"In the Eighties you could look into a restaurant at 4.30pm and all the tables would still be full," says Tim Mellors, chairman and creative director at Mellors Reay and partners. "During the recession, the waiters would have already cleared the tables."
But that happy band of brothers who are sneaking back to Soho at 1pm are slowly increasing in number. The advertising lunch is back.
Ask the Fat Boys lunching club. This coagulation of eight of the industry's liveliest - and largest - includes Dominic Proctor, chief exeuctive of J Walter Thompson; Peter Howard Williams, Pa-pa-pa-Pearl and Dean's managing director; Rupert Howell, a partner at Tango's agency, Howell Henry Chaldecott Lury; and Malcolm Wall, Meridian Television's managing director.
Set up in the dark days of the recession in memory of a more glorious era, the Fat Boys are dedicated to excess. It has a quorum of 55 stone - members have to average 15.8 stone each or the club disbands - and they are each issued with ludicrous names and expansive tracksuits. New members have to foot the bill for the first meal they attend (the last Fat Boys lunch, at Christmas, cost pounds 2,000).
"The lunches can be a nightmare," says Jonathan "Barf Boy" Durden, managing partner at Pattison Horswell Durden, who acquired his tag after throwing up at every single meeting.
But where do they eat when they lunch in style? Why, they go to ...
The six-year-old Ivy serves modern British food costing pounds 20 to pounds 40 a head (the Caesar salad/salmon fishcake combo is legend, and the chargrilled fish of the day is always popular). Adland loves it because the celebs love it. A straw poll of agency dinners revealed in the last week alone the following star-spots - Hanif Kureishi, Terence Stamp, Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones. Ad types range from the young and funky to agency bosses. Winston Fletcher loves it, Mark Wnek is a regular, and most of WCRS visit, as did most of Leo Burnett's until they moved to Knightsbridge.
Decor: Slightly Deco, with oak finish.
Darling, can you squeeze me in?: Maitre d's are David Bernard, Caroline Cathcart and Fernando Pierre.
Fables: Hugh Burkitt, chairman of Burkitt Edwards Martin, once caused a scene when he arrived with a client for his reserved table, found none was to be had and demanded all sorts of recompense. His secretary assured him she had made the booking and he left, muttering vivid imprecations. Ten minutes later, Christopher's in Convent Garden rang his office asking where Mr Burkitt was - his table awaited. Alas, the client had already departed.
And, Dame Rumour states, the Ivy saw Edward Booth-Clibborn, life president of the Designer's and Art Designer's Association, rack up a bill for pounds 488 for two - including a half bottle of wine for pounds 126. He charged the lunch to PR but the incoming chairman, Tim Delaney, took a dim view. Booth-Clibborn later moved on.
Your bill, sir: Twice a week for a year - pounds 8,320.
Lunch is pounds 42 per head. The modern European menu ranges from bangers and mash to venison with ratatouille, which should be washed down with gin and tonic, kir royale, pouilly fume and Langan's chablis. The late owner, Peter Langan, gained favour with the Fat Boys when he threw up at one of his own tables in front of Jonathan Durden. Alongside Michael Caine, part-owner and a regular luncher, you can find Peter Mead from Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, Michael Greenlees from GGT and Tony Vickers from BSkyB, who has his own table.
Decor: Big room, well lit and somehow cosy.
Darling, can you squeeze me in?: Ask for the maitre d', Michael Henry, or the restaurant manager, Gratiano Oregano.
Fables: Woolworth's marketing director, Mike Cousins, was holding forth about how he was on the point of sacking his agency, Allen Brady Marsh, although they didn't know it yet. Sadly, a reporter from the trade magazine Campaign was at the other table
Your bill, sir: Twice a week for a year - pounds 9,400.
It's been open for eight years and is already legend; you'll find the likes of Graham Fink, most of Saatchi's and well, anyone who has worked in advertising has eaten at Zilli's. It serves upmarket Italian with spaghetti and fresh lobster; sea bass and roasted suckling pig are permanently on the menu. Lunches come to pounds 35 per head in the restaurant and pounds 15 in the brasserie. If you're drinking hard, ask for an Americano, a Negroni or a buck's fizz.
Decor: Sort of rococo Venetian. Regulars delight in telling each other that the bar was imported from Venice.
Darling, can you squeeze me in?: The maitre d' is Nino. The cognoscenti, however, ask for the chef patron, Aldo Zilli.
Fables: During the Saatchi and Saatchi split, both sides were regular lunchers in Zilli's. Over-excited types would frequently come close to blows as slanders were traded. Finally, old Saatchi's won the turf - M and C Saatchi now dine elsewhere. Recently, creatives from WCRS were lunching there while casting their new ad (for First Direct) and persuaded Aldo Zilli himself to star in their Goodfellas rip-off. He got the union rate and can still be seen on air.
It was also at Zilli's that Young & Rubicam's typographer, Pete Woods, was lunched at enormous expense by one of his own suppliers to whom he took an increasing dislike. When the supplier nipped off to the toilet, Woods paid the bill and walked out, leaving a note: "Nobody buys me."
Your bill, sir: Twice a week for a year - pounds 7,300.
Modern British food, meaning salmon fishcakes to solid cod and chips. Lunch comes to pounds 35 a head with wine. The most popular ad drinks are champagne, bloody marys and the occasional Martini. Most of the staff at D'Arcy Masius Benton and Bowles are regulars.
Decor: classic early Eighties - black-tiled floors, mirrors, white ceiling and upper walls.
Darling, can you squeeze me in?: Lunchtime maitre d' is Melanie Sutton.
Fables: It is rumoured that Le Caprice was popular for a time with a team of former managers from Lowe Howard-Spink, who would take their secretaries out to play the ice-cube game. The game consists of passing the ice-cube from mouth to mouth while getting increasingly drunk. These sessions stopped after one secretary, returning to Lowe's, fell forwards going upstairs, banged her chin and killed the roots of her front teeth. They turned black and had to be capped, with two being removed without anaesthetic ... the poor woman was too drunk to have it administered.
Your bill, sir: Twice a week for a year - a snip at pounds 7,300.Reuse content