Despite announcing plans to add breakfast — the first new meal on The Four Seasons schedule in 50 years, and an almost sure sign that they’re prepping for hard times — owner Julian Niccolini insisted that business at the venerable eatery is "great!" At yesterday’s Vacheron Constantin watch launch to benefit the Afghanistan World Foundation, he said there’s no need to fear that power lunches have disappeared along with Wall Street bonuses. "Lunch business is great! Come by tomorrow. We are so full, you will not believe it," Niccolini said. "People are spending less money, that’s all." Does that mean they’re ordering the Ahi burger with mango salsa ($34) instead of the fillet of bison with foie gras ($55)? Ma non! "They’re ordering cheaper wine, that’s all." Specifically they’re ordering Niccolini’s own brand of Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc, called Julian of the Seasons, which goes for $15 a glass (the lowest price for a white wine).
The cheapest red wine on the menu is $11 a glass, but Niccolini says customers are more likely to spring for a $30 glass, particularly at lunchtime. "Nobody drinks much at lunch, and if you’re only going to have one glass of wine with your meal, you want to drink good wine," he said. At dinner, frugality is more noticeable, with many customers forgoing expensive bottles (Niccolini considers "expensive" to mean any bottle above $300) for more reasonably-priced $65 and $75 bottles. "You can even get a delicious Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley for $45. It’s okay!" he said. And the Euro’s strength against the dollar means French and Italian wines are being shoved aside for American varietals. "Seventy-five percent of the wines we sell are American," said Niccolini. "They’re much easier to pronounce, much easier to remember, the wines are getting better, and they’re less expensive. So, yes, people are ordering less expensive wines. But the point is they’re still drinking wine."