IT'S 7.30AM in the Mandarin Grill at the Mandarin Oriental and the breakfast buffet is ready, chefs at their stations. The dark green gloom is interrupted only by spots of dim lighting and stark white serge-covered armchairs. By 8am, up to 50 of Hong Kong's most influential movers and shakers will have quietly filed in. Many are instantly recognised by the staff and don't need to give their names as they are shown to tables far enough apart to avoid their million-dollar conversations being overheard. For the next hour, the waiters glide seamlessly about, silently dispensing coffee and breakfasts, careful not to interrupt as top-level deals and negotiations take place. Welcome to the world of the silver-service sausage. Power breakfasting was big in the 1980s and early 90s, an American notion that spread rapidly. Anyone who declined a 'let's do breakfast' invitation was considered less than committed to the cause. But then came the economic crashes and crises and conspicuous consumption went out of style. Along came the dotcoms but they shunned the breakfast pow-wow - much too fuddy-duddy and formal. But now, many of the dotcoms are comatose and the big business breakfast is making a comeback, part of the return to the traditional ways of conducting business, believes 'Mr Lan Kwai Fong' Allan Zeman. 'Curiously, the pendulum has swung the other way,' says Christopher Hammerbeck, executive director of the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, who stages 150 breakfast meetings and events a year. There was some opposition to these early functions when he introduced them seven years ago, but attendance has grown steadily. 'It's a good start to the day, everyone has to eat - it churns the grey matter, there's no alcohol and everyone is on their bikes by 9.15,' he says. And the congee and noodles often lose out to traditional Western food, even with Asian diners. A glance around the Hong Kong Club one morning reveals the great big breakfast is as popular as ever, with all nationalities. 'People do like their bacon, eggs, sausages and black pudding,' says Hammerbeck. The only problem for reclusive breakfasters who want to do business quietly is finding a suitably low-key location. 'The hotels dominate the market, but recently I went to the Island Shangri-La for a discreet discussion over breakfast with some financiers to find at least half the investment community in there,' bemoans Mark Duff, managing director and CEO of Boom Securities. But the resurgence of the power breakfast is a Hong Kong-side and, more specifically, Central phenomenon. It seems there is only one place to try not to be seen before 9am. 'Any business deal being done over breakfast, well it's got to be the Mandarin Oriental Grill,' says Zeman. 'It's just got that connotation. The Grand Hyatt, no, doesn't have the same status, nor the Furama, nor any in Pacific Place.' He says if it's really private most tycoons have their own dining rooms and chefs, 'but for a quickie power breakfast, the Mandarin is easy, it's central and it's the only place I'd think of going. Starbucks? I don't think so.' So big business breakfasts demand a suitably ostentatious location. At a pinch, he'd opt for The Peninsula or Regent hotels if he was Kowloon-side. He's not the only Mandarin addict. If he weren't office-bound in early morning meetings, HSBC Securities Asia's Derek Cheung would go there too. 'The corporate finance guys prefer it: one, it's located in the middle of Central, two, very few clients want to go anywhere else and three, it's a habit.' Better business is done at breakfast than later in the day, believes Duff. Clients relish early morning encounters, when their heads are clear, he maintains. Hong Kong hotels offer vast breakfast buffets to cover international guests and a mixture of business and leisure diners. It can cost almost as much as lunch - $189 plus 10 per cent at the JW Marriott, compared to $208 for a midweek lunch. For Josef Budde, executive chef at the Grand Hyatt in Wan Chai, the days of the power breakfast are over. He sees many Convention Centre clients breakfasting on increasingly healthy food, but few local businessmen. Though the demand for wholewheat bread, Birchermuesli and fresh juices is rising, he noticed during the recent leather fair that the Germans still head for the breakfast cold cuts and cheese, while the Americans dive into the doughnuts. From what he sees, Asians still prefer local specialities, especially congee and noodles. Meanwhile, back at the Mandarin Grill, millions are changing hands over eggs Benedict with five grams of Sevruga caviar ($135). Or perhaps poached eggs with smoked salmon with bernaise sauce on English muffins, also $135. 'A lot of them choose the Mandarin grilled breakfast,' says food and beverage director Frederic Boulin, 'and they do take time to actually eat.' It's $255, and includes a la carte eggs, sausages, rashers and other hot grilled delights, along with juices, cereals, coffee, tea, toast, croissants, jams, a choice of 12 different pastries, cheeses, yoghurts and a stunning array of fresh fruit. If you just feel a little peckish there's blueberry buttermilk pancakes with Canadian maple syrup ($95). But the new-found popularity of the power breakfast is definitely a director-level occupation which, this time around, has yet to filter down to middle management who feel under pressure to be seen at their desks or holding meetings at the office. 'Lunch, yes, but breakfast meetings, no,' says one executive. 'Who wants to drag themselves out of bed early to try to make sense between mouthfuls of sausage with marmalade all over your papers? It's bad enough going to work knowing there's 50 e-mails waiting for you without starting the day late too.'