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Restaurants Seeing Dip in Business Lunch Crowds

The business lunch an opportunity to boost business, connect with a client, or network with colleagues continues to define the noontime setting at local restaurants throughout the greater Valley, although considerably less, according to popular area eateries. Businesses and individuals seem to be “tightening their belts and having fewer business meetings,” said Paul McGinley, General Manager at Marmalade Caf & #233; in Calabasas. Although still rife with dark suits and briefcases and the loud murmur of important conversations, McGinley said lunch crowds have dropped by about two percent at the restaurant, compared to late last year. He attributes this to the economy and the fact that companies such as insurance giant Countrywide Financial shut down their nearby offices, riddled in financial turmoil. Harold Ginsburg, co-owner of Art’s Deli in Studio City, also said the economy might be to blame for the ten percent decrease in lunchtime customer count at his restaurant, especially as it has had an impact on the production studios nearby. “We used to have the studios buy lunch for their staff, but that has decreased,” he said, adding that lunch time catering and take-out sales are also down. The crowd of actors, writers and creative executives that meet for creative meetings at Art’s Deli has also dipped slightly, but not as much as it did when the writer’s guild went on strike last year, he said. Similarly, Mark Hernandez, co-owner of Brent’s Deli in Westlake Village said business lunch crowds are not what they used to be before September/October of 2008, with current sales and customer count down slightly. The business brought to the restaurant by realtors, mortgage brokers and pharmaceutical companies, who used to consistently order in for their staff meetings at the office, or meet for lunch at Brent’s is noticeably down, he said. “Sales are flat now compared to the 8 percent increase in sales we had before.” Hernandez also said the restaurant has seen its most significant decreases in catering. “Businesses are not ordering food for their office meetings as much.” Grace Astorga, an underwriter for Colemont Insurance in Woodland Hills, said she’s noticed more of her co-workers “brown-bagging it”, bringing in their own lunches to work. “I have noticed crowds are smaller during lunch at some restaurants,” said Janet Coombs, also a Colemont Insurance employee. Others, however, have seen no change or even noticed an uptick in business executives looking to meet over lunch. “Business goes on regardless of whether the economy is good or bad,” said an executive in the Financial Services Sector, who did not want to be identified. The executive was on his way in to a business meeting at Kate Mantilini in Woodland Hills, a major business gathering spot in the West Valley. “I come here with clients for lunch at least three times a week.” The General Manager of Kate Mantilini deferred questions about its lunch crowd to the restaurant’s Vice President, Adam Lewis, who could not be reached for comment. During the tough economy, Tracy Rafter, CEO of BizFed, an alliance of business associations, said she’s noticed business executives increasing their efforts to build connections, foster relationships and business partnerships, often over lunch. Among her business circle, the habit of business lunches has increased, and Rafter is attending business meetings about five times a week. “When businesses are soft because there are not so many customers or demand is down, people have more time to network, and more time to go to lunch meetings,” she said. Stuart Waldman, President of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, agreed. “Businesses are making an effort to maintain their contacts and develop new relationships through meetings including business lunches, because eventually we are going to recover from this morass.” Waldman himself goes to business lunches about four times a week. “There are days that I see places packed and the next day I land at the same spot and there are slightly less people during the lunch hour,” he said. “I don’t know if there is an economic reason behind it, but what I can tell you is that when I offer to pay I have less people fighting me.”

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