Not very long after I returned to work after the birth of my daughter, an editor (who was fairly new) suggested that we ought to get together for breakfast. At first, I thought he was joking. Then I realized he wasn't. I told him he was welcome to come out to my house and join the family for breakfast -- he looked horrified at that thought -- but that I didn't do breakfasts downtown.
I still don't, but if the invitations I've been getting are any reflection of reality (a dubious proposition, perhaps, but the only one that comes to mind), I'm the lone holdout against this dangerous trend called the business breakfast. It's perhaps the most uncivilized thing to come along since putting metal screwtops on wine bottles.
The business lunch is bad enough. In my business, you're either writing notes during a luncheon interview, which means your food gets cold, or you're doing fancy footwork on behalf of your career, which means your digestive tract may shut down, or you're having a delightful lunch and really not working at all, which means you're cheating.
In my business we call this "cultivating sources." Other businesses call it "making useful contacts." It's a nice way of getting to go to nice restaurants and not having to pay the tab yourself, so it has its compensations. And by lunch time (unlike breakfast time), most people are awake and within some geographic proximity of the location where this ritual is to take place.
As best I can tell, the business breakfast is taking hold in two forms, both equally pernicious. The first is the business breakfast with your boss (a peer, a fellow human, would never suggest such a thing) or some other individual you have business with who suggests that the two or three of you, as the case may be, get together for breakfast. These meetings are held at private tables in downtown hotel restaurants (these being the only eateries usually open at 7:30 or 8 in the morning).
An exception to this has been made in Washington by at least one famous business lunch restaurant -- Joe & Mo's -- which opened nearly two years ago for business breakfasts. Mo Sussman reports that "we're doing well with it," with breakfast fares ranging from normal breakfasts to toast and a pot of hot water. "It's a small ticket item and quicker, but you get a lot of things done. It's a very effective use of time."
The other kind of business breakfast that is taking hold is the "special breakfast" (a type of event that, when held at lunch time, is called a "special luncheon") where a crowd of people gather to hear panelists debate weighty issues or speakers hold forth on worldly topics.
My most recent invitation, for example, was to hear an important judge make a speech at a downtown hotel -- at 8 a.m. This would have required me to arise around 6 a.m. in order to get dressed (showing up at business breakfasts in your nightie is considered too casual) and battle the commuter traffic downtown.
Since my children do not leave for elementary school until 8:45 a.m. I would have had to leave them home alone for an hour and a half in the morning, time enough for them to commit all manner of crimes against property and humanity. While some people may function very well at 6 a.m., I find the best function I perform at that hour is deep sleeping.
So do a number of my friends and associates. One who has been particularly appalled at the business breakfast phenomenon figures he would have to leave his home at 6:30 a.m. in order to make the typical business breakfast, which means getting up at 5:30 a.m. "I can't function at that time of the morning," he said, which was easy to believe, since he had trouble saying "five thirty ayem."
He says he would miss seeing his wife and sons and that business breakfasts are antifamily and antipeople. "Furthermore," he says, "what about the Letterman factor?"
It turns out he is one of a growing number of addicts to "Late Night With David Letterman," which airs at 12:30 a.m. Letterman addicts don't get to sleep until after 1:30 a.m. unless they tape the show on their videocassette recorders, which they seem to be reluctant to do because that isn't really having the whole David Letterman experience, which includes being sleepy the next day.
Perhaps people do get a head start on the day with the business breakfast. But I submit it adds anywhere from an hour to two hours to the workday, which is an hour or two taken away from the family or aerobics or other worthwhile activities. The least that people who insist on having business breakfasts could do is have late ones.
Starting, say, around noontime.