The “three-martini lunch” is back, not that it ever left. Its heyday was the 1960s, when long business lunches were part of the American dream, and the full cost of an extravagant meal could be written off. The unfairness was obvious, and it grated. Why should rich businessmen, and they were mostly men, get to dine out on steak and lobster subsidized by secretaries eating tuna fish salad and construction workers who couldn’t deduct the bologna sandwiches in their lunch buckets?
Four presidents tried to end or rein in the practice, and for the last quarter-century, the deductibility of the meal epitomized by the three-martini lunch has been cut in half, with Uncle Sam picking up just 50 percent of the tab. It is somehow fitting that under President Trump’s phony populism, and during a pandemic that has killed more than 300,000 Americans and left millions unemployed, that lawmakers saw an opening in the latest government funding legislation to restore the full 100 percent reduction for corporate lunches.
It’s framed as a way to save the restaurant industry, but it looks like once again the richest among us, who are the most likely to indulge in four-course meals to consummate business deals, will be rewarded, while the hamburger joint in the neighborhood won’t be benefiting. Some of the country’s top chefs contacted Trump directly. A resort owner, he is sympathetic, and he made sure they were heard. Restaurants have taken a huge hit. Still, there should be other ways to help owners and workers without lining the pockets of business executives.