“The three-martini lunch is the epitome of American efficiency. Where else can you get an earful, a bellyful, and a snootful at the same time?”
- Attributed to Gerald R. Ford, President of the United States (1974-1977)
The term “three-martini lunch” described the long, luxurious, alcohol-ridden midday meals (which could easily stretch into the afternoon) in which business executives and managers would hobnob, gossip, review, plan, and strategize their way through elaborate and exotic dishes, as well as more than a few cocktails. A staple of high-stakes business practices during the post-World War II boom years, the practice gradually fell out of style during the economic crises of the 1970s, and eventually became a metaphor for the excesses of American business practices that preceded more “sober” times (to dragoon a useful metaphor form the article). By the 1980s, the three-martini lunch all but disappeared in the United States in favor of the dry, workaholic “business lunch” of our modern era. Desperate times, after all…
In last week’s issue of The Economist the three-martini lunch received a brief and entertaining eulogy, along with fresh insight into the sacred institution’s demise. With the customary smirk and wit that only The Economist can provide, the anonymous authors reflect on the past and dissect present American attitudes toward alcohol in the workplace through the eyes of two new psychological studies. They also show us what we might be losing in this era of absolute workplace teetotalism (here’s a spoiler: it’s creativity).
Coming from one of the few fields that, while never embracing the three-martini lunch, also never fully shunned the idea of alcohol at work, it’s fascinating to contemplate an era where business practices were fueled as much by martinis, oysters, and cigarettes as they are now by handshakes, mobile devices, and Congressional hearings. How times have changed. The whole brief article is worth your time.