THR's Power Lunch Issue: The A-List Guide to Lunch Etiquette

Lunch Etiquette Illustration - H 2013

Lunch Etiquette Illustration - H 2013

Phil Rosenthal, Ben Silverman, Gigi Levangie Grazer and more weigh in on the culture (she canceled how many times?) and rules (no dessert! no drinks!) of Hollywood’s ultimate power meal.

This story first appeared in the Feb. 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

How many cancellations do you tolerate?

"People understand there are emergencies, but once it's the third time, change it to a drink," advises Matthew HiltzikChris McCumber, USA Network co-president, agrees: "Just like in comedy, the 'rule of threes' applies." Some, however, don't mind at all when people flake, even if it's late morning the same day. "Heaven to me is when someone cancels lunch. I have an agreement with friends in the business that we can always cancel," says Moneyball producer Rachael Horovitz. Adds Electus chairman Ben Silverman: "You get an extra hour-and-a-half of straight work time in and reclaim part of your schedule. You have to sigh a little bit of relief." Many people, though, shrug and see multiple cancellations as a fact of life in the business, including Telepictures executive vp creative affairs Stuart Krasnow: "I am always surprised when you sit down to lunch and the other person apologizes that it has been rescheduled five times. This is Hollywood, after all. I am sure that there are shows that have been piloted, gone to series and been canceled in the same amount of time that a single lunch has been planned."

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Where do the phones go?

To keep it on the table or not to keep it on the table: That is the question. "It's terrible manners; I really think it's appalling," says Horovitz of having phones in view. Adds ICM Partners' Toni Howard: "My BlackBerry stays in my purse. I don't take it out -- unless we want to look up how old someone is or what their credits are." But others say that in the entertainment biz, where things can change minute to minute, it's acceptable to put it on the table, face up. "We're all busy. Just make sure it's on vibrate," says Jumping the Broom producer Tracey Edmonds. "If you are expecting something, start the lunch by saying, 'Please excuse me, but I am expecting some news, so I might have to check my phone during the lunch.' "

When do you deliver bad news?

Speak up early, even if it risks sitting through an uncomfortable meal. "I like to be really upfront, within the first 10 to 15 minutes, just because I think if there's bad news, it'd be naive to think both parties don't know there is," says Jarrod Moses, CEO of marketing agency United Entertainment Group, who adds that delivering the news in person means that "you want to leave on good terms." Delivery is paramount, too. Says manager Dolores Robinson, "Sherry Lansing and Ron Meyer can let you down in the nicest way. They can totally stomp on your idea, and you'll walk away smiling. It's a lesson I learned. Don't break people's hearts."

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Can you knock a few back?

"No drinking. Those days are over," says Everybody Loves Raymond creator Phil Rosenthal. Adds manager Michael Black, "This isn't Europe, where you can have long lunches over pinot grigio." But if you feel you need to follow the lead of your lunching partner, "never have more than one," says Big Sur producer Orian Williams.

How many special food requests can you make?

It's a cliche of the town that self-centered Angelenos go on and on about what they eat and don't eat -- and it's not off the mark. But some people plea for restraint. "Keep your eating habits to yourself. For 40 of my 100 years -- joking -- I was a vegetarian, and no one really knew," says Robinson. Plus, wholly remaking a dish to your tastes may make the wrong impression. "You always have to think of how people will perceive you are going to work with them. If you're super-finicky, I say to myself, 'Oh, you're going to be difficult,' " says Wolfgang Puck Catering vp Barbara Brass.

What shouldn't you order?

Take a pass on lobster ("I don't want to fight with my food," says power publicist Peggy Siegal); chili ("You want to make sure what you're eating is also something that can't easily be worn on your tie or the tablecloth," says Moses); and tacos, meatballs and burgers ("Sloppy," says Mosaic manager Dave Fleming).

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Who travels farthest?

"You just try to be fair and reasonable and meet in the middle, wherever the middle is," says Brillstein Entertainment Partners manager Lee Kernis. But few people in Mid-City like to travel west of the 405. "Um, Santa Monica is not a preferred spot," sniffs an anonymous assistant, who says that generally "you work a compromise between the two assistants." And then there are those who believe the situation dictates the geography: If you're doing the asking, keep your target's commute time to a minimum.

How do you keep it short and sweet?

Many overly scheduled industry players have perfected the art of the one-hour lunch. Here's the action plan: Steer clear of restaurants with slow service. Have your assistant call ahead to let a trusted manager know to keep things moving. Order food at the same time as drinks. Avoid appetizers, dessert and coffee at all costs. And hand back a credit card right as the check is being delivered. Says one anonymous personal assistant, "If my boss has an official hard out or something, I'll let the other assistant know -- and you just have to hope they reiterate that to them."

Do you order dessert?

"It's OK to order dessert if you're just going to throw it up before your next meeting," jokes The Starter Wife and The After Wife novelist Gigi Levangie Grazer of diet-conscious Hollywood. Indeed, ordering dessert isn't common in L.A.; when it is, it's usually one dish, multiple spoons -- no one wants to be seen as a glutton. Says novelist Carol Wolper (Anne of Hollywood), "I come from the kind of Scarlett O'Hara school of dining out, which is you eat at home first and then you're just like this delicate little person who sips on an iced tea and has a bit of lettuce."

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How late can you be?

The L.A. rule has always been 10 minutes, but perhaps the needle is being moved even on that. "Twelve minutes," says Moses. "After that, it's rude." Texting or calling en route can provide a little more leeway, making 15 minutes sometimes acceptable -- "If they are aware," says Fleming. Rosenthal, however, is a stickler for being on time: "I'm always early. I hate the idea that someone's waiting and I'm the reason."

How do you avoid a lunch you don't want to have?

Some industry players, if they're in the power position, downgrade the meeting to a coffee, and right near their office at that. To completely avoid a meeting, Moses errs on the side of bluntness. "I'm pretty transparent on this. I'll say: 'I don't think lunch is necessary. I think we can do this over a phone call.' " Polite evasion can work as well: "Always be just too busy. Say: 'I would love to, but I so rarely leave my desk during lunchtime. Why don't we set up a conference call?' " says Brass. Then there's the tactic of rescheduling in order to put people off. "To me, postponing is the new passing," says Rosenthal. "They figure they'll postpone you until you go away. This way, they are not saying no. If that happens more than twice -- obviously emergencies come up -- you've got to get the hint."