The three-martini lunch or noontime three-martini is a term used in the United States to describe a leisurely, indulgent lunch enjoyed by businesspeople or lawyers. It refers to a common belief that many people in the above-mentioned professions have enough leisure time and wherewithal to consume more than one martini during the work day. The 3-martini lunch became particularly identified in popular culture with Madison Avenue advertising executives in the 1960s and 1970s, who supposedly became more creative after such lunchtime libations.
As business matters may be discussed at them, three-martini lunches are considered a business expense (which includes travel, meals, etc.) and thus can qualify for a tax deduction if such lunches occur infrequently.
The three-martini lunch is no longer common practice for several reasons, including the implementation of "fitness for duty" programs by numerous companies, the decreased tolerance of alcohol use, a general decrease in available leisure time for business executives, an increase in the size of the martini, and a decrease in the size of the tax deduction.
President John F. Kennedy called for a crackdown on such tax breaks in 1961, but nothing was done at the time. Jimmy Carter condemned the practice during the 1976 presidential campaign. Carter portrayed it as part of the unfairness in the nation's tax laws, claiming that the working class was subsidizing the "$50 martini lunch". A "rich businessman" could write off this type of lunch as a business expense, however the remark of it being subsidized was inaccurate, as no government programs were in place that financed such lunches with the taxpayers' money. After the election, his opponent, incumbent President Gerald Ford, in a 1978 speech to the National Restaurant Association, responded with: "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?"
It was once popular in Washington, D.C. but has declined since the early 1990s. The practice has also been affected by changing views on alcohol consumption, while others have chosen to go with new drinks like the vodka Martini and Cosmopolitan. The cost of some drinks have increased three times faster than the inflation rate.
The three-martini lunch had also come under fire in discussions on national security, as Aldrich Ames, an alcoholic, had earned a reputation among coworkers for snoozing at his desk after returning to work from such long lunches. Those who accompanied Ames to such events reported them to be "liquid", with Ames seldom eating. It was surmised that Ames' heavy drinking during work hours was one part out of multiple factors that clouded his judgment and led him on a path to commit espionage.
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Consider the business lunch, made famous by former President Carter labeling it the "three martini lunch" ... presumably the business nature of the meal requires expenditure in excess of what the lawyer would spend on his usual lunch ... Suppose, however, that the lawyer and client have lunch together every day of the week...[s]hould either of them be able to deduct those everyday meals? Likely not, even for 50% of the cost of the meals. At least one U.S. Court of Appeals has said no in a case involving members of a law firm who met at lunchtime every day...
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- Alison Mitchell (July 24, 1999). "House Puts 'Three-Martini Lunch' Tax Break Back on the Table". The New York Times. Retrieved March 14, 2016.
- "Seasons by the Sea: South Fork Power Lunch | The East Hampton Star". easthamptonstar.com. Retrieved December 11, 2016.