Young tech entrepreneurs might do much of their eating in New York's hip (and affordable) downtown restaurants, but historically speaking, The Four Seasons in Midtown has been Manhattan's quintessential midday spot for wheeling, dealing, and dining. And in case there's any doubt about that claim, consider the following: The term "power lunch" was apparently first coined in a 1979 Esquire story about the sun-drenched grill room at that storied institution.
An online exhibition at The New York Public Library describes the practice of power lunching as such: "In a city defined by speed, time was a luxury, and businessmen whose status freed them from the confines of the strictly enforced lunch hour established a ritual of midday dining with their colleagues."
Here's another luxury that makes power lunching easier: Money, lots of it. A three-course midday meal for two will almost certainly cost over $100, before beer, wine, or cocktails, at eight of Midtown's most prominent lunch spots, or over $135 at four of those venues. And lunch for two at The Four Seasons, a landmark space that's been feeding bankers, presidents, and rich people since 1959, is the most expensive of them all, costing anywhere from $191-$302 in the grill room.
A few observations: Michael's, a longtime favorite of media elite, is among the cheapest of the power lunch spots, which is probably for the best as media types presumably don't make the same salaries as those who populate The Four Seasons. So at Michael's, an order of fried chicken wings, fried shrimp, two burgers and a dessert will run about $89 after tax and tip. Not a bargain, but not too shabby.
On the other end of the spectrum, you'll likely end up spending more on lunch at The Four Seasons, than you would at the three Michelin-starred Le Bernardin or Jean-Georges. Or more specifically, The Four Seasons serves one of the city's most expensive burgers ($38), crab cake platters ($58), and filet mignon steaks ($72). The "21" Club can also reach similar pricey heights from time to time, with a $36 burger and a $39 steak tartare. By comparison, most critically-acclaimed burgers at hipper downtown joints will cost anywhere from $18 (The NoMad Bar, without fries) to $28 (Minetta Tavern).
Of course things get even more expensive when you take alcohol into account. Throw in two glasses of wine each, and lunch for two at The Four Seasons will run anywhere from $276 to $405, depending on whether you go for the cheap stuff or a few flutes of Louis Roederer ($25).
Now does any of this mean that you shouldn't go to The Four Seasons? Of course not, but if you do go, understand the reason for your visit. The Four Seasons isn't about Michelin stars; it doesn't have any. It's not about a marquee chef who trained at Noma or Alinea. It's about rubbing elbows with the country's old-school titans of trade and government (Warren Buffett dined here not too long ago). It's about visiting one of the city's historic series of dining rooms, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson (pro tip: The grill room is for lunch, the pool room is for dinner). Cynics will deem the super-high prices a de facto cover charge to keep out the plebes, but those with a softer heart will say that you're simply paying for the real estate.