The three-martini lunch used to be de rigueur.
Gerald Ford, in a 1978 speech to the National Restaurant Association in the US said that “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?”
The term was used to describe a leisurely, indulgent lunch enjoyed by businesspeople or executives and often included oysters, lobsters and steaks.
It came under attack because since many of these meals were considered part of doing business, they were charged to companies and companies would submit the receipts for tax deductions.
Over the years, three-martini lunches fell out of favor also because of the increasing stigma of alcohol consumption in the day.
In any case, such lunches didn’t really catch on in Asia.
What is considered acceptable business meals here would be regular lunches – short, quick meals where no alcohol is consumed.
In certain Asian countries, big lavish feasts are still being hosted in the evenings, but only when businesspeople are close to signing a deal or have already officially begun a mutually profitable and beneficial business relationship.
Other than that, even meals in the evenings – dinners – are usually frowned upon and carry with them certain negative connotations.
In the last couple of years, the Chinese government has cracked down on such extravagant banquets where copious amount of food and alcohol were consumed – and wasted – and expensive gifts exchanged.
So is it going to be lunch or dinner?
If you care for your professional image, I’d say stick strictly to lunch.
And if you really want to be effective, let me suggest breakfast.
There are a number of reasons for that.
First, because of their very nature, breakfasts can never be long-drawn affairs.
Those who eat would have to be back at their desks to attend to the business of the day.
You are sharper in the morning, and discussions can be crisp, to-the-point, and effective.
No obligation is placed on anyone and no obligation is implied – you don’t really need to buy a return meal if invited to breakfast. It’s almost like a meet-at-the-water-fountain, a grab-and-go thing.
Nowadays when people suggest lunch, I always counter propose breakfast. Most respond very positively. (Maybe because breakfasts are also cheaper.) And the expats get a kick when I suggest trying local breakfasts like kaya toasts with half-boiled eggs, or nasi lemak at the local kopi tiam or food court. Somehow the novelty factor adds to the positive mindset and in the early morning, these places are seldom packed with customers. The temperature is also a lot cooler.
In any case, whatever the meal, be wary when people want to buy you a meal, especially if they suggest dinner.
Your professionalism may be called to question if you accept.
So the next time you get invited to a meal, first review your company’s business conduct guidelines, and ask if you should even entertain the idea; it is only right if you question not only the motive of the person inviting you, but your own motive too. Finally, do consider what impact your decision will have on your organization, and on your own image and career.
And another point – I never drink alcohol with business associates – no matter what the meal is. Never.
I do so for obvious reasons but that’s a person choice.
It’s a judgment call on your part.
During a business-related meal, I don’t want to give the wrong impression, neither do I want to consume anything that may come in the way of clear thinking.