lunch was for stars at places like the Brown Derby. The hat-shaped celebrity hangout is long gone, but a salad invented here, named after owner Robert Cobb, survives.

Manhattan's Four Seasons restaurant opened in 1959 as a haven for power players, and almost nothing has changed. The chairs have new fabric, but apart from that, it's exactly the same as it's always been: outrageously expensive décor and food to match.

Co-owner Julian Niccolini runs the Four Seasons with a velvet fist. He is the keeper of the reservation book: no one enters without one. Niccolini is the chief enforcer of the Four Season's dress code (jackets, please, gentlemen). He assigns the coveted tables at the center of the room and send others upstairs where it's harder to see or be seen.

Peterson says there are five A-tables at the Four Seasons and one "social Siberia."

Niccolini also decides who sits next to whom: not an easy task in what can sometimes be a room full of rivals.

"Well, sometimes I do my favorite job, meaning I try to seat people next to people who really don't like each other," he said. "Just to create a little excitement, which is very important in life."

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On the West Coast, chef Wolfgang Puck takes a slightly different approach. At his flagship restaurant, Spago Beverly Hills, the formula for success is the cooking (yes, he still does some of it himself), and a policy of keeping rival agents far apart.

"You know, you have somebody from ICM with a client and someone from CAA with a client and you can feel sometimes a little uneasy, so we don't try to sit them all together," he said.

But there are few places where the seating chart is more carefully kept than Michael's. At his restaurants in New York and Los Angeles, owner Michael McCarty's lunch service is more like a social chess match. Who will sit in the front room, near legendary gossip columnist Liz Smith or adjacent to movie director Joel Schumacher? At Michael's, it's not important, it's critical.

"Today's seating arrangement has been through already five edits," he said. "Think of yourself as you've got your dining room table and you can seat 50 people at one table. Who are you going to put next to each other to maximize the beauty of the event?"

Some of those answers are in McCarty's new book, "Welcome to Michael's," along with a few of his recipes. But what seems to keep his restaurants crowded is the carefully orchestrated parade of people. So if you arrive at his restaurant and are walked to the back room, do not be insulted. McCarty's favorite table is No. 44, all the way in the garden.

"You should not be insulted. Only the insecure are," he said. "We work out a lot of that with people. We work out their insecurities. There's a little bit of therapy here."

Of course, a table at any power restaurant ultimately depends on who you are. When Mel Brooks arrived at Michael's for lunch the day Sunday Morning was there, he was quickly ushered to his table in the main room. Front and center.