Washington, D.C. in the 1960s should be considered the home of both the "power breakfast" and the "power lunch." See the citations below.
New York's Regency Hotel (at 540 Park Avenue) and Four Seasons restaurant (99 East 52nd Street, between Park and Lexington Avenues) like to take credit for the "power breakfast" and the "power lunch," and it's possible that the names started in New York City in the 1970s. However, this would be about a decade after the Washington, D.C. customs.
Lee Eisenberg's "America's most powerful lunch" article appeared in Esquire, October 1979, pages 34-41.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
power breakfast orig. U.S., a working breakfast, esp. one at which people of authority or influence (typically in business or politics) can hold discussions in advance of the formal working day and in a relatively informal or neutral setting; (also) the food served at such a breakfast.
1980 N.Y. Times 12 Nov. C1/3 It's the *power breakfast, political not literary... The literary types wander into their offices after 10.
(Oxford English Dictionary)
power lunch orig. U.S., a working lunch, esp. one at which people of authority or influence (typically in business or politics) can hold discussions in a relatively informal or neutral setting; (also) the food served at such a lunch.
1980 N.Y. Times Mag. 27 Apr. 18/3 'You mean gravlax,' I said instantly, 'one of the "*power lunches" served at The Four Seasons.' 1984 L. DIENHART & E. M. PINSEL (title) Power
lunch: how you can profit from more effective business lunch strategy. 1995 New York 10 Apr. 100/3 The Grill Room is where the term power lunch got its start in the seventies, and many of those same moguls are still deciding the fate of Third World countries..over Perrier and paillard.
12 October 1980, Washington Post, pg. SM2:
ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT POWER LUNCHES AT THE NEW EATERIES
24 July 1981, New York Times, pg. A16:
In the not-too-long-ago days, when there weren't many restaurants, the action centered around private clubs. As recently as the early 1960's, a Washington "power lunch " meant two gentlemen, with their mothers' maiden names for first names, dining quitely at the Metropolitan Club, where women were banned, Jews were few in number and the only blacks wore white coats.
But in 1965, the Sans Souci restaurant opened about 100 feet south of the Metropolitan Club, a block from the White House. Jackie Kennedy stopped in. Ethel Kennedy became a regular. Art Buchwald began holding court every day at the table under the mirror. Before long, Johnson Administration officials came too, and tableside telephones jangled with calls from the White House.
13 April 1985, New York Times, pg. 27:
The Power Breakfast - All Work and No Food
"The bosses," noted Marie Hallas, the maitre d'hotel at Le Restaurant in the Regency Hotel, said to be the birthplace of the power breakfast, "are always wide awake at the breakfast meetings. A lot of the younger fellows run in at the last minute, combing their hair and running into the restroom to put on their ties."
7 June 1985, Wall Street Journal, pg. 6:
And some executives have had their "power breakfast" and "power lunch" routines interrupted because of the labor dispute, which enters its seventh day today.
25 February 1986, Christian Science Monitor, pg. 1:
"Breakfast With Budge," capital fare for 20 years
ONE hundred Washington movers, shakers, and devotees of scrambled eggs got up at dawn Monday to honor a Washington Institution on its 20th anniversary.
It was a true power breakfast, garnished with senators, congressmen, Cabinet members, and the lions of the Washington press, all gathered to pay tribute to the "Sperling breakfasts," which have made news here for the last two decades.
The phrase "at a breakfast meeting with reporters" in Washington stories over the years has signaled those breakfasts in which political celebrities are politely but formidably grilled by some of the toughest reporters and columnists in the country. Informally they are known as "Breakfast With Budge," for their founder and autocrat of the breakfast table, Godfrey (Budge) Sperling Jr., senior columnist of The Christian Science Monitor.
The 1,853rd Breakfast with Budge, in a Tudor room at the Sheraton-Carlton Hotel,...
20 June 1999, New York Times, pg. ST2:
It was Lee Eisenberg, writing in Esquire magazine in the late 1970's, who is thought to have coined the term "power lunch" in a reference to the noon meal at the Four Seasons.
I was the food & beverage director in 1975 at the Regency Hotel in NYC. A little after I arrived, NYC was on the verge of bankruptcy, and Mr. Laurence Tisch (the Chairman of Loew’s Corporation) and his brother Preston Robert Tisch (the President and the owners of ) invited many of the key players in finance and government to come to the Regency for breakfast. This became a regular event, actually daily. The reason it worked so well, was that everyone who needed to be involved in a decision could be found at one of the tables in the restaurant. As these breakfast meetings continued, it wasn’t long until the press discovered what was happening (mainly by the long line out the door of the restaurant and the town cars double and triple parked in front of the hotel on Park Avenue. I believe the New York Times first coined the phrase “Power Breakfast” referring to this event.
I am now an instructor of Hospitality Management at Virginia Tech, in Blacksburg Virginia. Feel free to email me with any questions.