SalesRants 11: In Memoriam: The Three-Martini Lunch

Secret Sales Guy reminisces about a kinder, gentler era, when men used the table talk of business to hunker down over lunch and a cocktail… or three

Life can be incredibly cruel. You are violently birthed, thrust from your mother’s womb into an insecure world, passed through the meat grinder of primary and secondary school education, flung into puberty, tossed into college, and then unleashed—utterly naïve and likely scarred from years spent pursuing an ultimately useless degree—into the world of business. Once your parents kiss you off, you face the unappealing and scary business of marriage and, eventually, rearing children who will eventually face the same daunting journey described above.

The sickest part of it all is that, during the prime of your life, you will devote approximately 40 years of thankless labor to an uncaring corporation just so you can pay your mortgage and eat meat once in a while. Your wife will constantly nag you, as will your kids, once they reach about seven years old. Sure, you may take up a hobby such as golf or stamp-collecting to ease the tension, but you and I both know it: You are statistically bound to live a boring, stressful and annoying life.

“No, no, Secret Salesman,” you may protest. “Surely, life is what you make of it. Life is beautiful—there is love, art, writing, sex!”

Silly, silly media person. You do not hear the truth when it is shouted in your ear, but hear only your own fantastical whispers of hope. Except now—in a modern world where there is a pill to numb every discomfort and a self-help book to aid any perceived ailment—your nonsensical attitude can prevail. But life is a brutal endeavor. Even in this great country, families are starving, people are ravaged by untreatable disease and—worse yet—magazine employees continue to be underpaid and underappreciated. Such is the nature of this modern existence.

But, sit back, while I spin you a tale. There was a time not too long ago, a Golden Era, if you will, when life was better for the media salesman. We call it the 1980s. [I cannot speak of the 70’s or 60’s because, lamentably, I wasn’t in this line of work back then]. Back in the 80’s, there was a tonic—a soothing panacea—for the fear and ennui engendered by modern life.

They called it the Three-Martini Lunch.

You may have heard of it. Back in those Golden Days of media sales, there existed the time-honored tradition of the Three-Martini Lunch (or, as we practitioners like to call it, the TML). An oddly styled and peculiar ceremony, the TML was long heralded as one of the most effective tools in the intrepid media salesman’s bag. Suitable for use on new prospects and haggard clients alike, the TML was a way to spend quality time with a customer and talk a bit of business—all while idling away a good 50 percent of your actual workday. Should a return visit to the office be required after the TML, one was inebriated enough by that point to tolerate the rest of the afternoon. Although labeled with a somewhat misleading moniker—since the cocktail of choice didn’t have to be martinis, nor were participants limited to three of them, for that matter—the TML persisted as a serious business tool from the inception of print media until roughly 1988, when Reagan left office. Setting aside its restorative benefits to the media sales employee, the TML was, and remains, a potent tool for developing business relationships. What you don’t know, however, is that the TML was never merely about drinking.

 

Back in the very early days of the media (think beleaguered Bewitched ad exec Darren Stevens) there was no such thing as the Three-Martini Lunch. It was just lunch. Because men were involved and, incidentally, happened to run the universe at that time (or at least they thought they did), they had the freedom to order what they wanted—be it a glass of tomato juice, a refreshing lager, or an 8-ounce gin martini. Lunch was a time to get together with a trusted colleague or old client, ask him how his family was doing—and really mean it. It was just a couple of guys both facing roughly the same situation and able to commiserate about their jobs, college tuition, the wife, and just about everything else under the sun. It’s what men have done since the dawn of time: They gather over large hunks of blackened meat, knock a few back, and share something deeper and more profound than last night’s Yankees result.

Then when it came time to follow up with a post-lunch phone call, when you went through your Rolodex (since replaced by ACT, Goldmine, or some other equally annoying “CRM” application tool), you didn’t have to check your notes to remember that your client’s wife was named Sally, and he had two boys, a baby girl, and an affinity for power tools. TMLs gave you time to get to know your client—hell, maybe even like him—and share that most intimate of manly moments: an extended workday lunch.

These days, the TML is a thing of the past. On the odd occasion that you do have the time to sit down over a meal with a client or prospect, there are many things to be considered. First, there’s a 50 percent chance that your client/ prospect will be female. This can be beneficial if both you and your client are women, as you’re then likelier to have things in common. However, this puts the male salesman at a disadvantage. One potential wrinkle: Your client may be hot, which puts you immediately in the uncomfortable position of being in a somewhat intimate setting (a nice restaurant), and makes your ham-handed attempts at smalltalk seem (at least in your own mind) like the verbal fumbling of a first date. Due to the discomfort this spawns, talk tends to immediately shift to business, meaning that any chance of developing a strong personal rapport are sunk. There’s no opportunity to bitch about the wife or job (since don’t want to seem bitter or lame), and there’s less of a chance you’ll chat about sports, the conversational glue that holds male friendship together.

If (as a male) you’re fortunate enough to have a lunch meeting with a male colleague, the chance to bond and create a meaningful personal relationship remains exists, but it is still remote. The first moment of brutal, searing discomfort starts when the drink order is taken. As the host, you are obligated to glance at Jim, your client, and say, “What are you having Jim?” Jim, clearly pained, orders a Pellegrino with lime—or, worse yet, a Diet Coke (God forbid he go regular). The drink order takes a lap around the table and results in another sparkling water, and a “water’s fine, thanks.” So you, sitting at one of Manhattan’s better restaurants and about to order a steak that practically screams for a hearty Cabernet or Bordeaux, are stuck. The meal is already ruined.

Then, food ordering commences. Likely, you are sitting with two or three other men, all of whom are dying to have the steak, veal parmigiana, or some other extremely tasty and unhealthy dish (because Lord only knows what’s awaiting you at home tonight). Instead, Customer #1 orders a salad. Not even a Cobb, for Chrissakes. He orders something that, when it finally arrives at the table after 20 intolerable minutes of business conversation, looks like the weeds from my backyard with a Zabar’s gift basket spilled over them.

Be a man and order what you want. You wife is not here and, judging from the looks of you, this could be the first salad you’ve ever ordered in your life.

Come on! Be a man and order what you want. You wife is not here and, judging from the looks of you, this could be the first salad you’ve ever ordered in your life. Face it: You ordered the salad because you are a fat fuck, and you are too embarrassed to order the ribeye smothered in Gruyere. And, you know you want a beer. Yes, you do. How about you buck up, and have two of them? That way we can relax, and everyone doesn’t have to pretend that they are so indispensable that a few mugs of suds could steer the beloved Company off course when you return to your cubicle. Trust me on this—the stock price isn’t taking a hit because some mid-level marketing manager “let his hair down” at lunch and banged a few back with his rep.

You’ve been there, so you know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s like the Blackberry phenomena—these days, your identity and self-worth is so tied up in your work, that to be human for a minute may tip someone off to the fact that you’re not the next Jack Welch. Well, you’re not. So relax, order a beer and a big plate of pasta, and forget about work for a few minutes. There’s plenty of time for that when we get back to the office—you know I’m going to be calling you for an ad in a few days, anyway. So for now, why don’t we try being friends, have some red wine over a nice, thick steak, and bitch about our home remodeling projects or the price of gas a little bit—anything but work. That way, when I call you up, it’s a lot less like someone trying to sell you an ad, and a lot more like two guys who happen to work in the trenches together doing a little business.

Waiter, a martini, please—and keep ’em coming!

[This post originally appeared in MediaBistro, 8/9/2006]

Irish Coffee

Although I’m sure that many a dash of whiskey has made it into a coffee mug over the centuries, it wasn’t until the 1940s that Irish coffee was officially invented. The most interesting story of the drink’s origin claims it dates back to Ireland’s Shannon Airport in the early years of transatlantic air travel. It seems the drink was concocted by one Joe Sheridan to soothe shaken passengers who’d flown through hard storms in their “flying boats.” Sipping the smooth elixir, one passenger supposedly asked if he was drinking Brazilian coffee. To which Mr. Sheridan indignantly replied, “No, that’s Irish coffee!”

 

 

 

Ingredients:

6 ounces Irish ­whiskey

30 ounces freshly brewed ­coffee

1⁄4 cup ­sugar

1 cup heavy cream, ­chilled

1 tablespoon confectioners’ ­sugar

 

Combine 1 ounce whiskey, 5 ounces coffee, and 2 teaspoons sugar in a mug (ideally a clear glass one). In a medium bowl, whip the cream with the confectioners’ sugar until it’s slightly thickened. Using the back of a spoon, carefully slip the whipped cream into the mug, so that it rests on top of the coffee without dissolving into it.

 

Serves ­6

 

Tom & Jerry

The Tom & Jerry is eggnog’s warm and creamy cousin, with the added kick of rum and spices. There is some disagreement as to the origin of the drink. Some claim that it was named after the two principal characters in Pierce Egan’s popular 1821 book, Life in London, Jerry Hawthorn and his sidekick Corinthian Tom. Other cocktail etymologists speculate that the concoction was named after notorious mixologist Jerry Thomas, a bartender at San Francisco’s Occidental Hotel and the creator of the Martinez (the first martini, according to some). What’s not disputed is that the Tom & Jerry offers a delicious alternative to traditional eggnog.

 

Ingredients:

3 quarts whole ­milk

24 large eggs (see page ­29)

2 cups ­sugar

Pinch of ­salt

1⁄2 tablespoon ground ­allspice

2 tablespoons ground ­cinnamon

1⁄2 tablespoon ground ­cloves

16 ounces ­brandy

16 ounces dark ­rum

Freshly ground nutmeg, for ­garnish

 

In a large saucepan, heat the milk over low heat until steaming; cover and keep warm. Separate the eggs into two large bowls, one for the yolks and another for the whites. Add the sugar to the yolks and beat with a wire whisk for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and lemon-colored.Using a wire whisk or an electric hand mixer, beat the egg whites with the pinch of salt until they form soft peaks; set aside.

Add the spices, brandy, and rum to the yolk mixture. Stirring continuously, mix in the warm milk. Carefully fold the reserved whites into the batter. Pour into individual glasses and garnish each with a pinch of nutmeg.

Serves ­24

Hot Buttered Rum

Here’s a concoction you won’t see many vascular surgeons imbibing anytime soon; drinking butter is generally contraindicated. But the small amount of butter in the classic hot buttered rum won’t hurt you. Basic hot buttered rum is made by simply adding rum to hot spiced cider, and serving it with a pat of butter on top. This recipe, which uses spiced vanilla ice cream as its base, makes for a smoother, creamier version.

Serves ­12

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted ­butter

23⁄4 cups packed light brown ­sugar

1 quart vanilla ice cream, softened

1 teaspoon ground ­nutmeg

1 teaspoon ground ­cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ­cardamom

1 teaspoon vanilla ­extract

12 ounces dark ­rum

In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except the rum, mixing thoroughly with a rubber spatula. Place the mixture into a plastic container with a lid; seal and freeze.

To prepare the drinks, place 2 heaping tablespoons of the frozen batter in each mug, add 1 ounce of rum and 3⁄4 cup of boiling water. Stir until the batter is completely melted. For a nonalcoholic version, simply omit the rum.

Glögg

Scandinavian aquavit, literally “water of life,” has not made a tremendous impact on the rest of the world. Maybe it’s because of the unusual caraway-seed taste. In the case of glögg, however, aquavit’s unique flavor so perfectly complements the heated wine that it’s like drinking Christmas itself. The best thing about making glögg the old-fashioned way is the theater involved in preparing it, so be sure to invite your guests into the kitchen to watch the pyrotechnics. You’ll need a fine-mesh wire rack, which you should be able to find at any kitchenware store, to flame the glögg.

Serves 12 to ­15

Two 750 ml bottles full­-­bodied dry red ­wine

20 ­cloves

20 cardamom ­seeds

1⁄2 teaspoon ground ­cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground ­nutmeg

8 ounces sugar ­cubes

One 750 ml bottle ­aquavit

1⁄2 cup ­raisins, for garnish

1⁄2 cup sliced ­almonds, for garnish

In a large pot, combine the wine, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and heat over a medium flame until steam rises from the surface and the spices are infused, about 7 minutes. Strain, then transfer about half the mixture to a large bowl.

Place a fine-mesh wire rack over the pot, and arrange the sugar cubes on top. Pour the aquavit over the cubes, making sure to soak them well. Standing back, use a long kitchen match to carefully ignite the sugar cubes, then slowly ladle the reserved wine over them until they have dissolved.

Serve in mugs, garnished with raisins and sliced almonds.