The Characters in Mad Men drank during business meetings, why did that stop?
Q: When did drinking at the office and in business meetings stop being a thing? In a lot of movies and series, for example Mad Men, if someone came to your office for a meeting you offered them a drink. Was that really something that people did or is it just in the movies?
A Historian’s Take: “The shift in American perceptions to day drinking can mostly be tied back to the domestic politics of the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s. As early as 1961, President John F. Kennedy stated opposition to the extent of tax deductibility of business lunches as business expenses. However, in 1972 the issue came to a more prominent place in American politics thanks to George McGovern. During his presidential campaign, he told blue-collar voters that ‘you pay for half of every $20 martini lunch that a businessman deducts while you can’t deduct the price of a bologna sandwich.’ While McGovern was annihilated in the election of 1972, this message remained. Four years later, Jimmy Carter took up the torch of lunch deductions again, this time as a form of opposition to corruption in DC, thus also a strike against the incumbent, Gerald Ford. His administration would push for changes to the tax code on this issue, but ultimately to no avail. In 1986 however, Ronald Reagan would sign a bill that reduced the deduction from 100 to 80 percent and Bill Clinton would sign a bill in 1993 that reduced it to 50 percent.
“While these bills were aimed more generally at business extravagance than alcohol, in particular, I would argue that the evocative imagery of the ‘three-martini lunch’ and its connection to corruption played a significant role in changing the wider public taste for day drinking with lunch. At the same time, American corporate culture began a major shift towards prioritization of productivity. Together, the combination of productivity prioritization, negative public perception, and decreased financial exemption pushed out the business lunch. As Paul Freedman observes in his discussion of the Four Seasons restaurant, ‘more than two decades later, many publishing offices have moved downtown and expense accounts have been reduced.’ Even now op-eds and other pieces come out occasionally which look back fondly at a time of multi-hour expensed lunches, even as they enabled alcoholism and provided dubious financial benefit.”