The Steve McQueen Guide to Business Lunches

This weekend I took one of my twice annual trips though the pages of the Esquire Magazine, AKA the Steve McQueen Guidebook. I check out Esquire a couple times a year just to make sure I'm still in the neighborhood of Hip, if not not a homeowner. In addition to learning the proper shape of ice and that anal sex is not a proper topic for small talk, I did come across something clever and amusing: "A Brief History of the Business Lunch."

The editors of Esquire attack this subject in only a half hearted way, but that's really all the subject demands. Looking at the topic by decade they start with the 1940s business lunch, move to the 1960s, then on to the 1980s and finish up with what we eat and drink in the 2000s when we eat and do business as the same time, as well as how long we take for these types of lunches today.

I was of course most interested in the evolution of what we drink at the business lunch. According to Esquire, the drink of choice during the 1940s was two cups of black coffee. By the semi-prosperous 1960s we were consuming three martinis. The 1980s brought with it two shots of espresso  and plenty of Perrier, according to Esquire. Today, we do business over one glass of white wine.

I'm pretty sure there is only a modicum of truth to Esquire's take on the business lunch and how we water ourselves during them. But it got me thinking. They nailed my own habits. I have no problem at all having a glass of wine at a business lunch. None at all. However, I'll rarely have more than one. This isn't because it's bad etiquette or unseemly to indulge in the middle of the day when your partner(s) want to do business. Rather, I find that if I have two glasses of wine with lunch, buy 2:30pm I want a nap.

Despite my own failings, fact is it's quite rare for folks to drink wine at business lunches as far as I can see…even in wine country.  This isn't a lament. I'm not yearning for an Esquire/Mad Men version of the 1960s when three martinis and a scotch chaser was the libation of choice.

But I do know this. At least when prospective business is on the table, when folks are feeling each other out and examining their comfort level with one another, when the prospect of spending money on each other is on the table, a glass of wine (or two) isn't a bad idea at all. It loosens the jaws. It provides for slightly more creative thinking. And it makes lunch something more than a strategy session.

Posted In: Culture and Wine


8 Responses

  1. ryan - October 20, 2008

    In Spain when meeting with wineries, it would be rude not to have wine! 🙂

  2. Fredric Koeppel - October 20, 2008

    I always have a glass of wine with lunch, even if, as is usually the case, mine is the only glass of wine in a forest of glasses of iced tea.

  3. Steve Heimoff - October 20, 2008

    I’ll have wine sometimes, but that doesn’t exclude sparkling water AND coffee afterward. But I skip the martinis.

  4. Thomas Pellechia - October 20, 2008

    I remember the martini lunches–actually, I don’t remember most of them, if you know what I mean…
    Like you, Tom, two glasses at lunch and I’d be better off in the car with the seat back down than back at work. Of course, being a writer who largely works at home, the temptation is too great; therefore, I have no wine at lunch when I’m working at home.

  5. amy atwood - October 20, 2008

    Oftentimes during business lunches, I look around the restaurant and smile. Definitely more people are having wine with lunch.
    Are Americans finally integrating wine with food? Methinks yes.
    And because I am in the wine business, it is more than acceptable to have one glass of wine with lunch.

  6. jane - October 20, 2008

    How can people in the wine business not enjoy a glass of wine at lunch? Wine + food = cuisine. We are all sensitive to DUI laws. But a glass of wine with a meal should not be prohibited, especially among those of us who promote wine as a food-friendly beverage.
    Considering those who make our favorite beverage, and taste it as part of their jobs, how is it that we cannot promote some wine with our meal as something that not only makes lunch taste better, but does NOT make us unable to do our job in the afternoon?

  7. Amy Rootvik - October 20, 2008

    I think it is proper and (for many reasons) helpful to have a glass of wine–especially when it’s the business at hand. But one glass is my limit on workdays unless I’ve devoted the rest of the day to either yard work or wine tasting.

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