Why the “Rat Pack” Had It Right: Fighting the Man through the use of Cocktail Lunch Hours


I have never watched the TV show “Mad Men” but my understanding is that there are certain parts of the ‘50s that are glamorized. One in particular that fascinates me is the three-martini lunch. You know , those old school lunches that were leisurely, overly indulgent and usually just for high powered Don Draper types making deals for obscene amounts of money. Apparently, at some point they went out of vogue due to increased stigmatization of daytime drinking, cost containment measures and less time for long lunches as the eighteen hour work day became the norm. If you haven’t heard, many people skip lunch altogether now chained to their desks or work vehicles. Interesting that in the late ‘70s the three-martini lunch became fodder for the presidential campaign where then presidential candidate Carter claimed that the American taxpayer was subsidizing the practice. It seems that it was then replaced for a while with the mall /staircase walking exercise breaks, the Starbucks (coffee) break , or the Facebook break. Hardly as satisfying, I imagine.

I’m here however to declare that liquor is back at lunchtime! But it’s not the three-martini lunch. I’d like to refer to it as the cocktail lunch hour. There are fancy drinks now that at times require dictionaries and a gastronomy handbook to order. Cocktails are now meant to compliment special dishes. There’s a restaurant that I frequent for lunch that recently instituted a new cocktail lunch menu that includes the “porn star”, which comes with a shot of Prosecco, since that is precisely what one needs in the middle of the day, whether they work in porn or not. There is nothing better than a basil lime daiquiri except perhaps a basil lemonade. Basil is a nice herb for lunch, isn’t it? My feeling is that if it is grown in an herb garden, it must be healthy.

As I am a social psychologist and I love spurious correlations, I am going to go out on a limb and state that the rise of the cocktail lunch hour is also associated with both the rise of the “Peter Principle” in action and organizations as a whole having to do more with less. Let me explain. The principle is commonly explained as, “employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence”, or in other words, employees tend to be given more authority until they cannot continue to work competently. Because of the state of the economy, especially in the non-profit world, there are fewer employees to hire and train. Recently, an organization that I have consulted with, loss one fourth of its funding for a particular program and the funder unequivocally stated that regardless of the sizeable decrease in funding, the deliverables remained the same. As a matter of fact, the funder planned to increase the number of HIV tests required by the program despite the cuts in funding. This scenario repeats itself throughout the United States. While these cuts are occurring and there is an increased workload, there are decreasing numbers of fundable staff positions. Highly competent staff (and sometimes simply the better of two evils), are highly rewarded with promotions, since there is a short supply of money on the ground to compensate with. Those new positions often require new sets of skills just be beyond the reach of the employee. In some ways, that then causes others to work more and wonder about their own sanity. With all this emotional turbulence afoot in the work world nowadays, what’s a person to do? Well, a cocktail at lunch can really help the creative juices flow, dampening the frustration of managing an office brimming with object lessons in the Peter Principle, better preparing one to face a world of funders that don’t really have the pulse of the community (or even a pulse, or soul to begin with – I’ve long suspected that funding for social services is an undead conspiracy). A good cocktail at lunchtime is the perfect antidote to the current economic doldrums. It allows for team building, honing of situational management skills and increased visual acuity (in that one can clearly see through the surrounding bullshit).

Jimmy Carter got it wrong (no surprise, there). Taxpayers should be demanding more cocktail lunch hours as a way to fight back against “the man.” Don’t tell us what we can or can’t drink at our highly precious and rare lunch hours. Maybe government itself would run more efficiently and effectively if the civil service implemented my suggestion. Okay, maybe that’s just crazy talk, but you get the idea.

About seven years ago, on a trip to the Virgin Islands in the middle of an organizational assessment, I was invited to go to the Rum Factory at lunchtime. Little did I know that was the start of a glorious cocktail lunch hour. Now when we travel for work, we use Yelp to find a good local restaurant that serves interesting cocktails all in the vein of getting to know and understand the local culture (our own version of community mapping). Of course, in general, use caution during the lunch hour. A word of advice: don’t drink too many cocktails before you have to interview a recent interdisciplinary PhD graduate who has no idea what their research was really about. You may just snooze your way through that interview or worse yet be unable to suppress the constant urge to poke your eyes out. As Frank Sinatra once said, “I feel sorry for people who don’t drink. When they wake up in the morning, that’s as good as they’re going to feel all day”.


I welcome your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s