Charlie is sitting at his favourite lunchtime table. He knows the staff by name, has asked them to retrieve his favourite wine from the cellar, and is waving his unlit cigarette in the air as he reminisces about the old days.
"A good business lunch is both art and commerce. It's a performance. That's what these HR types and government wowsers never understood. The drinking is just a prop. And if it takes you five hours to charm a client then so be it."
He's retired now, but he used to be in advertising, was based in LA during the 80s, and enjoyed plenty of long lunches while entertaining some of the city's finest. He still believes it's the most important meal of the day.
Outside, as the lunch crowd rushes back to their office cubicles with overpriced sandwiches and coffees, Charlie's nostalgia raises more questions than it answers.
Is the business lunch misunderstood? And is it time for a serious reappraisal?
Make mine a double
We all know that times change, and that the boozy lunch has fallen out of favour due to a long list of boring, yet practical concerns. Between financial downturns, economic rationalism, and changing attitudes to alcohol, today's lunches tend to be a shadow of their former glory. But that doesn't mean they're devoid of merit.
John is well known in the mining industry and an extremely gregarious host who appreciates a lunch that starts at 2pm and carries on past midnight. He's seen plenty in his time.
"I don't care what anyone says, a really long, really boozy lunch is still one of the most effective ways to get a signed cheque in your hands. By the time you're opening the third bottle of wine you're either best friends or yelling at each other across the table. But there's no bullshit at that point. It is what it is."
Michelle agrees. She's a senior partner at an old-school London law firm, where wining and dining the clients is still an essential part of the job. As she explains, "The bankers and hedge fund boys love to be taken out. We wine, we dine, we don't return to the office. A lot of the 'business development' in those industries is still handled by old men hanging out in bars."
The honest truth
And there's your uncomfortable truth. The long boozy lunch, unfashionable as it may be, still gets results. It may not be subtle, it may breach HR policies, but it's more effective than all the conference calls, video links, emails, or dreary boardroom sit-downs combined.
Question is, where does it fit within the modern hierarchy of business needs. And more importantly, what can you get away with?
Modern life is rubbish
Back in the 1960s a business lunch was also referred as the three-martini lunch. 1970s liberalism saw lunches stretching into the evening, and by the time the 80s rolled around you might find yourself spending as much time in the bathroom as you did in front of the meal.
Those days are over, clearly, and today's business lunch tends to be more streamlined, neat, and organised. According to Sunny, from the Bridge Room in Sydney, people are, "a lot more self-conscious these days. Obviously dining out is important for building relationships, but everyone's on a budget, and conscious of not only the actual expenditure, but also the perceived expenditure within their companies. I think they walk a fine line between trying to spoil their client, and also being measured in their expenditure."
Matteo runs a popular lunchtime haunt in Melbourne's CBD, Trattoria Emilia. He says there are two distinct lunch crowds; the older executives who might come in once a month and order a second bottle of wine vs. the younger client meetings. "The second group is far more formal, they'll exchange cards, they might have one glass of wine, and they'll be out the door with the hour. It's all business, everyone is on the clock."
Lunch is the new dinner
The old guard may lament this new-found austerity, but the reality is the lunch crowd is evolving, and restaurants are evolving to meet these new needs.
As Nicolette, who runs Cecconi's in Melbourne notes, "When we introduced the cellar bar, which is our paired back bistro option, we saw a lot more young dinners. They all want to be in at 12:30pm, out by two, share an entrée, enjoy a meal, drink a coffee, and be out the door again. But because it's more affordable, more casual, we might see the same people two or three times a week instead of one boozy lunch every month."
Brett, a corporate recruiter, says this is the new reality, and a sign of the times. "People are busier than ever, they're working longer hours, trying to pay larger mortgages. They can't spend five hours at lunch, but spreading that out over a few client lunches has obvious career benefits. It's easier to justify."
Charlie agrees. In principle. "No one ever got ahead in life chained to a desk with a pastrami on rye. Life is short. Eat a proper lunch. Have a drink. Call a client." And with that said, he's gesturing for a second bottle of wine.
Do you still use the boozy lunch to seal the deal? Share your experience in the comments section below.